The process of getting an idea onto the page, into a publishable book, and finally into readers hands, has many stops along the way. How does one figure out whether the finished product is ready for the world? Self-published writers, or authorpreneurs, have the added challenge of doing it all on their own. Today’s guest, author Aderyn Wood, offers a road map and some sage advice on quality control before hitting that “Publish” button.
Take it away, Aderyn!
Self Published Fiction and the Quest for Quality
I’m an Indie author and I’m pretty passionate about self-publishing. As such, I want to support and read other indie authors. I’m always on the lookout for self-published books, fantasy in particular, that will get me turning the pages and totally immersed the way my old favourite trad pubbed books do.
But if I’m going to be honest, the search for quality self-pubbed books is not always easy, and it seems in my quest to find some shiny gems, I often end up with a big bag of turnips. The quality varies on many levels. There’s a lot of books with interesting plots and characters, stories that would have held my interest, writing that almost made it, but just didn’t cut it quality-wise, and could have if the author had incorporated quality control measures in their writing-publishing process. As a reader, this is frustrating, as I really want to read and LOVE the work of fellow Indies.
So how can indie authors get quality control? And how do you get it without the budget of a traditional publishing house? We don’t have a team of agents, editors, cover designers and marketers. We have to work all this out, and pay for it, ourselves. I’m by no means an expert, I’m still learning, but I’ve now incorporated strategies that help me gain some quality control in my process. And most of them cost nothing.
So, here’s a process, from writing to marketing, that helps to create the best book for the cheapest possible price – but be warned, you will have to invest some money along the way if you want a quality product.
1) Write your book.
Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, whether you write every day or only on weekends, this is the most important step of all. Just write the damn book warts and all, and write it as quick as you can. I spent about two decades of my life saying, ‘one day I’ll write a book.’ Now, (that I’m about to start writing my sixth book) I look back and wish I’d just stopped talking about it and done it already!
2) Let the book ferment. In On Writing, Stephen King recommends locking your first draft away in a dark drawer and letting it rest, like the way we let bread dough rest between kneads. He suggests that it should sit for a minimum of six weeks. So, forget about it for a couple of months. This will allow you to read your manuscript with ‘fresh eyes’ when you return to it. Don’t let anyone see it yet. While you’re waiting, you could work on your next novel, or read some books on writing and/or editing. There’s always more to learn and there’s plenty of good books on writing available. But keep in mind, the best way to learn more about writing, is to write.
3) Edit your book and create your second draft. Get your manuscript out of the drawer, cut out those unnecessary adverbs, make sure your POV is consistent, and tidy up your grammar. Now you’re getting it ready for someone else to read – but not the reading public, not even friends and family, not yet.
4) Workshop your book and welcome robust critique. This can be confronting, especially for new writers. I remember the nervous butterflies when I first had my work seriously workshopped. I discovered so much about what I was doing ‘wrong’. It was how I first learnt about filtering, something I was doing a lot of, and within six months my writing had improved dramatically.
Critiquing is a wonderful part of the process where other people can pick out the flaws in your writing that your brain can’t see, but when highlighted, they become rather obvious – whether they are character inconsistencies, plot holes, places where you need to kill your darlings, or the dreaded info dump – a good group of critiquers will make such weaknesses visible for you. I find the best critquers are fellow writers, and there’s heaps of them around. While you’re at it, do some critiquing yourself. Critiquing the work of others can help you learn a lot about how to improve your own writing. There’s plenty of information around on how to find a critique group.
5) Create the third draft. Now that it’s gone through the workshop grind, you can edit and create the next draft – but it’s still not ready for publishing.
6) Get Beta readers to read it. Finally, you can ask your friends and family to read your book and give you feedback. But if you’ve written an epic fantasy novel, only ask those friends who actually read and enjoy epic fantasy. Otherwise, you’re not going to get the right kind of feedback. You should also give your beta readers a small list of specific questions that will help you get the feedback you need, otherwise you might get very general stuff like ‘it was good’, which is nice, but won’t help you much to improve it.
7) Create the fourth draft. Do yet another edit, incorporating any feedback from your beta readers that you choose to take on. But, it’s still not yet ready for readers to buy.
8) Get an editor. Hire a real, professional editor with actual editing qualifications who is not a friend or family member and who you DO have to pay. Everything up to this point has been free. Or would cost very little (an online subscription to a critique site might cost a small annual fee). To hire a real editor is going to cost you real money. But you know what? This whole process can take a while. It takes me about six months, and that’s enough time to save up the money. I always budget for at least $1000 to get a real editor to edit my work. But at this point, after the manuscript has had so many other eyes on it, it’s in pretty good shape and makes the editor’s job that much easier.
Sometimes my editor has charged me less than her original quote because she didn’t have to spend as much time on it. Joanna Penn has an extensive list of editors and editing resources on her site. However, every country, state or region will have local editors and resources available. I found my editor through my state’s association, Editors Victoria, and their freelance list – so check out your local resources too.
9) Create your final draft. Incorporate that all-important feedback from your editor. Ok, now it is ready to face the world!
10) Send out ARCs. This is a new step for me that I’ve only just incorporated with my latest release, but it’s totally worth the time. I used to think it was somehow ‘wrong’ to ask reviewers to review your book, but that was just silly. Sending out Advanced Review Copies has been a long tradition in publishing houses, and Indies are just as entitled to employ the practice.
By contacting reviewers and politely requesting they review your book in return for a free Advanced Review Copy, you will get some early feedback, and reviews posted very quickly after publishing. One of the advantages of self-publishing is that you can modify or fix any typos, or anything else, instantly, both before and after the book has been published. A good place to find Indie friendly reviewers is on The Indie View.
10) Publish your masterpiece. Assuming you’ve paid for a real cover art designer to create the cover – yes, this costs real money too, but not as much as hiring an editor. I usually pay no more than $200 USD for my cover art; also assuming you have gone through a rigorous process with your blurb/book description, it is time to publish!
11) Market your masterpiece. Yes, this means paying for real book sites to advertise your book, and again you have to pay with real money. But it doesn’t have to break the bank. You can spend as little as $10 – and in some instances this would be the best course e.g. if it is your first book. The more you pay (in most cases) the more return you will see. Marketing does not mean abusing social media with ‘buy my book’ posts. Something, I’m embarrassed to say, I did after my first publication. Yes, I was one of those authors who sent out way too many tweets, all focused on some kind of ‘buy my book’ message. Now I hang my head in shame about it, but at least I am fully qualified to inform you that such use (abuse) of social media has no real positive effect on sales. It’s not a surprise really; social media is awash with spam.
So that’s my process as it currently stands. I’m happy to report that I’ve had good feedback so far, in terms of my rather small number of reviews from readers who have enjoyed my books and the ‘quality’ of the finished product. But, I’m still learning, and it’s early days in my writing and publishing journey. I’m sure my ‘quality control’ process will continue to evolve. One thing I would like to do in the future (when my budget allows) is to hire an additional editor to better reflect the kind of rigorous process inherent in a traditional publishing house.
I think we indie authors owe it to ourselves, our readers and to each other to ensure that a self-published ‘label’ doesn’t equate to poor quality. I’d love to hear any ‘quality control’ tips from fellow authors – do you have a ‘quality control’ measure that works for you? Or have you made mistakes (as I have) in your writing/publishing journey?
Many thanks for providing a thorough and thoughtful run-down of your process, Aderyn! I fully agree with all of these points!
Check out Aderyn Wood’s book, Currently FREE today and tomorrow only (12/2 & 12/3)! Pick up your copy while there’s time!!
The Raven (The Secret Chronicles of Lost Magic Book 1)
‘The Secret Chronicles of Lost Magic’ is a collection of histories that will take readers on a journey into a rich new fantasy world. Enjoy stepping into the dark days of time in this sweeping prehistoric fantasy. ‘The Raven’ is the first Chronicle in a collection set in a vibrant new world by Aderyn Wood.
From high fantasy to paranormal, Aderyn’s stories cover the broad spectrum of Fantasy. Inspired from childhood by the wonder and mystique of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising and the adventures in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, her love of the Fantasy genre has been life long. As a writer, she brings characters and places to life in stories filled with magic, mystery, and a good dollop of mayhem.
Aderyn studied Literature, History and Creative Writing at university, travelled the world, and taught English before becoming a full-time writer. She is also a part-time farmer passionate about self-sufficiency and poultry. She lives in a cosy cottage on a small farm in Victoria, Australia with partner Peter, their dog, cat, and a little duck called Snow.
Explore her work:
The Raven (Latest Release, High Fantasy)
The Viscount’s Son (Paranormal novella, #1 in a trilogy)
The Borderlands: Journey (YA Contemporary Fantasy, #1 in a trilogy)