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.