If you’re self-publishing a book, you don’t want your book to look self-published. That means you need to pay close attention to the editing phase. Editing for self-published authors is different than when you are traditionally published.
That’s because you are responsible for the editing: finding the editor, evaluating the editor, and evaluating the edits of the editor.
We sat down with Jennifer Bisbing, author of Under the Pines, a book critic and editor who shared her insights into the self-publishing journey. Jennifer, who studied literary criticism in graduate school, provides tips on editing for self-published authors, and which services an author should allocate their money toward.
What Is an Editor?
When it comes to a remarkable editor, an English degree isn’t the defining characteristic. (We know—it sounds counterintuitive!)
An editor should be well-versed in storytelling as well as structure and idea development—not just the mechanics of writing.
So, how do you find a well-rounded editor?
Jennifer’s number one recommendation: Read and review other books your potential editor has edited.
As you research into your potential editor’s book list, ask yourself the following questions: Has this editor edited multiple books? (In this case, Jennifer advises, “quantity is important.” You want an editor who has dozens, if not a hundred books to their name!) Are their books well-written? Structurally sound with a well-developed plot or idea? Has the editor won any awards? Has the editor written and published a book?
Take Jennifer’s advice and find an editor who’s knowledgeable in the world of writing and publishing books.
The Editing Services Self-Published Authors Need
One of the pros to traditional publication is the guarantee of an editor to copy edit and proof your book. Also, at its most basic level, traditional publishing provides credibility to an author’s book. Self-published authors also need credibility, so you need to publish a near-perfect book. Sans typos. Sans grammatical errors.
Let’s break down the different types of editing services for self-published authors.
A developmental edit focuses on the big picture of your book. This editor checks the details in your story, makes sure these details support your plotline, and confirms your plotline works efficiently. A developmental editor will also check the pacing, structure, and development of your idea, in the case of nonfiction. What’s the biggest payoff to a developmental editor? They understand the big picture of your book, and then help you pull it together.
A line edit succeeds a developmental edit. A line editor checks your sentences—do your sentences flow well? What cadence does your story follow? This editor will also concentrate on the finer details of your book. Do your characters remain true to their personalities? Is your dialogue accurate to what your...
Do you want to write your family story? But don’t know where to start?
A family story is one of the best ways to preserve your history for future generations. It bonds your family together. And it can establish your legacy. Like all forms of writing, though, writing a family story can be daunting. You may not know where to start, which stories to include, or how to remain objective without offending your family.
To begin to write your family story, it’s important to first be clear on what a family story is and isn’t.
A family story is a historical, generally chronological story that covers your family’s story. Now you might be thinking, Isn’t that a memoir? Great question! Let’s compare the two.
A successful memoir needs a meta narrative—a theme that ties all your stories together. It’s written in the first-person; you, as the writer, interpret the events in your life. Some of those stories might involve family members, but the stories aren’t so much about your family as they are about how those moments informed you.
A memoir focuses on specific events in your life. It’s not a junk drawer for all your memories, and the memories used are relative to the theme/s you’re exploring.
A family story doesn’t require a meta narrative. (In general, these books are shared only amongst family members. If you were wanting to sell your family story, it would need a meta narrative to engage a larger audience.) A family story also likely will cover a longer period of time and touch on multiple themes. It’s written in third person, which allows you to act as the historian. You’re sharingstories rather than interpreting them.
Why Do You Want to Write Your Family’s History?
Like all writing projects, a family story demands you identify your “why.” A purpose energizes you when you reach inevitable low points where you want to give up; it encourages you to keep writing.
A family history is most often written to celebrate the perseverance, determination, and drive of your family throughout history. This can be energizing, and perhaps the purpose that drives you: remembering the qualities that have defined your family from generation to generation.
Defining your purpose will help you shape your story in a way that accurately portrays your family and their survival.
To help you determine the “why” of your story, start by asking yourself, What happens if I don’t tell my family’s story? Why is it important for me to tell this story?
As you begin to write your family’s story, be cautious of telling stories that denigrate your family. You can talk about the hard stuff—alcoholism, illnesses, and affairs, for instance—but try to frame those stories in a way that shows how your family triumphed. In family stories, your ancestors are typicallythe heroes. Those heroic stories are what will unify your family around deeper...
Most authors want to publish their book. And to share their story with the world they have to publicize it. But publicity is murky. Sometimes difficult to navigate. You might find yourself asking, Can I manage publicity on my own? How do I know if I can trust a PR firm? What should I look for in an author-PR firm relationship?
We caught up with Julia Drake, co-founder and president of Wildbound PR, a literary-publicity company that helps authors across the globe gain exposure for their book. In our interview, Drake shared her insight and recommendations on what authors can expect from an author-PR firm relationship.
Transparency in the Plan
The first thing—and most important thing—you should look for in a PR firm is transparency.
A good PR firm will be up front with their publicity plan. They will present a proposal of publicity avenues they believe best suits your book and how they will help you accomplish your goals. This should be a methodical analysis—not randomized. It should be personal to you. And your book.
What if a firm refuses to share details about their publicity plans? Or claims they have a “secret sauce” they can’t share with you?
Leave. Lack of transparency in publicity plans, according to Drake, is typically an indicator of a scam.
Another thing to be wary of: A firm can appear perfect on paper but former clients might not be happy with their work. To recognize if a firm is good for you, reach out to their former clients. Ask if their experiences were positive. Ask if the publicists helped them accomplish their goals. A PR firm should be willing (and excited!) to share former clients with you. It means they’re proud of their former work.
Publicity is hard work. It requires experience and connections with the media to share your book—and not every publicist has the connections that will benefit you most. A publicist should be clear and transparent in what they can do for you.
Collaboration and Expectations
The author-PR firm relationship is a partnership. It’s teamwork. It’s a collaboration. An author who jumps into the action and is willing to collaborate with their publicist will run a stronger campaign than an author who sits on the bench.
A successful author-publicist relationship requires two things: communication and effort.
What are your goals for your book? Do you want to sell a thousand copies? Do you want your book to reach select audiences? Do you want to promote on TV or radio? Communicate your goals to your publicist. And be willing to spend time with them brainstorming publicity avenues.
As with any collaboration, you have to trust your PR firm. So it’s important to find a publicist who connects with your story. (This means they have to read your book!) Some firms read only the book’s summary and the author’s bio; run away if this is what they do. You want a publicist who believes in your story. Someone who has read...
“Do I need to build a platform?”
The short answer: yes. Publishers and agents want you to have a platform so that you can sell your book. But what exactly is a platform?
Platform is a fancy word for audience. When a publisher or agent asks about a platform, they want to know how many people you are reaching, and, more specifically, how many people engage with your content.
So, how do you build a platform?
We sat down with Stephanie Chandler, author of The Nonfiction Book Marketing Plan, and expert on author marketing and platform building. In our interview, Stephanie shared invaluable tips on how to build a platform.
The Value of Relevant Content
To build a platform and grow your audience, you need to produce valuable, frequently posted content. Why? Because Google gives priority to sites that update frequently. Every time you create a new post, you’re showing Google that you’re relevant. And you’re giving your audience a reason to follow you. The more content you create, Stephanie explains, the more relevant your site becomes to your audience.
So, what exactly is valuable content?
Find your audience. To optimize your platform—whether that is through an email list, social media, podcasting, etc.—you have to be clear on your target audience. And once you know your audience, every piece of content you create should speak to them. As soon as you stray into content not beneficial to your audience, you lose your audience’s trust—and give them a reason to not return.
Produce relevant content. Your audience wants content that is useful to them. As you produce content, determine how you can best serve your audience. How do you deliver value to your audience? How do you address their challenges, needs, and interests?
Start by considering the questions your followers ask. Do you have content that can specifically answer their questions? Or create content closely related to their questions. If your engagement is slipping, Stephanie notes, it’s probably because your content isn’t relevant to your audience.
Implement SEO. Search engine optimization, SEO, will be your greatest ally. And your worst enemy. Whether you’re producing a blog or running social media accounts, you need to implement SEO into your content. SEO includes keywords and key phrases that target your audience. At Journey Sixty6, we rely on SEO phrases like, “coaching for writers” and “online learning community” to reach our audience. Think about the keywords and phrases your audience will search. And then implement those phrases/words into your content!
Ultimately, the best way to build a platform is to create fresh, relevant content.
Email Is Still Relevant
Once you’ve nailed down your content, you have to actually establish your online presence. Common ways to build a platform include: blogging, social media, speaking events, podcasting. To learn more about these platforms,...
“What do you look for in a manuscript?”
It’s a question every literary agent hears hundreds of times throughout their careers. And it’s the golden question writers want an answer to.
But answers vary from agent to agent. Most answers tend to be generic. Or they fail to provide practical advice writers can apply to their writing. (How many times have you been told an agent wants a “good first chapter”?)
To help aspiring authors improve their manuscripts, literary agent Soumeya Roberts encourages writers to review three things in their manuscript.
The first thing literary agents look for in a manuscript is a distinctive voice. They want a manuscript that is well-controlled. A manuscript where the writer chose the best stylistic option available—voice.
What is voice?
Voice is an abstract idea; a stylistic mixture of tone, vocabulary, syntax, and point of view. A writer’s voice is distinctive through their tone, pacing, word choice, and structure of paragraphs and chapters.
Think about Jane Austen in comparison to Ernest Hemingway. Austen’s voice is witty and sharp, while Hemingway’s voice is terse and not overly descriptive. You would never confuse Austen’s writing with that of Hemingway’s.
A writer’s voice is only half the equation, Roberts explains. Agents want to read a manuscript with a strong, distinctive character’s voice.
A character’s voice is the tone they use throughout the story. It’s a combination of how they speak, how they think, how they react to the situation unfolding around them.
Like humans, each character has a unique voice! And they will have different reactions to a situation.
Agents are on the hunt for a manuscript with controlled writing. Each character’s point of view (POV)—whether you’re writing in single POV or multiple POVs—must have a purpose. Why is this character the narrator? What makes their POV interesting? What insights do they provide to the plot, and how do they react to the problems unfolding?
A word of advice: When writing in multiple POVs, each character must have a distinct voice. The first line of each chapter should clearly depict who is the POV character. And it should be clear throughout the rest of the section that they are the narrator.
Character voice aside, you might be wondering, “How do I develop my voice?”
Voice can only be developed through continuous writing. You discover it over time. Roberts encourages fiction writers to write short fiction. MFA programs, for example, prefer short fiction as it requires an author to think about how to tell a story, and in what voice. Shorter pieces allow you to develop your voice in new ways.
Ultimately, developing your voice requires self-investigation. Practice writing short stories. Capture memories from your day at the park. Or an outing with friends. The longer you write, the easier it will be to discover your...
"Why do I need to build a platform?”
From literary agents who want to know about your platform activity in the query letter, to publishers who want to see your book marketing plan, building a platform is an important step to becoming a published writer.
An important piece to building a successful platform is determining where your audience can be found. Does your audience listen to podcasts? Is your audience active on social media? Do your readers prefer blogs?
It’s likely your audience is spread across multiple platforms. And while we want to reach as many potential readers as possible, it’s a feat we likely can’t conquer. A piece of advice: Commit to one platform.
In our recent podcast episode, we talk about five ways you can build a following for your writing. Take a listen and you’ll learn tricks for building a platform through different avenues. This blog post will focus on a specific platform building activity: podcasting.
Podcasting: Is it for Me?
I bet you have a favorite podcast. There’s one for every interest, from decorating, to history, to entrepreneurship, to true crime. Podcasts are ubiquitous; and podcasting is a continuously growing market. A new one pops up every day. Developing your own podcast might seem intimidating. But if you prefer speaking to writing, it’s a great way to build your niche audience. And, hopefully, land a few readers for your book when it’s published.
Producing your own podcast provides consistent opportunities to develop your expertise on a topic and talk about ideas tangential to your book.
So where do you start?
The Podcasting Styles
Before you jump into recording, you need to find your editorial angle. What makes you unique? What can you do to make your podcast unique?
This is as much about what you’re going to talk about as how you are going to package it.
There are different types of podcasts: interview podcasts, conversational co-hosted podcasts, monologue podcasts, and storytelling podcasts. You might consider a hybrid.
The Journey Sixty6 Writing Podcast, for instance, is a hybrid of the interview and conversational style. It works because it allows the founders, Dave and Melissa, to share their expertise and connect personally with their audience as well as provide valuable insights from other experts in the publishing realm.
A couple caveats. The monologue style podcast is particularly personality driven—and demands a host who can hold court for a period of time. And most storytelling podcasts demand writing. Think of the first wildly popular podcast, NPR’s “Serial.”
Often the content will dictate the format.
Whatever you decide, recognize your weaknesses, and lean into your strengths.
In order for your podcast to stand out from the others, you’ll need to find a format that you’re not fighting against, but feels natural and works for your content.
How to Successfully...
What is a query letter? And what should you include in a query letter?
A query letter convinces a literary agent to read your work. Think of it as a sales piece. It’s your first (and sometimes your only opportunity) to present your book in a simple, concise manner so that an agent can easily understand your book’s premise and quickly decide if they want to read more.
It goes without saying, a query letter should be clean. There should be no grammatical mistakes nor spelling errors. It should also be short. A strong query will be no more than three short paragraphs. (The recommended is two!)
What else should you consider?
To get the insider scoop, we recently interviewed New York literary agent Miriam Altshuler, agent to Anne Tyler, Joseph Campbell, and Nadine Gordimer. After more than 30 years in the publishing world, Altshuler recommends that you include in a query letter these three things.
An eye-catching query letter needs a strong elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a marketing tool that summarizes your book. It’s short, concise, and makes the agent want to read more. Its purpose is to immediately hook an agent into your book. (Or a reader into buying your book.)
How do you create a pitch? Altshuler recommends you visit a local bookstore and read the flap copy of books in your genre. Flap copy is a book’s summary and typically found on the inside of a hardcover copy. As you read through different flap copy, determine which pitches grab your attention best. And then model your pitch based on these.
An important part of the pitch—a part new writers overlook—is explaining what your book is about. Agents want authors to recognize that a book “has to have a heart—it has to explore something. It’s not just a story of two characters. It’s not just an idea.” Your pitch must explain what the ‘heart’ of your book is.
The best way to do this is to break your pitch into simple terms: “Character A meets Character B and explores X.” Then you can spend 1-2 sentences explaining what ‘X’ is.
In non-fiction writing, briefly explain the idea of your book and why your take on it matters.
If you can concisely explain what theme your book explores, then an agent will be more interested in your query.
Agents receive hundreds of queries a week. And the queries that stand out are personalized, thoughtful letters.
As you write your query letter, think about the ways you can ooze thoughtfulness. For starters, send out individual emails to agents. Do not clump agents into one email! That shows that you don’t see the value of individual agents—and what they offer the writers they represent.
You also want to maintain a respectful tone. Agents often read through query letters on the weekends or at night. They’re taking time out of their day to consider representing you. The least you can do is be respectful.
How do you start your memoir?
Some people just start telling stories from their life.
That’s one way. But it’s shortsighted.
A memoir, like all books, requires a strong idea—a thesis—that governs the book. It also requires idea development before you even begin writing. It can’t simply be an autobiography or a disjointed retelling of every story that has taught you a lesson.
Developing a governing idea helps your memoir have focus—what stories you should and shouldn’t include. It also helps you determine the structure of your memoir.
We sat down with Rob Lewis, ghostwriter of a memoir, who shared his expertise in memoir writing. In the interview, Lewis presented three questions all memoir writers should ask themselves before they start writing.
Do I Have a Story to Tell?
Writing a memoir is the craze of the day. Everyone believes they have a story that must be told. You must believe you have a story to tell if you’re reading this article. But before you start your memoir, you need to ask yourself, “Do I really have a story to tell?”
Or, “Does my story really have the potential to say something in a fresh way that will move people?”
Memoir as a genre has increased in popularity over the years. From celebrities to athletes to ordinary people overcoming obstacles—everyone, it seems, is dipping into memoir writing. There’s a problem with memoir popularity, though: people believe the everyday is extraordinary. It could be. But only if you help the reader see the extraordinary in the everyday.
When writing a memoir, you need to address whether or not you have an actual story to tell. How do you know?
A good memoir will be a story of significance. It will reveal an idea in a profound way, either through thematic exploration, character analysis, or voice and literary strategies.
A good memoir will also develop a fresh perspective on a topic. It will provide a narrative previously unconsidered, or provide additional, nuanced context to a former narrative.
Consider how your story will fit into the current narrative surrounding your topic. How is your memoir different? Why would a reader choose your memoir over another? Is there something in culture that makes your perspective particularly unique? Is yours written in an unconventional way that draws the reader in?
A fresh perspective on a written topic will spark a reader’s attention.
Remember: Memoirs are not a “regurgitation of ordinariness or ordeal…but a shared discovery.”
What Is My Structure?
A memoir—like all good books—needs a solid structure. Structure keeps your story focused and moving, with the overarching theme of your book always woven throughout.
Memoirs typically follow one of three structures: chronology, thematic, and past vs. present. A chronological memoir presents a linear story. It starts at one specific date and concludes at...
“How do I know if my manuscript is ready for submission?”
You might never know fully. But careful review of your manuscript can get it closer to being publishing-ready.
Reviewing your manuscript is mostly intuitive. Of course, you need to clean up grammatical errors and make sure you write in the same voice. That’s basic. It’s what we learned in high school English.
But reviewing your manuscript is more than just cleaning up grammar. Your editing process should also review cadence, specificity, idea development, and scene development, to name a few! There are a few key areas where writers—especially new writers—tend to overlook in the editing process.
In this blog post, we share three of the many editorial mishaps to pay attention to when you review your manuscript.
The Manuscript Is Being Reviewed
Reread that subtitle above. It sounds awkward, right? That’s because the subtitle is written in the passive voice.
One of the simplest yet most important things to pay attention to when you review your manuscript is this: passive and active voice.
What’s the difference? Passive voice produces a sentence in which the subject receives the action. Active voice produces a sentence in which the subject performs an action. The subtitle, for example, rewritten in active voice might be: She Reviewed the Manuscript.
Let’s look at another example.
Example: The ball is being chased by the dog.
This example uses passive voice. The subject is the dog. The object is the ball. The subject—the dog—is receiving the action.
Note that the passive voice is made up of a form of the verb “to be” and the past participle of another verb (“were stolen,” “was chosen,” “is eaten”).
Here’s a better way to write the sentence: The dog is chasing the ball.
See how the subject of the sentence (the dog) is performing an action (chasing the ball)?
Why do you want to avoid the passive voice? It’s not just a rule for “rule’s sake.”
An abundance of passive voice slows your writing. Makes it sluggish. Your writing will lose energy and is more impersonal. It feels indirect and evasive. Writing in the active voice, in contrast, infuses your story with vibrancy, action, and in-the-moment character decision-making.
There are times when the passive voice is more effective than the active voice. If you’re trying to write about an impersonal feeling, or evasion, or a situation when a person feels paralyzed, then passive voice is a great tool to use! Form underscores meaning.
Say you’re writing a story about a politician who wants to avoid blame for a mistake. What do most politicians claim when they mess up? They’ll say, “Mistakes were made.” This is the passive voice and it deflects blame from the politician.
As you review your manuscript, note each case of passive voice. A rule of thumb: try to eliminate most ...
“Is traditional publishing for me?”
It’s a question all writers ask at some point in their journey. And the answer depends on each individual. We interviewed Jamie Weiner, author of The Quest for Legitimacy: How Children of Prominent Families Discover Their Unique Place in the World, who has both self-published and traditionally published a book. In our interview, Weiner shared the pros and cons of his individual publishing experiences.
There’s no one right way. You might go the route of traditional publishing for one book and the self-publishing route with another. There’s no right path. But there are a few guideposts to help you make your decision on your book writing journey.
Responsibility vs. Independence
Publishing houses are like banks: they want a return on their investment, your book. Because they are in the business of producing and selling books, they have refined the process so it is as efficient as possible. While the entire process is managed for you—editing, designing, printing, and distribution—you might be surprised by the limited interaction you have with the publishing house. Yours is one of many books to be published.
Because a publishing house provides a copy editor, a cover designer, and a marketing and distribution team, you don’t have to find—and vet—a team of professionals (which, let’s be honest, we might not trust our instincts to pick the best for the best final product).
The flip side? With self-publishing you have more control over the process of the book. You don’t have to wait on a publishers release date (which can sometimes be years after you submit a proposal). You don’t have to defer to their creative process. You can control the pricing and distribution of the book. You can control the audio rights.
Simply, you have more control.
The most alluring aspect to self-publishing is your ability to control the creative process. We’ve worked with authors who have fought with their publisher on titling and cover art. One publisher wanted to replace a conceptual (and catchy!) title with a purely descriptive title (because, they said, it would be better for SEO). Another author was provided cover designs that used stock imagery. Yawn.
While some traditional publishers take your creative feedback, they won’t always. Ultimately, the final decision is theirs.
With self-publishing, you have complete reign over your creative vision. You will determine when your book will be published, what cover design looks best, how your book should be organized, the contents (references, appendices, glossaries, etc.) to be included, and more!
Publishing houses also have heavy sway over your material. Do you want to include a prologue? Your publisher might not allow for it. Or, they might demand it, even if you don’t think it needs it.
That being said, most publishing houses are open for discussion if you have concerns. In...