Lockdowns, WFH, and other measures taken to isolate people and keep them from interacting with others (including job loss) afforded some folks the time to do what they said they always wanted to do: writing a book. In doing so, those people discovered two things:
The logical next step is publishing the book. That brings with it another set of problems encompassed by one word: ignorance. Ignorance can be cured. Many guidebooks exist to help newcomers find their way around this new realm, but many of these new writers don't know which are good resources and which aren't. They don't realize that there's a whole lot of work they must do before their books are ready for public consumption.
When I come across the "what now?" question, I direct these newcomers to two venerable standby resources: the Writer's Market and Literary Marketplace. These two resources have been around for decades and remain relevant and helpful today. Other resources I recommend is Preditors and Editors (which has a web page, but moved to Facebook) and Proper Manuscript Format by William Shunn, both oldies-but-goodies. These resources are regularly updated to remain relevant as times, industry preferences, and technologies change.
The path to publishing begins on the same road with the same two milestones:
The second milestone proves a stumbling block for many newbies: they don't know that their first draft sucks. Yes, it does. They don't realize that a traditional publisher has no obligation to publish their book. There's no guarantee that a publisher or literary agent--a whole other topic--will consider your submitted manuscript a good enough risk to publish, because publishing costs money and publishing is a business. Poor business decisions don't generate profits.
I don't care how good/smart/competent you are; that first draft is not ready for publishing. A professional understands that self-editing and revising is part of the extended process for publishing. Before anyone other than the writer lays eyes on the manuscript, the author serves his or her own best interests by reading through it, fixing errors, filling holes, cutting unnecessary verbiage, reorganizing scenes, checking facts, and otherwise improving the quality of the content. This may require multiple rounds of self-review and self-editing supplemented by editing software such as Grammarly, ProWritingAid, or AutoCrit. Spell-checking utilities included in most word processing programs do not suffice.
Software in general cannot take the place of human eyes, human comprehension, and human insight. It can't understand nuance, irony, sarcasm, or slang. It won't catch inconsistencies or detect plot holes. It won't know the evolving standards of a particular genre, whether a word is used correctly, or reader expectations. That requires a human, an editor.
Only after the content is as good as you can get it will it then be ready for formatting. Formatting for a publisher follows certain standard rules. Many new writers don't take the time or make the effort to learn standard manuscript formatting, although the aforementioned resources provide assistance with that. They don't realize that a publisher doesn't want to work with an author who can't or won't follow instructions. Instead they fiddle with cover art.
Don't get me wrong: cover art is critical. But at this stage of the game, it's not appropriate.
If you decide to self-publish, then you assume all the responsibility for the tasks a traditional publisher performs. These include editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing. Editing comes first and is best accomplished by a professional. It's not uncommon to request a sample edit; just be reasonable about it. A freelance editor's time and skill are valuable and any request for a free sample should consider the value of that professional's time and skill. In other words, keep it short. (I offer a free sample edit for up to 500 words.) Editing--competent editing by a professional editor--costs money, oftentimes a lot of money. Editing is not a one-shot deal; it involves multiple passes through the manuscript in a give-and-take process through which the editor makes corrections and offers suggestions for improvement and the writer then accepts them, rejects the, or acts in some other manner (e.g., revising or rewriting). The author has the responsibility to review all edits and suggestions.
When the manuscript reaches the "it's ready" stage, then it's time to format it. Cover design and formatting often occur simultaneously; however, formatting a full book cover (front, spine, and back) depends upon the interior format. The number of pages determines the width of the spine. Every genre has standards and trends regarding cover art; the trick is to comply with those standards while making your cover art distinct. That ain't easy. Again, it's best to hire a professional who understands the genre. That same professional may or may not also be adequate for formatting the interior pages, which should comply to publishing industry standards, too. Formatting is best done using the software professionals use, such as Adobe InDesign. Cover design and formatting, by the way, also benefit from professional assistance which--yes--costs money. Sometimes a lot of money.
When formatting and cover art are complete, the book is ready to be uploaded to your preferred publishing platform. This, too, involves a step-by-step process that differs with each self-publishing platform. The process will involve rights, keywords for SEO, pricing, etc. Some authors prefer to leave this in the hands of professionals who can accomplish this process with a minimum of fuss and charge for their time and expertise to perform that service. Others more tech-savvy do it themselves.
Marketing oftentimes begins before the book is published to build excitement. Publishing platforms offer pre-release orders to launch the new publication. Marketing continues long after the publication date. This often involves paid advertisements, personal appearances at events, and more. Yes, this costs money, too. Oftentimes a lot of money.
Self-publishing doesn't mean you pay to publish the book; it means you pay the professionals who help you refine, design, and publish your book.
When reviewing potential gigs, I have to choose between applying for writing gigs and editing gigs. Although both involve playing with words, they require different mindsets and skill sets. Frankly, this year has not been good for writing, especially for writing fiction.
Editing takes less emotional investment. I don't have to create; I can massage what already exists and make it better. My paid freelance work this year has focused primarily on editing.
Writing nonfiction doesn't seem to drain me as much as writing fiction does. Nonfiction doesn't really demand that creative spark. It pulls less on emotion. I have a stronger emotional attachment to fiction than to nonfiction. I've also found that, if I have a client's outline or other plot summary/notes, I still can write fiction and do a good job of it. Maybe because it's the client's concept rather than mine?
That shift in business focus doesn't mean I've lost the sense of what makes a good story. If anything, it has sharpened that sense, because it takes better quality now to capture and hold my interest. Maybe this is a sign of maturity and refinement, but I suspect it's more a sign of the mental and emotional fatigue imposed by grief.
So, should I write or edit? The answer is, as usual, it depends.
The closer I get to retirement age, the more I think I ought to reduce my workload. Then I find myself with a day or two not scheduled to the max and spend my time hunting for new gigs and submitting bids for work. I'm a glutton for punishment, obviously.
Steady work is the holy grail for freelancers. Sure, the occasional, really lucrative project comes along every so often, but those can't be relied upon or factored into a budget. They're almost like windfalls, except you have to earn the money.
I actually have been busy, though. Busy is good. The state of busy-ness occupies my brain and distracts my thoughts from melancholy. It's not good for me to have too much "thinking" time without something to command my attention.
In addition to regular work (two newsletters, a magazine, blog editing, etc.), I've been doing a wee bit of riding. Two weekends ago when my elder son's friend was visiting, I went on a trail ride with my best friend, Cindra, and another good friend, Sue. Cindra brought her two horses: Henry and Cody. My son's friend, Jess, rode Henry. Henry is the big, phlegmatic appaloosa gelding who can be trusted with idiots and little children. We trust him with novice riders and, as usual, he was perfect! (Henry and horses like him are worth their weight in gold.) I rode Teddy, the little gelding I rescued from a kill pen last year and sent into training for a few months. He did surprisingly well, much better than I expected. Teddy received a generous helping of peppermint treats for his good behavior.
Last weekend, I rode Replica, the new pony, a 9-year-old Halflinger mare. Pretty, pretty, pretty. When I rode her last, she had a bit of a meltdown. This time, she did so much better. Cindra rode with us on Cody and her good friend Terri rode Henry. Cody and Henry served as the calm equine examples Replica needed to maintain her cool.
These two outings taught me that neither of my ponies likes to lead. Both are happy somewhere in the middle or even bringing up the rear. That's good to know. Replica can go out by herself, I think, but she's happier in the midst of other horses and riders.
In addition to work and horses, I hired a landscape company, a 2-man outfit who came out and have done utter wonders clearing out overgrown weeds and brush and unwanted trees. Anyone looking for a good landscaping team will get a referral from me for Martin's Landscape Revival. Great work, guys! They're almost finished. I've already offered them more work if they want it.
I also bought a new riding mower. After years of making do with old equipment that my husband purchased cheap--usually because it didn't work--then fixed to get it in working order, I finally decided it was time to get something new, something that worked right away. My younger son, Brian, who's visiting from Alaska, has used the new mower to mow the yard and the pastures. We're all glad to have this beast of a lawn mower.
Brian has mentioned a preference to not move back to Alaska. That makes me happy. He's looking for a job, something in automotive restoration/auto body painting. He wants to work on classic cars. I've dredged up a dozen places near here, including a handful that I know are hiring. The rest is up to him.
So, that book I started last month? I've gotten a bit further in it, but not a lot. Because I've been busy and busy is good.