5 Indie Pub Thought Leaders to Listen To

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If you've started sniffing around about self-publishing your book, you know that publishing independently is not for the faint-of-heart. It requires an entrepreneurial spirit and entails some serious on-the-job learning. There's tons of information online about how to get from draft to published—but how much of it is good advice? Wading through it all and finding resources to trust is tough and time-consuming.

Here's a list of a few of our favorite thought leaders in independent publishing. These folks not only are the smartest out there, but they’re creating excellent content and making it available online. Subscribe to their newsletters and follow their social accounts—if you learn from only these and skip the rest of the noise, you can rest assured that you're getting the best information out there.

Jane Friedman @JaneFriedman

If you start researching self-publishing, it seems that all roads lead to Jane. That's with good reason: with twenty years of experience in the publishing industry, she understands both the traditional business of books as well as the quickly evolving digital landscape that's most relevant to indie authors. She is a champion of the professional independent publisher and shares an incredible volume of relevant content for indies, from writing advice all the way through branding, marketing, and promotion strategies. Jane has published several books on self-publishing and cofounded top-notch industry newsletter The Hot Sheet.

Orna Ross @OrnaRoss

Orna Ross understands the indie author—because she is one. Now an award-winning, bestselling indie author, she founded the Alliance of Independent Authors as a nonprofit resource for self-published authors. Not only is she a great person to follow, but “ALLi” maintains a list of vetted service providers, a valuable resource for self-publishers.

Peter McCarthy @petermccarthy

I’ve attended many indie conferences around the country, and I never miss a chance to see Peter McCarthy speak. With a history in traditional publishing, he knows the book business in and out, but is also an absolute guru when it comes to digital marketing—one of the smartest brains around. His most recent venture, Optiq.ly, is an amazing monitoring tool for author marketing and sales (I got to see a sneak preview of how it works), that gives authors real-time feedback on what is and isn’t working well so they can make valuable adjustments to their marketing strategy. Yes, there are so many online “tools” for authors to consider—but this is one that’s definitely worth watching.   

Data Guy @authorearnings

If Peter McCarthy was one of the smartest brains in the business, then Data Guy is the other one. Cofounded with self-pub bestselling author Hugh Howey, Data Guy’s company Author Earnings is a sales-data gathering machine (quite sure that’s not the technical term) that crawls Amazon to compile comprehensive snapshots of sales for all books. Why does that matter? Because traditional sales data (tracked by Nielsen and AAP) does not capture books that are sold through Amazon—Amazon doesn’t release that data. And yet, the vast majority of indie-published books are sold through Amazon. Author Earnings built a web crawler that compiles key stats from each book Amazon page to form a total picture of sales. Author Earnings’ quarterly reports are excellent resources, for example, when setting your retail price: you can rely on real data to know what price points work best for what formats by genre.

Penny Sansevieri @Bookgal

Penny is a crack-shot marketer who founded Author Marketing Experts—but more than that, she’s a great blogger. If you find yourself stuck in a rut with your book marketing, click over to her blog and you’ll find tons of ideas to jump-start your strategy and move the needle on your brand-building endeavors.  

Girl Friday @GirlFridayProd

Overly bold to include ourselves here? I don’t think so! We are experts at high-quality bookmaking—from writing to editorial and design to production, and we’ve been in business doing so for traditional publishers and indies alike for over eleven years. With so many service providers out there preying on self-publishers, our mission is to be the girls you can trust. Not only is our high-quality bookmaking process watertight, but our marketing consulting work is strategic and data-driven. Don’t miss our monthly newsletter, The Book Report.

Did we miss anyone, in your opinion? Leave a comment to let us know who you would add to this list.

All About Photo Usage: Rules for Self-Publishers

In the age of the internet, photos are shared everywhere, often without a lot of thought to where they came from originally. Do you ever think about who took the photograph before reposting it? Whether the person pictured has given their permission? What landmarks are shown? Not likely.

But when it comes to including photos in your self-published book, there are rules. Ignore them at your legal peril!

If you’re thinking about publishing a book with any images in it, read on:

How do I know if an image can work for my book?

There are a few key elements that determine whether the image you’ve found will work:

  1. The file is sized for print and digital quality. Read up on image resolution requirements. It would be a shame to secure rights and pay for an image you love, only to find out it’s too small or grainy to print well!
  2. Permissions for rights and reproduction can be secured.
  3. It’s affordable and/or fits your budget.

I found this image on Google with no credit attached. Can’t I just use it?

Not without significant risk. Search methods like Google, Pinterest, and the plethora of other image-sharing resources are a great tool for inspiration, or as a reference for the kind of thing you want to show. But proceed with caution, and avoid getting too attached to what you find, because images here are often divorced from their original sources. It can be difficult to trace back and determine whether the image is viable for how you want to use it.

What kinds of permissions are needed to use an image?

The answer to this question depends on a few things:

  • Identification of the source of the image, and who owns the rights. Sometimes it’s a single photographer, sometimes it’s multiple rights holders, sometimes it’s a stock agency. You need to get written permission to use the photograph from any and all rights holders.
  • The content of the image. Even if you get the photographer’s permission, you may need additional clearances for people pictured in it, or even famous locations pictured.
  • How and where you intend to use the image. Sometimes, an image will be available for use in the book’s interior, but not the cover. Or available for use on the cover in design only and not as a standalone image (which often happens in the marketing of the book).
  • How the book will be distributed. Do you intend to publish only in English, in the United States? Or do you have plans to print an edition in the UK or China, and/or in other languages? Some types of images are licensed with these parameters, and are priced accordingly. Image stock sites like Getty or Shutterstock are easy to use for non–photo researchers. They are the most foolproof way to cover your bases, but even they cannot always guarantee all rights are covered.

Can I hire someone to handle all this for me?

Yes, you can hire freelance photo researchers. Photo researchers have a thorough understanding of use rights, including copyright and fair use, and will help you pursue a better-safe-than-sorry route. If you’re embarking on a photo-heavy project, you may be thankful if you bring a photo researcher on board so you don’t have to deal with tracking down dozens of sources and rights holders yourself!

What’s more, photo researchers can also be creative collaborators on any book project. They can lend an artful eye for the right cover image, or to find that obscure topic you were hoping to show, or facilitate overall consistency and visual quality of images to your project.

Do You Love What You Do? WE DO.

It was August of 2006 that we first opened GFP’s doors, and there’s nothing like an anniversary to make you reflect on the reasons you’re with someone. In keeping, we spent some time reflecting on our relationships—with you all and with each other—and we’d still rather do what we do than anything else.

Sara: I think the thing that I love the most is how smart and funny my coworkers are. I used to imagine myself as the funny one, but I’ve got nothing on some of these folks.

Bethany: I love the flexibility, community, and overall trust that exists within the entire company.

Paul: I love books probably more than any nonliving thing in the world. Graphic design is increasingly dominated by UX/UI, wireframes, web banners, marketing detritus, blah blah, and I love that I can ignore all of that and work on things that actually get printed and used and enjoyed in the real, physical world.

Jaye: I love e-mail chains that turn into a discussion of what everyone is currently reading (so many good new titles to add to my list!) and when I get to work on books I’d happily buy and read.

Kristin: I love showing a publisher what Girl Friday can do for them, from coming up with trend-setting ideas to executing them flawlessly. GFP blends creativity and task-mindedness in a way that’s extremely rare.

Dave: I love helping create books that readers enjoy, as well as helping writers produce the best, most-polished work possible. I also do a lot of problem-solving, and problem-solving is fun and engrossing.

Anna: I love the variety. We work on all kinds of projects, from cozy mysteries to business training curriculums to self-help memoirs to white papers to German romance to author blogs to. . . . Keeps the gray matter in good shape!

Kim: I love working in a drama-free workplace. Everyone gets along, gets the job done, and loves what they do.

Michael: I love the intimateness, precision, and privacy of copyediting a book. You get to zero in on each line’s language, punctuation, and style, and make little changes that make a huge difference.

LAM: I love how I don’t have to be a different person at work than I am at home or out in the world. I love how much I learn every day from the smarties at Girl Friday and from some kick-ass clients. I love that I’ve had the same “work wife” for more than fifteen years and we still like each other.

Miners Landing Press: Reenvisioning Seattle’s Waterfront, One Book at a Time

Kyle Griffith, vice president of the family company that owns Pier 57 in Seattle, wanted to add value to one of the waterfront’s most popular attractions. The company already sold photos taken of guests riding the Seattle Great Wheel. Visitors could purchase photos with a stylized paper frame or in a plastic souvenir frame with cut-out orcas. But Kyle wanted something different—something truly special. He kept coming back to the idea of a book, though he knew nothing about publishing. But how do you incorporate a keepsake photo into a book?

When Kyle approached Girl Friday with his conundrum, we put our collective heads together. We came up with the idea of creating a custom children’s book around the Great Wheel with a die-cut (or window) in the front cover that would allow the keepsake photo to be incorporated into the story. We also created a second version of the book with a standard cover for those who just wanted to buy the book as a souvenir or gift.

The Great Wheel Adventure turned out to be ideal for families traveling with small children and grandparents craving a tangible memory. All in one, the book provided kids’ entertainment—allowing parents to enjoy their beer and crab at the Griffith waterfront restaurants—a family memory, a quality souvenir, and a delightful way to promote the Great Wheel to all the folks back home. 

One million people ride the Great Wheel every year, and 10 percent of those people buy a photo. If even 1 percent of riders buy a book-and-photo combo, the book has reached ten thousand people. 

Since the publication of The Great Wheel Adventure and the birth of its smiling brother-and-sister protagonists, Betty and Gabe (named for Kyle’s black Labs), Miners Landing has become a bona fide publisher with three titles under its belt. Each title promotes key elements of the Pier 57 experience, which combines a carnival-like atmosphere with education about the Pacific Northwest and historical and cultural Seattle. 

Wings Over Washington is a luxe coffee-table book filled with beautiful images of Washington State. It complements the Wings Over Washington flight experience, which allows riders the chance to soar over the Pacific Northwest in five minutes. 

The Great Gold Rush Adventure features the antics of an adventurous boy named Walter who meets old-time miner Hal and sets off to the Yukon. Both fantastic story and fun marketing tool, the book allowed Miners Landing to parlay a bit of Seattle history into company folklore: the current pier is just adjacent to the 1897 landing site of the SS Portland, fresh from the Yukon and laden with gold that ignited gold rush fever and put the town on the map. 

Thrilled by the results of the first three titles, Kyle is currently working with Girl Friday on another children’s adventure book featuring the photo-friendly die-cut on the front cover for Wings Over Washington fans. The only hitch now is waiting to name Miners Landing’s newest protagonist (who may be christened after the soon-to-be-arriving youngest Griffith!). Miners Landing is also finding new ways to promote their titles, with a new store promoting special offerings, including all three current books, and other on-pier purchasing opportunities. All three books are also available through Amazon. 

Not every company needs or wants to engage in a full-scale publishing program like Miners Landing did, but every company must distinguish itself from its peers (no pun intended). A custom book can help extend or enrich the story of an organization, promote a company beyond its usual market segment, or provide clients a new (and fun!) way to interact with the brand. In the Griffiths’ case, it’s all three.

Peek Inside: Self-Publishing Your Children’s Book Successfully

We all remember the magic of those first childhood picture books. The illustrations, the clever story, all managing to captivate us with so few words and very few pages. Those childhood memories are why so many people want to publish a kids’ book of their own. The economy of words, the interplay with the artist, and the specificity of the genre are what make that so tricky to do successfully, especially without a traditional publisher. Kristin caught up with Canadian self-publishing client and children’s author Heather Gordon (Does the Queen Fart?) to get her take on the keys to success. 

Where did the idea for your book come from and what motivated your characters? 
 
For many years, I have wanted to write a children’s book. I could never land on the right idea until the day that the title Does the Queen Fart? came to me, and from that moment on I knew it was the book I had to write.

I’ve always found farts amusing, and then having kids thrust farting into my life in a big way. Valentine’s “look” of a sweet boy with a mop of blond curls was loosely based on my son, who is a few years younger than the character. I think we all know mothers who are a little more conservative in the bum department and see farting and burping as extremely rude. Valentine’s mum wasn’t a hard character to bring to life.

What about self-publishing was more appealing to you than going with a traditional publisher? 
 
My husband is a published author, so I watched that process intently. I saw the obvious benefits and challenges in pursuing the traditional route. Early on, I had a few discussions with industry folks and realized “farts” were a polarizing subject. I decided to self-publish so I could create the exact book I wanted. The book I envisioned promoted farts as a good thing and something to be celebrated. Not all mums agree with that last statement. 

This is really interesting to me! Did you get the sense that a publisher would make you change the book to be more acceptable or less controversial?

I got the sense that the topic of farting was a nonstarter for some publishers. So there was really no way to change the book to make it more acceptable, given the whole book is centered around gas. I knew of examples of successful fart books (such as Walter the Farting Dog), but I think they are rare. Perhaps if I had hunted longer, I would have found a home at a publisher. However, I hadn’t sourced an agent and I was eager to publish my book.

You worked with an illustrator on your book. What was it like to see your characters and story come to life in this way? 
 
It was amazing! Marko Rop gave my characters the look and soul they deserved and really brought out the fun and playfulness I was after. In my case, Marko was fantastic and very willing to collaborate to create the vision. I do recall being unsure at first about the design of the mother, but she grew on me and now she feels perfect.

Print-on-demand illustrated children’s books are less common than other genres. Did you find print on demand limited any aspects of your book project—or did it provide any particular positives? 
 
Print on demand limits your ability to sell hardcover books, so that was disappointing. But, in my case, I had several hundred printed myself and sold them through various outlets.

You used IngramSpark to produce hardcover books, a choice many people avoid due to price. Did you make money on those? How did you sell them—through consignment at bookstores? Was it hard to get them on the shelves?

Yes, they were sold for a great profit. Based on the title alone, they sell well in “English” stores that carry London/monarchy-based merchandise, and there are small gift stores in Toronto that agreed to carry it. I honestly didn’t focus much time in this area, which in retrospect perhaps I should have. Good example of the hustle required to get the self-publishing game right.

What worked (and didn’t) in promoting your book? Was your marketing background a help to you when promoting? Was social media important? 
 
I have used social media widely, mostly Facebook and Instagram. I also set up a launch event at the Soho House in Toronto. It was a fun tea party with English toffee, biscuits, sandwiches, customized Queen cupcakes, and cookies. Every child left with a Queen Loot Bag with a whoopee cushion and candy beans. Oh, and the parents could sip bubbly too.

I do think social media helped! It’s hard to tie sales back to social directly, but if you look at metrics like followers/shares/likes, I can assume it’s had a positive impact. Also, there were some negative comments as well, but honestly, I welcome those too. It is good to create some controversy, as it gets people talking! 

What made successful self-publishing possible for you?

Well, self-publishing books in general requires a lot of hustle and can be very time-consuming. Given that I have a full-time job in television that I love, as well as two small children, there is a lot of work involved even before the book. Fortunately, I am married to a novelist, who provided endless support and reinforcement. My husband told me not to give up, and he would constantly remind me that my book was quality. Publishing can be a discouraging venture and a support system is key. Oh, and he’s English, so it was natural to write about the Queen!

Finding Success with Illustrators

There’s no more important step in the creation of an illustrated book than selecting the perfect illustrator. Success in this genre relies not only on the talent of two separate individuals (author and illustrator) but also on a seamless and natural melding of the two individuals’ talents. Your best friend, your daughter, your dentist, your dog may be an illustrator—and is doubtless quite talented—but if her style isn’t right for your book, you’re in for a world of headaches culminating in a disjointed, perplexing, and ultimately unsatisfying book. Imagine Goodnight Moon illustrated by Ralph Steadman. (Okay, so that would actually be pretty great.) Imagine Horton Hears a Who! illustrated by Kate Greenaway. A flop, despite gobs of talent from both parties. So how, then, does one find the perfect illustrator?

 

1. The Brief

First and foremost, you must know what you want. That may seem obvious, but it’s often a book’s author who has the most difficulty describing its aims (this is why agents exist). Before you start reaching out to illustrators, take the time to write a detailed Creative Brief. This is the single most important tool in bridging the gap between author and illustrator. Include your title and trim size, as well as a one- to two-sentence description of your book and its themes. Describe the style of illustration you’re after. Are you looking for “simple black-and-white line drawings” or “complex, full-color, spread-spanning scenes with lots of detail and hidden gems”? Perhaps something in between. Give at least three examples of existing books or illustrators whose style would work well for your project. Identifying a style means you must stick to that style for the duration (so make sure it’s accurate!), but it also gives you an objective standard by which to judge an illustrator’s work along the way. Your Creative Brief should also include the project’s scope—i.e., the number and size of illustrations needed (e.g., “6 full-page, full-color illos and 17 black-and-white half-page spots”). Finally, note the format in which you’d like the final artwork delivered. Hi-res (300 dpi) TIFFs is standard.

2. The Search

Next, figure out what you’re willing to spend. Illustrator fees can vary widely, and typically a more detailed style means more money. Expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $200 each for simple black-and-white spot illustrations and up to $500 or even $1000+ for complex full-spread showstoppers. Cast a wide net, as the person whose style is a perfect fit may be out of your price range or unavailable. Reach out to at least five illustrators whose style matches your vision. Ask them for their standard rates and how much time they typically take. Where to look? Sites like behance.net, workbook.com, and hireanillustrator.com are a good starting point; there’s no shortage of online illustrator portfolios.

3. The Schedule

A typical illustration project begins with “roughs” (sketches), then moves through a round or two of refined or “tight” sketches before arriving at the “final” artwork. Note that even if your book calls for color illustrations, your illustrator may prefer to work in black and white initially, focusing first on composition. If your book is character based, it’s not a bad idea to have the illustrator work on faces and figures alone before working them into any scenes. Ask your potential illustrators how they like to work, and discuss some rough dates for each revision stage (as well as deadlines for your feedback).

4. The Handshake

Once you’ve found the perfect illustrator—someone who’s responsive, eager and enthusiastic, willing to work within your budget and deliver files according to your schedule, and whose work coincides with your vision, let her know that she’s got the job. It’s not a bad idea to send your illustrator—your illustrator!—a contract in case something goes awry; you may also ask if she has a contract she likes to use. At the very least, be sure the schedule, payment terms, and scope are listed clearly in an e-mail, and hang on to that e-mail—as well as the illustrator’s acceptance of terms—for at least the duration of the project.

5. The Work

Provide your illustrator with an outline describing what each illustration should depict. Don’t go crazy, but generally speaking, more is more here. (It’s not uncommon to send the illustrator your manuscript as well, for context.) As the rounds start rolling in, it’s up to you to provide concise, specific, and appropriate feedback. It’s acceptable to say, “I don’t like the way Eddie looks—he’s too tall and not friendly enough” at the rough sketch phase, but by round two that ship has most likely sailed, and wholesale revisions may incur additional fees. By round two, your feedback should sound more like, “I still think the woodchuck’s smile could be bigger, and his tail is too bushy.” By round three, you’re essentially picking nits. Remember that an illustrated book is a collaboration between two artists; if your illustrator senses you’re waffling, or fishing for unpaid revisions, her enthusiasm in the project could wane, and the work will suffer. A really good illustrator may push back or make suggestions to you. Be open to these suggestions—you hired this person for a reason.

6. The Money

It is common to split an illustrator’s payment into two or three parts—a half or a third at project start, a third at some agreed-upon midway point, a half or a third upon approval of the final artwork. After you’ve approved your illustrations and have received your final files, send the final payment to your illustrator and thank her for her fantastic work. By this point you will likely have worked out other details, such as placement of the illustrator’s name on the cover, gratis contributor copies, and perhaps even an agreement to work together again on your next book!

Designing your Self-Published Cookbook

While a book’s content is almost always more important than its appearance, cookbooks come the closest to tipping that balance. Because cookbooks are typically used more than they’re read, their designers must take extra care to consider the end user, and function must always take precedence over form. In our previous post, we explored the editorial ins and outs of producing your own cookbook. Here are the most important things to consider when taking your completed manuscript to layout.

Photography

A cookbook’s first responsibility is to teach its readers how to cook. The best cookbooks, however, inspire their readers to cook. Unless you’ve got a life story fit for a bestselling memoir, your best chance of inciting spontaneous sous-viding is with mouthwatering photography. Yes, the sort of photography that has readers sprinting for their spice drawer usually costs a lot of money—there’s a reason even the most expensive cookbooks feature far more recipes than photos. But if you’re hoping for a cookbook that invites slow Sunday-morning perusal, budget for a talented photographer and pay attention to the food styling.

There are exceptions. Perhaps you’re the next Mark Bittman, prepared to teach a generation how to chiffonade or care for cast iron. If technique or volume are your selling points, photography may not be necessary. Or maybe you’re catering to that growing portion of the population who’s allergic to eggs, soy, gluten, rice, and root vegetables. In this case, curating these niche recipes may be all the inspiration your readers need. Finally, if you simply don’t have the money, don’t sweat it. Go photo-free. Just be sure you know your way around a font library.

Layout

At Girl Friday, we believe that the primary purpose of a book’s interior is to convey information. Good design will also delight a reader, but that delight can’t come at the expense of clarity. Cookbook design is no exception—the stakes are just higher. The visuals cannot merely delight; they must inspire. But because usability is of utmost importance in a cookbook, that inspiration must always be ready to step back and let content reign.

How to convey this information? Above all else, establish a consistent hierarchy. The rules are yours to set, but once set they must be strictly observed. Your recipe titles are likely of primary importance, and so they should be the first to catch the reader’s eye. They should also appear in the same typeface, size, and color throughout—whether they’re two words or two lines long. Ditto your headnotes, your ingredients, and everything else. When readers flip through your book, they should be able to distinguish immediately—i.e., subconsciously—between a process step, an Advanced Alternative, and a Tip for Vegans. Try attacking a fourteen-step vanilla meringue while also attempting to discern whether that Madagascar versus Tahiti bit is important right now or just an informative sidebar to divulge at the dinner table and you’ll understand the importance of clear hierarchy.

Typography

Most high-end cookbooks for would-be Wolfgangs use straightforward typography that stays out of the way of the recipes. While a staid set of fonts may not get anyone super fired up to smoke some friggin ribs right about now, personality-free typefaces, clear hierarchy, and plenty of white space create the best user experience regardless of cooking style. In other words, your superb recipes and breathtaking photography should not need any design fireworks to inspire. Of course, a Swiss minimalist approach may not be the most appropriate for Burning in Hell: Mouth-Slavering Meat Recipes from Satan’s Own Man Cave, but restraint is invaluable even in the most extreme cases.

Know your audience so that you can avoid pandering to them, and always avoid cliché. When laying out On the Road: A Trucker’s Cross-Country Cookbook, think twice before adorning your pages with tire treads, street signs, and vintage license plate clip art. Even the hardest of grease-seasoned dudes will appreciate an uncluttered layout when it comes time to pan sear that road-killed opossum.

Printing

Perhaps even more important than photography in the production of a really good cookbook—and also more costly—is the printing. The vast majority of self-published cookbook authors will use on-demand digital printing, and while the technology in this field is rapidly approaching its forebear in terms of quality, it still ain’t cheap. A modest print run of several hundred to several thousand books is now fairly affordable . . . assuming the book in question is all words. But most cookbooks want color, which increases printing costs about fourfold, blowing most indie budgets out of the water.

So what to do? First, set aside those dreams of a gold-foil, multi-level-debossed cover with three-piece cloth wrap and a six-color interior. That’s not going to happen. Remember, the aim of a good cookbook is simply to pass on time-tested, multigenerational, groundbreaking, story-telling, diet-accommodating, delicious recipes—and to inspire in your readers the same love for preparing food that warms your own heart and kitchen. If your book simply needs full-color photographs to get those mouths watering, turn to Kickstarter. But don’t be bullish—if you truly believe in your recipes, you may find that they stand on their own, without any accompanying visuals. Just don’t try and have it both ways; nary an appetite is whetted by a bunch of bargain-bin black-and-white snapshots.

The Secrets to Great Memoir: A Conversation with Memoir Expert August Tarrier

Because it is rooted in experience, memoir can seem the most accessible of the nonfiction sub-genres. And great memoirs read like fiction, lending the false impression that writing a great life story is easy. Editors know that memoir is surprisingly difficult to do well. Here one of our skilled resource partners and memoir specialist, August Tarrier, dishes on the do’s and don’ts for creating great personal stories.

1. You don’t have to start at the beginning. Shed the constraints of starting with your earliest childhood memory, and instead focus on hooking readers with the big epiphany. Consider starting at a moment of triumph, or a moment of crisis, and then go back in time from there. Many people these days are writing memoirs about a specific experience or a discrete period of their lives. It can be daunting to try to pinpoint the starting point of your life story. Instead, choose a defining moment and work backward. Once you have a clear focal point, it will likely be easier to figure out which are the crucial episodes in your life that led up to that pivotal moment in time. Use those as the building blocks of your story.

2. Don’t include everything. Readers don’t want every last detail; they want a compressed and carefully crafted version of events, without all the mundane in-between moments that dilute a story’s impact. In addition to looking for what is worth including, you’ll need to be a bit ruthless about what you leave out. Only by leaving large chunks on the cutting room floor will you be able to shape it into the most exciting, intensely compelling version of itself. A successful memoirist prunes the messy events of a full, rich, complicated life into a crisp, clear narrative arc.

That said, it can be tricky to get enough distance from your own life to know what will make for riveting reading for others and what won’t. One key is to consider your experiences in terms of how much impact or significance they had on you. Think of the experience itself as a lens through which to highlight a broader theme. The memoirist isn’t just describing what happened; they’re putting the experience under the microscope and providing key details that enable the reader to draw meaningful conclusions.

3. Embrace the hard stuff. Rather than being scared of your lowest moments, consider this is what brings memoir to life. Part of why readers are so drawn to these stories is that they often show people overcoming incredible challenges. If you gloss over the hardships, readers won’t experience the redemption and transcendence that are a hallmark of the genre. If you’re worried that it will be too dark, consider balancing out some of the harder moments with some levity. It can be difficult to write about deeply personal moments, but push yourself to a place of discomfort and linger there awhile. That’s where you’ll find the real story.

4. Don’t worry about not remembering exactly the way it happened. Many writers worry that they don’t remember exactly how the dialogue played out. Or they don’t know what another person was thinking at the time. Memoir is not biography. It is a story, and you are the storyteller, which gives you a certain freedom. In some cases, you can rely on framing tactics, such as, “I can imagine she was thinking . . ." In other cases, if you’re true to the spirit of the moment and the general meaning of a conversation, you shouldn’t dwell on whether you captured it word for word. Again, you’re writing for the greater truth.

5. Make readers care. Memoir is about finding ways to make readers resonate with your experience. Even if they haven’t been in your shoes, you want your story to feel accessible to them. One way to do this is to take a step back from the scene and include a line in your current point of view that ties that moment into a more universal feeling we can all relate to. If you are describing a scene in which you were a child, standing on the high dive and trembling with fear, you might then insert your adult POV with a line like, “For all of us, standing at the precipice can be terrifying.” This doesn’t mean generalizing—the key to compelling memoir is evocative details and vivid, fully realized emotions, after all—but finding the universality in the moment, which will reinforce readers’ sense of connection to you.

6. Finally, read, read, read. Figure out what grabs you in other memoirs. Study their framing devices. Analyze the way they use point of view. Identify the tent poles that anchor the story and tune in to the emotional arc of the story. Then take a deep breath, trust your voice, and get to work.

August Tarrier teaches writing workshops for community groups, at universities, and in prisons. She lives in Philadelphia.

Can You Successfully Self-Publish a Cookbook?

Reading restaurateur Nick Kokonas’s exposé on the DIY creation of the Alinea cookbook reminded me how frustratingly opaque the world of cookbook publishing is to people outside the biz.. It was also a great reminder of how many people hanker to put out their own volume. (Seriously. Mention publishing in a cocktail setting and I guarantee cookbook and children’s book ideas will pour forth . . .) 

Indie cookbooks have expanded far beyond spiral-bound Junior League collections. Spurred on by the success of culinary blogs the likes of Orangette and the Smitten Kitchen, witty home cooks with a good camera aspire to vault from Instagram love right to publishing success. Self-pub cookbooks are a natural too for the folks who can’t or won’t—can’t eat gluten, eggs, or dairy or won’t eat meat, for example—and their affinity groups online. 

Some home cooks fancy memorializing their hot sauce recipes for friends and family. Others want to preserve grandma’s recipes languishing in a spidery scrawl on yellowing recipe cards. Restaurants and bakeries see an opportunity to promote their brand and satisfy customers’ longing for re-creating that blissful bite. If you’re any one of these aspiring cookbook self-publishers, there are unique editorial, design, and production fundamentals that you’ll have to consider. 

Yes, cookbooks are sexy, inviting. But at their most elemental they are technical books that require forethought and deliberation. We’ll give you the down-low on design elements in the next post. For editorial concerns, here’s where you start: 

 

Establish Your Ideal Reader

Just as there are those who prefer Fifty Shades of Grey to Finnegans Wake, there are beginning and advanced cooks. Alinea or Modernist Cuisine land squarely in James Joyce territory and appeal to a very sophisticated user. Unless you are targeting these sophisticates, avoid or explain any technical jargon (What is a bain-marie? How does one blanch?) Use basic ingredients or explain any specialty items (can you order harissa, a North African pepper paste, online?), and provide more detail in recipe steps or through photography. 

Craft Proper Headnotes

Many cookbooks have very little text outside the recipes. That’s why headnotes, those little paragraphs that introduce each recipe, are so critical. The headnotes compose the conversation the writer/chef is having with the reader. Are they funny? Serious? Do they incorporate elements of memoir, telling stories from the writer’s childhood or family? Do they explain the dish or the ingredients or offer serving suggestions? Keeping your Ideal Reader in mind, make sure your tone is even and appropriate to the feeling you want to convey, write headnotes of approximately the same length, and check for oft-repeated phrases or words. Readers rarely approach cookbooks one recipe at a time. If you use the word “yummy” or “delish” in every headnote, someone’s going to want to hit you over the head with a frying pan. (In fact, unless you’re Rachael Ray, maybe just leave those words out.) 

Borrow, Don’t Steal

Technically speaking, recipes cannot be copyrighted. By recipe, I mean a list of ingredients and amounts. What can be copyrighted is everything around that: the headnote, the procedural steps, any detail or tip. If you want to include a recipe from your favorite cookbook, give them attribution in the headnote (e.g., adapted from Amanda Hesser’s cardamom French toast in Food52) and write your own steps. 

Sweat the Details

Cooking is about precision. Sure, once you’re good enough you can riff on recipes and make them your own. But no one wants to read or cook from a book where the recipe isn’t guaranteed to work.  

  • Test your recipes, preferably in different kinds of ovens or on different stoves (friends are nice for this). 

  • Be consistent and clear with your amounts and write them out properly. “One-half cup of chopped almonds” is not the same as “one-half cup almonds, chopped.” And what kind of almonds are they? Roasted? Raw? Blanched? Skins on, off, does it matter? 

  • List your ingredients in the order in which they appear in the recipe, and don’t skip any steps in the procedure. It’s just like Chekhov’s gun; if it’s in the ingredient list, then it must be used in the recipe. 

  • Do as the pros do and give doneness cues. Don’t just tell me to cook something for 8–10 minutes, but for 8–10 minutes or until lightly browned. 

Rock That Title

Sometimes the best title is simply the most descriptive. With the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook you’re pretty sure what you’re getting. If you want to be clever, choose a subtitle that clearly explains the contents. 

To Index or Not to Index

I’m going to assume you already realize how important developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading are to any technical book—and a cookbook’s no different. Find professionals and don’t skimp. What you might not have considered is hiring an indexer to help your cooks look up recipes or ingredients more easily. Indexing is the last step in the editorial process, occurring post-proofread on the designed pages.

What We’re Reading this Summer at GFP

It’s almost summer (if you go by the June 21 date and not just when it feels sufficiently hot enough), which means it’s time to start compiling your summer reading library. I asked around at GFP, and as usual, the folks here had lots of great book ideas to help you while away those hazy, lazy days of summer.  

On my personal short list this summer is A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and the Neapolitan Novels quartet by Elena Ferrante. Why these? Because my mom told me to read them, and I do everything my mom tells me to do (well, almost everything). I also want to read the latest by Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, and by Sherman Alexie, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me

GFP photo researcher and production editor Emily Freidenrich is planning on reading Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker, The Idiot by Elif Batuman, and Cutting Back by Leslie Buck this summer. 

Our resident writer and developmental editor, Anna Katz, is currently reading Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (it’s mind-blowing, she reports) and is looking forward to reading Phoebe Robinson’s You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to ExplainThe Babysitter at Rest by Jen George is also on the short list. 

Our office administrator (and a writer in her own right), Kim Bridges, is flying through YA fantasy A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge and is also reading Theft by Finding, the newest from David Sedaris. It is the first volume of his two-part diary series, and Kim promises it moves from vaguely depressing to stock Sedaris humor as you journey with him from 1977 and up to 2002. (Of course, what wasn’t vaguely depressing about 1977?) 

Sara Addicott, one of our amazing production editors here at GFP, is reading Al Franken: Giant of the Senate, as well as The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. She is also planning on finally tackling Ulysses by James Joyce on her vacation. Good luck to you, Sara. (And by the way, what about any of these constitutes “summer reading”? Geez.) 

Art director Paul Barrett knows what I mean by “summer reading.” He’s got Ninety-Two in the Shade by Thomas McGuane, The Plagiarist by Benjamin Cheever, and Trajectory by Richard Russo all lined up. He’s also planning on plowing through a large stack of regional barbeque books. 

Senior special projects editor Emilie Sandoz-Voyer is currently reading and loving Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth. She also has The Nix by Nathan Hill, Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein, and the first three volumes of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle books on her bedside table. (Really, Emilie? Does that last one really count as summer reading?) 

Senior production editor Dave Valencia is planning on kicking back with Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone: A Fifth-Dimension Guide to Life by Mark Dawidziak; classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, in honor of recently deceased author Robert Pirsig; and The Master of Hestviken (tetralogy) by Sigrid Undset. Wow, a tetralogy! And I thought a quartet was impressive.  

Senior production editor Bethany Davis is throwing some YA into the mix with Lord of the Shadows by Cassandra Clare and classic tearjerker The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. She’s also got The Child Thief by Brom all queued up. 

And last but certainly not least, production editor Laura Dailey is just finishing Seattle fave and soon to be major motion picture The Boys in the Boat and is planning on finally reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Now, those are two proper summer reads. 

We hope this list gives you some good ideas, and we would love to hear your summer reading picks too!

Should I Get a Manuscript Assessment or a Developmental Edit?

Many clients come to us ready for help, but then they’re not sure what level of editorial help is right for them. We understand. It’s often a new and sometimes daunting process, involving varying levels of unfamiliar editing jargon—narrative arc, pacing, tension, stakes, line editing, copyediting, etc.—and it can be difficult to know the best place to start. Below are a few guidelines to help you determine the best starting point for you and your manuscript. 

 

What is the difference between a manuscript assessment and a developmental edit? 

A manuscript assessment and developmental edit both address high-level content issues. With fiction, these include (warning: here’s that jargon) narrative arc and structure; character development; pacing/tension/stakes; and cohesiveness of plot. In layperson’s terms, are readers going to be hooked and compelled to keep turning pages? Do they need more background information or less? Are there extraneous plot points or threads that are confusing or unresolved? Do the characters feel credible and complex? Does the ending feel satisfying? With nonfiction, editors look at flow, logical delivery of argument, appropriateness of language for the intended audience, and clarity and consistency of voice. The difference between the manuscript assessment and the developmental edit is in the delivery. With both the MA and DE, you get an in-depth editorial letter addressing all of these issues. But with the DE, you will also get detailed margin comments embedded in the manuscript itself to guide your revisions. Your editor will point out specific places that you could expand; highlight passages of backstory that could be trimmed or woven in elsewhere; show you where you are both showing and telling; and identify holes in logic and confusing passages. In addition to identifying problem areas, your editor is more likely to offer specific suggestions on ways you could fix or resolve those issues. 

 

When is a manuscript assessment the right starting point? 

A manuscript assessment is often the right step for early drafts. If no one else has seen your manuscript, if you’re stuck and just want some very high-level feedback to get you on the right track, or if you’re not sure whether you’ve captured the right voice or are starting in the right place, then an MA makes the most sense. After all, you may be making significant changes and don’t necessarily need margin comments for material that may end up on the cutting-room floor. 

A manuscript assessment is also a good option for experienced writers who know how to take feedback from the letter and incorporate it themselves. They may not need someone to point out every passage that needs work and would prefer to reenvision the material themselves. 

 

When is a developmental edit the right way to go? 

A developmental edit is appropriate when a manuscript is farther along in the process. Perhaps you’re a couple of drafts in; you’ve gotten and incorporated early feedback; or you’re pretty sure the basic pillars of the story you want to tell are in place. 

A DE is also an excellent option for authors looking for more guided feedback. An editorial letter is a remarkable document—it can also be daunting to know how to take that feedback and incorporate it into the manuscript. A DE’s margin comments provide a detailed road map for revisions. They will point out specific passages to focus on, provide explanations for editorial revisions, and offer suggestions for potential fixes. If you are relatively new to writing, this will teach you a lot of about the craft and give you more tools and resources as you continue to hone your skills. 

 

What is a line edit? How is it different from a developmental edit? 

Generally following in the footsteps of an MA or DE, the line edit is a more granular level of edit that focuses on the words on the line—word choice, repetition, syntax, sentence structure, appropriateness of language for the intended audience, clarity, etc. Once the narrative structure has been finalized, the line edit is the buff and polish that brings your language to a whole new level. If your writing is very clean, the line edit can sometimes be conflated with the developmental edit. If, however, you are new to writing books, these are generally separated into two stages. (It doesn’t really make sense to tinker with the words on the line until the general structure of the material has been finalized.) 

If you’re not sure what would be the right next step for you, don’t worry! We’re happy to review your material and help you determine an editorial game plan that will suit you and your text.

Myth Busting: Five Misconceptions About Writing Young Adult Fiction

Marianna Baer is the author of the YA novels The Inconceivable Life of Quinn (Amulet/Abrams) and Frost (Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins). She lives in Brooklyn, NY, and edits both YA and adult fiction.  

As a writer and editor of YA fiction, I hear opinions about the genre all the time—from authors who write for adults, from nonwriters with YA book ideas, from the guy next to me on the airplane. . . . And there are a few misconceptions that come up over and over again. While I’m not too concerned with what the outside world thinks of my profession, I do think it’s good for aspiring YA writers to know the real deal. 

 

1. You have to make your writing less sophisticated for a teen audience. 

This is probably the biggest misconception, and I’m honestly not sure where it comes from. After all, most people begin reading books written for adults while they’re in their teens—if not for pleasure, then definitely for school. Teen readers don’t need us to coddle them by simplifying our vocabulary or sentence structure or the narrative structure of our books. If you want to write something simple and straightforward, like a contemporary version of the Sweet Valley High series you loved as a kid, go for it! Nothing wrong with that. Or if you want to write about a more serious topic in a way that will be accessible to teens at a lower reading level, that’s fantastic—there’s a real need for “hi-lo” books. But if the story you’re telling demands a more sophisticated narrative voice or structure, don’t hold back. Your readers will be right there with you.  

2. You have to avoid certain subject matter when writing YA. 

My recently released YA novel, The Inconceivable Life of Quinn, is the story of a sixteen-year-old daughter of a politician who is trying to solve the mystery of her seemingly virgin pregnancy while also facing the public scandal it causes. Because of the subject, the book goes to some dark places and touches on some controversial doozies. (Sex! Religion! Politics! Yikes!) Did this stop a major publisher from picking it up, or stop Publishers Weekly from giving it a starred review? Nope! The truth is, if you’re worried about censorship, or teens not being interested, or about introducing them to something too dark, chances are your worry is misplaced. YA novels explore issues and experiences that teens face—and teens face just about everything you could imagine. Aside from that, teens are engaged members of society—they care about what’s going on in the world. If it’s a well-told story, there will be teens who want to read it. (Not to mention that a good number of YA readers are adults, but that’s a subject for another post.) 

A caveat about dark subject matter: writing for teens does carry a certain responsibility. Take care that you’re handling topics with sensitivity. Be aware of what you’re putting out there. 

3. Your YA novel needs to have a romance in it. 

I’m not going to lie—I do hear a lot of editors say that romance in YA is key. But is it necessary for your book to include a little (or a lot) of kissing to sell it—either to a publisher or to a teen audience? No. Definitely not. If a romance isn’t a natural fit in your story, trying to shoehorn it in isn’t the way to go. It’s bound to feel out of place. There are plenty of editors and readers who don’t need romance and plenty who are actually looking for books without it. I often have friends ask me to recommend YA for teens who want stories that are romance-free. 

4. You should avoid having adult characters in your YA novel. 

While it’s true that the main character in YA fiction is almost always between thirteen and nineteen, plenty of books have either parents or other adults as important secondary characters. I think the “kill the parents” myth came from the (correct) belief that your main character should take the lead in actively achieving their central goal. But having them act with a certain amount of independence doesn’t mean that you can’t have older characters play significant roles in the journey your character takes, either as antagonists or as supportive forces. 

5. You’re going to get rich writing YA. 

Um . . . you might? I guess? After all, some people win the lottery! But if making a fortune is your ultimate goal, you might want to reconsider. Buying lottery tickets is a lot easier than writing a bestselling novel. (Not to mention that in most cases, it takes more than one bestselling novel to get rich.) 

If you’re one of the many writers trying (or thinking about trying) to break into this vibrant market, I hope that this quick rundown will be of help! And there’s no substitute for reading widely in the genre, to see what’s happening in YA firsthand. Aside from looking at bestseller lists to find books that are doing well commercially, check out the YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) yearly booklists. They’re a great resource for finding both popular books and award-winners. I absolutely promise that exploring the depth and variety of what’s happening in YA is the most inspiring way to bust all the myths. 

A Conversation With Mystery Editor Faith Black Ross

What is something you always tell your authors?

Resist the temptation to jump on the next big trend. Yes, Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train were huge hits, but don’t sit down at your desk thinking that the surefire path to success is to write the next psychological thriller with the word Girl in the title. For one thing, you should write the book you want to write and that you are best equipped to write. For another, by the time you get your manuscript written, revised, edited, and submitted to agents and then to publishers, that trend may well be over. It’s an exercise in frustration and futility to go chasing trends that have already peaked. It may sound like old-fashioned advice, but write the best story you can write, then worry about trends later—who knows, perhaps you’ll be the one to start the next big one.

What should your authors always keep in mind when it comes to developing their characters?

They don’t necessarily need to be likeable, but they do need to be relatable. Your readers need to be able to identify with them in some way. Yes, Amy in Gone Girl was a truly terrible person, but we all know what it feels like to be betrayed by someone we care about. You need to give readers something to lock onto—a compelling backstory, some moment that gives us a glimpse into their motivations or a hint of sympathy for them. Nuanced, flawed, complex characters are what keep us turning pages.

How late in a novel can the inciting incident happen?

There are always exceptions to a rule, but generally, if it’s a murder mystery, the killing needs to happen in the first three chapters—no more than fifty pages in. It’s easy to get caught up in the fun of creating characters and scene building, but all of that needs to happen in service to the mystery itself. Rather than dumping a lot of background information at the outset, authors need to work assiduously to intersperse those scene and character details into the action scenes so that they are relayed to the reader as organically as possible while keeping the story marching forward.

What’s the right number of red herrings for a mystery?

I get asked that all the time, and the fact is that there’s no single right answer to that question. It all depends on the book. A multilayered 120,000-word thriller has room for more red herrings than a 70,000-word cozy mystery. What’s most important is that the reader hasn’t figured it out by the end. You want them to have figured out some of it, but you don’t want to blindside them completely. You want readers to experience the satisfaction of that all-important aha! moment, but it can’t be a total shock. Keep some twist or element of surprise in play for the end.

Do you have any tips or tricks for keeping track of all the plot threads?

There’s no single system that works. My only advice is to find something that works for you, and use it consistently. I have some authors who have detailed Excel spreadsheets to keep track of every aspect of their plot. Others just keep handwritten notes by their computer. Others manage to fly by the seat of their pants and keep it all in their heads. One thing that often gets lost in the shuffle as authors craft an entire world and cast of characters from scratch is the timeline. It might help to keep a detailed outline of what happens when (not only what day, but what time) so that you can refer back to it and ensure consistency throughout.

Any tips on how to write great dialogue?

Oh yes. The only real way to know if your dialogue is any good is to read it out loud. Period.

Any final thoughts for our readers?

I get asked a lot about how to go about finding the best agent, editor, or publisher. The best advice I ever heard was to go down to the bookstore, find the books you think yours is most like, flip to the acknowledgments page, and you’ll most likely find the editor and agent’s names listed there. Those are your best starting point. Good luck!

 

Faith Black Ross has over a decade of experience in commercial publishing working on bestselling and award-winning fiction and nonfiction—everything from mysteries, historical fiction, and women’s fiction to true crime and popular culture. An alumna of Williams College, Faith also has an MA in English from Rutgers University and studied at Oxford University.

 

 

The Indie Author’s Marketing Timeline

Bookmark this! 

Bookmark this! 

If you’re an author on the self-publishing path (or an author, period), you already know that a successful book release requires a considerable amount of self-marketing before, during, and after the book is published. However, the “before” part is especially important, and it often takes place months—even years—leading up to your release date.

For those who are new to publishing, knowing when to execute each marketing task can be daunting. You may be asking yourself, When should I create my media kit? What is a media kit? When do I start reaching out to influencers? To address these important questions, we created a comprehensive marketing timeline to help authors get their book promotion in gear. With this reference guide in hand, you can approach your book promotion with confidence—no marketing squad necessary.

Investigate Your Audience

(12–10 months before publication date)

You may know your readers’ demographics, but do you know where they hang out online? Twelve to ten months before your pub date is the time to figure this out. Do your research, read, and join online groups and forums to determine what websites your readers visit, what blogs they read, and whether they are on Facebook and Twitter. This is crucial information to have before you embark on your author marketing journey.

Tips on researching your target audience:

 

Build Your Channels

(10–8 months before publication date)

It’s impossible to establish your online presence too early. But don’t panic if you have less than a year to go and have yet to leave a digital trace. Ten to eight months before publication is plenty of time to build your digital footprint.

Start by giving yourself a digital audit to determine where your online presence needs the most work. After deciding which social media platforms are best for you, create your accounts and learn how to use them. If you don’t already have an author website, hire a designer or go the DIY route with Squarespace or WordPress. If you have a site, now is the time to spruce it up.

Tips for building your digital footprint:

 

Engage Your Audience

(8–6 months before publication date)

Now that you’ve got your bearings on your various social media platforms, the fun part can finally begin: engaging with your audience. This means planning, creating, and scheduling content designed to draw the attention of your readers on social media.

Post relevant articles and images on your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles. Build up your e-mail list and start blogging regularly to get your audience excited about your upcoming release.

This is also the time to start “teasing” your book. Planning a cover reveal and releasing sample chapters are two wonderful ways to hype your book.

Tips on developing a powerful online presence:

 

Reach Out to Your Influencers

(6–3 months before publication date)

Remember that e-mail list you compiled? It’s time to use it. Develop and write a monthly newsletter with book updates, blog posts, and upcoming events. Reach out to influencers, reviewers, blogs, and websites that could potentially feature you or your book.

Are you planning to do a book tour? This is the best time to plan any events, signings, and conferences you wish to attend.

Tips on using your connections to market your book:

 

The Final Countdown

(1–3 months before publication date)

Your publishing date is within arm’s reach, but there are still loose ends to tie up. The final months leading up to your publishing date are the best time to do things like host a giveaway for your book, plan a release party, and create and distribute your media kit to any outlets that have agreed to feature your work.

Take a cue from the pros: develop a promotional calendar for your website that organizes and displays the events and appearances you booked as well as a marketing calendar to keep track of when and where you will be featured online.

Tips on pre-release marketing practices:

 

Still have more questions? Reply to us in the comments. And good luck with your launch!

 

 

 

Bookmark These: Top Free Resources for Amateur Marketers

The book production process is like a series of finish lines, driving writers to keep writing, keep revising, keep editing, keep honing until that ultimate goal of publication becomes more and more perceivable. After months of back and forth between editors, design reviews, and proofreading minutia, the idea of having to promote the book may cause authors to wonder if this so-called finish line even exits. 

When it comes to marketing, the truth is that it doesn’t. Once your book is published, you can hold your tightly bound masterpiece with confidence that you’ll never have to touch it again. But marketing is an ongoing process that should continue as long as you want people to read your book. As with most elements of self-publishing, you can choose to go at this alone (and many do, with great effect!) or hire a firm to help you. Regardless, it’s a good idea to start establishing your platform early. Here are some of our favorite free resources to get you started. 

Grammarly: As a writer, you know the importance of proofreading your work before publishing it. Social media should be treated the same. With the informal nature of social media, it’s easy to slip up when replying to a reader on Twitter or Instagramming your book on a bookstore shelf. Grammarly is a plugin that can be installed to Microsoft Word or web browsers such as Chrome, Safari, and Firefox. The proofreading app underlines mistakes and provides a detailed explanation on how to fix them. 

Hootsuite: One of the most challenging parts of social media for writers is feeling the need to be “always on”—and it’s true that social media can easily become a time suck. You have better things to do—like write your next book!—than spend time each morning thinking of something compelling to post on Twitter and Facebook that day. Hootsuite’s free social media management tool helps you become way more efficient by scheduling batches of posts in advance. So, you can take a day or so to write out several weeks’ worth of content, then sit back while your posts are automatically released by Hootsuite according to the schedule you’ve created.  

Free stock photography: When you want to illustrate a blog post about the writing life . . . but dirty dishes and unfolded laundry are decorating your living room . . . stock photography is a fantastic source. Not only will your post look amazing, but its performance will likely almost double. And with sites like Unsplash, Pexels, and Pixabay, you can download gorgeous images for social media use for free.  

Pro tip: aim for photos that don’t look too fabricated. We’ve all seen the infamous man on a mountain with his laptop or the disturbingly fake handshake. The key is to use stock photography that looks authentic.  

Canva: The stream of information on social media moves incredibly fast, so it’s crucial to catch your audience’s attention at first glance. The quality of your visual content is vital to the success of your online marketing. Research shows that visual content is up to forty times more likely to be shared on social media. Services like Canva make it easy and affordable for non-graphic-designers to create stunning, sharable social media banners, posts, ads, blog graphics, and more. With simple drag-and-drop templates created by talented designers, Canva is a great tool for authors who want to look polished online without having to hire a designer to create customized social assets for them.  

Google Analytics: At first glance, Google Analytics may look intimidating with its lines graphs, endless reports, and terms like “Cohort Analysis” and “Ad Words.”  But it’s free, and the wealth of information captured by this powerful tool allows you to track your website traffic, learn who your viewers are and how they are finding you, and so much more. Fortunately, you don’t need to be an expert on the entire catalog of offerings to reap the benefits of Google Analytics. If you’re a beginner, we recommend paying attention to these ten things. 

How a Book Proposal Helps, Even if You Self-Publish

You’ve finally finished your book. It’s been a long slog, but look at that gorgeous manuscript you’ve created! You’re ready to see this book in print.  

You might be asking yourself, why not self-publish? The independent publishing landscape is more inviting than ever. Whereas the traditional publishing route is difficult for first-time authors to crack, self-publishing allows you to get your book out there more quickly, retain more control over the final product, and keep a larger percentage of your sales. If you are ready and willing to work hard to promote and sell your books in the digital marketplace, independent publishing could be a great fit for you. And hey, as an added bonus, if you’re not trying to get picked up by an agent or publisher, you don’t have to write a book proposal, right?  

Well, hold on. There are many reasons that a well-crafted book proposal can help you better position your book, no matter how you end up publishing it. At its best, a book proposal is a distillation of your project: It opens with a hook that speaks directly to your readership and goes on to describe the concept and scope of the book in clear, inviting language. A book proposal presents an accurate vision of the intended audience and offers an analysis of the market and the competitive titles already out there. It includes a breakdown of your platform, as well as ideas for promotional opportunities that you might pursue. It closes with a crisp, clean sample of the book’s material.  

So even if you self-publish your book, consider taking the time to craft a proposal. Here are just a few of the aspects of the book (and your role as an author) that you’ll be able to clarify in the process. 

Your hook: If you want a reader to pick up your book, you need to snare them with that perfectly crafted opening line. Lead with a short paragraph that presents your idea in bold, exciting terms—then delve into the details. If you self-publish, you’ll be able to use this text to kick off some fabulous back cover copy. Having trouble finding the hook? You might want to revisit your text. It could be that your manuscript needs another round of revision, but only by looking at it with the cold eye of a salesperson will you be able to see that. 

Your promotional copy: Following your hook, your proposal will include a longer description of your project. This overview can be mined later for back cover and promotional copy. Carefully considering the way you present your book—and then working and refining it until it’s streamlined and perfect—is always a useful exercise.  

Your audience: A big part of writing a proposal is researching and crafting an analysis of the market for your book and the competition it will face. In this section, you’ll pull together a clear vision of your primary readership, working to understand the other books your readers gravitate toward and the things they are passionate about. You’ll think about what’s already out there that could compete for your readers’ dollars and figure out how your book will differentiate itself. Figuring out these details early on will help you position your own marketing platform—crucial for any author, not just those who self-publish. Which leads us to . . . 

Your marketing strategy: The days of writing a book and sitting back to watch it achieve success are over (if they ever existed in the first place). The best authors work for every sale. They’ve identified their audience and know just how to reach them. For self-published authors, this is even more important; after all, you are your own marketing and publicity team. In crafting a proposal, you’ll have to start thinking about the promotional resources you can bring to the table. What is your platform? How will you reach your audience? What local or national papers or magazines would you love to see yourself in? How will you build your online presence? Which blogs should you try to guest post for? Where can you start networking with other authors and influencers in your field? Brainstorming this angle far ahead of publication will give you a leg up on other authors. You’ll be ready to reach out and connect with your potential readers long before your book hits the shelf, building awareness and interest. And you’ll have your audience clearly fixed in your mind as you make crucial creative decisions along the way, such has how your book cover design looks.  

The opening pages of your book: A very important portion of your proposal is the sample of the book that you include. As you pull together the proposal, you’ll want to run a fine-tooth comb through the prose of those initial chapters. Consider hiring an outside editor. See what issues the editor flags and use that feedback to start another edit on the full manuscript. Any chance you have to refine and tighten your prose before it’s in print, take it. 

Do You Have What It Takes to Self-Publish Successfully?

Self-publishing sounds like the great panacea to all publishing woes. It is indeed a tremendous development that is transforming the industry and handing unprecedented power to authors. This is all exciting stuff, but before you jump on the bandwagon, you’ll want to consider these traits that are key to self-publishing success and happiness.  

An entrepreneurial spirit: The successful self-publisher knows that being an author these days is not just about creative genius. It’s about seeing yourself not as a writer but as a small business—a publisher. As such, you’ll want to behave like one.  Create a business plan. Set goals. Develop a targeted marketing plan. Learn how to use Excel. Track your numbers. Then analyze them to determine which of your marketing efforts are working best. Watch those numbers grow. Study what the competition is doing, and learn from them. If that sounds daunting at first, start by learning from others: Join or form a community of other aspiring authors. Share information. Knowledge is power in this business, and the authors who are making a good living these days spend half their time writing and the other half nurturing and growing their platform. The key to doing this well is not fighting it or denying that it’s necessary, but creating dedicated time and space to embrace it.   

A deep understanding of your audience: The successful self-publisher also knows that bigger is not always better. It’s not about how broad your audience is. It’s about understanding exactly who your audience is—what problem they’re looking to solve, and providing the solution through very targeted writing that speaks directly to them. The most successful self-publishers know where their audience is hanging out online and are informed and generous members of those communities. It’s more effective to develop a cult following of a few thousand than to dilute your message and aim to please too many different groups. Know your reader, know what they want, and write for them. 

The long view: Publishing your first book is a massive accomplishment and certainly something to celebrate. Call your mom. Break open the bubbly. Jump up and down. Maybe shed a few tears of relief that you’re finally holding your very own book in your hands. But that’s not the end of the journey. In fact, successful self-publishers know that that first book is really a building block that serves as the foundation for your career as an author. Book number one is for establishing an audience. Book number two is for growing that audience. Book number three will help sell books one and two. And so on. Publishing is a long game, and the big rewards come only after investing time in your platform, building a loyal following, and rewarding that loyalty with the next book in the series. So pop the champagne. Share it on Instagram. Then sit back down at your desk and get to work on book number two.  

Realistic expectations: I don’t mean to bring anybody down, but the realistic self-publisher knows that competition is fierce and sets attainable goals. Successful self-publishers don’t give up when their book doesn’t appear on the New York Times bestseller list. They’ve done their homework, know their audience, keep the long view in mind, and don’t let themselves get blindsided by the fact that Oprah hasn’t called. And your goal doesn’t have to be easily quantifiable. It’s okay if you just want to be able to give your life story to your grandchildren; if it’s going to be part of building your platform or brand; or if it was something you wanted to cross off your bucket list. But be very clear on your objective from the start. Then celebrate it when you reach it. 

A commitment to quality: Quality matters. There’s a temptation to upload as soon as your draft is done (so that you can get to that champagne celebration that much sooner), but take a deep breath. Consider the long game (again), and know that a well-designed cover, professional editing, and carefully crafted marketing copy are all essential to long-term success. It’s a way of treating your readers with respect and showing them you care about delivering a fantastic reading experience. And taking excellent care of your readers is what successful self-publishing is all about.

Get the Best Results from Your Publishing Team

From having control over design and editorial changes to earning more favorable royalties, there are numerous good reasons why authors opt to publish books themselves. Professional indie authors also understand how important it is to hire a competent team if their book is going to compete on the same shelf as traditionally published volumes.

Perhaps you just recently took the plunge and hired an outfit of editors and designers, or maybe you’re halfway through production of your book. Either way, these tips will get you the best results from your team.

  • Be clear about your goals. Are you determined to get your book into local bookstores? Is one of your primary goals to make a profit? With this information in hand, your production team can help set realistic expectations and inform you of actionable steps for distribution and marketing.
  • Write thorough briefs. Depending on the established scope of the project, your crew may be writing your promotional copy, creating your author website, and designing the cover, interior, and logo using the information you provide as a jumping-off point. By providing clear direction from the start, you’ll help your team deliver the final copy and designs you’ve been envisioning. If you’ve hired a marketing strategist and publicist, it’s important that they’re fully briefed as well.
  • Give specific and objective feedback. For example, when you’re reviewing your copyedited manuscript, clearly respond to the copyeditor’s queries with actionable edits. This might mean inputting a simple “OK” to agree with a suggested change, or choosing a proposed solution and rewriting to fit. With design, though a cover might not “feel right,” go beyond such imprecise comments. Focus on identifying what’s not working for you rather than what you think the correct solution might be. Maybe the font is too traditional, the title too big, or the red that was chosen too bright. What did you think would be different about the design you envisioned? Communicate the specific element that’s not sitting well with you and why, and then let the designer bring their expertise to bear on the best solution to that problem.
  • Be open to new possibilities. Do you already have the perfect cover design in mind? Share it with your team, and get ready to review ideas both inspired by and completely independent from your own. Though your original concept is an excellent starting point, you might miss out on a well-suited design if you’re focused exclusively on your own. It’s smart to come to the creative table with a good dose of humility and appreciation for the expertise of the people you’ve hired to help you.
  • Stay organized to keep your team organized. Use best practices to keep the process rolling by acting like a professional. Input your project schedule into your online calendar to ensure you stick to your deadlines. Collate your design feedback into one email as opposed to several, or use project management software to collaborate.
  • Use the software specified by your production editor. You will likely need access to the latest versions of the tried-and-true publishing standbys: Adobe Reader and Microsoft Word. Reader is used to view and comment on PDFs (design files), while Word is the gold standard for editing and commenting on your manuscript. If you’re unsure how to use each program properly, ask for guidance.
  • Alert your team to potential issues right away. Whether you have a schedule conflict with your proposed review time or you think Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature turned off during your copyedit review but you’re not sure, tell your team immediately. Their experience and insight can help you head off problems and keep your book on schedule.
  • Come prepared to meetings. Not sure what to prep? Ask your project manager. You’ll be able to get the answers and next steps that you need if you and your team are on the same page during critical conversations.
  • Have a question or concern? Raise it. Your team is there to guide you through the production process, and often asking questions right away can save you the time, effort, and potential costs that making late-in-the-game revisions might necessitate.

At the end of the day, remember that you entrusted a stellar team of experienced publishing professionals to shepherd your title from manuscript to finished book. Ask questions, do as much of your own research as you like, query and requery issues until you’re satisfied, and bring a collaborative mindset. If you do these things, your relationship with your team will be productive and your book will be the very best it can be.

Publish Like the Pros: The Indie Author's Dream Team

At a traditional publisher, there are no fewer than eight (often more!) people working collaboratively to bring each book to market. Given that it takes a village, it’s no surprise that first-time self-publishers often feel alone or overwhelmed by the complexities of the bookmaking process. To do it right, you either have to assume each of these roles or, better yet, hire experts to help you.

Here’s a comprehensive list of the essential partners you will need on your self-publishing team. If you choose to wear some of these hats yourself, just ensure that you cover all the bases.

1. The Developmental Editor

What they do: A developmental editor’s job is to read your manuscript with an eye toward big-picture issues like narrative arc, plot, pacing, character development, and point of view. Creating a robust fictional world is an enormous task to ask of just one brain, and no matter how good a writer you are, I promise there will be some weird hitches in your timing sequence or something off about the main character’s voice in one section that will throw the reader. Nonfiction writers, especially subject-matter experts, are often too close to their material and need a layperson’s take on organization, tone, consistency, and clarity.

Our advice: Hire a professional. This is not the place to sub in your wife or dad or BFF. The developmental edit is often transformative—the difference between a five-star and a one-star review on Amazon.

2. The Copyeditor

What they do: Your developmental editor may have moved mountains, but she was focused on bigger-picture issues. A copyeditor’s responsibility is to ensure that each sentence of your work is squeaky clean. Editing on the heavy side, a copyeditor will do some wordsmithing (would you like to use “night shift” rather than “nightgown” to align with medieval vocab throughout?). At minimum, the copyeditor will ensure that supporting character Lucy doesn’t morph into Lucie (or Linda) halfway through the book, that you haven’t overused your favorite phrase, and that your indefinite pronoun antecedents are clear. Don’t know what a pronoun antecedent is? That’s why you need a copyeditor.

Our advice: Skipping a copyedit is like washing your hands without soap. Hire a professional who knows The Chicago Manual of Style inside and out, and you’ll sleep better at night as your release date approaches.

3. The Cover Designer

What they do: Professional book cover designers are experts in this single type of design—in other words, a great graphic designer generalist is not the right fit. Book cover designers know what works in what genre, know what print specifications and cover “treatments” are appropriate, and employ best practices such as styling typefaces for readability at thumbnail size (for readers who will see your book on Amazon.com). They can also generate barcodes, map spine and back cover layouts to printers’ templates, and package mechanical files.

Our advice: Covers sell books—everyone knows it. If you intend to sell books, hire a professional cover designer.

4. The Interior Designer

What they do: Interior designers are responsible for everything between the covers, and, interestingly, are often different people than cover designers. The interior designer also has a highly specialized skill set, which has as much to do with layout and typeface as with reader psychology and editorial.

Our advice: If you’re looking for ways to cut costs, and you’re okay with compromising some polish and perfection, and your manuscript is straight text, then there are template designs you can buy that can be an economical stand-in for an interior designer. If you choose to go this route, you will need to be comfortable with new technologies to “flow” the text into the template yourself.

5. The Proofreader

What they do: During the layout process, it’s possible for all sorts of formatting errors to occur—italics are dropped, a line breaks in such a way that only two letters dangle on a blank page, a chapter number is omitted, a running head contains a typo, etc. Even when layout is done professionally, these issues arise (it’s not uncommon to have a couple hundred in a standard-length manuscript!), but if you’re using a template design, you’ll find even more formatting errors.

Proofreaders specialize in spotting any lingering text errors (there’s a missing word here: “Would you like go to dinner with me?”) as well as formatting-related issues. They mark missing quotation marks, extra spacing around dashes, or incorrectly styled epigraphs. Their checklist is long.

Our advice: You wouldn’t rely on Microsoft Word’s Spelling and Grammar check to stand in for your editor’s work on your manuscript, would you? Similarly, it would be foolish to assume that your template design program’s “auto-layout” would catch all of the errors a human reader will. Since proofreading is not only about text but also about formatting, it’s wise to hire a professional proofreader—lay readers won’t pick up on half of what a professional proofer will. Also, the proofreader should be someone reading the book for the first time. You and your editors are too familiar with the manuscript; you need to bring fresh eyes.

6. An Ebook Developer

What they do: The ebook developer translates your printer-ready files (i.e., static PDFs) into formats optimized for consumption on e-reading devices. Converting your ebook to MOBI and EPUB “reflowable” formats makes the text dynamic and easy to read on any device—and a professional ebook developer is an expert at this task.

Our advice: It depends on how important the ebook edition is for you. If it’s a “nice to have” and you’re trying to keep costs down, consider using autoconversion software like Draft2Digital. If you’re publishing in a genre in which the digital version will be the primary edition readers buy, consider hiring a professional.

7. A Marketing Strategist

What they do: We’ve written at length about how readers won’t flock to buy your book just because it’s available on Amazon—no matter how awesome your cover design is. Having an intelligent strategy for how to find your potential readers online, grab their attention, and actually get them to purchase your book is a necessary component of publishing successfully. That said, marketing effectively is all about building your author brand and creating relationships with your readership—a task that really needs to be done by you.

Our advice: There are so many different marketing tactics you could try, and they’re not all going to be right for you and your book. Engaging a marketing strategist helps you focus on what you know will work well and ignore the rest of the hype. Stop short of hiring someone to “assume your voice” and produce and post all of your online content for you, though; the most successful authors are personally engaged with their readers. Our advice is this: take a “strategically assisted DIY approach” to marketing your book to keep things both authentic and manageable.

8. A Production Editor

What they do: The unsung heroes of the book pipeline, production editors are the conductors of the orchestra. The production editor selects the right editors and designers, manages contracts with each of them, builds a schedule that’s suited to the project type, handles the registration of ISBNs, determines the retail price, interfaces with the printer or POD platform, and is the keeper of all the project details and shepherd of the integrated bookmaking effort.

Our advice: There are many self-publishers who happily handle their own project management and interface directly with the various freelancers working on their book. These same authors will attest to how much work the project management is—and how hard it is to foresee problems in the pipeline if this is your first time! At Girl Friday, we devote dedicated production editors to each client.

The Supporting Players

Depending on your project, you may require even more help. Scan the list below to make sure you cover the relevant needs for your project.

9. An indexer, if your nonfiction book needs an index.

10. A fact-checker, if your nonfiction book is full of names, places, dates, quotes, or other facts you need verified.

11. A lawyer, if your manuscript uses quoted excerpts, song lyrics, or descriptions of known public figures, or if it offers legal or medical advice.

12. A photo researcher, if you intend to use images in your book and need help verifying or securing permissions.

13. An audio conversion team, if you want to create an audio edition as well.

Is Hiring Someone to Manage Your Self-Published Book Project Right for You?

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Imagine an orchestra performing without a conductor. Sure, the musicians have the sheet music, but how do they know when to start playing? When should the violins recede and the cellos surge? Who sets the tempo? How will they express the true intent of the composer without someone leading the way? Without a conductor, you can imagine the orchestra going from concerto to chaos in a flash. And the same is true in book production. 

The production editor’s job is to be your closest ally—and the only person on your team who understands your project in its entirety. He or she plans the production process that is uniquely suited to your book and manages the details along the way. 

1. Setting Up the Game Plan

At your project’s kickoff, the production editor asks lots of questions and prompts you to fill out a couple of key briefing documents that help us capture the vision in your head. The answers help us get to know you, hand select the best team of editors and designers for your project, and set up a realistic production schedule. Early on in the process, your production editor establishes your printing plan and defines the book’s specs (trim size, paper stock, cover treatment, and which printer or print platform—or combination—makes the most sense for your project). 

2. Assembling Your Team 

A key role of the production editor is knowing which resource partners will be the best fit for your book. We work in conjunction with the editorial director and managing editor to carefully select the developmental editor, copyeditor, and proofreader who will work on your project, making sure they are well matched to your material and that their personal style will make for a good working relationship with you. We also make recommendations for cover and interior designers, choosing those with experience in your genre and the right sensibility. 

3. Reviewing Work for Quality, Consistency, and Authenticity

At every stage of the process, the production editor reviews the editors’ and designers’ work to make sure the work is consistent and high quality and that it reflects your intent. The editorial process can be a time when an author makes their toughest decisions, and sometimes a writer’s “darlings” must die. But the production editor comes to the author’s aid as an advocate, providing options, ensuring quality—all while keeping the project moving on schedule and on budget. The production editor also works as a translator between the author and designer—who often think and speak in much different terms. The production editor provides a prospective reader’s viewpoint in terms of the online search, browsing, and point-of-sale habits of the author’s audience as well. 

4. Managing the Minutiae

As a DIY self-publisher, you have to perform all the administrative tasks that a traditional publisher would handle on an author’s behalf. Production editors handle these kind of details on your behalf: buying and registering your ISBNs, determining the book’s retail price, setting up your copyright page, and uploading final files. 

5. Reviewing the Proofs

Once the hard work of creating a book is complete, it’s time to finalize printing, pricing, and distribution options. For our White Glove and Deluxe projects, the production editor transmits book files and metadata to the printer and designated distribution sites for each format. We check, and recheck, every aspect of the book and ebook to ensure each edition is ready for publication and distribution. Part of this verification process includes closely reviewing ebook files and physical print proofs so you can be confident your book looks fantastic, whether its pages are in a reader’s hands or on their iPad. 

6. Shaping the Marketing Collateral

Savvy authors know publication is just the first step to connecting with their audience. Effective book marketing includes the creation of a professionally designed website as well as other collateral such as custom logos and online content. Since the production editor has worked side by side with the author to produce the book, that person is perfect for helping to convey the right vision to the designers and strategists working on the various elements that will help deliver your book to market. 

7. Taking Ownership

On a personal note, it’s hard to describe the satisfaction I feel helping a client bring their project to life. I’ve been known to talk to my screen while reviewing an author’s revision, announcing, “Yes! That’s perfect!” I’ve been moved to tears seeing a book in layout for the first time. I get a rush when I hold a finished book in my hands—I rub my hands over the cover, feel all the pages. I even smell the ink (TMI?). But what this tells you is that as a production editor, I’m deeply invested in helping the client reach their goals—every step of the way.