Hens Lay Eggs

food for thought

It ain’t a mystery

I enjoy cozy mysteries, especially if they have cats as main characters. The Crazy, VA (Lil & Boris) series by Shannon Hill is a great example. Over the past week, I started reading two new mystery series.

The first takes place in the Roaring Twenties. I enjoyed the mentions of that era’s celebrities: Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, etc. I enjoyed the description of luxurious, first class train travel from New York to California. I even appreciated the nod to social inequality and lopsided gender expectations, because in August 1920, women had just received the right to vote, and there were yet many more inequalities in U.S. law and social traditions restricting what women were allowed and not allowed to do. Touches like that add verisimilitude.

What I did not like about the story was that the heroine didn’t actually do anything. She ping-ponged from one scenario to the next without design or intent, doing as she was told by her boss and other people, until she solved the mystery by sheer happenstance. For a sleuth, even an amateur sleuth, that’s unforgivable. To be credible as a sleuth, the character must act with intent to sold the mystery.

After finishing the book, I deleted it from my Kindle with no desire to read any more in that series.

The next book I opened was a 3-book set featuring a supposedly helpful feline character. The first page delighted me with a clever turn of phrase. By the end of the second page, I’d detected a distinct lack of editing. Before the end of the chapter, I had deleted the file from my Kindle, disgusted with many misspelled words, incorrect words, punctuation errors, and grammar errors riddling the content.

Both books failed to meet expectations.

The first was an expectation hinging on the mystery trope: a character who acts with intent, however clumsy in manner, to solve a mystery (usually a murder). Perhaps I’ve been spoiled, but I developed a taste for mysteries from reading Dick Francis, Robert B. Parker, Lindsey Davis, Robert Crais, A. E. Maxwell, and Karen Kijewski. The work by these authors ranges from hardboiled detective stories to genre-spanning mysteries blended with romance. The main characters in these books solve their mysteries through intent; they don’t just bumble around and somehow figure everything out. This is a structural issue that a developmental editor could have helped the author remedy. It’s not something any editing software would have been able to detect.

The second book failed on an even more basic level: copy errors. While running the unpublished manuscript could have fixed many of the spelling errors, it might not have necessarily corrected the malapropisms. Just because a word is wrong doesn’t mean it’s misspelled. In addition, editing software knows rules, but it doesn’t understand context or nuance. The author failed to employ a human editor to clean up the manuscript and it showed … blatantly.

Authors who self-publish rely on cheap, fast software rather than pay a professional editor fail to consider the sales they lose after disappointing their readers. Sure, they made the inititial sale, but a disappointed reader won’t be a repeat customer. There’s no way for the author to count the sales lost due to readers putting him or her on the “do not buy again” list.

I have no formula that can calculate the return on investment for competent editing. Great editing is invisible: your readers won’t notice it. However, they will notice poor editing or a lack of editing … and that notice quickly turns to distaste and disappointment.

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue saying it: if your book is good enough for people to spend their hard-earned money to purchase, then it’s good enough for you to invest in its quality. Hire a professional editor.

The responsibilities of self-publishing

The decision whether to pursue traditional publishing or to self-publish is personal. Traditional publishing holds greater clout and respectability than self-publishing. The proliferation of low quality, AI-generated books further degrades what respect self-publishing has managed to build. But I ask you this: Do you check who published the book you’re reading or want to read before you buy it?

I don’t. I generally don’t even bother to check the author’s name, except to verify that the author is one of a handful whose work I refuse to read (generally due to issues of execrable quality or cliffhangers).

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it: self-publishing does not mean “do it all yourself.”

Most people, regardless of their profession or career path, have limited areas of expertise. One probably doesn’t expect a master gardener to also have mastered finish carpentry, or an expert mechanic to also be skilled at embroidery. This explains why an author should not expect his or her own professional expertise at all the tasks involved in producing a quality book.

I’ll use myself as an example.

I fancy myself to be a good writer. I’m also a good editor. I’ve had decades of page layout experience (and a bit of education in that, too), conferring a certain level of competence in that skill. However, I am not a graphic designer or a graphic artist. My creativity with images just doesn’t extend that far … and I’m smart enough and self-aware enough to recognize that lack and admit to it.

I also don’t tune up my car’s engine, fix leaky faucets, or diagnose software glitches. My areas of expertise are limited—specialized one might say. I rely on the expertise of others in areas where my capability is not adequate.

So, I basically break down the responsibilty of self-publishing like this:

  1. Writing the story. This is my sole responsibility. I have the idea. I develop it. For those who have a great story idea but not the expertise to develop it, one has the choice to hire a competent ghostwriter who does have that creative skill.
  2. Self-editing the manuscript. Again, this is my sole responsibility. I know that the rough draft (i.e, the first draft) is not fit for public consumption. The first draft is for my eyes only. Once I finish with the first draft, I set it aside to let my brain rest. Then I go back to it and begin reading it through. I fix the small problems as I encounter them and note any larger issues to be corrected later. When I finish that round of self-editing, I go back to the beginning and start over with an eye toward rewriting and revising to fix those major problems. When I finish that, the manuscript’s ready for the next step.
  3. Professional editing. The author is always too close to the story to serve effectively as its editor. This is why I hire a professional editor and urge her to be candid: “Don’t worry about hurting my feelings. Be blunt.” This is no time for an author to be sensitive, because a book with glaring flaws will incur scathing reviews from the public. It’s better to avoid that public lambasting and keep it private between me and an editor. What many new authors don’t realize is that there are different levels of editing. Most new authors need all three levels. Experienced authors may not. Regardless, editing consists of more than correcting errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. You can use editing software to help with that, although software often introduces as many such errors as it corrects.
  4. Book design. This is the page layout or book formatting portion of the project. There are several decent online services available to help self-publishing authors do this on their own: Atticus, Vellum, Draft2Digital, Reedsy, etc. When it comes to formatting for print, nothing beats the precision and strength of Adobe InDesign, especially for a document like a newsletter, magazine, or a book containing lots of graphs and images. There’s more to page design than filling the pages with content. The design of the page directly affects the reader’s experience, so it’s important to get it right. If you’re not cognizant of what makes for good page design, then hire a professional.
  5. Cover design. Page design is part of the graphic design spectrum of skill, but it’s not equal to graphic design and certainly not equivalent to graphic art. This is where my skill does not measure up to professional expectations. Therefore, I hire a professional.

An author who self-publishes is responsible for producing the professional quality the reading public both expects and deserves. It’s that simple. And it gets expensive.

Most self-published authors try to economize because they want their books to earn profits. That’s not unreasonable. What is unreasonable is the expectation that a book an author won’t invest his own money in deserves the investment of readers’ hard-earned income to purchase. If you believe in your book, then you’ll invest in its quality.

Because producing a quality book can and does get pricey, many new authors decide to pursue traditional publishing first. I say “pursue” because no traditional publisher is obligated to accept your manuscript. That comes as a surprise to many who haven’t bothered to do their research into the publishing industry. Finding the publishing companies and literary agents most likely to publish your book takes research. Two reputable sources to get you started in finding the right publishers and agents are the Writer’s Market and the Literary Marketplace.

A traditional publisher accepts most of the financial risk and reaps most of the financial reward (if any) for the books they publish. The publisher hires and pays a staff of professional editors, artists, and designers. Whether the book sells or not, those pros get paid. Statistics show that it’s a low percentage (perhaps a third) of published books earn back the advances paid to authors, so publishers focus on producing books that they believe will generate sufficient revenues to pay for staff salaries and benefits, pay for operational expenses, put money in shareholders’ pockets, and generate a bit extra for authors. This is why authors receive such low percentages of royalties from traditional publishers.

Many publishers use literary agencies as an initial screen to filter out manuscripts not likely to make money and will not accept unsolicited submissions. This means an author who wishes to be traditionally published must also seek acceptance from literary agents. Legitimate literary agents earn their incomes from selling manuscripts to publishers and from a share of the royalties paid to authors.

Authors who pursue the traditional publishing route are responsible for submitting their work to the correct people in the correct manner. Their manuscripts should be clean of errors and well-written, because publishers and agents prefer work that adheres to their submission guidelines and doesn’t need excessive massaging to bring up to snuff. A great idea poorly executed will not be picked up by either an agent or a publisher.

Because of that, many authors who will pursue traditional publishing can best serve their manuscripts by hiring a professional editor. The manuscript doesn’t have to be perfect, and the agent or editor will undoubtedly suggest changes and require some revisions, but an editor can help the author clean up the manuscript to present the story in its best light.

The one major responsibility of publishing concerns both self-published authors and traditionally published authors: marketing. Book marketing is a specialized niche within the much broader field of marketing and requires extensive knowledge of the book industry to be effective. Book marketing entails social media expertise, advertising know-how, and skill in graphic art, graphic design, and copywriting. Most authors do not have this combination of skills. I certainly don’t.

Many commercially successful authors learn how to effectively promote their books. They spend countless hours on social media such as TikTok and Facebook. They learn how to craft effective advertisements on Amazon and Facebook. When it comes to marketing, there’s a definite tradeoff: either you spend a lot of money or you spend a lot of time and effort. You, as the author, must choose what works best for you.

If you decide to self-publish your book, don’t assume you can do it all and do it all well. Hire the expert professionals you need to produce a book that’s worthy of your audience.

I’m one of those professionals, and I offer ghostwriting, editing, and book design services.

How to correctly solicit a freelance writer, editor, or book provider

I come across a lot of “I need a proofreader/editor/ghostwriter” type of posts that leave me cold. Many are so vague I automatically dismiss them as scams. However, if you have a manuscript you want written or a manuscript you want edited, then there’s a smart way to find a writer or an editor. It all begins with posting your project on the proper platform. There are many. Options include:

  • The Editorial Freelancers Association
  • Gotham Ghostwriters
  • Reedsy
  • LinkedIn
  • All Freelance Jobs
  • Freelance Writing Job Board
  • Writers Work
  • Upwork
  • Fiverr
  • And many more …

Understand that platforms like Upwork, Fiverr, Textbroker, WriterAccess, Freelancer.com, etc. cater to what I call lowest common denominator projects. Low-budget clients populate these platforms, and low-bid vendors vie for those projects in a race to the bottom. They’re predatory and exploitive and teeming with scammers on both the client and vendor sides.

Let’s be candid: you can find someone to write or edit your content anywhere. If you go to any social media platform and post something saying you want to hire a freelance writer or editor, then you’ll receive a plethora of responses from mostly unqualified, unskilled vendors, many of whom will be scammers who want to take your money and run without doing any work.

Safeguard yourself and avoid wasting time—your time and vendors’ time. That requires specifics. You don’t have to reveal your story or idea in its entirety. That’s not necessary. You should provide the following basic information:

  1. Type of service. Do you know what service you need? If so, specify it. If not, do some research and figure it out.
  2. Fiction or nonfiction? This is a basic distinction, as most writers and editors specialize.
  3. Genre. If your nonfiction project a how-to, memoir, inspirational piece, or something else? Is your fiction project mystery, fantasy, romance, science fiction, young adult, children’s literature, or something else? Be as specific as you can here, and if your project spans genres, then list those genres. If your project contains explicit, NSFW (not suitable for work) content, then specify that, too. Professional writers and editors will not bid on work that does not suit their skills and interests.
  4. Length. This refers to word count, not the number of pages or chapters. If you’re hiring a ghostwriter, then provide an estimated word count.
  5. Deadline. If you don’t have a deadline for delivery, say so; however, if you do, then mention that. Responses from vendors may indicate that your deadline is unreasonable and should be pushed back. Use that information to adjust your schedule or your expectations accordingly. Vendors who cannot accommodate your deadline will not bid on your project.
  6. Budget. This is really important. Before throwing a monetary figure out there, get an idea as to what you should expect to spend. The Editorial Freelancers Association publishes a guideline to professional editing and writing rates based on what its members actually charge. Understand that these rates may exceed your budget, which means you’ll either have to save up until you can afford skilled professional services, arrange a payment plan with a vendor of choice, or adjust your expectations accordingly. Vendors who will not accept the budget for your project will not bid on it.

The purpose of providing all that information is to avoid wasting your time and the vendor’s time. Professionals will not bid on projects that don’t suit them; therefore, you won’t waste your time reviewing proposals that don’t meet your requirements.

When you do come up with a short list of likely candidates for hire, you’ll want to assure yourself of a good match. That means asking for samples.

To hire an editor, ask for a sample edit. A sample is just that: a sample ranging from 500 to 1,500 words. A sample edit demonstrates how the editor will treat your work and informs the editor of how much work your content needs. The editor may adjust his or her fees accordingly, because a hot mess of a manuscript requires a lot more time and effort and skill to edit than does one that’s clean and well-written. (HINT: Save yourself some money and submit only your best work for editing.)

To hire a writer, ask to see writing samples. A professional writer will have a portfolio of published work you can read to determine if you like his or her writing style. Do not request the writer to write content for you as a sample unless you’re willing to pay for that sample: that’s considered unpaid work and exploitive—a huge red flag that you’re not a client that writer wants.

Another facet of hiring a professional writer or editor is a contract. A pro will offer you a contact that explains the service being hired, the parameters of the project, the fees to be charged (and paid), and the deadlines (guaranteed or estimated) for completion, terms for delivery, and terms for terminating the contract. Understand that sometimes a deadline isn’t feasible, such as with ongoing work like editing a series of articles that have yet to be written.

One last thing: communication. It’s been my experience that any potential client who wants to communicate with me via Skype chat, Telegram, or WhatsApp is a scammer. Some like to communicate via Facebook Messenger or LinkedIn’s messaging, but I prefer to move them off that platform as quickly as possible because it’s clunky and inconvenient. Facebook Messenger, I’ve found, is another favorite purview of scammers. I offer clients access to me via telephone and email. Anything else is unnecessary.

Are you looking for skilled, professional service in writing, editing, proofreading, or book design? If so, contact me at henhousepublishing@gmail.com. Don’t forget to visit my portfolio of work.

Every word counts.


Hard boiled, scrambled, over easy, and sunny side up: eggs are the musings of Holly Bargo, the pseudonym for the author.


Karen (Holly)

Blog Swaps

Looking for a place to swap blogs? Holly Bargo at Hen House Publishing is happy to reciprocate Blog Swaps in 2019.
For more information: 

Get Your Copy of Hen House Publishing Blog via Email:

2 + 15 =