How to Avoid a Self-Pub Nightmare

When you’re self-publishing, all typos, errors, ineffective use of color on your book cover, any mistakes of any kind . . . are YOUR FAULT. With fiction, there are more choppy waters to navigate through and avoid, like superfluous characters, one-dimensional storytelling, and undeveloped or forgotten story arcs, among other common hazards for new writers. (Though it’s probably more common than we’d like to discover these mishaps with celebrated authors, with novels coming from big publishing houses. Here is someone taking issue with the number of errors in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.) As any fiction writer knows, there are many more writing hazards. Self-published fiction hazards can be brutal. Here are some ways I’ve discovered to avoid them:

  1. Use one, maybe two, professional editors. Your first editor will discover errors you missed and problems you never thought of, and will help you with the fundamentals. The second editor can help you with nuances, because you’ve (hopefully) remedied the problems caught by the first editor. You may think your untrained but critical eye is good enough. It’s not. And once your work is out there, it’s open for critique. Employing a professional editor is like insurance, you just get the immediate results and answers, before mayhem strikes. (Actual mayhem, not the Mayhem guy in those Allstate commercials) Many self-publishing houses provide an editor (or editing team) to you during the self-publishing process. I’d recommend using a professional editor first. By the time you’re submitting your work for print, it should be polished, not go through the first round of professional editing.
  2. Friends and family are awesome. And friends who care enough to read your work and provide insight and help you in any way are priceless. But, read number 1 again.
  3. Book cover: Do something simple, and try to stand out. You can be poetic or ironic, but few will catch this or even care. Review other book covers and find something that suits your taste or your genre. You don’t have to duplicate, but be aware of what’s out there that others have determined to be marketable, and make it your own.
  4. Take the book cover text seriously, including and particularly the book summary on the back cover (or front book jacket for a hardcover). I had used a summary for literary agent submissions as a place to start, and still found improvements that “sell” the story better.
  5. When working with your self-publishing house, review your and their work carefully. No one will (or should) care more about your work than you, and once you sign off on your book going to print, it’s done. Blind faith can be unforgiving.

Of course, you can try to blame your publisher for your errors. Probably won’t work.

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