Category Archives: Publishing

Would You Take Back a Manuscript Before Your Editor Finished Working on It?

Several times throughout my freelance career, I have had reason to suggest an author take back a manuscript and work on it some more before I continue with my editing. The reactions I have received run the gamut.

The first time this came up, I had been hired for a developmental edit and project management. I had done plenty of project management but was new to manuscript development, and it wasn’t until I had put in about 10 hours of work that I realized the project really amounted to a ghostwriting assignment.

WorriedGhostwriting costs a lot of money for a number of reasons, the two most obvious being it takes a lot of skill and it takes a lot of time. It definitely costs more than development. With my client’s pocketbook in mind, I suggested he take back the manuscript, do some work to transform what had been a transcript into a narrative, and then come back to me for editing. Even though I was confident this was a better tack for the author, I was nervous to make the suggestion because it meant changing the terms of our agreement. It turns out I was right to be nervous: the client was irate.

Although I did my best to explain what my motivations were, the client felt I must somehow be trying to get out of the work I had agreed to do and make him do it. In his mind I was running a scam to get more money out of him. The funny thing is, if I had been crooked, I would have kept my mouth shut, racked up a bunch of hours doing shoddy work, and returned a manuscript that was passable but not good. If he hadn’t been so angry, he would have seen that what I was suggesting would save him time and money because I wouldn’t have to query every sentence I wrote and I wouldn’t have to charge him for ghostwriting when he had hired me for development. His fear of being taken advantage of prevented him from reacting in a rational manner.

That project petered out, not because of this encounter — after 30 minutes of heated discussion the client finally understood what I was suggesting and why — but because the author simply stopped returning the edited/ghostwritten chapters. He found out writing a book is more work than he first thought.

That experience left me gun-shy, but a few years later, I again determined it would be in my client’s best interest for me to return the manuscript for revision before continuing with the editing. I had made significant, large-scale changes to the first two chapters and suggested the client apply some of the basic principles of good writing that I had highlighted. This time, the client agreed. I was thrilled. We worked out a new table of contents and a new framing for the story; the author was completely on board. I knew execution was going to be the critical point, but I crossed my fingers and marked my calendar for four weeks out, when I expected to receive the revised manuscript.

Surprise! One week later the author returned the entire 400-page manuscript, “fully revised.” To her credit, she had made some of the most important structural changes. However, the writing was not improved. Whereas some authors will see the kinds of changes I have made and apply them to the rest of the book, effectively learning something about what makes a strong sentence and what their crutches are, this author was unable to take advantage of the same opportunity. Alas, editing proceeded but the book was never as good as it could have been.

Not too long ago, I once again offered to return a manuscript for revision before I completed the editing. As always, I did this with a little trepidation. I know my motivation is with the author’s best interests, but I also realize it may be insulting to have someone say your book needs so much work, you should just take the whole thing back. The impression that somehow I am shirking my duty as editor is another factor that fuels my fear. But this client and I had a history, so I decided to take the chance.

CooperationThis time, there was no need for fear or insecurity. The client felt no threat and understood exactly where I was coming from. Yet, he passed up the opportunity for one more revision. In this case, he had his hands full with other projects and felt confident enough in what he had submitted and in my ability to improve it. For him, the time and money he was spending on editing fit his schedule and budget. Although I felt he could have improved the book in ways I couldn’t — and if he made some of the more basic revisions, then I could focus on other aspects of storytelling — in the end the project proceeded as scheduled. I respected my client’s decision, but I did feel he could have made a more powerful book with one more thorough revision.

I have also worked with authors who are willing to take my challenge, and the results can be astounding. In one instance when I was hired for a copyedit, before I had finished my first pass through the manuscript, it was clear the book really required development first. (For a discussion of the differences, see Four Kinds of Editors: In Brief.) I wrote the author and explained what I had found: time line problems, inconsistent characterization, and a weak ending, among other issues. I provided detailed notes about what the problems were and how I thought he might fix them. He agreed to do a full revision based on my comments.

A month or so later, the client returned his revised manuscript. Having already experienced authors who did not employ any of my suggestions or make alternative changes to solve the problems I had highlighted, I did not know what to expect. What I discovered on reading the new manuscript was thrilling. A full revision, with time line problems addressed, characterization strengthened, and — what’s this? — a completely reimagined ending for the novel. Better than simply making the changes I suggested, he had taken my guidance into consideration, played with it for a while, and come up with something all his own. Now this was a work both the author and I could be proud of!

So what would you do if your editor, partway through a project, suggested you take back the manuscript, perform a thorough revision, and resubmit it? Would you assume you were being scammed? Would you stick to what you had and let the editor do his or her best with it? Or would you take up the challenge, approach the project with renewed vigor, and take your manuscript to the next level?

In each of these instances, I suggested the author thoroughly revise his or her manuscript before continuing with editing in order to achieve the most efficient use of the client’s time and money — and to some extent, my time as well — in pursuit of the best product. I know that often, if the author does more work, then he or she will have to pay me less. The line will never reach zero, but many writers can save significant amounts of money and achieve much higher quality if they are willing to revise their manuscripts under the guidance of a professional editor. Some writers are astute enough to capitalize on this opportunity. I hope that more will do so in the future.

Perfect BoundLike this blog? Find more advice and insights in the award-winning book Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Left Bank Books, and other fine retailers

Advertisements

IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards Silver Award Winner!

Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro has been named a Silver award winner in the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards!

April 10, 2015, I traveled to Austin, TX, to attend the awards ceremony, and it was a terrific experience. My friend, colleague, and contributor to Perfect Bound, Kathy Clayton, was my guest for the evening.

Katherine Pickett and Kathy Clayton at the IBPA awards ceremony
Katherine Pickett and Kathy Clayton at the IBPA awards ceremony

Our table of ten was filled with finalists and industry notables. Having chosen our table at random, we were thrilled to be seated with three other finalists. Also at the table were Sonia Marsh, who heads the popular Facebook group Gutsy Indie Publishers, and Brian Jud, executive director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales (APSS; formerly SPAN).

Two of the finalists at the table won Gold Awards. Rita Gardner won for her memoir, The Coconut Latitudes, and Shea Henderson won in the crafts and hobbies category for her book School of Sewing. We all joined the fun.

Rita Gardner wins Gold
Rita Gardner wins Gold

Perfect Bound took Silver in the reference category. Although it would have been nice to win the Gold, the book has done well. Over the past two days both the print edition and the ebook have landed on Amazon bestseller lists, and for several hours yesterday the print edition was on two bestseller lists concurrently.

Perfect Bound hit two bestseller lists April 14, 2015
Perfect Bound hit two bestseller lists April 14, 2015
The ebook hit the bestseller list April 15
The ebook hit the bestseller list April 15, 2015

It is constant conversation among writers as to whether these awards competitions are a good investment. Some can be quite expensive. The strategy at Hop On was to choose two awards where we valued the opinion of the awarding body and where we thought our book would fit — and possibly win.  For us, it has been a terrific experience and a whole lot of fun. Besides being recognized by an industry-leading organization, we are also reaching more readers, and that is what the publishing adventure is all about!

 

PerfectBound by Katherine PickettLike this blog? Find more insights and advice in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Left Bank Books, and other fine retailers

Protecting Your Copyright: How to Keep an Editor (or Anyone Else) from Stealing Your Work

copyright symbolMany authors are concerned that someone, anyone, will learn of their book idea and try to pass it off as their own. Although this is rare, the worry is understandable. Ideas do get stolen, copyrights are infringed, and the originator of the idea may end up with nothing.

The trouble for the author is, if you want to create a really good book, you have to be willing to share it with others before you publish it. You need feedback from friends, family, beta readers, industry experts, professional editors, agents, and publishers.  You also need to be able to share it with reviewers and anyone you might ask for a foreword or a blurb. You have to be confident enough in the system to send your work out into the world and let other people reflect on your ideas.

So how do you get that confidence? As an editor, I often have potential clients ask what they can do to protect themselves from having their work stolen (“by you or anyone else” being the unspoken implication). Well, my first thought is always, “I have no interest in writing or publishing your book. Do you know how much work that would be for me?” But for those who are truly worried, I suggest a few precautions they could take. These protections apply to anyone you may share your work with:

  • Research your editors, agents, publishers, or other publishing professional. Your first responsibility is to ensure you are working with someone who is above board, whom you can trust. Ask for references, ask about their work history, and talk to other writers to find out if they have any experience with this person. Look online for warnings, and listen to your gut. If you don’t trust the person, don’t work with them. For in-depth advice on this topic, see How to Hire a Freelance Editor in 5 Easy Steps.
  • Ask the person to sign a nondisclosure/confidentiality agreement. I have signed a few of these in my career for both publishing houses and individuals. I have no plans for your book, so it’s no skin off my back. For you as the author it clarifies to the person that you don’t want your ideas spread around. You consider the work confidential and they should too.
  • Register your copyright. This is the most extreme step, but it also assures the most protection. Plus, it’s easy, it’s only $35 if you do it electronically, and no one has to know you did it. You have an inherent copyright in your work, but registration helps you to defend that copyright. Visit the US Copyright Office website or the Canadian Intellectual Property Office website for details. You can find a crib sheet on registering copyright in this blog post here.

As one blog reader pointed out, documentation is key in all of this. Periodically saving your files as PDFs or other nonalterable formats with date stamps will help you to prove what you wrote and when you wrote it.

Of course, none of these steps will prevent someone from taking your work. Once the document leaves your computer, some malicious person could find it and try to make it their own. But by taking these simple steps, you can minimize the chances of that happening, and you can maximize your ability to fight any legal battles that may come up as a result.

PerfectBound by Katherine PickettLike this blog? Find more advice and insights in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Left Bank Books, and other fine retailers

10 Key Questions for Evaluating Your Book’s Competition

So much invaluable information about what is and is not already available, what the industry conventions are, and how you can make your book better than anything else on the market, can be gleaned from the competing titles in your area of writing. This is part of the planning that goes into creating a high-quality book.

Photo courtesy of douceurs d'etre, http://www.flickr.com/photos/midstofliving/.
Photo courtesy of douceurs d’etre, http://www.flickr.com/photos/midstofliving/.

Nevertheless, researching the competition can be overwhelming. As you sort through Amazon listings, print editions, and ebooks, you may begin to ask yourself, “What is it I’m  looking for again?” The following 10 key questions will help you remain focused while you evaluate your competition.

1. How does the author’s writing style compare to yours?

This doesn’t have to be a question of whose writing style is better — although that can be a factor. The point here is that you can set yourself apart by showcasing your own writing style. A different writing style may appeal to a different audience, one that is still looking for what you are providing. Thorough editing can help.

2. Is the book an appropriate length for the target readers?

When thinking about length, you must consider the attention span and sophistication of your readers.  Are all of your competing titles around the same length? By matching the competition, you can be sure you are meeting your readers’ expectations. By departing from the norm, you can perhaps provide a more comprehensive, or conversely, a more accessible, volume.

3. Is the plot or argument fully explored and explained? Is it compelling?

The answers to several of the questions in this list can be gleaned without actually reading the competition. Not so for this question. You need to know what is in the book. Read critically to see what’s missing that you can provide. In nonfiction, the table of contents will speed this process. With fiction, you have to read, read, read.

4. In nonfiction works and children’s books, are there enough special elements such as boxes, charts, and illustrations to keep the reader interested?

Flip through the pages. Are there special elements that make the book more accessible and easier to get into? Are there so many special features that the reader is overwhelmed or the book feels cluttered? The right balance here depends on the topic and genre in which you are writing. Based on what you know about your audience, does your competition strike that balance? What can you emulate? What can you do better?

5. What is the quality of the artwork? Is there too much or too little?

Not all books have artwork — the industry term for illustrations, photographs, and line drawings. Should yours? Can you use artwork to set your book apart? If the competition doesn’t include any, that might be a place for you to excel. If the competition does have artwork, you might be able to make yours better (e.g., higher quality, easier to understand). If the competition includes illustrations and you weren’t planning  on having any, you may want to reconsider your plan so that you can stay even with your competitors.

6. Are any appendixes, references, endnotes, or a glossary included?

Some books benefit from extensive supplementary material. Is yours one? Again, if the competition is providing these types of value-added features, you should consider doing the same. If they aren’t, that may be a way for you to enhance your offering. Although these more obviously apply to nonfiction books, some fiction — especially sci-fi and fantasy — can employ these features to great effect.

7. Is there an index?

Indexes are specific to nonfiction, but they come in many shapes and sizes. You can have a subject index or a name index, or both. You can have an exhaustive 25-page index or a simple 8-page index. Or you can have none at all. Depending on the topic of your book, your readers might expect a certain type of index. You can learn this by looking at the competition. You should plan to give your readers what they expect.

8. What kind of front matter — such as a preface, introduction, time line, list of illustrations, list of characters, or map — is provided?

Similar to question 6, the more features you offer in your book, the more value you can add for your reader. You have to be selective about what is appropriate for your genre and topic, but that is just the kind of information you can learn from reviewing the competition. Note that both fiction and nonfiction can benefit from well-prepared, creative front matter.

9. What angle does the competition take? Who is the audience?

This question gets to the heart of finding a niche. What angles do your competitors cover in regards to your topic, and more important, what is being ignored? From whose perspective is the story or argument told? Is there an audience segment that is not being reached? By delving into the uncharted territory, you can make your book a great resource of entertainment and/or knowledge for a new group of readers.

10. Does the book educate or entertain? Is it enjoyable?

Virtually every book has some competition; most books today have quite a bit of it. But how many of those books are enjoyable to read? No matter the topic, reading a book can and should be rewarding. What are you going to do to make sure your book is enjoyable? Solid writing and editing go a long way in creating a pleasant experience for your readers.

Bonus Question: Is the competition selling?

Although the first 10 questions here are excellent for keeping your head on straight while reading and reviewing your competing titles, there is one more question to consider. As you look at the competition for your book, can you determine how much of a market there is for your book idea? Where do your competitors rank on the Amazon bestseller lists? Is the market burgeoning or glutted? Publishing the best possible book you can is of utmost importance. Making sure there are people willing to purchase that book is a close second.

Perfect BoundLike this blog? Find more advice and insights in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Left Bank Books, and other fine retailers

Lightning Source vs. CreateSpace: What I Would Do Differently

Updated February 28, 2015

Lightning Source Inc. (part of Ingram Content Group) and Create Space (part of Amazon) are the two most prominent options for print-on-demand in the United States. They are each enormous and come with their own pros and cons, making it difficult for self-publishers to choose between them.*

lightningsource vs.

CreateSpace-Logo

For my book, I went through Lightning Source because the print and binding quality are said to be better, you can set your discount rates, you are automatically listed with Ingram’s distribution (good if you want to be in bookstores), and further, I am not a fan of Amazon’s business practices.

But I was asked recently, if I were to choose a print-on-demand option for my book today, would I do anything different from just a year ago when Perfect Bound went to the printer. I had to answer yes, yes, I would.

Things did not go as smoothly at Lightning Source as I had expected given its reputation. It took three proofs before we were satisfied with the interior print quality. Perfect Bound includes some screens (i.e., shaded boxes), and the screens were uneven or blotchy. Apparently our proof was the last book off the press before they changed the ink (seriously). I was not impressed.

The cover printing, the binding, and the paper were all very good, however. Once the interior print quality issues were resolved, we were happy to continue with Lightning Source.

Over Christmas 2014, new information caused us to reconsider our choices. That’s when we learned that Amazon was taking longer and longer to get our books to customers. One customer reported having to wait three weeks! I had heard this might happen; because CreateSpace and Lightning Source are direct competitors, Amazon has incentive to make Lightning Source books difficult to get. To make matters worse, Amazon started saying our book was out of stock. We feared that might cost us sales. Who wants to take a chance on a book that’s out of stock?

After much discussion, we finally decided it was in our best interest to work with CreateSpace. I wasn’t thrilled with that because, if Lightning Source has print quality issues, what is CreateSpace going to do? Most people order from Amazon and therefore the books would be coming from CreateSpace. I didn’t want my readers getting crummy-looking books. But, I felt I was over a barrel, so I signed up with CreateSpace.

An example of the blotchy printing in our first proof from Lightning Source
An example of the blotchy printing in our first proof from Lightning Source

Turns out the print quality at CreateSpace was better than at Lightning Source, and we had nothing to worry about there. It is clear to someone who is really looking closely that the binding is not as good, and the color match on the cover isn’t exact, but only we would notice that. The paper is a little creamier than I would have wanted, but I prefer it to the stark white that is the other option from CreateSpace. Lightning Source’s paper is a very pleasant light cream; CreateSpace’s is a little darker but still OK. Also, CreateSpace charges less per book, by about 50 cents in our case. When you’re selling a high volume of books, that makes a difference.

Right now I plan to keep both accounts — one with Lightning Source and the other with CreateSpace — but I do wish I hadn’t waited so long to sign up with CreateSpace. I despise that Amazon controls so much and that the company leveraged its size and reach to coerce me into working with it. That is a huge drawback. But with the quality of printing I saw and the cheaper per unit price, I came to terms with it.

Depending on the type of book you are publishing, I would definitely consider using CreateSpace. Lightning Source still offers better binding, better paper, and ways to get into bookstores.  But with CreateSpace you can sign up for free and get a proof for about $4 (plus shipping). If you hate it, you can move on to Lightning Source or Ingram Spark. Or do as we did and sign up with both. (As an aside, if you do go with CreateSpace, consider getting a matte finish on your cover. I find the glossy from CreateSpace to be too shiny.)

So there you  have it. I never thought I would endorse CreateSpace, but it turns out there are benefits to this behemoth.

UPDATE: Wednesday, February 25, the Independent Book Publishers Association held a webinar with representatives from Lightning Source. One attendee asked about the “out of stock” message and how to correct it. The official response from LSI was to get an account with CreateSpace without signing up for expanded distribution. Why the reciprocation? It seems LSI does some printing for CreateSpace. See this article from Aaron Shepard for more.

* IngramSpark is another print-on-demand company from Ingram Content Group that caters to micro-publishers. Given its close relationship with Lightning Source, the drawbacks I mention here would likely be the same for IngramSpark.

Like this blog? Find more advice and insights in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Left Bank Books, and other retailers

Copyright Tips and Tidbits: How and When to Register, How to Format Your Notice, and What Not to Do

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 2015) is $35 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.)

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 three months for the electronic application and nearly six 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.

How and Where Your Copyright Notice Should Appear

Your copyright notice belongs on the reverse of the title page in your book. A valid copyright notice includes the word “Copyright” or the symbol “©”; the year of registration; and the copyright holder’s name, in that order:  © 2015 Katherine Pickett

Some publishers choose to use both the word and the symbol for copyright as well as the word “by” — Copyright © 2015 by Katherine Pickett — but that is not required.

Pitfall: Preregistration vs. Registration

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:

  1. You think it is likely someone will infringe on your copyright before the work is made public, and
  2. 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.

 

Like this blog? Find more advice and insights in Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Left Bank Books, and other retailers

Defining Success: My Interview on Today’s Leading Women

In October I was interviewed by Marie Grace Berg of Today’s Leading Women. The interview went live last week, and you can listen to it here: http://todaysleadingwomen.com/katherine-pickett/

In preparing for the interview, I was thankful I received advance notice of what we would discuss, as it gave me a chance to consider (1) what my top three tips are for those looking to start a business, (2) what new resources I would recommend, and (3) how I balance work, family, friends, and health,* among other questions.

One of the hardest questions for me to answer was, Who is your hero? I don’t follow superheros nor am I enamored with Oprah or other television personalities, so I had to turn elsewhere for a role model. I finally settled on one of the leaders in the publishing industry, someone who has helped me personally and who models the mentor spirit that I strive for. (Listen to the podcast to find out which one.)

Today's Leading Women

One of my favorite questions was, How do you define success? That one really got me thinking. I consider myself successful, but by what standards?

Success in business generally implies financial success, and that is definitely part of it. It took six months for POP to become solvent back in 2007, meaning I lived off the proceeds of my company exclusively at that time. That was a huge achievement, and I reached it faster than many new companies. It’s definitely a point of pride.

But that’s just one hurdle. The next level of success meant being able to work on projects of my choosing. I built a client base over the first several years of the company, and now I have enough job offers that I do not have to accept every project that comes along.

But again, that is not the pinnacle of success for me. As of 2015, I have consistent work that enables me to take much more control of my schedule, and that, to me, is the true sign of a success.

What does control of my schedule mean? It means more time for family, friends, and health. It means being able to even consider training for a century ride (100 miles on a bike in one day). It means being able to read more books for pleasure, promote my own book, and spend time with my husband and daughter on weekends. It means so much more than just paying bills and meeting financial goals.

Now, I suppose the day I am able to say I have complete control of my schedule will be the day I really know I have made it, but I do suspect that will only come when I retire. There will always be a deadline to meet and a client to please. But being able to choose those clients, and being able to work within standard business hours, has meant a significant increase in my happiness quotient.

* For the record, I can’t rightly claim to balance work, family, friends, and health. I work a disproportionate amount, and my health suffers because of it. But I try. Boundaries, I have learned, are the key. With a toddler under foot, that lesson becomes more obvious every day.

 

Like this blog? Find more advice and insights in  Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, available through Hop On Publishing, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Left Bank Books, and other retailers.