Previously I wrote that my daughter/coauthor and I had reached a milestone with our book. We had finished the revisions and were sending it out to beta readers. Of course, revisions are never truly over, and I was afraid it would take another 18 months to get to a final manuscript. That’s how long it took us to get to a nearly complete manuscript.
Good news! It didn’t take 18 months!
We received excellent feedback from our beta readers, Chris Pickett and Katherine Melvin. We are so grateful to them for taking the time to read out work and offer their help. The book wouldn’t be the same without them.
Over about four weeks, Nancy and I worked through all of their suggestions and did our best to fix the problems they had pointed out. And believe me, there were plenty!
I still had to nudge my daughter often to get her to work on the book. But she came to an important conclusion: “It’s fun to work on the revisions when you do it a lot. When there is a lot of time in between, it’s like, Ugh, can’t I do something else?”
We are now endeavoring to put the book into a design template. This is new territory for me, but I’m excited. We chose one of Joel Friedlander’s inexpensive templates, opting to pay with our time and sweat instead of our money for this project.
You as a writer can draw in your readers by demonstrating that you have given your book the thought, time, and care it deserves. When readers see that you respect your own work, they are more likely to return the feeling.
Indeed, this thoughtfulness shows you respect your readers, and that can go miles in building the trust needed to win over a reader.
One way you can demonstrate this respect is by putting forth a complete package. By that I mean you have not simply written the bare bones of a book. You have put meat on those bones through front matter, back matter, multiple formats, and more.
How It Works
Building a complete package for a nonfiction book begins with crafting a solid preface and introduction. These are what is known as front matter, and they set the tone for the book. They also serve as important marketing copy.
Back matter includes reference sections, resource list, and appendixes. These can establish your reputation as a thorough and careful researcher.
In the case of memoir, the goal for these pieces may be to share a deeper understanding of the context of your story.
Other elements that enhance a nonfiction book include:
Photos or illustrations
Charts and graphs
Sidebars that present case studies, tips, or further information
Nonfiction books also benefit from well-developed ancillary materials—workbooks, videos, websites, and so on—as appropriate for the book. All of these pieces together allow your reader to get inside the topic you are writing about and learn more.
Fiction requires a different approach to the idea of a complete package. Nevertheless, you have likely experienced the novel that implemented this concept to its fullest. For example, a complete fiction package may include:
A note to the reader
A note to parents
A call to action
A glossary of terms
Maps and illustrations
Audiobooks, videos, and other ancillaries also appeal to readers and encourage them to buy your book as well as these additional materials.
Did the video cause the consumer to buy the book, or did they watch the video because they had read the book?
In either case, you are building a relationship with that reader that can lead to further sales and readership.
As you plan your book, you must study the competition and think through your reader’s needs and desires. When you create a complete package around your book, you have, to the best of your ability, filled those needs and desires.
As I was working with a self-publishing author recently, we started to discuss the publication date for his book and just how long it would be before he had a bound book ready to sell. It looked like he might not have his books in time for the start of his ideal selling period. Anxious to get his book on the market, this author had an idea:
Why not put the ebook out now, since that takes very little time, and continue with the editing for the printed book!
Here’s why not:
You only have one chance to make a first impression. If you put out a book that still has a lot of errors in it, you have burned bridges with all the people who bought the inferior product. Particularly as a self-publisher, you can’t afford to risk your reputation.
Creating an ebook has become so easy, many authors are tempted to jump right in before completing the editing process. In fact, some traditional publishers do the same thing; although the printed book receives a proofread, the e-book may not. However, if it is up to you, do not succumb to this temptation.
For years I didn’t believe that bad editing would sink a book (this from a committed and passionate editor), but with the advent of reader reviews on Amazon and other online sites, I have learned that lesson. And once those bad reviews are up, they don’t come down and you have to work twice as hard to get your reputation back.
Traditional authors may be able to negotiate this point in their contracts. For self-publishers, the decision is theirs to make. Whatever path you choose, don’t waste your money and all your hard work by taking shortcuts.
Do you have what it takes to be a good author? This is not the same as being a good writer, at least not from an editor’s vantage point. No, although working with authors who are skilled with the pen does make an editor’s job more enjoyable, it is only one of many factors to be considered. Rather, it is the writer’s ability to maintain a good business relationship with his or her editor that makes one a good or bad author in an editor’s eyes.
Lucky for you, it isn’t hard to be a good author. You can keep your relationship with your editor on solid ground—and reap the many benefits of that relationship—by following this simple advice.
Some authors approach the editing process as a battle, with their editor being their greatest adversary. This attitude can result in yelling, angry e-mails, and nasty comments directed at the editor—the very person who has been entrusted with the precious manuscript.
Rude behavior does nothing to encourage your editor to do his or her best work. An attitude of collaboration and mutual respect, on the other hand, will get you much closer to your goal of a high-quality book and will rarely lead to the hurt feelings so common with the opposite approach.
If you have put much time and effort into your manuscript, you are likely anxious to hear back from your editor to find out what he or she thought of it. Truly good editing can take some time, however, and most editors have multiple clients, so be prepared to wait.
If you are at a loss for how to fill your time, get started on your marketing campaign. It is never too early to gather the names of influential people and publications that may be willing to review your book.
If you have agreed to a deadline, do your best to meet it. If you are unable to meet a deadline, do not go to ground and avoid your editor’s calls. Communicate your needs and work hard to make the adjusted deadline. Having to track down an AWOL author is a major pet peeve of all editors and is, frankly, a waste of time.
Good organization can save many hours of work for you and your editor.
Label your electronic files in such a way that you can always find the most recent version of your manuscript.
If you have photos, use a numbering system that indicates which chapter the photo goes with.
Finally, keep meticulous research notes so that you can answer the inevitable requests from your editor for more information on where you found your materials.
A systematic approach to research will also help you if you decide to publish a revised edition in the future and need to return to your original sources.
Many authors become rigid when an outsider attempts to make changes to their writing. Yet, fighting every change makes the editing process a drudgery for both author and editor. Yes, it is your book, but you have called in professional help for a reason. Your editor is working to make it the best, most marketable book it can be.
If you are willing to collaborate, listen to your editor’s feedback, and potentially tweak your initial vision for the project to one that satisfies both of your concerns, you will likely find yourself with an even better book than you ever thought possible!
Be a good communicator.
In an age when most communication is done over the Internet, confusion and miscommunication run rampant. Take your time when responding to e-mails and make sure you have answered the questions that were asked. If you have questions for your editor, compile them into one message rather than sending four or five e-mails, each with a separate question.
You will save time for yourself and your editor, and you will avoid much of the confusion, wasted effort, and frustration that result from miscommunication.
At times the road to publication has grown so long that authors lose all enthusiasm for their books. When the author is no longer engaged, editing can become a tiresome and boring task. If you want a good, thorough edit, show your enthusiasm for the project. Be open to ideas, and be willing to put in the effort needed to create a compelling piece of writing. Your editor will respond in kind.
When each party is fully engaged in the project, the editing process is a fun and rewarding time, and the result is a book both author and editor can be proud of.
It doesn’t take much to be a good author. Remember a few common courtesies and you will always be on your editor’s good side. That can mean great things for you as an author. Most important, you will receive your editor’s best work. You will also likely benefit from his or her extra effort to promote you and your book. What’s more, your reputation as a good author could even help you get that next book published, and isn’t that what being a good author is all about?
This article originally appeared on Walrus Publishing on September 4, 2014.
Researching the competition for your next book can be a roller coaster of emotions. First you think your idea is completely new and out of the ordinary. Yay! Then you start to find others like yours. Nooo! Then you see those books are ancient and yours will be fresh and new. Yay! Then you search again and find 5 new releases. Heartbreak!
It can be exhausting going through all of that, and perhaps that is why many writers avoid researching their competition. However, if you plan to market your book to anyone outside of your family and friends, you need to know who you are up against.
Let’s say you are interested in writing a book about US tennis great Serena Williams. A quick Amazon search for Williams brings up 419 items. Sorting by year of publication, we see 12 of those books were slated for publication in 2019 alone. That is a whole lot of competition for a book about Serena Williams!
Looking closer, however, you will also note that very few Serena books were published before 2019. So how do you make your case that your book will have the shelf-life needed to recoup your and your publisher’s investment?
Another search, this time for tennis biographies, illustrates the long life of tennis as a source for biographies: Arthur Ashe, the icon who played in the 1960s, is the subject of a biography set to publish in 2020. Nearly 60 years is a pretty good shelf life.
You need not be discouraged by the competition. All of these books indicate that there is a large population interested in reading about the lives of sports stars.
That said, you might also take this information and decide instead to write about someone else, say, Maria Sharapova, who is ranked number two by ESPN for famous female athletes but has had just a handful of books written about her. Explore a wide-open market like that and you just might land on the bestseller list.
Researching the competition is scary, but it can also lead to inspiration and will almost certainly fuel your success. Keep with it until you know exactly who you are up against.
Perfect Bound: Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, Revised Edition, released August 26, and on August 29 it was the #1 New Release in writing guides on Amazon!
Amazon even put a banner on the Perfect Bound book profile page, which was great to see:
I won’t tell you how many books I had to sell to reach this milestone. Thirty copies? Three copies? Who’s counting? All I know is, with all the work that goes into making a book, it really is a treat to see the accolades.
Get your very own copy of the Amazon #1 New Release and find out what all the fuss is about. You just might discover it’s worth all hype!
Self-publishers, take note: While it’s true that you hold an inherent copyright to your work just for the fact that you wrote it, should anyone try to infringe on your copyright you will be best served by registering with the US Copyright Office (www.copyright.gov). That may sound intimidating, but it is actually a fairly straightforward process.
How to Register
Start by going to the US Copyright Office website. The Copyright Office accepts both online and paper applications, and the applications come with easy-to-understand instructions. The filing fee (as of 2019) is $55 for online registration and $85 for hard copy.
In addition to the application and the filing fee, you will be asked to provide a copy of the “deposit” — what the Copyright Office calls the work to be registered. If you file electronically you can send an electronic file or a hard copy of your work; file with paper and you have to send a hard copy. (The Copyright Office prefers online applications, but you are not bound by that.)
The application itself is easy to follow and there is an extensive FAQ section to answer questions. Read the instructions carefully and you can complete the online form in less than 20 minutes.
When to Register
You can register your book either before or after publication. Although simple, it can be a lengthy process, as getting the certificate can take nearly four months for the electronic application and nearly seven months for paper applications. During particularly busy times, those lags can be even longer.
The good news is, unless you have reason to believe you will not be granted copyright, you don’t have to wait until you receive your certificate before publishing the work. The date of registration is the date the office receives the completed application, not the date you receive your certificate. Still, copyright registration is not something you want to let slip through the cracks. I would recommend beginning earlier rather than later.
Upon publication, if you have a print book, submit a hard copy to be held in the Library of Congress.
What Not to Include
When you apply for copyright, you are making a public record. That means anyone can view the information you supply. The Copyright Office website offers this pointed advice:
Personally identifying information, such as your address, telephone number, and email address, that is submitted on the registration application becomes part of the public record. Some information will be viewable in the Copyright Office’s on‑line databases that are available on the Internet. For this reason, you should provide only the information requested. Please do NOT provide any additional personal information that is not requested, such as your social security number or your driver’s license number.
As identity theft is a real problem in this country, heeding this advice only makes sense.
The Copyright Office provides the option of “preregistration” for works that have not yet been completed. (Important: This is separate from registration of unpublished works.) The fee for preregistration is a whopping $140. I suspect this fee is intended to be a deterrent, as even the Copyright Office notes that preregistration is not helpful for most people. Rather, preregistration is recommended only for those who meet these two criteria:
You think it is likely someone will infringe on your copyright before the work is made public, and
The work isn’t finished.
Note also that even if you preregister, you will still need to go through the registration process. Except in extreme circumstances, you will most likely want to register your work rather than preregister it.
Defining your mission as a writer is a powerful exercise. It’s not enough to have an idea of what you want to accomplish with your book or other writing. You need to be clear with yourself, and the sooner you can get that clarity, the better.
In the past I have thought the act of writing down a mission statement was needless work. I knew why I plugged away at my editing company. I knew what my business goals were. I knew why I was writing a book. Why should I go to the trouble of writing it down?
But my attitude has changed.
After reading a fellow freelance writer’s argument for why mission statements are so important, I decided to give it a try. I suppose having it come from someone I knew gave it more weight. I wrote up a mission for my editing company and placed it on the home page of my website.
I was blown away by the effects. Writing down my mission forced me to give my company the attention it deserved. In return, it gave me direction I didn’t know I needed. I also began getting clients who were better suited for me.
That was for a business. What about a mission statement for a book?
When it came time to write the proposal for my book Perfect Bound, I thought a mission statement would make a good marketing tool. Agents would love it. It would make my proposal stand out.
Well, I never found out what agents thought of it. What I learned instead was that having a mission statement gave me clarity and direction. I had a concise paragraph stating what I wanted to accomplish and why. That influenced how I wrote my introduction, how I presented myself at public events, how I approached my website, and more.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of a mission statement for a book, here is one example:
My mission in writing Perfect Bound, as it has been throughout my career, is to help aspiring authors achieve their dream of publication. Armed with the knowledge contained in this book, authors will be more confident in their approach to book publishing in general and the book production process in particular. Further, they will save time and money when they avoid the common pitfalls every author faces.
Importantly, this mission statement is particular to the book I was writing and is concrete in naming what I really hoped to accomplish. It is outward-facing—that is, I can share it with my readers—yet personal, so that it has meaning for me too. The statement appears on my website, and I have often referred to it when I needed encouragement.
In one of the exercises in my class Choose Your Best Book-Publishing Path, I walk students through the process of crafting a mission statement. I provide a simple formula to get you started, and we generate ideas for how you can make yours meaningful to you.
Ultimately, however, what you put in your mission statement isn’t as important as the act of writing it down. Publishing is a long road. When doubt starts to settle in, a writer’s mission statement is a touchstone that reminds them why their book is worth the struggle.
Self-publishing clients have a range of needs, and savvy editors have an opportunity to grow their business by filling them. If you are willing to (1) broaden your network and (2) broaden your knowledge of publishing, you can find a wealth of business in the self-publishing market.
Self-publishers are in charge of the full publishing endeavor. They need an editor — you — but they also need a cover and interior designer, an e-book formatter, a marketer, a website designer, and more. If you have a network of vendors you can recommend, you can become a resource for your authors. In some instances, you may even get a referral fee.
Many self-publishers are new to the publishing industry. They don’t know one kind of editor from the next, much less how to choose a printer and e-book company. They might not even fully understand what their goals are in publishing their book.
You have the opportunity to educate yourself and then pass that knowledge on to your authors. You may give away some of this information to build trust, or you may charge for your knowledge in the form of a consulting fee. Either way, your clients and you both benefit when you understand the workings of the self-publishing industry.