Several years ago, I wrote a book that I planned to self-publish. My company, BookBaby, didn’t have its own in-house editing service yet, so I decided to use an outside firm. The first step was to send them my manuscript. After mailing it over, I remember thinking, “Hey, I’m a journalist. I know my way around a comma. There shouldn’t be too much revision necessary.”
I was dead wrong. Several weeks later, my manuscript was returned with pages carved in violent red ink. My book was hardly recognizable. Every sentence appeared to need revising.
The experience taught me one huge lesson: the importance of focused, professional editing. A book simply won’t be publishable without it.
The same is true of professional marketing and design services that ensure your book can compete in the marketplace. Independent authors lack the resources provided by big publishing houses; investing in these services helps level the playing field.
That’s why Amazon’s announcement that it is discontinuing its author services — the division of CreateSpace that offers independent authors editing, marketing, and design — is a significant development. These are important, necessary investments for independent authors to make. Amazon or no Amazon, skimping on these services won’t just limit your book’s potential, it could render your book irrelevant.
Professional editing is the most important investment you can make for your book. A poorly-edited book will turn off potential readers almost immediately. If your book is riddled with grammatical mistakes, structural problems, or spelling errors, it won’t have a shot at competing with books that have been professionally edited. In fact, self-publishing an unedited book can damage your reputation.
A few years ago, we worked with a preacher from Texas who served as the president of two Bible colleges near Dallas. He rushed to publish a book he wanted to include in his curriculum for the upcoming school year. He didn’t have it edited, and he printed 500 copies.
Once he had the book in his hands, he sent copies to his family and friends. Soon after, he began to get texts saying, “Page 6, there’s a typo.” “Page 14, there’s a typo.” In time, he wished he’d never published the book at all. Luckily, there was a happy ending. He sent the book out for editing, and BookBaby reprinted all of his books.
There simply is no substitute for professional editing. At BookBaby, the first question we ask when someone brings a manuscript to us is: “Have you had it edited?” If an author tells us they don’t have much money budgeted for their book and can’t afford editing, we advise them to print fewer copies and invest the rest of their budget in professional editing. That’s how necessary it is.
Your words are the most important part of your book. Treat them as such.
Another investment independent authors should consider is in marketing strategies and resources. The better equipped you are with tools and strategies to market your book, the more successful that book will be.
One mistake independent authors often make is assuming their book will sell itself. This isn’t the case. All authors need to put in some marketing work. You need to identify your niche and you need to strategize how to establish relationships with your audience. Without putting in that work — which might include investing in services or consultants to help you — how can you expect your book to sell?
It’s not enough to make this investment just once, either. Publishing your book is not a singular event, it’s the start of a long adventure. Before you publish your first book (or even before you begin writing), you should create a Twitter account, an author website, and an email list. Once you’ve established these things, you won’t be using them just once. You’ll be building, polishing, and tweaking your use of them continuously. Using these tools is a skill that needs to be sharpened and honed.
This is why we encourage independent authors to learn how to market themselves and their books. There is not one blanket strategy or solution that works for everyone; yours will have to be built to meet the demands of your individual market space. Authors backed by traditional publishing houses are doing this stuff. You need to do the same.
In 1964, when United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart described his threshold test for what constitutes “obscenity,” he famously said: “I shall not today attempt to define [obscene] material … But I know it when I see it.”
The same threshold can be applied to book formatting: You can just tell when it’s been professionally done. And for independent authors attempting to compete with the big players in the publishing space, meeting that threshold is absolutely necessary.
At BookBaby, our designers turn what would normally just be text on a page into a pleasing reading experience. We do this work purposefully, considering what type of colors, textures, typography, and placement is appropriate for each book based on the genre and story.
Books designed without this level of artistry or care are going to prove less attractive to readers. Because the ultimate truth is, yes, people do judge books by their covers. This is perhaps even truer for readers looking for books on Amazon. On Amazon, authors have milliseconds to attract the attention of potential readers. If you don’t have your act together on the front of your book, you’ll miss out on a lot of readers.
At the end of the day, your book is a reflection of you and all the time and effort you put into making it. It is your legacy, and you don’t want your legacy polluted by something you’re less than proud of. Treating the editing, marketing, and design aspects of the publication process as seriously as you did the writing is the best way to ensure you are proud of your final product.