Professionalism, Please!

There is a lot of advice out there – good advice – about what do in publishing your book that will make your work look professional: have it professionally edited, beautifully designed, author-owned ISBN, Library of Congress control number, CIP data block, etc. The idea is to make your book look just like a traditionally published tradebook so that when put into the hands of a distribution professional, bookstore manager, or librarian, they will have no thought as to the credibility of its publisher. Intuitively, this seems like a good idea.

But in many cases, it is deceptive.

Many authors I have encountered want me to validate what they are doing, rather than advise them on what yet needs to be done. Most do not understand why a tradebook looks the way it does – and they don’t want to know. So I press on, venturing deep into the politics of trying to convince the client to up their game.

But today, I am stopping mid-project to reflect: If the book shepherd is working harder than the author to conform the details to industry standard, than something is wrong. And what’s wrong is in the realm of the author’s ego, enabled by deep pockets – and by a co-dependent book shepherd.

The book is your product, not your baby. You have to be willing to kill your darlings, and produce the book that distributors will want to sell, that bookstores will want to stock, that librarians will want on their shelves, that readers will want to read. Going into the project, if the author does not embrace professionalism, then we are wasting time and money producing a book that will not have an audience.

Your Point of Entry

Your desire is to have your book published. It’s a dream that has been growing in you for a long time. Now you’re ready to take action. Where do you start?

There’s no magic answer to that question. It’s a “what came first – the chicken, or the egg” question.

I often encounter aspiring authors who are anxiously trying to make decisions about publishers or agents or design or marketing, when they haven’t even finished their manuscript.

So while a little forethought is good, don’t do anything until you finish writing the book. Not much of substance can happen until you get that done. Which leads me to my list of suggestions for getting those chickens and eggs rolling:

  1. Finish the first draft of the book. It all starts with the manuscript. Nuff said.
  2. Have your manuscript read and critiqued by trusted beta readers. This does not necessarily mean asking your best friend to read it. She might be too nice. Have it read by at least 3 readers who will agree to be brutally honest. Writer’s groups can be excellent sources of beta readers. In addition, being in a writer’s group gives you the opportunity to be a reader for others.
  3. Rewrite your book. After your readers’ notes are in, evaluate the feedback and rewrite.
  4. Put the book away for a few weeks and think about your audience. Spend creative time visualizing who the ideal reader of your book will be. Conceptualize 3 or 4 ideal readers. Where do they hang out? Where do they shop? What are their interests? You don’t have to be perfect with this exercise. Be more intuitive about it than scientifically accurate. You will fine tune your marketing plans later in the process.
  5. Now pull out your manuscript and read it again with your audience in mind. Rewrite, or edit, as needed.

The bottom line at this point is to have a clean, well-edited manuscript, free of grammatical errors, saved in a universally accessible word processor file, such as Microsoft Word, ready to be laid out for print and ebook. A consultation with a coach can be helpful at any stage in the game, but it is advantageous to put your book through the above process on your own before ever spending a dime for professional help, or submitting to an agent or publisher. Also, keep in mind that until you put your book to bed at the printer, you may need to edit yet again! In fact, we often say a book is not written, it’s re-written.

Just to be clear: finish the book.

Check out this article by Carla King, “Types of Editing”


© Ralph Henley. All rights reserved.

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