Self-Publishing: The Professionals Effect

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Over the last couple of weeks some of my fellow self-publishers have been keeping you entertained and inspiring with their self-publishing stories while I sand down my fingerprints finishing my novel. (Or this draft of it, at least.) Today in the penultimate ‘guest post’ installment, The Tour author Jean Grainger shares her self-publishing journey with us. You can read the previous guest posts in this series, 3 Things I Wish I Knew Before Self-Publishing My Novel and Self-Publishing: Do It Your Way by clicking on the links. Welcome, Jean!

Firstly I’d like to thank Catherine for inviting me to guest blog on Catherine, Caffeinated. This blog has been a constant source of advice, information and smiles for me since I started writing so I’m delighted to be here.

My journey into self publishing began when I spotted an advertisement for a one day course in Dublin. The expert speaker was Catherine. Hoping I had written a book that someone other than my mother might regard as a worthwhile way to spend their hard earned cash and time, I took myself off to hear what she had to say.

Of course, like most newcomers to this world I was seduced by the ads online promising that I’d be published in ten minutes, with nothing more than a curled up dusty manuscript needed from myself, or at least the digital equivalent. I had, unfortunately in hindsight, expressed interest in a company in the U.S. through their website who promised to make the whole simple process even simpler for a small fee who were now treating me to daily phone calls explaining how they were going to make me the next big thing.

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It all seemed simple. No need to wait for the elusive nod from the big publishing house, no more torturing myself visualising my hard work on the dreaded ‘slush pile’ going straight from the post bag to the shredder. It seemed like my dream of becoming an author could come true with self-publishing. Still, in the back of my mind I knew there had to be a catch, I just couldn’t figure out what it was.

The day of the course came and as we sat in a lovely hotel overlooking the bay I chatted enthusiastically with my fellow writing hopefuls, some of whom were already published traditionally and who were seeking new ways to breathe life into their careers, or simply monetising their work, others, like myself were total newcomers. It was all very exciting.

With Catherine’s combination of sound advice and humour , she outlined clearly what you needed to do. Ok, you needed a bit of computer savvy, tick. You had to have actually written a half decent book, again, (hopefully) tick. Everything was going great, I was right on track when Catherine dropped the bombshell. You must, and there was no grey area here, you must have your work professionally edited. Obviously, I thought, she doesn’t mean me. You see, I’m an English teacher. My life is spent correcting mistakes, restructuring plot, ensuring  the writing is purposeful ,  coherent, using appropriate and varied language and adhering to the laws of English mechanics. I’ve taught at university, I correct state exams, I don’t need an editor, I am an editor.

Wrong.

I need an editor. Everyone does, I don’t care who you are, what your day job is, you simply cannot edit yourself.

I’d love to say that there and then in that hotel in Dublin I saw the light, but if I’m to be honest I wasn’t convinced. Catherine however, was the expert and I decided just to trust her on it. I parted with the cash, a considerable amount of it, and I got myself an editor. For my first book, I found two editors in fact, one who read the story and looked at structure, plot development, characters and so on, and another, a copy editor to look at the actual prose. If I have learned anything from this process it is this – If I was to look at that manuscript until I was old and grey I would never have seen the glaring inconsistencies the editing process brought to light. I can’t actually believe I thought it was OK, it really, really wasn’t.

My structural editor, the wonderful  Helen Falconer, over lots of tea and biscuits showed me how to make my characters consistent and believable, how to add and subtract from the plot and the result was a much better story. My copy editor seemed to be able to polish my prose so that it still sounded like me, just a better, more articulate me. Words cannot adequately describe the positive impact these professionals had on my work.

This knowledge was liberating when writing my second book. I knew I’d be chopping and dissecting it once it was done so it gave me the confidence just to write, I didn’t worry too much about the finer points. As with the first book, Helen once again worked her magic, and now I have two books of which I’m proud, the alternative is something that makes me shudder. The moral of the tale? Listen to Catherine, she knows her stuff.   [Thanks, Jean! Your fiver’s in the post…!]

Find about more about Jean on her website (Jean: is that header image really where you write? I’m jealous! It looks so cosy…). Her books The Tour and So Much Owed are available on Amazon.

I think what’s interesting about Jean’s story is that she held a very common misconception about self-publishing: that she didn’t need an editor. And why wouldn’t she think that? Jean is an English teacher! But after she ‘saw the light’ as she puts it, she met Helen, and I know that Helen has become a big part of her process and not only a box that has to be ticked. So tell us: what is the biggest misconception you had before you self-published? What long-held belief about the process went flying out the window as soon as you started? What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned? Let us know in the comments below…

29 thoughts on “Self-Publishing: The Professionals Effect

  1. claudenougat says:

    No question about it, one does need an editor, actually more than one as Jean so rightly points out: you need at least two, a “structural” editor to round off the plot and a stylistic editor, not just for proof-reading (that’s important too) but for polishing the style.

    This is where trad pubs have the advantage over self-published authors, they have teams of editors and if one of them is no good (something that rapidly shows up once a book is published) then that editor gets fired. That’s something an indie can’t do: he/she, perforce, must use consultants. You pay your editors as you go and you keep your fingers crossed that they’ve done a good job, something you’ll find out only after you’ve published your book! I guess Jean got lucky, I know of a couple of my friends who weren’t so lucky…including myself. I had to re-write and re-publish the first two books I published – and that turned out into a big re-packaging job, with new titles and new book covers…So yes, you think you’ve done a superb job, your editor (you paid for her services, right), well, she tells you that it is so, that she’s done all the needed corrections, and you publish self-confidently, convinced your book is good…only to discover that it could be better!

    • jean grainger says:

      I agree- I really lucked out and yet in the early phases I got reviews saying , nice book, bad editing! I cried. Literally. I went at it again, fixed what I could and then realised that not everyone gets Irishisms and so may have thought they were typos. You can’t beat yourself up too much, fix what you can and accept that we are all fallible! I do think that Indie authors are judged more harshly – I don’t think I’ve ever read a totally error free book in my life. From any publishing house…

  2. Amanda Martin (writermummy) says:

    I’m one of those who thought they could do it all themselves, and has learned the benefit of employing professionals. But I also have a (very) limited budget and it’s difficult to find professionals that you know are worth the money.

    Also, if you could only afford one professional, would you go for a structural edit, copy edit or proofread? I had a ‘light edit’ on my last novel, somewhere between copy edit and proofread, and it was still a huge chunk of money. At current rate of sales it will take five years to pay back just that small investment.

    I have heard your message and I understand and agree, but I still think it’s a tough decision for a newbie self-published author. If I was a bank manager, I wouldn’t give me £2000 to spend on a novel without some evidence of return! 🙂

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      But nobody spends £2,000 on a start-up business with a *guarantee* of a return. That’s just it. You have to invest in your novel, and investment comes with risk. You may never earn the money back, but you have a greater chance of making some if the book is brought up to a minimum standard. And to answer your question: I’d go with copyediting. That’s what I did for my first book when funds were limited (and I really didn’t know *what* I was doing). A good writers group or fellow writing friends can be an okay substitute for a structural edit and I’d give my MS to my three most pedantic friends in place of a proof read if necessary.

    • jeangrainger says:

      Hi Amanda
      Thanks for reading! I agree- 2 grand is a ton of money but I’m afraid it’s vital. For me being a first time author both were necessary but if I had to choose I’d say the structural edit. That takes a special kind of talent. Good luck!

  3. Stephen Tiano says:

    See, that’s the unfortunate trend with self-publishing … I’m all for a relaxing of the notion of sterile, unmoving gatekeepers only looking for a book’s potential to earn money. But potential self-publishers all need to understand that a choice to self-publish is a choice to go into business as a publishing company. And there ar necessary expenses. Making a cheap, DIY project out of it gives readers little reason to think a book is worth the price to read it.

    Self-published books, tho’ making great strides against the “vanity publishing” stigma in recent years, ought to begin with an effort to be better than traditional books. This means writing well on a subject or telling a story that readers are interested enough in to be willing to pay to read it, as well as contract objective professionals to edit, design, and produce books.

    None of this treating these professionals to the kind of pap that it’s a serious offer when you invite the to “work for exposure. I’ve actually informed prospects that after more ‘n 22 years and almost 100 books as a freelance book designer, they’ve more to gain from their book being associated with my name than I do from being associated with their book. And, please, no more “offers” to pay me out of royalties. That’s the same as offering to pay a restaurant for a meal only if everyone in the restaurant agrees they liked the food they ate.

    Get professional about self-publishing!

    • jeangrainger says:

      Agree! Thanks for reading the post. You have spent lam this time writing and thinking and creating – all for nothing if you can’t justify spending the money.

    • Barry Knister says:

      Stephen–
      Something that shouldn’t be neglected in this discussion is the pride effect. Any writer who doesn’t understand that the book he publishes will reflect on him should be dismissed out of hand. I can’t know whether my books will succeed in the marketplace. But I am not about to put something “out there” with my name on it that deserves ridicule. To me, this is reason enough for finding the money to get professionals on my side.

    • jeangrainger says:

      Go for it but expect like anything else you want to get good at its going to cost you. Hopefully you will reap the rewards! Financially but also the sense of satisfaction of having something that won’t make you cringe when you compare it to ‘traditionally published’ books. Best of luck!

  4. Harliqueen says:

    Great post, very honest, it’s nice to hear about other people’s journeys to becoming self-published. I agree about the editor, trying to edit myself just didn’t work, others spotted things that I had missed that were so obvious!

    • jeangrainger says:

      Yep! I couldn’t believe the huge clunky things I thought were perfectly reasonable plot developments! Luckily my editor is also hilarious so she and I had a lot of laughs in the process!

  5. Rebecca Nolen says:

    I too, thought my second book was perfect. Ten years of writing and editing, lots of proof readers and fact checkers, weekly critique group – I paid big bucks for a structural editor – and there you go. Perfect! Boy was I wrong to skip the copy-editor part. The book is a great story with so many extra words, missing words, too many dashes, and not enough commas! It’s with a copy-editor now. You are correct!

  6. Barry Knister says:

    Like Jean Grainger, I taught English, and hoped this meant I didn’t need an editor. Of course I did need one. But the problem lies with hiring someone I can trust to be both honest and good at the job. A great many people are in the business, and since I don’t know other writers who can pass along names of vetted people, I don’t know how to proceed. I consider myself a decent proofreader, but I really need an experienced set of eyes to read my work (yes, people not eyes read, but you get the picture) and see what I’m blind to in terms of structure, etc.

    • jeangrainger says:

      Hi Barry- I think us teachers might be the worst offenders! It’s not good for your ego to do a job where you are perceived at least to always be right! I can heartily recommend Helen Falconer, brutally honest, very funny, eagle eyed, and a very smart lady.

    • jeangrainger says:

      Hi Gavin – I always think word of mouth is best – also I’m not sure it’s absolutely necessary to have an editor who is ‘of’ your genre. My editor, an acclaimed author herself, writes very differently to me, with very different subject matter – and yet she’s great with my stuff.

  7. Suzanne says:

    This is a great post! I’m a professional editor who also happens to be a writer. I always have my work edited by another editor. It doesn’t matter how well you think you know your stuff—when it comes to editing yourself, you just don’t have the perspective someone else does.

    I am always amazed by what my editor catches and the questions she asks me. Definitely a worthwhile investment—I wouldn’t dream of publishing anything without her.

  8. Sine says:

    same EXACT story here. Wrote the book, considered myself pretty good at writing AND editing, and then started reading the self-publishing literature, and specifically your book, Catherine. I also had to swallow hard to shell out $1,000 just like that, but now, having seen the work of my structural editor, and a little bit of the copy editor (not done yet, it is still being finished) I agree with what Jean says: There were so many inconsistencies, verb tenses, repeated words, big and small tiny stuff, all of which I never saw but once it was pointed out, of course I was horrified that I might have published the book before I saw all that. I also learned that there are parts of grammar that I never ever knew (and never really will know), which is where the editors were worth their money many times over. It’s just not possible to edit your own work, no matter who you are.

    I also like what Jean says about her second book – knowing you have a good editor might liberate you in a way, because you write more freely instead of constantly self-editing. At least that’s what I’m hoping as I’m going to start #2 soon… Thanks for another great guest post!

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