Sunday, January 30, 2011

Building a Book

To get my book ready for an April 4 publication date, I'm using the simplest marketing framework I know of: the four Ps -- Product, Price, Placement (or distribution), and Promotion.

Starting with Product: this is everything about the nature and quality of the book you're writing. In all of the most helpful blogs on self publishing I'm picking up on a theme -- without the third-party arbiters of quality that can be found in agents and editors and traditional publishing houses (whether large commercial or small press), it's up to us as self publishers to ensure we meet the quality standards of our category. Knowing what the standards are is relatively straightforward (one word: read!), but judging our own work against them can be difficult. We're often too close to the writing, biased, impatient.

I remember when I first showed my manuscript to an agent friend years ago, when I thought it was close to ready, nearly done. She told me candidly that she thought I had three or four rounds of revision more to do, and my heart sank. I was so ready to be finished! But, this will come as absolutely no surprise, she was right. So, I highly recommend getting an informed, independent opinion about the state of your work. It can come from a pro in the business, other writers, as in a writers group, a writing class with a knowledgeable teacher, or a professional paid consultation. It's great if you have a network of friends and resources who can provide unbiased services for free, but if you don't, I'd seriously save my pennies as this is a really important part of getting a good product out there. 

After a few additional rounds of revision that addressed that early helpful feedback (including writing out a beloved character -- now that was hard to do! But again, the right choice), I hired a manuscript consultant through Grub Street Writers to read and critique my manuscript in its entirety, and got the green light that I was far closer to ready, in fact nearly so. I incorporated the latest feedback, then hired a copyeditor.  (Full disclosure: I'm a board member of the non-profit Grub Street, so I know them well and believe they have an extremely high quality service, but please judge for yourself!)

After making final edits, I hired a proofreader to ensure the entire manuscript was cleaned up. She's working on it now, and I get the document back on Thursday. Thursday!! My humble opinion: I would definitely utilize professional freelancers for copyediting and proofreading. (What's the difference? My freelancer describes it this way: Copyediting includes addressing awkward writing, suggesting organizational changes, commenting on repetitiveness, and generally improving the writing at whatever level it is needed/desired. And, in nonfiction particularly, raising questions about things that aren't clear. Proofreading is checking for typos, dropped words, punctuation errors, and grammar problems. Proofreading wouldn't be criticizing the writing, unless there was something extremely troubling.) Sidebar: I tried a number of potential sources to find freelancers that were the right fit for my project. Grub Street has been by far the most valuable source on the core writing, and I find Joe Konrath to be an invaluable and generous source of suggestions and leads to vetted freelance and independent professionals for things like ebook formatting and interior design. I also used LinkedIn, which was ultimately how I found my proofreader. Love LinkedIn! I was able to find someone with the skills I needed who was connected on LinkedIn to a good friend (also a writer) who could vouch for her.

Similarly, ensuring high quality formatting for Print On Demand and eBooks is another element necessary to match the standards of traditional publishing. I'm hoping I can do it myself, but if I cannot get it perfect, I'll hire a pro for that, too. I'd probably start with Joe Konrath's people and I also like the services provided by April Hamilton - her book, the Indie Author's Guide, is excellent. 

The last thing I'll mention on building the book is the all-important cover. I have much to share here but I will summarize for now: The Do It Yourself path seems fraught to me -- there are a lot of really bad covers out there! I say that with total empathy -- it is hard to be a book cover designer on top of everything else we self publishers are responsible for.  There are many decent templates available through author solutions companies and hybrid services (if you're using CreateSpace, their services for layout and design look pretty useful) and lots of freelance cover designers, but it is often very expensive.  I briefly considered overinvesting in a cover (the quote from one amazing boutique design house was for $2500-3500, and surely worth it given the quality work this shop does) because I think they're so important, but ultimately decided to go with a package deal targeted to self publishers at a fraction of the cost. It allows minimal customization but will hopefully be sufficient -- I will know on Thursday, when I get the first draft images back from the designer. Wish me luck! I'll gladly share my lessons learned on the topic of figuring out cover art in a future post. But for now, for summarizing the critical elements of building a great product, I would absolutely ensure a great cover -- one that fits the genre or category you're writing, is eye-catching, and that looks good small, since the virtual bookstores generally are utilizing thumbnail images.  If anyone has other suggestions for building the best book possible, please leave them in the comments. Next up: Pricing! 

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