Monthly Archives: March 2017

10 Things I’ve Learned in 10 Years of Freelancing

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As I celebrate ten years of my career with bibliobibuli, the firm I launched in 2007, I’ve been thinking about some of the things I’ve learned—as well as some of the lessons that have been reinforced. I’ve learned a lot over my two decades plus in publishing, and so I thought I’d share some of those things with you today on the ten-year anniversary of bibliobibuli. Here goes:

  1. Professional Experience Makes a Difference
    I’ve had wide experience in publishing—as a production editor, a writer, a bookseller, a full-time, in-house acquisitions editor, a literary agent, etc. I’ve worked at a small, family-owned value publisher, a large NYC-based publisher, and an association publisher. I’ve worked as a contract editor for independent publishers in the United States and the United Kingdom. I’ve worked with hundreds of authors on hundreds of manuscripts on a variety of subjects. All of that experience matters. A lot. Heart matters, too, but that alone isn’t enough. An eager, just-out-of-publishing-school English major might have a lot of enthusiasm and some good instincts, but being able to speak with authors about the entire publishing process—and really know what I’m talking about—makes a difference. Having worked on hundreds of manuscript and having successfully published hundreds of books makes a difference. Anyone can call herself an editor. But writers in need of editorial expertise really do benefit from an editor who actually has some experience under her belt.
  2. Format Matters Less Than Content
    In the early 2000s, the prospect of ebooks was exciting. Then it became confusing. Then scary. Traditional publishers started freaking out that digital books were going to take over the world. They were wholly unprepared for this paradigm shift and spent countless hours and costly resources trying to figure out how to play this new game. But what so many people overlooked was the fact that, regardless of the format in which people consume their books, it’s still all about the content. If the manuscript isn’t any good, it doesn’t matter whether it’s published as an ebook, a paperback, or a hardcover. A good editor can help a writer ensure that his content is valuable, meaningful, engaging, and impactful, no matter the format in which it will be published.
  3. Community Matters More Than Platform
    An author’s platform can make or break a book deal. It can mean the difference between getting another rejection letter or getting an offer for a publishing agreement. It can make the difference between no advance and a healthy advance. Regardless of arguments to the contrary, agents, editors, and publishers look at an author’s platform as an indication of how well a book might sell. But there’s more to a platform than simply amassing a lot of connections on LinkedIn, a lot of followers on Twitter, or a lot of fans on Facebook. Today, authors not only have to build their platforms by establishing themselves as subject-matter experts (for nonfiction) or good storytellers (for fiction), they also have to prove that they have connected with readers and built a community of loyal fans who will actually buy their book. And they have to do this well before their book even comes to market. I can’t stress this enough. Too many books die on the vine because authors believe they can launch their publicity efforts on the same day their book publishes. Not so. Those publicity efforts—those community-building efforts—need to begin months, if not years, in advance of publication.
  4. Relationships Can Make or Break the Publishing Experience
    Over the years, during my decade as a freelancer and during a decade-plus as a full-time, in-house writer and editor, I’ve worked with hundreds of authors. I’ve been lucky enough that most of those collaborations have gone at least reasonably well. Many of my clients are repeat customers, and many come to me through referrals. I count myself lucky to be working today with authors I’ve been working with for years and years. I’m grateful for those relationships, because good relationships make the publishing process that much easier and more productive. Authors and editors who become adversaries for whatever reason can sully the entire publishing experience—for everyone involved. Of course, not every author–editor partnership is a match made in heaven. Sometimes they do turn acrimonious. This benefits no one. When relationships go sour, it’s no good for the individuals involved, and it’s no good for the book. It’s difficult for an agent or editor—freelancer or in-house—to keep championing the book of an author who has spent months giving her grief, arguing every point, challenging every issue, and assuming the worst. When you are going to spend anywhere from several months to several years working together as you collaborate to publish a book, nurturing strong relationships among agent, author, editor, production manager, publicist, marketer, sales team, and so on is crucial.
  5. Being Cheap Rarely Pays off
    I work with a lot of authors who either wish to have their manuscript edited before seeking an agent or before submitting it to their publisher at a publishing house or have decided to go the self-publishing route and know their manuscript should be edited before it’s published. That’s good news, because getting your manuscript edited can mean the difference between publishing a sloppy, disorganized, unreadable mess or publishing a polished, professional, accessible delight. Unfortunately, too many authors want to get published on the cheap. They seek the cheapest self-publishing platform. They don’t bother to pay for a developmental edit, a copy edit, or a proofread. They don’t want to shell-out any money for a professional manuscript critique. These authors end up self-publishing books riddled with typos, saddled with structural problems, and marred by bad writing. Or, they end up submitting to publishers a half-baked manuscript that needs a lot of work, delays the production schedule, and taxes the entire publishing team. In doing so, they may have saved some money, but they’ve cost their reputations plenty—not to mention the fact that they may have doomed the future of their book. It’s crucial to consider a cost-benefit analysis: What is the cost of getting your manuscript edited? What is the cost of not getting your manuscript edited? And which will cost you more in the long run?
  6. Publishing Shouldn’t Be About the Money
    Most of the authors I work with tell me they want to publish their book because they feel like they have something of value to say. They tell me that they want their book to be a way of giving back. They tell me that they don’t care who publishes them—big house, small press, or indie house—they just want to be published. I’m lucky that way, but it’s not just luck. When I ask authors why they want to publish, what they hope to get out of publishing, I look for answers that tell me it’s not about the money. If an author’s primary motive is to get rich, it gives me pause. Much pause. Because publishing really shouldn’t be about the money. Few authors become bestsellers. Few authors make millions of dollars from their book—heck, few even make thousands of dollars. But publishing can pay in intangibles, whether in an enhanced reputation, new clients or customers, new avenues such as paid speaking engagements, etc. Not that money isn’t important. Of course it is. I’ve even heard it said that it makes the world go ’round. But if your #1 priority in getting published is to make money, well, perhaps you need to rethink your objectives.
  7. Getting Published Should Never Be Done in Haste
    I’ve blogged about this at bibliobibuliblog, but I’ll repeat it here: Rushing to get published—which is usually based on some sort of artificial, self-imposed deadline—is rarely a good idea. There is no reason to slap-dash a manuscript together and then publish a half-baked disaster. Your anxiety to get published as soon as possible is rarely if ever matched by a reader’s desire to read your book as soon as possible. Take your time. Do it right. Unless your book is so time sensitive that in not publishing it you will be scooped by the competition, there’s likely no real reason—aside from your own desire—to publish right away. Remember, too, that if you must publish an instant book, chances are it won’t have very long legs. Although you might get some thrilling instant feedback, a rushed book might not do much for you—or for your readers—in the long run.
  8. We Can’t Be Everything to Everyone
    As an editor, my job is to edit your manuscript. As an agent, my job is to place your manuscript with a publisher. Most editors and agents also, at least at times, serve as therapists and publishing consultants, talking writers off the ledge and explaining the publishing process to their authors. But editors and agents rarely also serve as book publicists, book marketers, booksellers, and/or book distributors. There are, of course, book packagers who can and do wear a lot of hats, and they can be helpful for a number of authors. But publishing takes a village—a village of experts and professionals who, together, help you get from concept to manuscript to book and beyond. You wouldn’t ask a plumber to paint your house. You wouldn’t ask a physician to design your blueprints. Make sure that you’re using the right publishing professional for the right publishing task.
  9. Authors Don’t Always Know What They Really Need
    Authors often contact me and ask for an estimate on the price for a copy edit of their manuscript. My response is always to ask them to send me their manuscript so I can take a look at it—and then tell them what level of editing would benefit it. Sometimes that is a copy edit, which entails editing for grammar, spelling, punctuation, typos, consistency, etc. But sometimes it’s a developmental edit (sometimes called a substantive edit or a content edit), which entails some copy editing but focuses more broadly on such issues as format, structure, tone, flow, voice, use of language, etc. Sometimes a manuscript critique would do the trick at this particular juncture. The moral of the story: instead of telling an editor what you need, ask an editor what she would suggest for your manuscript. If you’re relying on a professional who knows what she’s doing, you should feel comfortable in discussing with her what your next steps should be in preparing your manuscript. You wouldn’t call a plumber and tell him that you wanted him to install a new sink when all you really needed was a new trap. Discuss with your publishing professional what you think you might need, and listen to her when she shares her insight and advice.
  10. Publishing Is a Team Sport
    It takes a lot of people to get a project from concept to finished manuscript to page proofs to published book—and beyond to marketing, publicity, sales, and distribution. Obviously the author is central to the publishing endeavor. But so are editors and designers and proofreaders and typesetters and publicists and marketers and salespeople. And readers. Let’s not forget the readers. A lot of authors write because they want to say something. That’s fine. But the best authors write because they want to share information with their readers, because they want their readers to benefit in some way from their work, whether fiction or nonfiction. Publishing is a process that involves a lot of players. But in the end, if you don’t write with your reader in mind, the rest of the game doesn’t really matter.

I could go on and on—I’ve learned way more than just ten things in these past ten years. But I’ll leave it here with a short bonus:

  1. Be Thankful
    Publishing is one of the greatest industries in the world, and I couldn’t feel more lucky or more proud to be a part of it. I get to work with all sorts of neato people to publish cool books. Books! Not that every day is all sunshine and flowers, but never once have I woken up dreading that—awww, man—I have to go help some big poozer publish his stupid book. No. Publishing is a joy and a pleasure, and I’m thankful for all the many authors I’ve worked with, all the many other wonderful publishing professionals I’ve worked with, and all the many interesting books I’ve had a hand in publishing. Being drunk on books … that’s a pretty good thing. I think I’ll stay drunk on books for a while yet.

 

—Kelli
March 15, 2017

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WHAT’S THE RUSH?

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In this day and age of instant gratification, waiting for something is an uncomfortable proposition. Patience is perhaps no longer considered a virtue; instead it seems an outmoded, old-fashioned convention that is no longer necessary. When you can buy whatever you want in a click and have it delivered same day, when you can job-hop to the next promotion instead of taking the time to learn the ropes, when you can self-publish your book this month instead of struggling through the journey of finding an agent, editor, and publisher and then slogging through the production process mandated by a traditional house, why bother with patience?

Self-publishing has allowed a lot of writers become instant authors. Many (but not all, of course) self-published authors whip-up a manuscript, format it through one of the many self-publishing platforms, and pop out a book in no time. Some self-publishers can go from manuscript to published book in as little as three weeks. This in contrast to traditional publishers, which can take anywhere from three months to three years to go from manuscript to published book.

But is that speed to market necessarily a good thing?
What’s the rush?

Since 1997, when Lightning Source was founded and the print-on-demand model came into its own, self-publishing has pretty much lost its stigma. Gone are the days that self-publishing was referred to as “vanity publishing.” In fact, today, self-publishing is often referred to as “independent publishing.” So popular has self-publishing become that Bowker reported that in 2015, a whopping 727,125 ISBNs were issued for self-published works (a combination of print and digital publications). Also reported was that 625,327 individual self-published titles were issued. That’s a lotta books.

It’s also a lotta authors who either couldn’t find a traditional publisher or who chose not to for whatever reason.

As an editor and agent, I often hear from would-be authors that their plan is to spend about six months seeking a traditional publisher and then, if one isn’t found, to automatically go the self-publishing route.

Is this impatience? Confidence? Hubris?

Whatever it is, it’s usually not advisable to rush to publication. Getting your manuscript published as quickly as possible no matter what usually doesn’t provide many benefits—aside from allowing you to call yourself an author.

Let me explain.

First of all, few books need to be published right now, this very minute, or even in the next month or so. Unless a book is so timely that in six months or a year it will have missed the boat, there is no reason to rush to publication. Yes, some books are crashed through the production process at some traditional publishers, but those are usually nonfiction titles that are designed to capitalize on a trend or capture a specific moment. Most titles can wait.

Second, for those writers who have been seeking a literary agent or wish to publish with a traditional house but have only gotten one rejection email after another, the next step shouldn’t necessarily be to self-publish. Instead, this pile of rejection letters begs for some patience—and for some reflection. Why are so many agents turning down your manuscript? What is it about your manuscript that publishers keep declining it? If agents, editors, and publishers—industry professionals—don’t think highly enough of your manuscript to believe it will sell, what makes you think you know more than they do?

Oh, I know that every writer has dreams of becoming a best-selling author. And many who decide to self-publish believe they’ll be the next E. L. James, whose Fifty Shades series was originally self-published and then scooped up by Vintage Books. But that happens very rarely. In fact, by some measures, only about forty of the thousands and thousands of self-published authors attain any measure of success.

There are myriad reasons why so many self-published authors fail to achieve much success. We could debate those reasons ad nauseum. But I can say that my experience proves to me that one reason for this lack of success is that too many writers are impatient, rushing to self-publish before their manuscripts are really ready for prime time. Instead of taking the time to consider what might be wrong with their rejected manuscripts, too many writers simply thumb their noses at the feedback they’ve gotten from the traditional publishing industry and leap from that last-straw rejection letter to self-publishing—without bothering to give their manuscript another read-through, without spending time making further edits and rewrites, without researching the market in order to best position the book, and so on and so forth.

That’s not to say that all self-published books are poorly written, unpolished, unedited dreck. There are plenty of well-written, high-quality self-published titles that thousands of people have enjoyed reading. But I can say that I’ve seen numerous writers take first-pass edits as final edits, accepting all the changes without question, addressing only a few of the comments and queries posed in the manuscript, rewriting hardly anything, and then—poof!—publishing on a DIY platform that makes their book available in a matter of weeks.

And to what end?

Publishing in haste rarely does anyone any good. In fact, publishing in haste can all but doom a writer’s career. Putting out a disorganized, poorly edited, amateurly designed book doesn’t make you look good, it makes you look bad. You might be able to, technically, call yourself an author, but at what cost?

It’s much better to publish a good book in good time than to rush out a half-baked book in a hurry.

Give yourself the time to do it right. Chances are that few, if any, readers are already lining up at the bookstore waiting for your book to publish. This is especially true if you haven’t been building a community of fans and followers. It’s also true if you aren’t known as a subject-matter expert. And it’s true, too, if you’ve not published anything else anywhere else.

Becoming an author might well be as simple as dropping your just-finished manuscript into a self-publishing platform and getting a page on Amazon. But that doesn’t mean that’s how you should go about it. Your impatience is likely not reflected by readers. Your urgent desire to get your book out as quickly as possible is likely not matched by an urgent desire among readers who are simply desperate to read your work.

Rarely has any writer gone wrong by taking her time, getting her manuscript critiqued and edited, undertaking the rewriting process, and making sure her manuscript is as polished as polished can be before submitting it to agents and editors and before getting it published. There’s really no rush. So don’t rush through it. Don’t encumber yourself with an artificial deadline that you rush to meet for no real reason. Instead, give your manuscript the time and attention it deserves. You’ll be a better writer for it, your manuscript will be a better book for it, and your readers will be happier readers for it.

—Kelli
March 1, 2017

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