This is the third post in a series, so the introduction here is brief and probably won’t make loads of sense. If you want to understand what prompted this outpouring and consider the choices to be made in relation to book covers, you may want to start here. If you want to get to grips with the choices around formatting your eBook or paperback, you can check out the second post here.
For now, though, I want to go a step beyond the formatting. Remember, everything I’m writing about here is with the reader in mind. Their first experience of the book is the cover. The second is the layout. Assuming you’ve managed not to turn your reader away with a lousy cover or a jarring layout, you now need to make sure that, as they actually begin to read and take an interest in what you’ve written, you don’t give them more reasons to put the book down.
As with the formatting, if I come across a lot of spelling mistakes and typos, I find them distracting. As a result, instead of immersing myself in the story, I’m regularly jolted back to the real world and it takes me several moments to get back in. When my story’s being read, I don’t want the reader to do anything other than enjoy the narrative.
Proofreading can be expensive, though. The publisher I’m using for the hard copy of Ravens Gathering charges £495 (plus VAT) to carry out a proofread once the book has been typeset. Remember, all this is doing is looking for mistakes in things like spelling, format, typos, punctuation. Obviously, this is important stuff – otherwise I wouldn’t mention it here – but there’s a chance you’ll know someone who’s prepared to read it through for you for nothing (or a small sum, or even a bottle of something pleasant to drink).
Do bear in mind, though, that if you do choose someone you know, they need to be competent enough to do it properly. If they’re dyslexic, you may want to rethink your choice. Obviously, as writers, we’re not necessarily social animals, so I could easily be wrong about the availability of a friendly proof reader.
This covers a multitude of options, from copy-editing to structural editing. I have no intention of covering these here. But it is important to have some kind of editing done. You need feedback on your story and how it works. Friends and family might be brutally honest with you, but probably not – after all, they’ve got to live with you afterwards. More importantly, they mightn’t have the experience or inclination to provide meaningful feedback. There’d have been no point in me asking my son, for example, because he doesn’t enjoy reading. And my mum likes Catherine Cookson, so she’d couldn’t have provided guidance on how to improve the creepiness required in Ravens Gathering.
And don’t even think about doing it yourself, because you’re just too close to it.
From my own experience, when I had Ravens Gathering edited, a couple of plot holes were exposed and other useful insights were given that helped me tighten it up and make it a much better read.
Then again, I submitted Carrion and when the feedback came in it was clear I really needed to think again about its direction. As a result, it still isn’t close to publication, but with its shortcomings pointed out, I wouldn’t want it out there in its original form. It would have undermined the reputation (slim as it is) I’ve developed with Ravens Gathering.
So you have to accept some criticism, but I’d rather have it before I go to press than afterwards. I want the book with my name on it to be the best it can possibly be.
From a reader’s point of view, if they pick up your book and find it doesn’t flow, it’s inconsistent, the twist can be seen coming from Chapter Two, the dialogue’s stilted or the story relies on an excess of exposition, they aren’t going to recommend it to their friends and family. They may even leave a bad review if they feel strongly enough.
It’s worth bearing in mind that if you decide not to self-publish, it’s almost mandatory to use an editor. If you want to get your novel in front of agents and/or publishers, it needs to be in the best possible shape to grab their attention. Apart from deciding to use a publishing house to prepare my print books, the editing has been the single biggest expense. But, unless you know a professional editor who’s willing to do the job for nothing or at a rock bottom price as a favour, you really can’t afford to not find the money to do this.
Looking back at that last point, I can’t help thinking: that sounds like a rule. It isn’t really, because if you’re self-publishing, no one’s going to force you to do anything. Frankly, you can write gibberish, have a photo of a tie for a cover and then publish it as an eBook for no cost. But it ain’t going to sell. Oh, hang on…
Seriously, one way or another, there’s a chance you’re going to have to put your hand in your pocket – no, I don’t mean while you’re thinking about 50 Shades. In the final part of this series, I’ll give you some perspectives to consider when it comes to investing money in your book.