Back in the 1990s, a well-known political slogan went, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, there is a version for authors, and it goes, “It takes a team to write a book.” So, who’s on the team?
First and foremost would be the author him or herself. After all, the author is the star of the show, and the captain of the team. Some of you may have an image in your mind of an author, in some isolated house on the seashore, working away at his or her typewriter, pounding out perfect prose with the very first draft. If only it were really like that, but it’s not. In my case it’s me, in my office, working with my team.
The first person on my team is my beta reader, Geneva. She’s an avid reader, but not a writer herself, and she’s honest. Sometimes brutally so. That’s what qualifies her for the job. Every couple chapters or so I call Geneva and read it back to her. If something isn’t working, she’ll tell me–and in no uncertain terms. “Cut this,” she’ll say, or, “No, that’s not accurate.” Granted, not all of you will have someone in your circle who is willing to give you such candid feedback. If that’s the case, check with some of your local writer’s associations, and try to find a critique group. Critique groups will typically meet once a week, someplace quiet, like a coffee bar, and they’ll read, and critique, each other’s work. They can be a real asset, and it can save you the time, and the hassle, of having to do a major rewrite later on.
So, if the author is the captain, the editor would be his or her first officer. I’ve posted, many times, on this blog why every author needs an editor. Simply put, your editor will go over your work and correct those gaffes, punctuation errors, inconsistencies, grammatical errors and other problems that you, the author, cannot see. He or she is the person who separates the pros from the amateurs. My advice is to find someone you feel comfortable working with. I’ve been working with Cynthia, my editor, for sometime now. We have a great relationship. She fixes the problems, without changing my voice. She also likes to make snarky comments in the sidebar. Over time I’ve learned not to drink coffee while I review her changes, lest the coffee go up my nose.
The next team member is the proofreader. He or she goes over the final edited version of the manuscript to catch the errors that you, or your editor, my have missed. Typically these are the tiny errors, such as a missing quotation mark, that can be easy to miss.
Depending on your genre, your team may also include photographers or illustrators. Some of you may be tempted to use your own visual art, but I would advise a word of caution. Unless you’re a professional, or you’ve had some professional training, leave it to the pros. Drawing, painting and photography are disciplines that take many years of training and practice to master, and an amateurish photo or illustration can make you look like an amateur as well. Also be cautious using stock images, especially for your cover. Another author may come along and decide to use the same image for his or her cover.
Finally, the last member of your team is your publisher. You have many options here, and I have a page on this blog that discusses those options in detail. Each has its pros and cons, and it’s up to you to decide which would be the best for you.
Some of you simply may not have the means to hire all these professionals. If that’s the case, and you can only hire one person to work with you, make it your editor. He or she is the most important member of your team, and would be the one you simply can’t work without.