Vetting Your Manuscript - guest post by @JoelGoldman1

THE GREAT THING about self-publishing is that it has democratized the publishing world. Anybody can self-publish with little out of pocket expense. The worst thing about self-publishing is that anybody can self-publish with little out of pocket expense. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you’re ready.

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Joel Goldman

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For all it’s faults, traditional publishers perform an important function, weeding out millions more books than they release. Yes, a lot of lousy books are published and many great books have vanished into the black hole of rejection letters and slush piles. But a lot of books weren’t published because the author wasn’t ready. She hadn’t learned her craft well enough to compete in a crowded marketplace where success or failure was often determined in the first six weeks of a book’s shelf life.

I “finished” my first book, Motion To Kill, in 1992. It was published in 2002, making me a ten-year overnight success. Malcolm Gladwell argues in his book, Outliers, that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to achieve a high level of success, citing examples ranging from The Beatles to Bill Gates. I wrote two other books during the ten years before Motion To Kill was published, neither of which were or should have been published. They were my apprenticeship, my ten thousand hours.

Our training and growth as writers doesn’t end with the publication of our first book. It continues until we die at the keyboard. Before self-publishing Motion To Kill, I read it for the first time in ten years and was amazed at how I had changed as a writer. I edited the original edition, deleting about ten thousand words (one for each hour?). It’s a better book than when it was first released because I’m a better writer.

What’s my point? Getting to the last word on the last page of your book is only the end of the beginning and nothing more. Before you post news of your accomplishment on Facebook or Twitter and before you buy that winter home in Scottsdale, you need an honest, objective answer to this critical question: Is this a book and are you a writer?

That requires a competent editor who will give you a line-by-line critique and a copyeditor who will correct all the spelling and grammatical errors you and Spell Check missed. Spouses, partners, parents and your writers group need not apply. Like I said, you need honest, objective feedback from people who do this for a living and aren’t afraid to hurt your feelings.

You’ll find a lot of people online who offer these services. Look for someone who has experience working for a traditional publisher and who has edited books in your genre. Ask for names of other authors they’ve worked for and then contact those authors. Get your own objective feedback. And be prepared to spend a thousand dollars or more for the editor and half to two-thirds as much for the copyeditor.

Before you say “Ouch! I don’t have that kind of money”, remember what I said about treating this like a business. Invest in yourself. Sure, you can try doing this on your own or getting by on the cheap or asking your mom, dad, sister or brother to do it for you. But think about your reaction when you bought someone’s self-published book only to find that it was poorly written and chocked full of errors. What are the chances you’ll buy another book by that same author?

What's next in this series?

Being a successful commercial writer, i.e., someone who earns more selling their books than they do buying other people’s books (okay, there are other definitions but I like this one), requires that you treat your writing career like a business. If you want to be a profitable self-publisher, you have to do the same things a traditional publisher does:

  • Vet your manuscript to make it the best it can be
  • Package it like a pro
  • Develop and execute a business plan for marketing your book

Stay tuned for the final two topics in the concluding post of this series.