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    Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

    There's a lot of buzz nowadays as to whether it's more beneficial for authors to self-publish their books or secure a contract with a traditional publishing company. Proponents of traditional publishing often have a prejudice against self-published books (and many times rightly so) because of the poor quality of books being produced, while self-publishing advocates tend to think the traditional method of publishing is unnecessary and not always in the best interest of the author.

    So who's right? Well, sometimes they both are.

    I believe that for most authors, traditional publishing is usually the best route to go. Publishers invest thousands of dollars into each book they publish. They lay out all the money for expenses like editing, book design, cover design, advertising, publicity, etc. You also can't underestimate the value of the relationships publishers have with booksellers and other entities that are crucial to the success of a book.

    However, there are more and more authors who have found financial success through self-publishing, including authors like Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking. Hocking and Konrath are both fiction authors who have made a lot of money through self-publishing.

    What do they have in common? First of all, both of them are prolific authors. They have written a lot of novels, not just one or two. Second, they are both very savvy about marketing. As I'm sure they, and any successful self-publishing author, would say, marketing your book is just as important and time consuming as writing it if you want to be successful.

    Unfortunately, most authors don't have the time and resources necessary to be successful at self-publishing. I personally would recommend to first-time authors especially that they seek a traditional publishing contract first and then consider self-publishing.


    A Good Editor Is Hard to Find

    A concern I know many authors have is about how to find a good editor and make sure they aren't going to be suckered into paying good money for an editor who may do a second-rate job.

    I'm going to start this off by saying that no editor is perfect. We are, after all, human beings. It's unrealistic to expect 100 percent accuracy. Having said that, however, your editor should be able to eliminate almost all of your errors and contribute to your project in other ways, like pointing out inconsistencies, improving the syntax and storyline, etc.

    Having said that, there are some things you should look for in an editor.

    • Make sure you hire an editor with actual editing experience with real publishing companies. While your second cousin who likes to read might think she's ready to be an editor, there are many things that can't be learned in editing except through experience.  Like writing or any other skill, it's something that takes lots of time and practice to perfect. 
    • Cheaper does not always (and in fact usually doesn't) mean better! Yes, you might get a great deal from a new editor looking to break into the business, but that cheaper price can come at the expense of quality. I have personally had to re-edit several projects authors paid other unskilled editors to do, and it's an extremely frustrating situation that ends up costing more in the long run.
    • Try to get a sample edit if possible. I know many editors are cautious about doing sample edits, since there is a lot of potential for people to abuse the system and get free work out of an editor, but I believe it is beneficial for both authors and editors. With a sample, you can see if the editor's style meshes with what you are looking for and know what to expect. A few pages should be all you need to get a good picture of what the full edit will look like. As an editor who does sample edits, I also beg you not to request a sample edit if you don't have the budget to pay the editing fee. Freelance editors need to make a living just like everyone else, and time taken up with providing sample edits for authors who have no intention of paying for an edit is very frustrating.
    • Find an editor who has experience in your genre. If you're a young adult fiction author, an editor who specializes in cookbooks is probably not going to be a good fit for you. Different genres have different conventions, and an editor who has never edited in your genre probably will not be aware of them.

    These are just a few things to take into consideration when you're figuring out who should edit your book. It's an important decision that should not be taken lightly. Give yourself time to check out a few qualified editors and figure out who is the best fit for your book and your personality.


    To Underline or Not to Underline...

    An issue that seems to confuse many authors is when to use italics, underlining, all capital letters, or boldface in their writing. Each of these has its own function, and some should be used more frequently than others.

    Let's look at using these things for emphasis in a book. The quick answer to this is for the most part, you should use italics for emphasis. Boldface should only be used if a sentence is already italicized and you want to further emphasize a particular word in the sentence. All capital letters should not be used for emphasis! In fact, all capital letters don't usually have a place in a manuscript, the only exception being when you want to indicate that someone is screaming in dialogue.

    Similarly, underlining really has no place in a manuscript. Yes, I know back in elementary school our teachers told us to underline book titles,  for emphasis, etc., when writing, but that is only because you can't italicize when you're physically writing on paper. If you think you want to underline something, it should probably be italicized.

    And this brings me to another point. Don't overuse italics. In fiction writing particularly, I often see authors italicize large sections of text to indicate a flashback or something similar. The problem with this is that italics are hard to read and so most publishers prefer that they be used sparingly. A better way to indicate a flashback or dream sequence is to use a scene break. The same rule applies to using italics for emphasis. If you're emphasizing words in every other sentence, the impact of the italics are lessened.

    Many publishers also prefer that italics be used when a character is thinking something (e.g., I really like ice cream, he thought). You will probably be safe if you indicate internal dialogue or thoughts in this way, but this is not necessarily consistent between publishers and may be changed when a publisher's internal copyeditor looks at your work.

    Stay tuned for part two, where we'll discuss when to italicize titles of things and when to put them in quotation marks.


    Query Letters

    You've done it! You've written, revised, rewritten, and revised again. You've gotten input from other writers and family members and scrutinized your writing until it doesn't even have meaning anymore. You're absolutely certain your book is the best it can be. Okay, this might be a little optimistic. If there's anything I've learned in my years as an editor, it's that no author is ever really done.

    As a side note, if you haven't done everything listed above (i.e., writing, rewriting, getting input from others), I strongly suggest you do. A first draft of a book is just that, and your book will benefit from being worked over a few times. I promise you won't regret it.

    Having said that, many authors are puzzled about what to do next. Well, whether you want to seek representation from an agent or go it alone and try to find a publisher for yourself, the first thing you need to do is write a killer query letter.

    It might seem like writing a query letter would be pretty straightforward and shouldn't require much effort, but if you think that, you're absolutely wrong. Your query letter is the first, and sometimes only, impression you are going to make on an agent or publisher. If it isn't well-written and attention getting, chances are you're not going to get to the next stage, which is when the agent or publisher requests sample pages. Always keep in mind that your book is only one of thousands an agent or publisher will see in a year. Your query letter really needs to stand out if you're going to be noticed.

    If you're wondering how in the world you're going to accomplish the feat of writing a perfect query letter, don't worry. There is help! There are many agent blogs that give great advice on query letters. One I particularly like is Agent Kristin Nelson's blog, Pub Rants. She has a ton of advice about writing in general and how to perfect your query letter.

    Another great place to get feedback for a query letter is a writing group. I've said it before, but it bears repeating. Joining a writers' group is a great way to get feedback and strengthen your writing. Also, if your budget allows, consider going to a writers' conference. They are great places to meet editors and agents, hear advice about how to write a great query letter, and network with other writers.



    Don't Steal My Book!

     There is a strange phenomenon I have encountered in the course of being an editor, both in-house and freelance. The first time I came across it, I was dumbfounded by it, and it has become no less mystifying to me since then.

    What is this baffling occurrence? It's when authors send a manuscript for consideration along with a strongly worded letter warning the recipient against stealing the book.

    I once even had an author insist on a face-to-face meeting (another big no-no) who claimed that another publishing company she'd submitted her work to had come out with a book very similiar to hers right after she submitted her book to them. She was very distrustful and reluctant to leave anything with me to look at because she was afraid we might steal her work too.

    I can assure you that the other publishing company coming out with the book similar to hers was purely coincidental. I know this because first of all, she said they came out with the book a couple of months after she submitted her manuscript, and publishing companies work much further in advance than that. Most publishing companies have their schedules lined out a couple of years in advance, and there's no way a book would be ready to publish only two months after it was submitted. Second, after looking at her books, I can tell you with confidence that they were not ready to be published. She was a new author, and her writing was not quite up to par. 

    This phenomenon is confusing to me for a couple of reasons. First, an author presumably trusts that a publishing company is competent enough to edit, publish, and promote his or her book but doesn't trust them enough not to steal his or her work. That's just illogical. Second, most authors who have put any effort into learning about the process of publishing realize that publisher receive hundreds (and most of the time thousands) of unsolicited queries every year. They are not hard up for books to publish. If a publisher thinks your work is good enough to publish, you'll probably get published. If the publisher doesn't thinks so, it'll just pass on the work and move on. The likelihood of a publisher stealing your work is extremely slim. 

    By sending such a warning, you're starting off on the wrong foot with a publisher (or an agent, for that matter). It screams, "High maintenance! Hard to work with! Prima donna!" Trust me, this is not the message you want to send to a publisher you want to work with.

    So, you might ask, how can I protect myself from those rogue publishers and agents who are out there stealing authors' books willy-nilly? First of all, relax. I can say with a lot of confidence that this is not going to happen. Agents and publishers are interested in promoting authors and publishing books, not plagiarizing their material. If you must, you can mail your work to yourself in a sealed envelope. Having a date stamp on the material will show without a doubt that you are the author of your work by a certain date. It really isn't necessary to apply for a copyright until your work is being published, although you may also do that if it will make you feel better.

    But most of all, just take a deep breath, calm down, and realize that publishers and agents aren't out to get you (although it might feel like it after a few rejections). There are many other things you can spend your time and energy concentrating on, like revising your manuscript so it's the best it can be and writing a killer query letter.