New Directions in Self-Publishing: A Discussion by Writers and Editors

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I was recently invited by Editors Toronto and the Toronto chapter of PWAC to participate in a panel (co-sponsored and hosted by UofT’s Creative Writing Program) exploring the current state of self-publishing and the publishing industry in general. I was one of four professionals whose work has involved all facets of the industry from POD, hybrid models, and ebooks to crowdfunding and writing communities.

The four speakers included:

MeghanBehse_closeMeghan Behse, the president of PubLaunch Inc., a new online marketplace and crowdfunding platform where writers, readers, and publishing professionals join forces to get books published. In her role as publisher, she steered Iguana through a new world of digital and print-on-demand publishing while experimenting with unique royalty arrangements and funding models, including crowdfunding. Behse talked about how PubLaunch is using emerging technologies to help overcome the obstacles writers continue to face in the self-publishing industry.

nina-munteanuNina Munteanu, an experienced editor of traditionally published and self-published books, and an award-winning author of eight novels, including Darwin’s Paradox and The Splintered Universe Trilogy. A frequent contributor to Amazing Stories and the current editor of Europa SF, Munteanu teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto and has also published short stories, essays, and non-fiction books. Her latest book is Water Is…The Meaning of Water, a scientific study and personal journey as limnologist, mother, teacher, and environmentalist. Munteanu provided an overview of the industry—including use and misuse of terms—then spoke about evolving professional standards in self-publishing, and what these changes mean for writers and editors.

sfyshStephanie Fysh, a Toronto-based freelance editor of independent authors in a variety of genres, including fantasy, science fiction, YA, romance, and erotica, and the former chair of Ryerson University’s Publishing program. She works with hybrid publishers on projects that range from harrowing memoirs to comedy, and still enjoys a textbook project that she can learn something from. Using her own experience as example, she talked about what self-publishing authors look for in an editor, and how that differs from the roles built into traditional or hybrid publishing.

MarkLeslieLefebvre_LaurenLangMark Leslie Lefebvre, the author of more than a dozen traditionally published and self-published books, a professional speaker, a digital publishing advocate, and a bookseller with more than a quarter century of experience.  Lefebvre explained what prompted him to self-publish “ten years before any self-respecting writer would admit to such a foul thing.” And he’ll tackle the big-picture questions: “What is currently wrong with self-publishing, and how can we work together to fix that?”

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I started the panel discussion with an overview of the publishing industry from traditional to indie to self-publishing. I overviewed five main publishing models and discussed advantages and disadvantages depending on needs and perspectives of the writer. A few advantages of self-publishing include: 1) getting a book to market more quickly than through the traditional publishing path; and 2) having more control over the end product.

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The downsides in self-publishing arise from the same: 1) getting a book to market more quickly may seduce writers to compromise the lengthy process of perfecting their work (provided by editors, layout and cover artists) to put something out before it is ready; and 2) having more control also means more responsibility borne by the writer (the need to understand more in book production and marketing than a writer in the traditional process needs to). Another important disadvantage to self-publishing lies in more restricted distributing, marketing and exposure.

In my talk, I emphasized that while the current industry is providing great opportunities, with these come great responsibilities.

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Authors and editors are currently facing a sea of possibilities. New directions, models, collaborations and structures face us as the publishing industry morphs into something new. Self-publishing and hybrid-players are at the forefront of that evolving tide of new publishing. And it’s very exciting!

Suzanne Bowness of PWAC Toronto provided a good summary of the panel discussion on PWAC’s blog Networds, and shared by the Editors Toronto blog Boldface. Editor and publishing consultant Michelle MacAleese who attended the event made these observations:

  • Many in the biz draw a distinction between self-published authors and hybrid-published authors; both are “independent,” but the self-published authors are a special breed, who *are starting to understand art and business and (usually) gladly develop proficiency in all the technical and administrative details of the process.
  • Not surprisingly, options for authors continue to change rapidly. What worked best in 2011 is irrelevant today. Many quality companies offer publishing services and hybrid publishing deals. (Many companies will pretty much just steal your money. One must read up before signing up. *Research is paramount)
  • The best publishing option for e-only genre fiction won’t be the same as for a debut hardcover business book. It’s a wide world of independent publishing.
  • Authors: If you don’t love technical things (formatting ebooks, working Amazon’s categories, tweaking descriptive copy), you probably won’t enjoy starting a publishing house of one.
  • Editors: Working with self-published authors is a specialty and those editors who are good at taking on that relationship and guiding the process are worth their weight in gold. (Isn’t it about time we begin to mentor each other in why this kind of author-editor relationship is unique, and how it borders on the agent role at times? *This is a great opportunity for editors willing to evolve and grow.)
  • Editors who already specialize in working with self-published authors: Let’s talk about how to partner with reputable publishing services companies as well as with other independent designers and book marketing professionals to launch great self-published books that sell! This point was just touched upon in the panel and is still evolving; again, editors are uniquely positioned as author-consultants to play key roles in new networks of independent professionals in the publishing industry. *italics throughout are mine

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A few years ago, I gave a talk at Editors Toronto on the industry from the self-publishing author and freelance editor’s perspective. It remains highly relevant today, given that it spoke to the changing face of publishing and what it means for editors and writers. Editors learned about self-publishing and indie publishing, publishing myths, and imaginative ways to find new editing opportunities:

Self-publishing used to be a scar; now it’s a tattoo.”–Greg Cope White

Other relevant articles include:

Nina Munteanu on the Author-Editor Relationship

Beating Today’s “S” Curve (or Why an Editor is Every Writer’s Best Friend)

Walking the Tightrope Between Innocent and Cynical

The Moving Target of Indie Publishing: What Every Editor (and Writer) Needs to Know

The Writer-Editor Relationship, Part 1: Editors Preparing Writers

The Writer-Editor Relationship, Part 2: Five Things Writers Wish Editors Knew—and Followed

The Hidden Costs of Self-Publishing, Part 1: The Solution to “Author Solutions”

What Indie Authors Should Know for 2015

Surfing the Hybrid Wave of Publishing

The Indie Book Tidal Wave…What Does it Mean for Bookstores, Publishers & Writers?

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nina-munteanuNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of

The Writer-Editor Relationship, Part 2: Five Things Writers Wish Editors Knew—and Followed

tree insideIn my previous article, “The Writer-Editor Relationship, Part 1: Editors Preparing Writers,” I focused on clarifying expectations between editors and writers from the editor’s point of view. Part 2, this article, focuses on this same relationship from the writer’s point of view.

Clarity of expectation, honesty, and mutual respect are key features in a productive and successful writer-editor relationship. Writers expect editors to inform them if their expectations are out of line, and writers rely on editors’ honesty and transparency to let them know if they are comfortable with the task being asked of them. This, of course, is predicated on the editor’s full understanding of what that task is; again, it is the responsibility of the editor to determine the scope of work from the author—just as a doctor will ask key questions to diagnose a patient. If an editor has reservations, caveats, or limitations with the project, these should be shared upfront. Honesty is always best, and it should start right from the beginning so that mutual respect is cemented.

Below is a list of five things that writers wish editors knew—and followed.

  1. Edit to preserve the writer’s voice through open and respectful dialogue

Losing your voice to the “hackings of an editor” is perhaps a beginner writer’s greatest fear. This makes sense, given that a novice writer’s voice is still in its infancy; it is tentative, evolving, and striving for an identity. While a professional editor is not likely to “hack,” the fear may remain well-founded.

A novice’s voice is often tangled and enmeshed in a chaos of poor narrative style, grammatical errors, and a general misunderstanding of the English language. Editors trying to improve a novice writer’s narrative flow without interfering with voice are faced with a challenge. Teasing out the nuances of creative intent amid the turbulent flow of awkward and obscure expression requires finesse—and consideration. Good editors recognize that every writer has a voice, no matter how weak or ill-formed, and that voice is the culmination of a writer’s culture, beliefs, and experiences. Editing to preserve a writer’s voice—particularly when it is weak and not fully formed—needs a “soft touch” that invites more back-and-forth than usual, uses more coaching-style language, and relies on good feedback.

An editor colleague of mine consistently accompanies her edits with the question, “Does this change preserve your meaning?” This prompt both focuses on “voice” and reminds the writer that the editor is considering it, which fosters a nurturing environment of mutual respect. Editors who are not familiar with working with writers in the early stage of their careers may wish to defer to one who is more experienced.

Editors also need to consider how the author’s narrative voice harmonizes with the standard in the author’s targeted genre and niche market. Pursuing respectful and open dialogue about how the author’s voice fits or doesn’t fit that standard is another responsibility of a good editor and one an author will come to rely on—particularly early on in their career.

  1. Understand—and embrace—the market and genre of your writer

Writers are often told to write what they know. This edict applies equally to editors: edit what you “know” and understand. Each form of writing—from literary and genre fiction to journalism, the memoir, and technical writing—encompasses an overall style, culture and vision, associated language, and even “jargon” that is important to understand to succeed with readers. Even writers who subvert the trope need to first understand what they are subverting, and so does the editor.

I write and edit science fiction and fantasy. I do it very well, because I have a passion for it and I intimately understand its world and language, including where the boundaries lie and where the risks—and sublime nuances of originality—also lie. I worked as a scientist for over 20 years and have published papers in peer-reviewed journals, so I am comfortable editing technical and scientific papers. I live that world. On the other hand, I do not read, nor do I understand or care for, the horror fiction genre. Not only would I do a lousy job editing a work of horror, but I wouldn’t provide the discerning editorial advice to best place that work in the horror market. It is in the area of market niche that one editor will shine over another based on their familiarity with, and current activity in, that industry sector. This is ultimately what writers are paying for: the multi-layered understanding of the editor that comes with a full embrace of that world.

Editors should ensure a good fit and the best chance for success by not taking on work in a genre with which they are neither familiar nor comfortable. Think of the author. Which leads me to the next point:

  1. Be honest and practice moral integrity: Don’t take on a writer’s work unless you like and believe in it

 When I was starting out as a writer with my first novel, I shopped it around to many agents, hoping for representation. While the book was eventually published with great success, many agents had rejected it. Literary agents take on clients and shop their books to publishing houses. They usually charge a percentage of the take and are not paid (if they are good agents) until the book is sold to a publishing house. Payment, therefore, is predicated on success. In many cases, an agent would respond with good things to say about my first manuscript but would not take it on, citing this common phrase: “It just didn’t excite me enough.” I was initially puzzled by this response. If they liked it, why didn’t they take it on? But “I like” isn’t the same as “I’m excited.” I soon realized the importance that excitement played in the agent’s business. They were my advocate, after all. If they weren’t eager about the book, how could they sell it to someone else? And if they couldn’t sell it to someone else, how could they get paid?

While the editor is usually paid up front and/or upon deliverable, they fulfill a similar role: that of advocate. If an editor takes on a writer’s work without enjoying it or believing in it, they are much less likely to do a good job. And both lose when that happens.

When we just do a job for the money and not for the passion of doing something well, we run the risk of losing on all fronts. We run the risk of being dishonest in our assessments and then doing a shabby job. And then losing our reputation. Be an advocate and be honest; sometimes, that means saying “no” to a project and explaining why. The writer will benefit and will thank you for it—if not right away, then eventually.

  1. Edit professionally and appropriately to promised deliverable

In my capacity as writing coach, I have met with several writers who have complained that their work had been insufficiently or inappropriately edited. This can occur for several reasons: (a) lack of time; (b) incompetence; or (c) inappropriate match-up.

  • Lack of time 

As a writer, I once experienced an insufficient copy edit by a freelance professional editor. In fact, this particular editor was a good editor and had impeccably edited a previous work of mine. When I submitted my “edited” work to a beta reader, he pointed out many places that my copy editor had missed. A few is OK, but she’d missed many. From subsequent correspondence, I deduced that my editor had been overrun with other projects and had skimmed mine a little too fast. Unfortunately, this was unacceptable, given that I’d agreed to pay her a professional rate for a specific deliverable: a copy-edited, proofed, and publication-ready manuscript.

The ultimate message here for editors is, don’t take on a writer’s work and make promises of delivering until you know what you’re getting into and know that you can do it in the time you suggested. Honesty is best here. If you are too busy to meet the specified deadline, say so and refer the writer to another respected editor if they can’t wait. And don’t worry about “losing” the client—you haven’t. But that editor I mentioned in the previous paragraph did.

  • Incompetence 

Unfortunately, most editors who are incompetent are unaware of it. One of my professional writer-editor colleagues at SF Canada invoked the Dunning-Kruger Effect (“at a certain point, people who really don’t know something don’t know that they don’t know it”) to share her story of what passes for editorial input in “an age of homonym errors.” She suggested that some self-appointed editors are convinced they have significant skills but allow a large error rate.

This is where organizations like Editors Canada become invaluable. Editors Canada certifies editors for skills in various editing fields and forms (that is, structural-, stylistic-, and copy editing and proofreading). If you are a professional editor with certification, ensure that you make this known to the writer; many writers not only don’t understand the various editing forms (for example, copy editing vs. structural editing), they also don’t necessarily recognize competence until after the job is done—when it’s too late.

  • Inappropriate match-up 

This is similar to point 2, which talks about matching writer and editor through genre and market. A good fit also includes temperament, schedules, communication style, and other considerations that will affect the editor-writer relationship and the natural progress of the project. As editor, I have encountered a few clients whose communications with me created tension and misunderstanding. We mutually agreed to terminate our arrangement early on, which saved much tension and grief. The transparency of the relationship allowed us to recognize the mismatch early on and attend to it before it became problematic and wasted both our time and efforts.

  1. Keep the relationship—and language—professional and respectful 

Without necessarily expressing this, the majority of writers—particularly beginning writers and, by default, indie/self-published writers—seek a professional editor who will treat them with respect. What this translates into is the use of professional language, tone, and behaviour. Writers aren’t looking for an editor to be their “friend.” Writers are also not looking for a professional editor to validate their work or them as people. Writers seek professional editors to give them honest and helpful advice that will help them create the very best work they can for eventual publication.

Simple. Not so simple.

As an editor who is also a writer (who gets edited a lot), I provide rationale as much as I can for the suggestions I make to writers. This helps establish and maintain a respectful and collaborative relationship between author and editor through the use of professional language, tone, and behaviour. Think of it as a doctor-patient relationship; I’ve dropped doctors like hot potatoes who are not willing to sit with me as an equal and discuss their prognoses. I want to know why, and ultimately, it’s my decision. The editor is an expert, but so is the writer.

The writer-editor relationship is foremost a professional one. As an editor, I feel it is my tree insideduty to promote integrity and respect with the writer, and this hopefully within a safe and nurturing environment for the achievement of mutual excellence.

This article was copy edited by Nicole North.

 

Nina MunteanuNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.

Beating Today’s “S” Curve (or Why an Editor is Every Writer’s Best Friend)

mushroom forestI’m an ecologist and a limnologist. I conducted environmental research and investigations for over twenty years; as senior scientist I investigated and reported on environmental phenomena to both the scientific and lay community. I find it interesting when something I’ve been reporting on for over twenty years finally makes it to the mainstream; like it’s news. So, when a New York City cab driver turned to me recently and lectured me on global warming, I nodded slowly in mute agreement and didn’t tell him that I’d been studying it for over twenty years.

There’s an interesting phenomenon going on out there right now. Maybe you noticed it. Economists are all abuzz with it. Social scientists and psychologists are gossiping to each other about it: the exponential growth curve—or “S” curve—that we are currently in the middle of is fueling our food shortages, oil shortages, inflation, economic collapses, tensions between countries, population rise, and everything else to do with humanity on this planet.

Ecologists have long been studying this biological—and sociological—phenomenon in nature. The typical “S” curve has three parts to it: 1) the beginning, where it lags and shows a slow rate of rise; 2) then the steep rise of exponential growth; and 3) the eventual leveling off when the supposed carrying capacity is reached. There is another kind of curve, the “boom and bust” curve that instead of plateauing at the end toward sustainability, plummets just as steeply back to or below levels in the first step (that’s a whole other topic and blog post).

Why am I talking to you about this? Because it has everything to do with your writing. The publishing industry is currently experiencing its own version of the “S” curve and the “boom and bust” curve (for traditional publishing houses, I’m afraid). We are currently witnessing a growing influx and legitimization of self-publishing and Indie publishing. Thanks to a few crazy success stories and the new affordable paradigm of POD digital publishing, publishing hasn’t been easier. This new model heralds an unprecedented renaissance of self-expression and creativity, shared worldwide.

Consider these statistics: in 2009, Publishers Weekly reported over 750,000 self-published/micro publisher titles, over twice the number of traditionally published titles that same year. The figures (I couldn’t find more recent ones—let me know when you do) are assuredly much higher today. From 8,000 to 11,000 new publishers currently enter the field every year and most of them are self-publishers or small indie publishers. Seventy-eight percent of titles brought out come from a small press or self-publisher. Fifty-two percent of books sold are not sold in bookstores; they are merchandised through mail order, online, in discount or warehouse stores, through book clubs, and nontraditional retail outlets.

As a function of this renaissance of self-expression, the number of books hitting the market is rising at an exponential rate. There’s that “S” curve again. Check out Amazon: they have over seven million books on their virtual shelves. And now, thanks to their new policies, it’s growing exponentially. What does this mean for you?

It used to be that the screening for excellence in books occurred behind the closed doors of prestigious publishing houses; if a book wasn’t deemed worthy of the standards or didn’t fit the style of that publishing house (with its own reputation), it was not accepted and didn’t see the light of day. The rejected and dejected author often went back to the drawing board to improve their artistic work before resubmitting. That was then. Now, works are published without prejudice in the open for the world to see.  It used to be that writers complained of their writing being “sterilized” by the editor of the publishing house, which was only conforming to the house style and their vision of what is salable. Now, authors wishing for creative control simply self-publish.

Self-publishing has created a kind of anarchy in publishing; anything can be published (so long as you have the money). And while this is incredibly liberating for authors around the world, it is also incredibly dangerous. Here’s why: once you publish your material, it will be out there for the world to see forever. That means FOREVER. It becomes a permanent record of your standards of excellence and taste; essentially a statement of who and what you are. You had better be proud of it then and for a very long time. It is no longer the responsibility of the publisher to determine publishing worthiness; the onus is on YOU, the writer. What will you do to ensure the best possible work for your readers?

Competition will become ever more fierce AFTER you’ve invested and AFTER you’ve published; your book will then compete with a world of self-published authors in addition to those published by traditional publishing houses. In order for your book to rise above the massive competition, it’s more important than ever to produce a concise, clean, clear, polished-to-perfection manuscript that you are proud of. With an awesome cover (see my July 2013 post on book jacket covers).

Self-published author Dave Bricker shares that, “Poor editing is the number one complaint heard from critics of the independent publishing industry. Though the standards of mainstream publishing houses are overrated, I’ve read many indie books where spotty spelling and lack of polished prose present barriers to enjoyable reading. Unedited authors sully the publishing waters for the rest of us.” He’s talking about poor packaging. Poor manuscript presentation can seriously undermine an author’s chances of being taken seriously. A good reputation is earned slowly and tenuously; a poor reputation, like the plummeting “boom and bust” curve can end a writer’s career.

“Why not produce a pressure-tested product that has already withstood the scrutiny of a professional critic whose standards are much higher than those of the average reader?” says Bricker. “As with your typesetting and cover design, the best route to success is to engage a professional.” He is right. If you want to be treated as a professional (by readers) then be professional and engage professionals.

What do professional editors do?

Editors aren’t proofreaders, although this might be one task in several they can provide. Most editors are what are variously called structural or story editors; someone capable of commenting on the work objectively and with competence. Is the story believable? Are there unexpected temporal jumps or unexplained threads in the narrative? Are the article’s assertions properly supported? As with affairs of the heart, it’s easy to understand the problems of others and difficult to acknowledge what we’re too close to see—and if you think writing isn’t an affair of the heart, you haven’t started your book yet. Get that third-party perspective.

No one likes to be edited. Of course you feel protective of your material; that is natural. You’ve put so much into it; how could a stranger possibly understand and treat it with the respect it deserves?

Professional editors are accustomed to interacting with authors in a mutually respectful relationship. Editors have to make a living, and they would quickly find themselves unable to if they treated their clients in any way other than professionally and respectfully. A professional editor is more likely to serve your true interests in getting published than a friend or relative who likely knows little of “storytelling”, plot and character; and may side-wind you with inappropriate advice or platitudes. In fact, showing your work to a friend or relative may be the reason why you have decided that you “don’t like to be edited.” Before I was published, I once showed my work in progress to my husband, who was too close to the subject and its writer; he made very unprofessional remarks that were more damaging than helpful. If you go with a professional you will not have this problem.

Throughout history, authors have relied on their editors to be their sounding boards, to represent the eye and ear of the reader, and to help bring a viewpoint that can’t arise spontaneously in the author’s head. In the past, the traditional publishing house has typically provided this service. Many publishing houses now expect the writer to provide a manuscript that has already been edited. Indie and self-publishing scenarios leave the onus on the writer.

Two of the most common excuses that authors find for not engaging a professional editor include cost and venue.

I can’t afford an Editor: can you afford to put out a book for the world to see that is full of mistakes? If you aren’t serious enough about writing and publishing to invest in your career with good guidebooks, courses & workshops and coaching and editing, then perhaps you should rethink your career. No one would think twice about training and getting professional help to become a successful nurse or pilot. Writing is the same. For it to be successful, it requires investment. Especially if you are considering self-publishing.

Self-published author Dick Margulis reminds us that “Self-publishing is a business – the publishing business – and if you hope to succeed in it, you have to manage it like a business. You have to look at your skill set and decide which of the many tasks associated with publishing you are suited to doing yourself and which can be done more effectively and more economically by others. Your time has value, and you have to decide how it is best spent.”misty forest path

It’s Just an E-Book: a common mistake, particularly with digitally published books, is the notion that because you haven’t invested in typesetting or printing you can fix the mistakes later. That is a poor notion. And a risky approach that smacks of laziness. Letting your readers find your mistakes for you is a poor show and will hurt your reputation as a writer (no matter who publishes you). With books, no matter what format, the first impression is critical. For some readers that may be the first and last time they meet you and your work. Make sure it counts. Word gets around pretty fast on the Internet. Ensure that it’s a good word.

So, now you want to find a good editor… Where can you find them?

Here, in Canada, most good professional editors belong to the professional editors association known as EAC (Editors Association of Canada). You can browse the association website for an editor’s profile with information.

Many good writers also freelance edit, like myself (see what I do as writing coach and editor under the Coaching/Teaching tab here). My Major Services Page describes my services in more detail.

Hiring an author/editor is a good fit, particularly if the author/editor writes in your genre interest.  SF Canada, a professional writers organization in the science fiction and fantasy genres, is another good place to find author/editors in that genre.

I know and have worked with several excellent editors, including non-fiction, technical editors, fiction editors, etc. You can drop me a line if you are looking.

And, while you’re looking, check out my interview with Jennifer D. Foster of Boldface (Toronto Branch of EAC blog) On the Author / Editor Relationship and what makes a good editor.

 

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.