It Takes a Team to Write a Book

(c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / rmarmion

According to a political slogan in the 1990s, it takes a village to raise a child. Here’s the version for authors. It takes a team to write a book. So who’s on the team?

The captain

The author is the team captain. He or she is the star of the show. For some, the word, author, may bring an image to mind of someone in an isolated house by the seashore, working away at their typewriter, pounding out perfect prose with the very first draft. If only it were so. Most of us are working on laptops in our dens or bedrooms, when we have the time. For many of us, our jobs, families and social obligations take priority. However, those of us who are serious about our writing will make the time.

Team members

The beta reader. The first person on the team is the beta reader. He or she should be an avid reader, but not necessarily a writer. If willing, your spouse, your mom, or your best friend can be your beta reader. The beta reader goes over the early drafts to let the writer know if their story makes sense or if they’re communicating their point clearly. I’ve had friends and family members as beta readers, and they’ve all done a good job. .

Writer’s associations and critique groups. Not everyone will have someone in their circle who’s willing to give them honest feedback. If that’s the case, check with some of your local writers associations, and try to find a critique group. Critique groups typically meet once a week, either in person or online, and they’ll read, and critique, each other’s work. Like a beta reader, they can help save you the time, and the hassle, of having to do a major rewrite later on.

By the way, if you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend joining a writer’s association, especially if you are a new or first-time author. Some associations, such as Romance Authors of America, are genre specific. Others are open to the writing community at large. Typically, these associations will have monthly meetings with a guest speaker. They are invaluable for learning your craft and networking with other authors.

The first officer

If the author is the captain, the editor would be the first officer. I’ve posted, many times, on this blog about why every author needs an editor. Simply put, your editor will go over your work and correct the gaffes, punctuation errors, inconsistencies, grammatical errors and other problems that you, the author, cannot see. It’s the editor who separates the pros from the amateurs.

Please note that unless your spouse, your mom, or your best friend has a background in journalism or teaching English, they aren’t qualified to be your editor. When it comes to editing, working with a professional is a must. I found my first editor through my first publisher, and my current editor through a writer’s association. Be sure to find someone you feel comfortable working with, and, most importantly, check your ego at the door. My editor and I have a great relationship. She fixes the problems without changing my voice. As an added bonus, she also makes 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 proofreader

The next team member is the proofreader. Proofreading is sometimes referred to as the second edit, as the proofreader goes over the final edited version of the manuscript to catch the errors that you, or your editor, may have missed. Typically, these are the tiny errors, such as a missing quotation mark. If your spouse, or you mom, or your best friend has a good eye they can probably do your proofreading. I would, however, advise against having your beta reader do your proofreading. For this job you really do need a fresh pair of eyes, and again, your publisher, or writing group, may be able to refer a proofreader.

Other team members

Depending on your genre, your team may also include photographers, 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 have had some professional training, I would leave it to the pros. Drawing, painting and photography are disciplines which take many years of formal training and practice to master, and an amateurish photo or illustration can make you book look amateurish as well. Also be cautious about using stock images, especially for your cover. You won’t have exclusive rights, which means another author can come along and use the same image for their cover.

And finally

The last member of your team is your publisher. You have some options here, and you may wish to read, The Three Options for Book Publishing, as it discusses those options in detail. Each has its pros and cons, and it’s up to you, the author, to determine 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. Your editor is the most important member of your team. He or she is the one person you simply cannot work without.

Gayle Martin

Rejection Letters Are No Badge of Honor

© Can Stock Photo / stuartmiles

I enjoy talking with prospective authors. However, when a first-time author brags about all the rejection letters they’ve received, it gives me pause for thought. While they’re busy collecting rejection letters, their manuscripts sit around collecting dust. Months, even years may go by without them ever being read.

Don’t be a naive newbie

As stated in my article, The Author Myth, six-figure advances, and becoming famous, is more myth than fact. The is especially true for first time authors. About the only exception is if you already happen to be a famous a celebrity. Then the publisher will not only publish you, they’ll hire a ghostwriter to write your book for you. However, if you’re an unknown, you’re out of luck. The odds of a major publishing house buying your manuscript, and you becoming rich and famous, are about as good as going to Hollywood with no prior acting experience, walking into a motion picture studio, and landing a starring role in a feature film.

This is why I never bothered playing the rejection letter game. Life is simply too short for this kind of nonsense. I’ve also heard similar stories about trying to find an agent. While I’m sure there are plenty of good literary agents out there, far too many are full of more you-know-what than the Thanksgiving turkey. I hear the same story, over and over again. “I emailed a query to an agent. They got back with me right away and wanted to see my manuscript, but it’s been ages, and I haven’t heard from them since. So when will they get back with me?”

Um…they’re not.

As I mentioned before, I have better things to do than waste my time playing games because I want to get my books in reader’s hands. So, when I first started out in the writing business, I began with partnership publishing.

What is partnership publishing?

Partnership publishing is when you take control and pay someone to publish your book. You may think it’s vanity publishing, but it’s actually not. It’s a business decision. It means you believe in your work enough that you’re willing to invest your own money into it. Most importantly, you retain the rights to your work instead of selling them to a publisher. With partnership publishing, the publisher does the formatting, cover design, printing and distribution, much like a traditional publisher. However, your book is usually published in weeks instead of years, and a publishing partner won’t drop you if your book fails to meet their expectations.

Please be aware that there are good and bad partnership publishing companies out there, so it’s best to do your homework first. Writer Beware is an excellent resource for finding out whose business practices are questionable. You’ll also want shop around for the best price and be sure to ask about distribution. If they’re not distributing through Ingram or Baker & Taylor, or both, you may have trouble getting your book into bookstores or libraries.

What about self publishing?

Self publishing is certainly a viable option. However, there is a lot of work involved. You, the author are responsible everything. Writing, editing, proofreading, cover design, the ISBN number, publishing, ebook formatting, distribution and marketing. If you know someone who knows the business and is willing to mentor you, great. Otherwise you really need to do your homework. I self published my very first book. I’d never done anything like it before, so let’s just say it was a very humbling experience. I used a partnership partner for my next book, and it was money well spent. Working with her taught me the business. Later on, when I was ready, I created my own publishing company.

 

And finally

A reputable partnership publisher probably won’t accept a poorly written book, so make sure you’re using proper grammar and punctuation, and that your story is well told. You’ll also need to have your book professionally edited.

So, it’s up to you. Do you spend the next few years collecting rejection letters? Or do you want to take control of your destiny and get your book into the hands of readers? The choice is yours.

Gayle Martin

Lessons I Learned from Self-Publishing


I still have the last remaining copy of my first book; a historic cookbook titled Anna’s Kitchen. I produced and self-published it back in 2005. I learned a lot from the experience, and I’ve done my best to share what I’ve learned with other authors.

Looking back, I must admit I was such a little smart-aleck at the time that I thought I knew everything. Okay, so maybe my having been a freelance graphic designer helped. I was able to produce something that looked really cool. That counts for something. Right? However, back then I didn’t know squat about editing, distribution, or marketing. So, here are but some of the lessons I learned.

  • A spell checker is not a substitute for an editor, or a proofreader.
  • If you want your book to be distributed, you really need Ingram.
  • 500 books really does take up a lot of room in your shed.

Ah, I was so naive at the time, but it was a good, yet humbling, learning experience. The following year I wrote Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the first of my Luke and Jenny series of historical novels for young readers. That same year I signed on with a publisher, Five Star Publications, Inc. (Now Story Monsters, LLC.) Linda Radke, the company president, was an amazing mentor. I learned a lot about the publishing business from her.

After I finished Riding with the James Gang, the final book in the Luke and Jenny trilogy, I was ready for a change. I wanted to write full-fledged novels for adult readers. In 2011, I wrote my first romance novel, The Reunion, under the pen name, Marina Martindale. Linda Radke was also changing her business model to publishing children’s books only. However, we both agreed that I was ready to go out on my own. So, that same year, I founded my own publishing company, Good Oak Press, LLC.

Writing novels isn’t a hobby. It’s a business. My advice to any novel writer, or prospective novel writer, is to treat it like a business. Kudos to you if you’re lucky enough to beat the odds and sign on with a traditional publisher. However, as I explained in my earlier post, The Three Options for Publishing Your Book, the odds of a major publishing house signing on a first-time author are extremely slim at best. Most of us will either sign on with a partnership publisher, or start up our own publishing business. This means you need to do your homework and learn as much as you can about the book publishing business. I’ve learned a lot, and I have no regrets.

Gayle Martin

Think You Don’t Need an Editor? Part 3

© Can Stock Photo / bradcalkins

In my first article, So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor, Part One, I described what a book editor does. In my second article, So You Think You Don’t Need an Editor, Part Two, I talked about who would be the most qualified to edit your book. In this final article of the series, I’m going to discuss what readers expect when they buy your book.

Readers really do notice

Never, ever assume your reader is stupid. He or she has paid good money for your book. He or she used to reading well written and edited books and expects your book to be well written and edited too.

It’s also a given that not everyone will like your book. The subject matter may not be of interest to the reader, or the reader may not agree with your point of view. As writers we expect to have a small percentage of readers return our books and ask for refunds. It’s part of the business of writing and publishing books. However, the last thing any writer wants or needs is for a reader to reject the book because it was poorly written or edited. 

Don’t let the joke be at your expense

None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes, but because we can’t view our work objectively we oftentimes miss our gaffes. The list below came from one of my writing forums, and it’s typical of the mistakes we all make. I’ve paraphrased it to protect the guilty. 

  • A character gets into a Handsome Cab. (As opposed to a hansom cab. Perhaps the cab driver was handsome.)
  • The lead character is locked in a dudgeon. (That must be where the threw the stupid prisoners. No doubt the others were locked in the dungeon.)
  • He wrapped his arms around her waste. (Yuk! I’m seeing a really nasty visual here. Hopefully the next time he’ll wrap his arms around her waist.)
  • During a sex scene a character is having an organism. (There’s an interesting twist to a love scene. After the tryst is over he or she will need to see a doctor.)
  • He would gather her up in his arts. (What? You mean he put her body parts into his sculptures? Like Vincent Price did in the movie Wax Museum? I’d much prefer that he gather her in his arms.)

What do all these faux paus have in common? They all, allegedly, were found in self-published books. And while it may be funny to us, it’s certainly not as funny to the authors who wrote them. These are just a few of the mistakes that a good editor will catch, and correct.

So you still think you don’t need an editor? Well, if you don’t mind being laughed at on a public forum then maybe you don’t. However, if you want to be taken seriously as an author, and if you want your book to be successful, you need find yourself a good editor.

Gayle Martin

The Three Options for Book Publishing

© Can Stock Photo/ Baloncici

So you’re a new author and you’ve just completed your first manuscript. Congratulations. This is a big accomplishment. However, it’s only the first step for getting your work in reader’s hands. Your next task, if you haven’t done so already, is to determine how you want to publish your book. You have three options; traditional publishing, partnership publishing, or self publishing. Each has their advantages and disadvantages.

traditional publishing

Let’s begin with the option most people are familiar with, traditional publishing. Some of the most well known traditional publishers in the United States include Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Penguin Random House. No doubt you’ve heard of them as they’re part of a group known as The Big Five. This certainly is the big leagues, so you may be thinking, “Yeah, I’d love to have them publish my book. I’ll send them a copy of my manuscript and wait for them to call me.”

If only it were that simple. In reality, getting onboard with one of the Big Five publishers is about as easy as going to Hollywood, walking into a major motion picture studio and telling them that because you were the star of your high school play, you’re now ready to become a movie star, and would they please sign you up. Signing on with a major publisher, especially when you’ve never been published before, is a long, complicated and daunting process filled with rejection. Even if you have a good literary agent and a well written manuscript, there is no guarantee they will accept your work, and even if they do, they will drop you if your book sales don’t meet their expectations.

Partnership Publishing

This can be a viable alternative as partnership publishers provide many of the same services as a traditional publisher. They produce, format and distribute your book, and they pay you a royalty. However, unlike a traditional publisher, they don’t buy the rights to your book. You keep the rights, and you pay them for their services.

There is, however, a huge difference between partnership publishing and vanity publishing. A vanity publisher will produce your book, usually for a hefty fee. However, they don’t distribute your book, and your printed books are often poor quality. A partnership publishing company on the other hand will distribute your book, typically through Ingram. It’s up to you, however, to do the research and find out if the company is indeed a legitimate partnership publishing company. Most importantly, before signing any contract, ask if they distribute through Ingram. If the answer is no, walk away.

For the record, I started out with a very reputable partnership publishing company, and my books did quite well. I had to pay them for their services, and they took care of the cover design, printing, and distribution. Like a traditional publisher, they paid also royalties, but unlike a traditional publisher, I retained the rights to my book, and I could leave them at any time.

Self publishing

Self publishing has lost much of the stigma it once had, and, on rare occasions, a traditional publisher will pick up a self published author.

The big advantage to self publishing is that the author has complete control over all aspects of the publishing process. This includes editing, proofing, typesetting and ebook formatting, printing and distribution. In other words, it’s a lot of work. Amazon has made this process somewhat easier with their in house self publishing tools. Even so, editing and proofing are still the author’s responsibility.

I was lucky. I was a graphic designer for many years before I became an author. In 2011 my partnership publisher decided to change her business model and specialize in children’s books, while I had switched genres and started writing contemporary romance. She was, however, a mentor as well as a publisher, and I learned a lot about the publishing business from her. We both agreed that I was ready to start up my own publishing company. For me, it was the perfect choice. With my graphic design background, I’m able to format and design my own books. My company is an LLC, registered in the state of Arizona, so I was able to distribute through Ingram. However, after I started up my own company, Ingram created a division called Ingram Spark, which caters to self publishing authors. That said, I still recommend setting up an LLC if you’re serious about self publishing. Not only will you come across as more professional, an LLC can help protect your personal assets if you should ever experience an unexpected legal challenge.

Marketing Your book

Please note that regardless of which option you choose, book distribution is the publisher’s responsibility. Marketing your book your responsibility, even if you’re a traditionally published author. Book marketing can be daunting, but there are resources out there to help you. Again, it’s up to you to find those resources and use them.

Good luck with your book. If you would like to see my company website please click on the link below. I’ve included it as an illustration of what you can accomplish if you’re willing to invest the time and effort. Please note, however, that I am unable provide publishing services for other authors.

Gayle Martin

Good Oak Press, LLC