This is a long post so grab a coffee and buckle up if you care about any of these topics. If you only want to read about one, feel free to scroll down to that heading.
I’m getting closer to having some of my writing in final form to self-publish. I’ve been working toward an internal goal of releasing Book 1 in my series this fall. With a family, the pandemic, and a job that obviously means good planning and making sacrifices. These sacrifices have come in two forms, time and financial.
In terms of sacrificing time, I’ve happily forgone most television. Let’s be honest, except for few rare shows, most of the stuff TV nowadays is crap. And I don’t know about you but things like Netflix, while decent ways to veg out, can lead to even longer periods of zero productivity. I mean you can go weeks binging different shows and series in every hour of your free time. I have the Expanse and The Ozark’s which I enjoy watching, but they’re once per year at best so I still have plenty of time.
The second sacrifice is financial. Self-publishing isn’t free. Yes, you can do it on the cheap, but let’s be honest, unless you’re a master of all things then you’ll need someones help. For me that help comes in a few forms.
- Training material
- Cover design
I saved the most challenging for last.
So let’s dive into training material. Everyone and their brother has a shingle out in the self-publishing space right now. There are dozens and dozens of books, online learning, and other means to take your money and tell you how to do it. To me the single best way of choosing a course is to look at who’s teaching it and how well they’ve done historically. No, not in the past 6 months or with the material for their course. I mean self-publishing their work over the past 5 years or the span of their career. Make sure if it’s fiction you’re writing you find a fiction course. If it’s non-fiction, then lean toward that.
How can they teach you to self-publish over time if they haven’t tried all the ways? Simple answer, they can’t.
So after digging into this I settled on two places to do my learning. Facebook forums focused on self-publishing and sci-fi writing and the courses offered over at the Self Publishing Formula (SPF). Their courses are top notch and professionally mastered in audio and video. Add to that the creator is Mark Dawson, an extremely successfully internationally self-published author. He learned things the hard way and throughout the courses he shares his insights along with videos from other leaders in the industry.
So which ones am I working through?
- SPF 101 – This is their intro course and covers everything from building your platform, going wide (or not), generating traffic, advance teams, reviews, and countless tech library offerings with long videos on how to use a ton of the tools. It’s a great kickstarter to any author. Yes, you can find ALL of this info spread throughout the internet, there is no doubt to that. You have to ask yourself one question, do you want to spend months and years trying to find it and figuring out who to trust, or would you rather focusing on your writing and learn the material in one place. I chose to focus on my writing, not Google.
- SPF Ads For Authors – They released a new version of this that I joined. No, I’m not advertising my books yet, but you need to do it sooner than you’d think. From advertising my reader magnet to advertising pre-orders for my upcoming books, I have a lot to learn and not a lot of time to do it. I won’t bore you with the details on this course yet but let’s just say it’s massive and covers all the big games in town with huge amounts of detail. There’s no shortage of great stuff in here.
These courses are not free, nor are they super cheap. To me they’re an investment in my future so I spent the money with that in mind, and with the amazing support of my wife. One impressive thing about SPF is that they have payment plans to make these more affordable, especially in these times. They also have private Facebook groups you’re invited to after you join to have an ongoing dialog with fellow authors like you. It’s great.
That’s my training, now onto covers.
For me there weren’t a ton of options. I dug through several pre-made cover sites online and was meh on everything I saw. None of them spoke to me or yelled “That’s the one!”. I had specific ideas in mind for what I wanted and I want to give my books the best opportunity to succeed (writing aside) so the covers have to be spot on.
Fortunately, there’s a video on covers in SPF 101. No, this isn’t an advertisement for SPF, I’m just telling you how I went about this. After finding nothing in the pre-mades I watched the video and had a duh moment.
What’s the easiest way to find out who’s doing the covers you like? Look at books. Crack them open and look in the front matter. Most good authors acknowledge who did their cover up there.
So with this knowledge I spent a few evenings digging around on Amazon and “Looking Inside” all the books and taking notes. I narrowed my choices down and dug into their websites. A bunch of these artists have portfolios on their sites. Those helped me make my decision as I saw even more amazing examples of their work.
After narrowing down my choices, I reached out and I’m now neck deep in the back and forth’s. I have one I’m talking to a bunch and have put together a brief or two for them. Yes, cover briefs are covered in SPF 101 as well. Anyhow, I’ll let you know once everything is done and dusted but I’m working to lock them in for all four covers (reader magnet and the first three books).
Like the educational material, covers are an investment. Even if I have to re-edit my books for years, I can use the same awesome covers. There’s no point in lowering my sales and audience potential by buying cheap covers if I can pay to have better ones made, to a point. Again, with the support of my wife we’re sacrificing a bit and trying this out. We’ve been savers our entire life and I’ve put almost five years into these books now. She wants me to succeed at this dream as much as I do. More on covers in a later blog post.
So how about that editing? The last sacrifice, even though it happens before covers… LOL. To me I placed this last because it’s a never ending thing. I’ve given my work to at least six different critique partners, three beta readers and two editors. I’ve also shared certain chapters with writing groups I frequent for their critique. My biggest lesson learned here, opinions are all over the map and no two are likely the same.
Before you can edit you need to revise the hell out of your work. Here are my “rough” steps for self-editing before I send it to anyone. Each of these is a complete read pass and I’ve iterated on these over time:
- Sanity, reads well.
- Show vs Tell, as needed. Change numbers to words.
- Filter words and a few reports using ProWritingAid.
- Deep POV including voice, smells, tastes, etc.
- Siri read’s it to me.
- Critique Partner’s
- Editor and Beta Readers
- Proof Reader
After each of the last three you have self-edits again before you can move on to the next step. You can tackle these first five steps one at a time and a chapter at a time, whatever works. Heck, you might be a clean writer and compress several at once. I did that myself sometimes as I went, but always with the intent in mind of those steps.
So I’m going to chat a bit about steps 6 & 7.
A Critique Partner (CP) is someone you usually swap your manuscript with who agrees to read yours and critique it in exchange for you critiquing theirs. It’s not always 1-to-1, but that’s generally how it works. Because of this, you need to be comfortable giving some form of critique. Now, I’m not great at grammar so I’m not that CP. I focus on voice, confusing parts, or where my mind wandered for my CP’s.
Once you’re ready to share, you need to find someone you’re comfortable sharing with. This is by and far the hardest thing to do. Everyone wants a CP but few seem to take that step and follow through. I’ve shared opening pages with some people never to hear from them again, not even a not interested (didn’t count those in my numbers above). And I’ve shared with people who have redlined and butchered my opening chapters. Those aren’t valuable to me either. Some people love that and want that so I’m going to share with you my thought on this. Warning, it may not be popular.
I’ve been working on my craft for a while, but I have so much to learn that it’s not even funny. But here’s the thing, when someone redlines my work to the point of oblivion, they’re not critiquing, they’re turning it into their own work. To me a CP is about helping you grow, highlighting where to improve, and making suggestions on rewrites but not nuking the entire thing, that’s just changing the voice and making it a clone of yours. Not all writers are the same nor do readers want them to be. If you don’t have a voice, then that’s one thing, but if you do, make sure you don’t get a CP who works to turn you into theirs.
CP’s are like writing books. There are millions of different opinions on how to write them. There are just as many CP’s who think there’s only their way to write suspense, build a world, or write dialog. You need to find CP’s who’s viewpoint you value, who help support your growth and your successes. You don’t need someone to toot your horn; you do need tough love. But if they’re doing nothing but tear your work down, then that’s not healthy. You need to share pages; you need to look at what they said and what you could say and ask yourself if you can help each other. If not, no harm no foul, don’t share the rest of the MS. If you can, then that’s amazing and you need to give them your time and focus on helping them. Don’t ghost them a few weeks later. Finish their MS and they’ll finish yours.
So that’s my two cents on CP’s. For beta readers, the goal is different. You want to build some questions they’ll answer at the end (of the book or chapter) and you want them to read through the entire book. First you want their impressions and you want to learn what they liked and disliked. What worked and didn’t. Hopefully, they can point to that within the book but they aren’t editors. They’re helping you smooth things out, or sometimes chop entirely. They aren’t usually CP’s though some can help that way.
Ideally you get many betas so you can find different types of people who like different parts of your book. Variety is wonderful here, but like with CP’s, you need a thick skin. Don’t get deterred after a few critical comments. I know I found myself rethinking my entire first book POV rotation after one beta reader. I even began restructuring it until a second beta reader cleared my head. It’s hard as a writer to figure out what is and isn’t working, I can’t underline this more. Getting the right beta readers is just as important as the right CP’s.
All right, lets talk professional editing. My first thought here was to reach out using Reedsy and to get some quotes from some professional editors. I created an account, submitted some request for quotes, answered their questions and a few days later the numbers started coming in. They ranged from $4 to $10k. Yes, you read that right … $10,000 with four zeros. I did this eight different times and two of them didn’t reply or said they weren’t interested in giving me a quote on a 130k word manuscript. It didn’t matter though, all of those were too steep for me. I’m all for giving my books a chance of succeeding but I can’t afford that times three for this series. Remember, I’m planning to release three books in fast follow.
So I went the other way next. I went to Fiverr and found a few people and got some quotes for copy edits. I then spoke to a friend who used someone on Fiverr and loved them. I went with her, sent her the details, and got the copy edits back in three weeks. All in the cost was $130.
Was it worth it? In short, yes and no. Sure I got 794 simple grammar and punctuation corrections but that’s about it. I don’t know what I was expecting, but that wasn’t exactly it. I was thinking a copy edit would have more sentence cleanups, more restructuring of things as needed. I don’t think I write that clean but maybe ProWritingAid was helping me more than I thought.
A few weeks later I completely cut out an entire set of POV’s from Book 1, move them into Book 2, and then wrote a bunch of new chapters in Book 1 in existing POV’s creating a better and clearer set of story arcs. My goals was simplifying the book. I followed my same self editing process above and once I was done, I decided this time to try a different editor.
I wanted to see what a more professional one was like and what it could do for my writing so I started researching again. This time I found one via a search across some Facebook groups I’m in. I was looking for editors that had worked well for fellow writers, but didn’t break the bank. After some back and forth, I received a quote for a Line & Development Edit with another pass of Proof Editing before publication.
I sent the 130k word manuscript in and a few weeks later I received the edits back. Remember, this was 60-70% edited by the previous editor so it was much cleaner already. The rest was new chapters I’d already self-edited. The result was after $980 more spent (I still get proof editing later before publishing) I received another 312 edits back.
Was it worth it? I feel like it was. The level of feedback was better to me, but it’s honestly hard to compare them since most of it had already received edits. So I decided to use this editor again for the next book. She still has it but that book is much less clean and hasn’t had but a few chapters read by anyone yet. Easily 90% of it is unread, but has been self-edited.
Do I have any lessons to share with editing after all that? The simple thing I will say is that you need an editor. The level of edit you need depends on your level of craft and how you approached your book. One thing I received feedback on by both those editors and a few beta readers was that they thought the book was well written. As you know, I’m an outliner and not a pantser. I feel like this helped me keep my book moving forward with the twists, turns, and flow planned well ahead of the writing. This meant that there was less to comment on there and more to comment on my flow and grammar. So I don’t think I need a developmental editor. I do need a copy editor for sure, no doubt there. As for a line edit, I don’t know. I don’t feel like I need it but I hope that’s due to using my self-edits and having the books read out loud to me. It’s helped me cleanup a lot of that.
In short, make sure you’re honest with yourself about what you need based upon your CP feedback and anyone else that can look at it. You’ll likely need to allocate $200 to $1,000 for a good edit of your book. Make sure you shop around until you find someone you can trust. I’ll let you know how the next round of edits goes with Book 2. I’m also about to circle back in Book 1 again and apply all the edits and address comments from beta readers. I found an amazing one that blew my mind and I’m excited to address her feedback. I’ll have to write about that in another post as this one is getting massive.
Book 1 is getting close to being done and I’m still targeting a release in December if everything stays on track. That means I also need to have Book 2 close because that one will need to be in pre-order when Book 1 goes live.
Talk to you soon. Happy writing!