It's rather astonishing how often I come across people who think self-publishing equates to doing everything oneself. They're often surprised when I correct them: self-publishing isn't DIY.
When an author's manuscript is accepted by a traditional publisher, the publisher takes on the effort and risk of producing a book. This means the publisher pays the author a percentage (often a small percentage) of the revenues earned through book sales. That percentage is called a royalty. Some publishers pay an advance on the royalty in anticipation of a certain number of units (copies) sold, and the author receives nothing more until book revenues and the author's percentage meet or exceed that advance payment.
Because getting one's foot in the door with a traditional publisher or a literary agent who then would sell the manuscript to a publisher can be extremely difficult, many authors choose to self-publish without having any idea how to go about doing so. They haven't studied the publishing process and make innumerable mistakes along the way in their eagerness to get their books out to the public.
Online publishing platforms like Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing make self-publishing easy, almost too easy. How-to tutorials mention nothing about ensuring quality, respecting copyrights, effective cover design, etc. They almost never mention marketing.
I'll be the first to admit that I'm one of those folks who would jump from an airplane and figure out how to fly on the way down. That's a fairly adequate analogy for authors who self-publish without studying the process and drawing a map on how to get from Point A to Point Z. People like us learn from the school of hard knocks.
Once I'm able to educate someone on the process of self-publishing, the discussion tends to turn to "do I have to do it that way?" and "how much does it cost?" To address the first: no, you don't have to do it that way. No one has to do it that way. No one will hold a weapon to your head and force you to follow the best process. However, there's a reason why experienced authors advise (i.e., strongly suggest) one do it that way: because that way gets the best result. As for the second question of cost, the answer is always "it depends." The factors affecting cost vary.
The best, most effective self-publishing process takes a lot of time and a lot of money. I've read that at a major publishing house, a manuscript will go through eight editors (or eight levels of editing) before it's released. Frankly, it's a rare individual who can afford that kind of expense and is willing to dedicate that much time to the project. Many authors who seek editing express surprise when they learn that editors do more than correct typos and punctuation errors. (If you're interested in budgeting for the cost of professional editing, you can find a good guideline to editing levels and fees here: www.the-efa.org/rates.)
The gold standard for editing begins with self-editing. Self-editing means the author reviews his or her manuscript with fresh eyes and a critical mind and is ruthless with correcting the flaws in the manuscript. Few authors can do this well, although many try. No author can truly review his or her own manuscript objectively.
Many authors attempt to avoid editing through the use of beta readers. Beta readers are volunteers who read a manuscript and return feedback. They are typically not paid. Being volunteers, usually untrained, and often a friend or relation of the author, the quality of their feedback often varies from poor to adequate. A friend or family member will not want to offend the author and may deliver unwarranted flattery. An unpaid, untrained volunteer may not understand what the author is looking for and what they should be critiquing. And it's hard to hold a volunteer to a schedule or make demands.
An editor's job is not to flatter the author. A smart author prizes the editor's candor because the editor is working in the best interests of the manuscript—not necessarily the author. The editor is not a teacher, although if the author learns from the editor's feedback and works to improve, the author will indeed learn and improve his or her own skill which will benefit future books.
I daresay most authors have fragile egos. They do not tolerate objective criticism or even "constructive" criticism. An author who fears an editor's candor may avoid the editing phase of producing a book and publish a book flawed by poor writing and riddled with errors. Not quite as bad is publishing a book that has been edited only by editing software. As one wise person (not I) said, "Editing software understands rules, not context." Editing software doesn't do exceptions. It applies what it thinks is correct, and the author who accepts those suggestions without considering whether they're either correct or effective does his or her manuscript a disservice.
Forgoing professional editing or relying exclusively on editing software opens the book and the author to scathing criticism on a public forum in the form of reviews. Professional editing won't eliminate negative reviews, because there will always be people who hate your book for whatever reason, but it will reduce them.
I think the most frustrating part of editing is that excellent editing is invisible. The reader doesn't notice how much work went into editing and revising because the reading of the book goes smoothly. However, the reader will notice—and not in a flattering way—the lack of editing or inadequate editing. Think of the books you read. If the content is riddled with errors and a lot of sentences make no sense, you notice. You notice those stumbling blocks of malaproprisms and expository description that stop the story in its tracks.
The value of good editing is difficult to calculate in terms of ROI. There's no direct link to the quality of editing and the number of sales made or lost due to it. It's not an obvious marketing tool. And it's expensive.
Therein lies the rub: Do you invest a lot of money into a book that statistics say won't earn it back? How important is quality to you? If you're determined to beat those dreary statistics, then producing a top quality book is a good start, and top quality entails professional editing, professional cover design, professional book design, and savvy copywriting for the book's cover blurb.
Then there's all that marketing you have to do.
Hen House Publishing doesn't do it all, but what I offer what I do well: professional ghostwriting, editing, and book design.
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