When The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) released their predictions for 2017*, I was absolutely thrilled to see one particular prophecy in the crystal ball. Long have I been cautioning writers about the hard slog that awaits, beyond typing those final words (often 'The End'; how cruel). Most gratefully accept the warning, but it would seem the many hordes who resist such wisdom – blinded by dreams of smoking cigarettes and 'creating art' whilst the rain teems against the window and the money rolls in (...or something like that) – may very soon find themselves dropping by the wayside.
Instead, Orna Ross, Founder-Director of ALLi, envisages for the coming months a greater emphasis on self-publishing as a 'profession', a career only for those serious about educating themselves on what publishing actually entails. As Orna says, 'Writing is a craft, [but] publishing is a business', and as a business it requires access to a broad set of skills in order for it to survive and thrive. If your intention is merely to get that thing you wanted to say down in print, then you need not worry about your publishing acumen. But if your goal is to build success in terms of recognition of your work and – well, it would be nice – monetary gain, then the path ahead is long and intense and only for those passionate, determined and in it for the long haul.
If you are in it for the long haul, read on...
Orna identifies the seven stages of publishing as editorial, design, production, rights sales, distribution, marketing and promotion. It's a hefty list and one which self-publishing authors need to be familiar with... but don't necessarily have to take on entirely by themselves. After all, whilst these seven departments in a publishing house are expected to collaborate with one another to create the best possible final product, they are not usually expected to undertake one another's roles, as each is a specialism. You, the self-publishing author/business owner, thus find yourself deliberating whether to don a colourful array of hats – editor, designer, salesperson, etc – or whether to outsource some of these tasks elsewhere. And here's where you may get nervous.
Firstly, you'll need to pay to outsource – it's not always cheap and will it be worth it? Secondly, you don't want someone else's ideas running all over the work you've spent months/years manipulating into shape; I mean, what if they don't like it, tell you it's rubbish, change it, tell you you're rubbish?
Okay, now that's out of your system, let's talk rationally.
On the first point: remember, self-publishing is a business and all businesses encounter risk and particularly the risk of investment, the outcome of which is never certain. Start by drawing up a list of the actual benefits ('a professional book designer knows more about colour and impact than I do'), and possible benefits ('the design might be better than I could ever imagine'); then draw up a list of actual downsides ('it's a lot of money with no guarantee of return'), and possible downsides ('they fail to understand my vision or my book at all'). Listing the benefits against the potential pitfalls, evaluating, and ultimately making an informed decision for every aspect of your self-publishing business will put you on a par with any other business owner. Some things may work, others may not. It's never failure; it's always learning.
Tip: Always record decisions you make so you can evaluate their effectiveness later.
Now that we've discussed the practical, it's time to broach the emotional. In my experience, all the best professionals (ahem... myself included) will be sensitive not only to your work but also to your goals for that work. For example, a book cover designer should take the time to get to know your book and what its message is, and should ask what you envisage for its cover. If they disagree with your ideas, they should respectfully explain why and offer alternative suggestions. And if you still prefer your own version, they should agree to carry out your wishes regardless (as long as it's technically possible, of course).
As a proofreader and copy-editor, I am in the unenviable position of being loathed and feared, but in truth I'm neither loathable nor fearable, as proved by my willingness to make up these two words on a whim (on a website offering proofreading services, no less) whilst stubbornly resisting the autocorrect which is screaming at me to go back and reword.
A good editor (ahem...) is not here to gleefully point out all the bits you get wrong, but to help you reach the goals you have set for your book, and thus your writing and your business (with a heavy emphasis on your; your work and goals will be different from the previous client's and from the next). So this does not mean beating strict spelling, grammar and punctuation rules into your manuscript with an iron bar. It means getting to know what your work is trying to say and then gently nudging it to speak in the clearest and most effective way, so that the message translates to the reader.
For peace of mind, should your business calculations and deliberations lead you to outsource, take time to get to know the service provider before agreeing to proceed. Outsourcing only works when you find a professional you are comfortable with and who you are certain understands your intentions; it is much easier to work with someone you can freely communicate with. Most professionals will happily provide samples of how they work so you'll know what to expect. Even then, you don't have to commit at this point; be confident enough in your work and your self-publishing business to shop around for just the right person.
Remember, a professional will not tell you what you absolutely have to do; their role is to work with your ideas. Though they should offer advice and suggestions, ultimately all final decisions belong to you... as does your work, your final product and your self-publishing business. Good Luck.
* Read more about ALLi's predictions for the year ahead here.
And follow ALLi on Twitter or Facebook.