Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Another Step on the Self-Publishing Road

A lot goes into publishing a book, and self-publishing, if it's going to be done right, and that means knowing the extent of strengths and weaknesses. My strengths include a good sense of artistic design and writing books. My weaknesses are more on the publicity, marketing and writing synopses side. I'm also good at pitches and queries, having won more than my fair share of book contracts for myself and others.

I have another strength, and that's knowing when to do it myself and when to delegate. That is why I hired a couple of top notch artists to do the cover art for my books. I also took the advice of a good friend and let her do the synopsis that will appear on the back cover of Among Women when it comes out in print. I also took another good friend's advice and let her take a crack at the synopsis; I'm using hers as the description on Amazon.

Self-publishing has a bad reputation, mostly gained from people who are rejected by publishing houses and decided they know best and publish their books anyway. In a way, I fit that category because I couldn't interest an agent or a publisher in my book. They were enthusiastic about the project, but not enthusiastic enough. They also couldn't get a handle on how to market the book, which is something I will have to deal with. Among Women is not easily shelved or pigeonholed. I'm looking to word of mouth to get the ball rolling and I'll take it from there. Advertising will help, and that's something else I'm not good at, but I am good at talking about my projects, so I'll work the publicity from that angle. Unfortunately, marketing is all about starting a buzz and, as long as I stay away from bees, wasps and hornets (I'm allergic), I should be all right. I'll wear veils and masks and gloves to protect the more sensitive parts of my skin -- and hide my identity. So to speak.

I'm also good at controlling things. My sister Tracy calls me a control freak, "In a good way," she says. Self-publishing gives writers a lot of control. I'm good with control, and I know how to decide what to delegate and what to do myself, like editing.

A good book needs a really good editor, and I have one with a taste for blood -- the red pencil kind. She doesn't spare my feelings or sugar coat anything; she just tells it like it is and we compromise, as long as it has nothing to do with grammar. Spelling, I've got that cold, and I have a few medals to prove it.

Self-publishing has a bad name because of all the bad books published that shouldn't be published, but that is changing almost as fast as the publishing business. Computers have made self-publishing so much easier and very user friendly. There are still glitches, but it's a learning process and we're all learning. We learn from our mistakes and from what has gone before. And we learn from big publishing, which seems to have lost its way.

Traditional publishing had one big advantage over self-publishing, or vanity publishing, as it used to be called. Vanity publishers are still out there, but that's a different topic for another day. Traditional publishing offered savvy editors, proofreaders, copy editors, line editors, marketing, distribution and a sales force. A lot of that has been marginalized for the sake of the bottom line. The first cuts seem to have been in editing: copy and line editing, proofing and concept editors. A writer, no matter how much of a genius s/he is, can only get better with a great editor. Most of the books I see from big publishing houses these days are full of wrong words, grammar mistakes, typo, writer's tics, and all kinds of continuity and concept errors. I cringe whenever I hit one of those brick walls. I wanted better for my book, so I hired an editor.

I learned a long time ago that I cannot do it all. I have limitations (we're back to strengths and weaknesses) and a second, or even third, pair of eyes will only make my book better. I have the best. I'm willing to share her, but not give her up. Mary Ann is the best editor I've worked with in a long time, and if it ain't broke, you don't fix it. I don't even mind (too much) her slash and burn technique where it's warranted. I need that sometimes. Keeps me on track.

In order to get my book into e-book and print, I used my brains and got help. I got two young and talented artists for the cover art and a great editor. I'm the general (control freak) and I marshalled my troops where they would do the most good. The book that came from all our efforts -- I could not have done it without them -- is a better book and good enough to publish. How do I know? Because a publisher told me he would've published the book if I'd sent it to him. I'm considering talking to him since he might be willing to help me get wider distribution for my book in Europe. Every little bit helps, and I'm not afraid to color outside the lines.

Sometimes it isn't what you know, but who you know, and that is very true of self-publishing. I chose my self-publishing company because I had the option to do most of the work myself (control freak) and yet could employ the talents and strengths of others to balance my weaknesses. I'm very happy giving up some control as long as I have the final say. One of my artists keeps telling me that I don't have to settle for less than what I want, for less than perfect. I don't -- at least as far as I know.

One good thing about self-publishing and the user friendly systems available is that I can make changes (when I find mistakes) and not have to wait for another print run of 50,000 books to do it. I can make the changes and see them within a day or two. Now that is power.

I also gave up some power where synopses are concerned. I do not do them well. It is one of my big weaknesses. When a good friend suggested mine was crap (she said it needed work), I asked her to write it. What she sent me is what I used on the back cover. I know good when I see it. Another good friend suggested my synopsis was missing something, so I asked her to write something for me, and that one is the description on Amazon. A good control freak knows when to step out of the way and let the professionals handle things. I would rather eat worms than write synopses, but that's just because I'm awful at it. For me, it's like calling someone and getting the answering machine or voice mail. I never know what to say and whatever I do say, unless it's business and I have a specific reason for calling, makes me sound like a dithering idiot. I usually just hang up or say as little as possible. It's the old saying about people thinking you're an idiot until you open your mouth and remove all doubt. That's me. The idiot on the recording.

As long as writers are willing to give up some power, or at least find people with strengths to match their weaknesses, self-publishing will become less about vanity and more about quality books, and that is what's important. Being a control freak helps, as long as no micromanaging is involved. The proof is in the pudding -- or, in this case, in the book. The proof, I mean. It's in the mail now and I'll be able to look it over on Friday. In the meantime, I'll try to focus on work. It should be easier since my book was reviewed in record time, in about 12 hours, as opposed to the 48 hours I was expecting, but then I made sure my book was as good as it could be before I hit the publish button.

No comments: