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First, do no harm.

Or…sell a terrible book.

Okay, I’m not a doctor nor do I play one on TV. However, I am an author and I’d love it if every author (no matter HOW you’re published) took this oath.

Why? There’s so much negativity out there surrounding self-published authors (which I am), why add to the ammunition? I typically don’t write ‘author’ kind of blogs, but a reader suggested I address this so I am. I’ve written before how product is the most important part of your platform, but I’d like to break it down further.

How does one write and produce a ‘not-terrible’ book? By writing and producing a great one! Is it that simple? Nope.

Let’s deconstruct.

1) Writing. I’ve written three books and am in the midst of writing number four and researching for number five. I’ve loved writing since age ten. I’ve written since age ten, throughout my life (internships and journaling), and professionally since 2008. My point: writing takes time. For me.

Many people will disagree and that’s fine – I know one author who writes one book per week and releases a new book every two to three months and she makes a good living. No offense to her, but that doesn’t work for me.

I love the luxury of working through my thoughts, words, and phrases. As a (primarily) nonfiction writer, it takes me some time to address some of my experiences and share them in a way that evokes an emotion for the reader.

Without getting too much into my ‘process,’ I will tell you that my first draft is like the Hemingway quote about writing as bleeding. I just sit down and get it out. As author Karen Kondazian says, a first draft should be ‘emotional vomit.’ Just get it out. It took her 27 drafts and six years to finally be ready to pitch her award-winning book The Whip (and it’s wonderful, by the way) and she was signed right away.

So my point here is: take your time. Make it amazing. It took me about nine months to complete Broken Pieces and I’ve gotten the best reviews of my career.

Share your work with other writers you trust with your baby. Then share it with more people. Then, when you finally feel like if you see it once more, you’ll hurl, it’s time to pay someone to edit it for you.

2) Editing. I never knew this until I hired a professional (the extraordinarily talented Jessica Swift Eldridge): there are really three types of editing and a book needs all three. They are:

  • Substantive: (also called content or structural) edit, where they dissect the book, look at the structure, and many times suggest major changes.
  • Line edit: more intense than basic proofreading, they do exactly what it sounds like: review a book line by line for errors and suggest fixes.
  • Proofreading: basic proofing for grammar and spelling errors. Proofreaders often read words and sentences backward, a skill most authors do not possess.

Much of the complaints people make about self-published books is in the editing (poor grammar, misspelled words, clichéd writing, etc.). Hiring someone who knows what the hell they’re doing can prevent all of these mistakes. Your high school English teacher may be a nice lady, but does she know the Chicago Manual of Style inside and out?

Yes, editing costs money. So, start saving for it while you’re writing. Stop going to Starbucks and out to sushi (gasp). Put money toward making your book amazing and you’ll make up the editing fees plus more in sales on the backend.

3) Betareading. What does beta mean? Basically, it’s a test version. For authors, it’s the first shared version to send to readers, reviewers, etc. This is where you get feedback from many others (I sent Broken Pieces to about thirty people – readers, fans, other authors and reviewers I respect). They all gave me wonderful feedback and I made several changes. Some I didn’t.

Betas are also important from a marketing standpoint: many will write reviews for you. There is not guarantee they will, of course, or that they will be positive. But if you send to your readers (I suggest tweeting it out and sharing that you’re looking for betas), many people will be happy to post a review after your upload the book to Amazon or wherever.

4) Graphic Design. We all judge a book by its cover. Sorry, but it’s true. So you need a great cover. Eye-catching – using colors that draw the eye in, like red (notice red is on all my covers). Unless you are also a graphic designer, I suggest hiring someone who does this for a living. Why?

BrokenPieces-FINAL2 (2)

Well, no doubt you’ve seen some truly horrible book covers. I know I have. Horrible covers rarely sell thousands of books. I’ve paid anywhere from $150 to $500 for my covers, every penny well spent. Don’t skimp.

5) Formatting. Just like the above, I suggest paying someone to format for you, unless you’ve learned and love doing it and get paid for it also. To me, it’s like math. I don’t want to do it mostly because I’ve rather spend those hours writing or marketing. The last thing you want is a terrific book that’s formatted poorly. Again, it’s worth the investment in you.

So there you have it. I’ll discuss more about writing next time, and plan to have some successful writers visit as well to share their processes and secrets. For now, focus on making your writing the best you possibly can and start looking around for the best help you can afford.

I welcome your comments and questions!