Today is going to be the busiest day of our 5 Days to a Self-Published Book* schedule. Yes, even busier than yesterday when we wrote our book. (And it’s going to involve drinking a lot more coffee. Better put on a pot, now.) Once this step is over, you’re going to realize that writing the book was a walk in the park.
It’s hard for me to imagine now, but there was a point in time – a long, long time ago – when I thought that preparing my manuscript for uploading to a POD would take a Saturday. I mean, I’d written the bloody thing, hadn’t I? I’d spell-checked it. I’d made the chapter headings look different to the rest of the text, and I’d made sure to thank John Mayer in the Acknowledgements. Surely all I needed to do now was have one more quick read over it, convert it to PDF and hey presto, I was done. Right?
Well, actually it’s more like:
YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN SO WRONG ABOUT ANYTHING IN YOUR ENTIRE LIFE.
POD books get a bad rap because most of them are bad, due to a complete absence of quality control. Even if the writing itself is good and the plot compelling (and vampire/mythical creature/stablehand/sexytime free), they are still probably riddled with mistakes, misspellings, ugly or erratic formatting, no formatting at all, weird fonts, unnumbered pages, an index at the front, etc. etc. When I set out on this little self-publishing adventure, my aim was to produce as professional-looking a book as I could without spending a lot of money. (I had to do the latter part, as I had none.) But you absolutely positively without question have to have your book proofread or, better yet, edited.
Let me tell you why. This is a story I like to call The Many Adventures of Little Miss Naive: The Story of Mousetrapped’s Manuscript.
I started writing Mousetrapped on the floor of my apartment in Orlando about two and a half years ago. In November 2007, I sent three chapters and the proposal to an agent, who liked it and asked for more. In January 2008, I sent another couple of chapters. The agent liked that and asked for the whole book, when I sent to her in July 2008. Before I did, I went through it twice by myself and then had a friend read over it. And during each of those three reads, errors were discovered and eliminated. After the agent delivered her verdict – enjoyed book but no market for it – I took aim at some small Irish publishers. Two asked for the full manuscript. On each occasion I went through the file again on screen and printed out a fresh copy for each editor. On both occasions I found errors. Last summer I decided to self-publish, and re-wrote the whole book, by which I mean I typed it out again, making minor changes as I went. Still, I found errors. About three weeks ago I sent it to my proofreader (having one look over it again before I did) and – guess what? – there was a whole load of errors in it, many of which I didn’t even realize were errors.
At my count, some chapters in the book have been combed for mistakes nine times but still weren’t perfect. Now, it’s not that I’m especially sloppy – although it sounds like it! So what’s with all the mistakes?
Well, most of them weren’t mistakes, they were inconsistencies. Mr. and Mr, e-mail and email, theme park and theme-park, U.S.A. and USA – that kind of thing. Some of them were American English when they should have British English. Some were missing words – my worst habit – like ‘…I shared my plans with anyone who listen’ should, of course, have been ‘…I shared my plans with anyone who would listen.’ Then there were actual mistakes and things I’d written that didn’t make any sense at all, even to me when I read back over them.
Why didn’t I spot them myself, especially since I’d been over it time and time again?
First, you can’t spot mistakes you don’t know you should be looking for. My proofreader sent me back MT with some semi-colon work so fancy I felt unworthy of its fanciness. I’m afraid to use semi-colons – terrified, even – while at the same time writing sentences that run on and on, but make perfect sense to me because in my head I’m saying them in the same way I talk. I didn’t even know, for example, that non-fiction and fiction have different rules. I’d never noticed.
Secondly, everything in the book made perfect sense to me because I a) was there and b) wrote it. It is impossible for me to read it like a stranger would. Just impossible.
Finally, I didn’t spot them because I’d been over it time and time again. I know some of the chapters off by heart. If there was a word missing, my brain filled it in. And of course each time a little bit of I-want-to-get-this-in-the-post-now-so-my-published-writer-dreams-can-start urgency crept into my brain, convincing me to put the pages into an envelope and send them on their way before they were really ready to do so.
So, self-publishing boys and girls, get someone else to do it. It’s money well spent. And hurry up, because this afternoon we’re going to format it.
*5 days in Genesis-time. In reality it was more like two and a half months, excluding the actual writing of the book.
UPDATE: My proofreader read this and said, ‘Honestly – it was a really clean manuscript.’ I think we all know she was just being nice!
Read the next post in the series, Day 2 P.M: Formatting the Interior.