Sample Edit or Editing Test, Which One Is Best?

Authors and publishers looking to hire an editor need to confirm the editor’s practical skills before making an offer. Editing tests and sample edits are the most common ways to do this. Both are effective, but they have distinct uses and can have very different results. If you want to be certain you are getting the right editor for your book at a fair price, you will do well to know the difference.

An Editing Test Helps the Client

When I was first starting out as an editor, I applied for a job at several publishing houses. I have done freelance work for many others. Nearly all of them asked me to take an editing test to prove I was qualified.

These tests would often include various sections that required different skills, such as spelling tricky or industry-specific words and formatting references, as well as a selection of writing to edit. The excerpt would be riddled with errors the publisher expected me to catch.

This was and is common practice. A well-crafted editing test is a very good way for publishers to get a feel for an editor’s skills before they hire them. And I never minded. In fact, I would include an offer to take a test in my cover letters. How else could I demonstrate not only that I had taken the courses but that I possessed the skills of a professional editor?

(I have even guided other publishers on how to do this; see this article in the IBPA Independent.)

Other Ways to Assess an Editor’s Skills

Early in my career, editing tests were my friend. They gave me a practical way to show my stuff to a publisher that would have many kinds of books and other projects for me to edit. Once I began working for individuals outside of traditional presses, however, I discovered I needed a different way to prove I was qualified.

I discovered I needed a different way to prove I was qualified.

Unfortunately, I found the most obvious options were flawed:

  • Individuals wanting to hire me weren’t likely to have prepared a test, and I couldn’t exactly provide one for them. I would know all the answers.
  • Preparing a portfolio of previous editing work would be difficult. I would need permission from the authors to share their work, and as a newer editor, my portfolio was slim.
  • A list of recent titles, though helpful, can give a skewed impression of an editor’s work. Many people work together to publish a book. How much credit (or blame) can one editor take?
  • Providing references or testimonials would give me some street cred, but a test is much more objective than endorsements from strangers.

All of these options have their uses (well, maybe not the first one; I don’t know anyone who creates their own test). Many editors’ websites, including my own, provide a list of recent titles as well as testimonials from satisfied clients. I believe both add to the picture of who the editor is and what their experience has entailed. If you need an editor, try to find either or both of these features on their website.

But these suggestions also leave something to be desired.

Thankfully, there is one more method for demonstrating the high quality of one’s work without all of the drawbacks. For authors, this is also likely the best way to learn what a particular editor can do for you.

A Sample Edit Helps Both the Client and the Editor

Somewhere along the line I must have heard about a sample edit, because after debating the other ways to woo clients, that’s what I decided to do.

Here’s how the sample edit works:

  1. A potential client sends me their manuscript, or at least 50 pages of it.
  2. I select 2–5 pages from the sample and edit it as I would the full manuscript. At the same time, I assess how much time it will take me to complete the project and what level of editing this project really needs.
  3. I return the edited sample to the author along with a cost estimate and scheduling information.

Sample edits have many benefits, for both editor and author:

  • As the editor, I get to see what shape the manuscript really is in—not just what the author told me—and I can prove my worth to the author.
  • The author gets to see what kinds of changes I am likely to make to their work and determine if we are a good fit.

Whereas a test will tell you if the editor is qualified, a sample edit will tell you if this is someone you can trust with your writing project.

This is the key difference: Whereas a test will tell you if the editor is qualified, a sample edit will tell you if this is someone you can trust with your writing project.

(Longtime readers will know I am a huge fan of sample edits. You can read more about them here and here.)

What This Means for You

If you simply want to assess your editor’s knowledge, the editing test may be right for you. Those who go this route should be sure they are crafting a test that is reflective of the challenges in the work.

Also—and this is very important—they should be up front with their editor that what they are sending is indeed a test and not a sample. Here’s why.

Remember what I said about using the sample edit to assess what level of editing your book needs? That has real-world implications. If I believe what you have sent is a representative sample but it is actually much worse than the real thing, then I will misjudge the quality of the writing and the cost estimate will reflect the additional work.

To ensure you aren’t overcharged, be transparent with your editor.

There’s nothing to say you can’t insert a few errors into your sample to make sure the editor can catch basic typos or address your pet peeves. However, it is counterproductive to submit something that does not reflect the type or amount of work the editor will be doing.

Now, if you want to know what the editor will do on live copy (i.e., your writing project), and you want to get a fair estimate of the cost involved, the sample edit is your better bet. That’s because the sample edit does double duty, helping you and the editor to know if this is a good match.

Editing is an emotional time. You want to hire the editor who best fits you and your book.

In the end, the most important thing to remember is this: Editing is an emotional time. You want to hire the editor who best fits you and your book. Sample edits and editing tests can help you do that.

For more about how to hire and work with a freelance editor, check out this series of posts.

Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

I’m an Editor, Dammit!: Reflections on When I Became a Writer Too

In June 2019 I had a poem published in a neat little online poetry mag that specializes in women’s poetry. It is the first poem I wrote as an adult, and getting it published was a real treat—but also a total fluke. See, I’m not a poet. I’m not even a writer. I’m an editor, born and raised, and that’s that.

At least, that’s what I have been telling myself.

As an editor, I have worked with great writers and terrible writers. Based on that, I thought I knew what it took to be a writer. I also knew I didn’t have it. When I put pen to paper, everything I did seemed to fall just short of making me a full-fledged writer. And the closer I got to meeting my perception of a writer, the higher my expectations became.

For example, I began keeping a journal at age 17 and haven’t stopped. But I rarely revise, and it has never been published, so in my mind, that doesn’t make me a writer. Anyone can keep a journal.

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This is me in my twenties.

In my twenties, I had some personal essays published on a friend’s ezine. Yes, I wrote and refined the essays, and they were published, but it wasn’t like my friend was not going to publish them. She said so herself. Again, not a writer.

In 2010, the now-acclaimed Lowestoft Chronicle accepted my humorous essay “Dented”—another fluke!—and then selected it for its anthology. I was thrilled. Maybe I was a writer after all.

But no. That was the first year of publication for Lowestoft, so I could be pretty sure they threw me in because they needed material.

Then December 2012 rolled around. I had been freelance editing for about 8 years by then, and my work had been steady for most of that time. But wouldn’t you know it, two big editing projects were postponed for December and January. At the same time, I had been tossing around the idea of writing a book (still not a writer!) based on the workshops I had been leading. I thought it would be a good business move. Now that I had the time, why not see what I could do?

Twenty months later, I self-published a two-time book-of-the-year award winner. I knew in my heart I still wasn’t a writer, however, because I had published it myself. Real writers are published by strangers. But I felt I was getting closer. (To celebrate the book launch, my husband gave me an engraved business card case. It reads: “Katherine Pickett, Editor and Author.” He said he ordered it that way because he knew I identified as an editor first.)

For several months surrounding the release of my book, I pitched

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Here’s me in my thirties.

about a dozen articles that were published across the internet and in print. This time strangers were publishing my work, and not first-year publications like I was used to. Some were blogs I had read and admired for a while.

Hey, I may be on to something, I thought. My confidence was building.

I went on to do some journalistic writing—I was assigned a topic, interviewed some folks, wrote it up. This time I was being paid to write. That makes me a professional writer, doesn’t it? But here I stumbled again. Ask anybody: You’re not a real writer if it isn’t a creative work.

Notice how I keep moving the goal posts?

But now—now I have this poem, a lyrical creative work published by strangers. It fits. I fit! So this is it. I’m officially an editor and a writer. And it only took 20 publications for me to get here.

Of course, I’m not alone in my angst. Psychology Today defines imposter syndrome as “a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.”1

Although imposter syndrome is not considered a real illness, it does affect our lives and our livelihoods. Because of the multitude of job descriptions for “writer,” I think writers may be particularly susceptible to it. It is precisely what I experienced over the course of my writing life.

In fact, you can find evidence of my insecurity in the first sentence of this essay.

Did you notice the way I diminished the significance of the magazine that published my poem, calling it “little” and “neat”? Apparently it doesn’t even deserve the full name of “magazine.” It’s an “online mag.” I don’t want anyone to think I am taking myself too seriously. It takes much more than one publication to make a person a writer.

Or does it? Does it require publication at all?

Looking back at my struggle, I believe I have been missing a larger point about who gets to call themselves a writer. I’m not a writer just because I finally reached the highest bar I set for myself. I have always had the drive to write down my thoughts and share them with the people around me, and to me, that drive to write is the definition of a writer.

So, no, publication is not required. The writing—that’s what makes a person a writer. If you also have a drive to write, I invite you to claim the title. It is yours for the taking.

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Copyright Michaeljayberlin | Dreamstime.com

1 Megan Dalla-Camina, “The Reality of Imposter Syndrome,” Psychology Today, September 3, 2018, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/real-women/201809/the-reality-imposter-syndrome (accessed August 21, 2020).

 

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Striking the Right Tone to Reach Your Blog Readers

I recently had an email exchange with someone who is making the switch from writing feature articles to blogging for his company. He asked me to read his latest blog post before he published it. I was happy to oblige. After I read it, I had some advice about his writing tone.

Me: “I think you are missing an opportunity to engage your readers more by talking directly to them.”

Blogger: “Well, this is important, so how do I do this?”

He’s right, this is very important. Striking the right tone is an essential part of marketing.  It can be the difference between reaching your target audience with your blog and reaching no one at all.

As to his second point — how to engage readers with a blog — I can think of several ways. Continue reading

Chapter Summaries, Who Needs ’em?

A friend said, “Never write chapter summaries. They suck the life out of the story.” I believe that’s only true if you hold yourself hostage to the summaries. In fact, I believe they are crucial. Let me tell you why.

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Photo by Miriam Espacio on Pexels.com

Starting Out

This fall and winter I began writing a chapter book with my six-year-old. It’s called Carla and Lola Go to School, But Where Is Miss Quimby?, which gives you a good idea of what it’s about. As with many books, the concept is sound. It’s the execution that will make the difference.

Before we attempted to write the book, I made sure we did what I tell all of my authors they must do:

We planned.

First we jotted down general ideas about what we wanted our book to be about, who the characters would be, and what the setting would be. We also set down what the four main obstacles would be, the general structure of the book, and how it would end. (Spoiler alert: They find Miss Quimby.)

At that point, my daughter was ready to dive in. We opened a new document and started to type. And that’s when I truly learned why writers need chapter summaries.

Amending the Plan

In our initial plan, we had agreed on one opening for the book, but once that first paragraph was written, we didn’t know where to go. My daughter, being six, forgot what we had planned and wanted Miss Quimby to be at school. To my daughter’s dismay, I put on the brakes. We had forgotten to write our chapter summaries!

Using paper and pen, we jotted down who the characters were in each chapter, what the obstacle or action would be, and how they would overcome it or carry it out. We also noted the setting for that chapter and made sure the timeline worked with what would come before and after.

Team Writing vs. Going It Alone

Because we were writing as a team, the summaries were even more important than for a solo writer. We needed to agree on what would happen before it was written or we would spend all of our writing time arguing it out. We would never finish.

However, even a solo writer needs to know where they want their story to go. And if you are like many writers, you might have to take a few days or even weeks away from your writing. How do you remember where you wanted to go if you didn’t record it somewhere? Based on what I’ve seen in my editing, writers’ memories may not be as good as they think.

In the case of my daughter’s book, as we were writing the summary for chapter 9, we realized chapters 8 and 9 needed to come sooner. That would tie the story line together much more neatly. How much easier it was to make that change when the “chapters” were only a paragraph instead of the full shebang! How much time and heartache we saved by making this decision now rather than after we had sweated over the writing!

The book has a long way to go. The chapter summaries are going to guide us on the journey.

Resources

Check out these resources to help you find your own way with chapter summaries:

How to Write a Book Proposal: Chapter Synopsis (video)

11 Ways to Outline a Book: Chapter-by-Chapter

Scrivener (writing software)

How to Write a Summary of a Book Chapter

How to Choose a Plot Outline Method: 4 Techniques for Outlining Novels

 

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Inspiration Can Sneak Up On You: Three Ways to Inspire Your Writing

In October I attended my old writers’ group after being away for close to two years. The speaker, Sarah Kaufman, was not scheduled to talk about my area of writing, but I went anyway. Sometimes you just have to get up and go.

Of all the information Kaufman presented, one small comment sparked my interest the most. She explained that as she was writing her book, The Art of Grace, her publisher noted, “It could be like Quiet!”

At that moment, Sarah was not using her competition, but her comparables as inspiration for her book.

This is an often overlooked way to better your writing.

Normally we look for books on our same topic, targeted to our same audience, to see what’s what. How can we do what they did, only better?

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Copyright Kevin Carden | Dreamstime.com

But when you have a topic and aren’t sure how you want to approach it, a close look at books that do the same thing as yours but on a different topic — what are known as comparables — now that can be a source of real inspiration.

Inspiration can be funny. We never know when it will come or where we will find it:

  • A friend recently moved to Germany and said he was surprised by how uninspired he felt by his new surroundings. This feeling then inspired him to write a novel about a character who felt the same way.
  • I went to a writing group to connect with old friends, and I found inspiration to write this post about inspiration. How meta is that?

The feeling of being uninspired is a drain on our writing lives.

Often, this feeling keeps us inside and away from our bookish pals. We unsubscribe from newsletters and blogs about writing, and we avoid being alone with the computer. Who wants to be reminded of how much they aren’t writing?

But what I learned from all of this is threefold:

  1. Putting yourself in public spaces can trigger new ideas.
  2. Reading widely, not just in your genre or about your main topic of interest, can improve your writing and lead you in new directions.
  3. Sometimes you have to open your mind to accept the inspiration that comes.

So get up and go. See, do, and read new things, and follow wherever it leads you.

Do you have a story about inspiration sneaking up on you? Leave it in the comments!

 

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Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

Fictionalizing Your Story? Commit!

A few years ago I read Jeannette Walls’s Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel. It is the fictionalized tale of her grandmother and mother living on the frontier. It was a lovely book and I highly recommend it.

I have just one reservation: In fictionalizing the story, Walls did not go far enough. She did not fully commit.

This choice left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied. I wanted a fuller story—a novel.

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Before and since that time, I have seen the same problem with some of my clients’ works as well as in published books. After the A Million Little Pieces fiasco, more people are hesitant to call their memoirs nonfiction if they include anything not verifiably true, and they are opting to fictionalize. Here is my advice to those authors:

If that is your decision, then embrace it!

Employ all of the tools of storytelling that are available to a novelist to make your fictionalized story a worthy read:

  • Develop back stories for your characters
  • Invent dialogue and settings
  • Embellish feelings and reactions for your characters
  • Rearrange events and create new ones

In sum, fill in the details you don’t remember or never were told, to craft a full-bodied story that readers will enjoy.

Detach yourself from reality!

Some authors are reluctant to create something for fear of not being true to the story they wish to tell. I believe it is possible to capture the essence of an event while placing it in a different setting or inventing dialogue that you have no way to verify.

But fictionalizing isn’t just about filling in the details. Novelists have even more tools that keep their stories moving. You can use them too!

  • Combine or eliminate characters
  • Skip events that don’t fit with the narrative arc
  • Summarize background information
  • Leave out the details that don’t move the plot or aid character development

Omitting information can be as difficult as inventing it when your goal is to be true to your story. Yet, the best storytellers know when to expound on a seemingly minor detail and when to bridge over events that don’t contribute to the effect they want to achieve.

You have to do what is right and best for your work. Let the shackles of reality go, and commit to the genre you have chosen.

When you fail to commit, you leave readers adrift.

 

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Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!

Writing Prompts: Get Published on the POP Newsletter

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Copyright Gorodok495 | Dreamstime.com

Would you like to be published on my blog, The POP Newsletter? Here’s your chance.

First, respond to one of the writing prompts below. Then follow these simple rules:

  • The submitted piece must clearly relate to the prompt.
  • Genre and style are open, but no erotica, please.
  • Publication is at my discretion.
  • Some editing may be required before publication.
  • Word limit: 2,000 words.

And now, the prompts:

  1. This is fear country
  2. What are you waiting for?

Submit your work to me at katherine [at] popediting [dot] net. Please paste your submission into the body of an email.

I look forward to reading your submission!

 

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Before You Hire an Editor, Do These 4 Things

The other day, I called around to find someone who could tell me why the bush in my front yard was dying. “Dying” may have been too generous. It seemed like maybe it was already dead. It had slowly turned brown over the past year and as of the week before, three-fourths of it was leafless. Not to mention, the trunk seemed to be growing something.

Still, I was hoping someone could help me salvage what was left.

The lawn care company I called first recommended a garden center. The garden center recommended a tree specialist. The tree specialist said this:

“Dead is dead.”

He explained that he could come take a look but it would cost me $250 and it didn’t sound like there was much left to save. “I’m not usually one to turn down billable hours, but it’s not like I can do an autopsy or even a tissue sample. Dead is dead.”

I thanked him for his forthright manner and said I would take his gentle suggestion not to hire him.

The next weekend, my husband went out with a saw to see what he could do. The bush turned out to be so dead, the saw was unnecessary. He more or less yanked it out of the ground with his bare hands.

I’m glad I saved my $250. It is a treat to encounter someone who isn’t just looking to make a buck.

To tell the truth, that tree specialist reminded me of me.

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Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

It doesn’t happen often, but there have been times when I had to turn down a client simply because I thought they would be wasting their money by hiring me. Not that their book idea was dead; they just were not ready for editing. (I have written previously about the reactions I have gotten when this happened after editing had already started.)

I am always pleased when writers want to have their books edited before publishing them. Sometimes, however, they have a few more steps to take before it is wise to spend money on an editor.

Here are 4 steps you should take before hiring an editor:

  • Let the manuscript simmer. Take a week or, better yet, a month away from the manuscript before you begin your revisions. You can spend this time not thinking about the book at all, or use it to build your marketing platform, research agents and publishers, or read other books that will help you hone your craft.
  • Read through the manuscript 2 or more times to make revisions. Most people require 20 revisions to get their work where they want it. It is an iterative process. However, you will probably need an outsider’s perspective before you get quite that far.
  • Share your work with a friend. No, a friend isn’t likely to give you the best feedback, but you have to start somewhere. If you don’t already have a writing group to tell you what is good and bad about your story, start with a friend. You need to get the gumption up to expose your work to someone else and it’s OK if you start with a softball.
  • Find a writing group, beta readers, or other outside people with writing experience to read your manuscript. Arrange for 3–5 well-chosen readers to give you specific constructive feedback on the writing. Then sort the feedback to determine which changes support your vision for the book.

You could continue on this path until you have completed your 20 revisions. That’s not a bad plan. But you might also decide it’s time to hire an editor before then. That’s not a bad plan either. What I would strongly advise against is typing “The End” and immediately beginning your search for an editor.

As the tree specialist illustrated, it’s often faster and cheaper to rip a dead bush out of the ground yourself than to pay someone to tell you what you already know.

[Related: How to Hire a Freelance Editor in 5 Easy Steps]

 

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

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.

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:

© 2020 Katherine Pickett

Some publishers choose to use both the word and the symbol for copyright as well as the word “by” — Copyright © 2020 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.

 

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Beyond Editing: What Are Your Soft Skills?

Copyright Vaeenma | Dreamstime.com

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.

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Like this blog? Find more insights and advice in the Updated and Revised Edition of Perfect Bound: How to Navigate the Book Publishing Process Like a Pro, now available on Amazon!