Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Are You Ready?

The great myth out there about indie publishing is of people (mostly women, I think, although I could be wrong about that), not quite dressed, feverishly pounding out a manuscript and immediately uploading it to Amazon. These manuscripts are full of plot holes and are only half-baked, besides, and are unedited messes. "Messes" is a euphemism in this instance. In short, they, the manuscripts and the authors, were not ready for publication.

But what is ready? I've certainly read some (a lot) traditionally published books that I would describe the same way, but someone, somewhere, thought those books were "ready." Which is not to say that I think it's okay to just throw your crap against a Kindle to see if it sticks.

So let's go to the sports box for an analogy. You know, for someone who is not sporty at all, I use an awful lot of sports analogies.

Let's say you want to run a marathon. No, I don't want to run a marathon, but let's say that you do. You fool.
Anyway... so you want to run a marathon. Probably, you are not just going to decide the day before to do that or, even, the week before. You are going to decide months before and, then, you're going to train. Let's call it practice. You're going to practice running.

But you already know how to run? You don't need any practice. Sure... I can run, too, but I can't run a marathon. If I decided to do that (which I won't. ever), I'd practice.

So you spend months doing this running practice and the marathon is coming up, and you're sure you can't win it. In fact, you're not sure you can actually finish it. You think you might be able to, but you're not sure. So, the question is, do you run the marathon? Are you ready?

It's one of those questions with no correct answer. Well, if you know you're not going to get more than five miles in, you probably should choose the "I'm not ready" option. However, if you think you can make 20 miles, you might want to go for it.

The issue with being ready is that you have to be ready in comparison to yourself and what you want to achieve, not ready in comparison to some other runner out there, like Wilson Kipsang (the current holder of the fastest time for running a marathon). Not being able to run a marathon in two hours is not a reason not to do it. However, I would suggest that not being able to go more than five miles might be a reason to wait on entering a marathon.

Publishing and self-publishing are kind of the same way. The question to ask yourself is, "Have I done everything I can do to make this manuscript the best it can be?" Let me say that again with emphasis, "Have I done everything I can do to make this manuscript the best it can be?"

Let me be clear about why I say it that way.
Also, let me be clear that this is one of those things with which a lot of people will disagree.

Unless you are already making money off of your writing, you should never pay for editing or cover art or, well, anything. Money that you spend on getting you book into "better" shape or making it look "more professional" or whatever will almost always be money, basically, flushed down the toilet. Let me put it another way: You have almost no chance of making that money back. Well more than 90% of people out there self-publishing never make any real money from it, and, every year, almost as many small publishers go out of business as go into business. This is not a money-making career move for most people. To make money, you have to do one of two things: stick with it a long time or get incredibly lucky.

So... Don't waste your money on "professional" services. Just don't do it. It's not going to help you sell your first book. [What will help you sell your first book, though, is a second book and, actually, a third book.]

And, see, I'm saying all of this as someone who will be turned off by your misspellings and grammar errors. However, I'm also looking at the very practical side of things: Most people don't care about your misspellings and grammar errors. Most people won't even notice them. So, as much as I would like to say, "Make sure your book is well-edited before you throw it out there," I also know that it doesn't matter to at least 80% of the people out there that are your potential readers. The only important thing is the story.

Also, sometimes, it's the going for it when you can't actually finish that will help you finish the next time, but, if you don't take that first leap, you may never do it. For instance:

When I finished writing The House on the Corner, I didn't have any cover art for the book. I knew I had a good story, but I had no way to make a cover or pay for art. Basically, I had done everything I could do at that time to make my book ready, so I published it. It was only by doing that that I met Rusty and ended up with the awesome cover art that House now has. [I would provide you a pic of the cover, but, for some reason, blogger is not letting me do that, so you'll have to click the link to check it out.] Sometimes, it's joining the race that allows you to go farther than you could have on your own.

None of this is to say that you should just throw your manuscript out there as soon you finish with it. I've talked to too many people that have said things like, "No, I didn't edit it; I just wanted to get out there. I didn't want to waste time on that." There's really no excuse for that kind of behavior. Like I said, do everything you can do before you go forward and publish your book. If you have people that can help you out (like trading services or out of generosity or whatever--anything that's not paying people), take advantage of that, but never, NEVER endanger yourself or your family financially to pay someone to edit your manuscript or make a cover for you. Not unless you happen to just have extra money lying around and you're not actually trying to make writing your livelihood.

Seriously, if you look at some of the stuff out there that's popular (or has been popular), you'll see that the public at large is rather forgiving. I'm not, but they are; and they're the people you want to buy your book. If you can make your readers happy, don't worry about the rest. I mean, if the story's good, even I'll overlook some grammar issues.

So... are you ready?


  1. This is why I always try, as hard as I can, to very strenuously edit a novel at least two to three times before submitting it to Amazon. One of our good friends is an editor for pay, and God bless her, she's a great girl... but I pity anyone who goes to her. In the end, she'll charge you about $2,000 to comb through your novel and make sure it's grammar/spelling is perfect. Now then, all you have to do is make $2,001 in sales to recoup your loss and make a profit! Easy, right...?

    And hey... let's not kid ourselves, I don't want to run that marathon any more than you do.

  2. I'm not very forgiving either, and running a marathon will never happens. But I'm almost ready to get my manuscript out there. See the s in happens? First step - shut off auto-correct. I have the good fortune to know an artist who wants to get his work "out there", so he's doing the illustrations. Hard to have a picture book without pictures! Excellent post!

  3. Blogger has been very weird for me for the past week. Don't know what its problem is.

    I try to go over my stuff, but every time I let anyone look at it, no matter who, they come back with all this stuff... line level issues, and I'm like, 'geez, is there any sentence I can write?'

    The answer of course, is no. But I carry on, try to do better, learn from the mistakes, etcetera, etcetera. I did read from someone this week that said they'd made about $6k from their most recent Amazon release... but that after their hired editor and cover artist that they'd just recently started making a profit in the thing. That's a pretty deep hole to be in as you release a story.

  4. I feel bad: everyone actually stuck to the topic this week, while I forgot the topic this week. Ah, well, every jar of nuts needs a cashew, right?

    I've become better about editing since knowing you, Andrew, as I want to not lose points off my reviews for editing problems. But you're right: unless they are too numerous, some spelling/grammar problems aren't worth paying someone money to do.

    Of course, I paid a bounty on errors for "Temporary Anne" and got a few corrected, so that's another way to go.

    You're also right that nobody will make money at writing without work and luck. But that's like almost anything: think about any job. You didn't just get that job by saying "Hey, I want to be that thing." You had to go to school and get a degree and work your way up. When I decided to be a lawyer, I had to finish undergrad, finish law school, and work my way through the various levels of income to get here. That took years, and for a long time I didn't hardly make any money.

    And lawyering is like writing in that sense... I'm going to stop there and make this my post. LATER GATOR. (I'm very tired.)

  5. That's what annoys me when the "experts" talk about spending thousands of dollars on editing, covers, and marketing. Like the guy who said you have to spend $20K MINIMUM on marketing. Which let's face it most people would have to mortgage their house to do that and the odds you'll make that money back are infinitesimal. I mean most traditionally published midlist authors are lucky to make back their advance. The odds are that you have a better chance winning the lottery and getting struck by lightning on the same day than to become a millionaire with your book.

  6. Pat, those experts sound like scam artists to me.

    I do pay for cover art and editing, and yes, they are big expenses. (They don't have to be; you can buy pre-made eBook covers for $50.) However, I see my books as long-term investments. Traditional publishers only give their books a couple of weeks on the shelves before they're returned, but eBooks can be kept on sale forever. That gives you a long time to earn the money back.

  7. ABftS: That's what I'm saying. Most (and when I say most I mean almost all) self-published works will never make $500 much less $2000. And, if you're going to make the $2000, you'll make it without paying the editor.

    Donna: See, that's the kind of collaboration that works.

    Rusty: It is a deep hole. One I don't want to have to climb out of.
    You either.

    Briane: Well, yeah, because I'm going to eat the cashews. Probably first.
    The best thing to do is to learn about proper grammar yourself. If you do that, you don't have to worry so much about editors. Mostly, people (and by "people" I don't mean me) just want it to be readable and won't even know about the errors you have.

    Pat: 80% of midlist authors never make back the traditional $5000 advance. I don't think $5k is normal anymore, but it used to be the expected amount.
    Most of the analyses show that the best marketing, the thing that will bring you the most return over time, is to write more books.

    Sandra: No matter how long your book is for sale, if you only write one or two books, you will most likely never make back that $2000 investment (just to use an arbitrary figure). And if you do make it back 10 or 15 years later, what good has it really done you?
    However, if you put out a steady stream of books, you can make that money without having spent the $2000 to begin with.
    Just sayin'.

  8. I agree it's risky to pay for editing. However, it's impossible to edit your own work because you've been to close to it. The solution is to trade services with other authors.

  9. Cindy: Well, I disagree about it being impossible to edit your own work. The best edited stuff I've seen out there are books that have been edited by the authors, like the stuff from the Beer guys. Of all the indie stuff I've read, including books with paid editors, there's is the best edited, and they do it themselves.
    However, trading services is a good thing to do if you can find someone better than you who is willing to do it.

  10. "there's is the best edited, and they do it themselves."

    Was that an ironic typo?

  11. I wish it was. But it was just a typo.