I gave a presentation last night at the St. Louis Publishers Association meeting, and all in all I think it was a success. The presentation was called Preparing Your Manuscript: Writing and Editing Tips, and it covered the big things you need to do during the writing process to create a marketable product.
To some, the topics I covered may have been obvious. However, I have found that self-publishers in particular often have a big dream with little to no idea of how to achieve it. In the age of electronic publishing, where everyone seems to be putting out an e-book through CreateSpace or AuthorHouse, it’s easy to gloss over the details of how that book actually came into existence.
Some of the key points I covered were the need to define your audience, create a marketing hook, research your competitors, and hire professionals to help you. But my overall message was this: A well-prepared manuscript will save you time and money. By paying attention to the details while you are putting your manuscript together, you avoid retracing your steps to find reference information, spending time later in the process fixing careless errors, and paying good money for someone else to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.
I also explained the key qualifications of a book editor (e.g., degree in English or journalism, training with other editors, knowledge of the Chicago Manual of Style), how to find editors, and how they figure their rates. I stressed that just because someone has a degree in English does not mean that person knows how to edit a book. This was all information I knew the authors in the audience were looking for.
What I did not expect was to meet a woman in the crowd who fell into this category of “editor without qualifications.” What surprised me even more was that she seemed grateful to have someone explain why she wasn’t qualified to be an editor. She had had the work thrust upon her by a friend who didn’t have time for it, and she was floundering. She wanted to help her friend, but she knew she was in over her head. She asked me what I thought she should do.
My advice to this woman was to take a step back. Take a hiatus. If she planned to be an editor in the future, what she definitely didn’t want was a reputation as a bad editor. In talking to her, it became apparent she might not want to be an editor at all. She left the conversation with the plan to quit editing for a while and look for editing classes. Then, if she still wanted to do it, she could pick it up again.
This conversation made me realize two things. One, you never know how your words are going to affect someone, how you might help (or hurt) someone when all you are doing is speaking from experience. And two, sometimes we all need permission from someone else to quit and do something differently. No one wants to be a quitter, but when you’re in over your head, hating what you do, and feeling trapped, it’s probably time to make a change.
It was a real reward to find out I was able to make a difference with this woman in a way that I wasn’t at all anticipating. Hopefully she will have found as much reward in having come to hear me speak.