Indie publishing is a micro business that can be as individual as the author that’s running it. This week I’m doing a series on the business side of things. What this week isn’t about: marketing. While marketing is important, this is about the details of running the business, not the strategy behind how to make your books successful. See my marketing posts here.
Developmental Editing (editing for story content)
Line Editing (editing for craft, sentence flow, fluency)
Copyediting (typos, word usage, grammar)
How Do You Hire An Editor?
Get a recommendation from someone you respect and trust. Ask for a sample. Make sure you’re compatible.
Is Hiring an Editor Necessary?
Yes and no. (see below)
I personally think developmental editing is crucial. However, I also think it is something you should NOT pay for, at least not at first. To me, critique partners are developmental editors – some have more experience than others, but when I’m swapping critiques with someone, we are (usually) doing an in-kind swap for developmental editing (sometimes it’s more of a line edit or copyedit, depending on need or skill of the person involved). Especially early in your career, you learn as much from critiquing as you receive back in a critique. Over the years, I’ve built my Critiquers of Awesome list, and I continue to swap critiques with the amazing people on my list (I’ve got three manuscripts lined up to critique right now). However, I’m also experimenting this year with a paid developmental editor. Alison Dasho was highly recommended by a very successful fellow indie author (Denise Grover Swank). Because my books have done well, I have funds that I can reinvest in my writing, and this is one way to do it. I’m still keeping my critique partners, but this will allow me to reduce the burden on them (I tend to write fast). But mostly, I’m curious to see if a “professional” editor can offer something substantially more/different than my very talented writer friends. My experience has been that fellow writers offer the best feedback, but I’m willing to experiment.
I don’t use line editors. Occasionally my crit partners will do some line editing as they go, but I’m confident enough in my craft to know when a sentence is working or not. Or when feedback about a “slow” section of prose means that I need to spend more craft time on it. However, if you feel like your prose could use some work, or if you’re just starting out, I would recommend going to a critique group and have them help pinpoint places for improvement, rather than pay for line editing.
My Mindjack Trilogy was copyedited by Anne of Victory Editing, and she did an outstanding job. Sheryl Hart also did some copyediting for me before she hung out her shingle, and she did great work as well. When picking a copyeditor, I got several recommendations from the Kindle Boards, requested sample edits, and went with Anne because she did solid work and seemed to “get” my prose – something not to be underestimated when a copyeditor is going through and trying to remove every sentence that starts with “But”. For novels, I highly recommend hiring a copyeditor. For my novellas, I have not used a copyeditor, mostly because of the economics, but also because I tend to write clean – I know that the finished product will still be relatively typo-free even without copyediting.
Indie authors can (and do) skip editing altogether and still sell books. It’s tempting. Readers tend to forgive a lot for a story they like. I keep my focus on delivering a great story (which means developmental editing, paid or unpaid) that’s clean enough not to distract readers (which sometimes means copyediting and sometimes not).
Hire someone to create your covers.
I can’t really say this strongly enough. HIRE SOMEONE. There, that felt better. 🙂
It’s tempting to use your daughter/friend/sister-in-law to make covers for you, especially if they have professional level graphic skills. I personally prefer to hire someone not related to me, because if the cover doesn’t come out the way I want, I need to be able to say “sorry that’s not working for me” and start over with someone else. Most professional cover artists will work with you to get what you want, and will professionally part ways if it’s not working out.
I have a whole post on creating covers, but here’s the upshot:
Covers Pay For Themselves
Books need a good cover to sell. $300-$400 may seem like a lot, but you make that back if you sell even 200 ebooks. Even short stories can justify money on cover art (something I doubted early on). If you spend $50-$100 on cover art, even a 99cent short only has to sell 300 copies to cover the art. A good cover can move those numbers.
Covers Convey Concept/Genre, Not Story
Don’t try to “tell the story” on your cover. Make sure it conveys the genre and the concept. In a way, a cover is like a query letter. It’s only job is to get someone to want more. In my experience, conveying genre is not especially difficult, but getting concept across can require some serious thinking. Time invested in creatively thinking about concept for your cover can pay off big-time. And don’t expect your cover artist to do this work for you – they can help, but YOU know your story and YOU have a creative brain. Use it.
Use A Professional
I come up with the concept; I troll the bestseller lists and stock art sites looking for ideas/images; but when it’s time to make the cover, I trust my graphic arts professional to make it look awesome. D. Robert Pease has created all the Mindjack covers – I brought the concept to him, but he added the elements that made it pop. I’ve gotten more praise for those covers than I can count. I know for certain that they have sold books. I highly recommend Dale!
For my upcoming future-noir series, which are shorter works and need a lot of covers, I’m using Steven Novak’s graphic talents. I’m not ready to reveal those covers (yet! soon!), but he’s done fantastic work for many Indelibles (see above), and I highly recommend him as well.
How to Hire a Cover Artist
Look first at their portfolio. That should give you an idea of their skills/range. Get recommendations from other indie authors – you want someone who everyone raves about. Lots of people hang out shingles and have Photoshop skills, but cover art skills go beyond that into things like understanding typography, visual design, and knowing how to make something look good in thumbnail. Whether you have a contract or just a flat-rate agreement, agree up front on cost and time-frame.
Photo-Manip vs. Original Art
Many gorgeous covers have been made using stock-art (from places like istockphoto.com) – having a great concept and a fantastic cover artist gives you a lot of latitude. However, sometimes, an author may want to use original photography (a photo shoot, say) or illustrated covers. I caution authors against spending more than $500-$600 on a cover, unless you’re fairly sure you can recoup the costs. That being said, I’m using original art for my steampunk fantasy romance, because I didn’t think stock-art would be able to capture the feel that I need for that cover (and I think I can recoup the cost). Fantasy (and middle grade) often use illustration (judging by the covers in the Top 100), so I’m conveying genre as well with that particular choice. There’s no wrong answer in covers (except the one that doesn’t sell!).
At first, my cover designer D. Robert Pease formatted all my ebooks and print books (and did a fabulous job!). Eventually I decided to invest time in learning how to format The Hard Way, because I wanted more flexibility in formatting my smaller works (novellas). Having an engineering background, and knowing some HTML, it was relatively straightforward, and being an indie author, I felt it was important to have this tool in my toolkit. But formatting is also not a great use of my time, and I completely understand outsourcing this part. Or doing it The Easy Way (simple, fast, and no-cost).
Overall, indie authors have unparalleled freedom in producing their works: they can DIY every step or outsource it all. They can go one way for one book, and a different way for another. But having a stable of professionals on your side to help in launching your book into the world can make the different between one that will fly off the (virtual) shelves and one which will languish unread.
IF YOU HAVE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR EDITORS, COVER ARTISTS, OR FORMATTERS, PLEASE LEAVE THEM IN THE COMMENTS!