The Five Things That Matter

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by Gabino Iglesias

Hey, welcome back! Last time we were here, we talked about self-publishing, its pros and cons, and reasons why you should/shouldn’t do it. Now we’re going to assume you decided this is the path for you because 70% royalties, less waiting, and no need for an agent are just too appealing and you want to walk down this road. That’s awesome. Now let’s talk openly about some of the most crucial elements you’ll have to invest your time, money, and energy on in order to make sure you publish the best book possible (you know, other than writing a great narrative).

– Cover

Oh, someone told you not to judge a book by its cover, right? Well, that person probably wasn’t talking about books…and they probably don’t buy books with shitty covers. There are a handful of things we can state about publishing with authority, and one of them is this: great covers get attention. If things go well, that attention sells books. I’m not here to argue with you. If you asked your friend who has a cousin who once took a graphic design course by mail to design you a cover on MS Paint because it was free, that shit’s on you, not me. Anyway, unless you’re a writer who also happens to have the ability to create a superb cover (you know, like Matthew Revert, Don Noble, Kealan Patrick Burke, and Alan Baxter, to name a few), you should pay someone to do so for you. I know this is rough on your wallet, but it’s worth it. You want to have something you’re proud of showing off. Also, you can look up some of the folks I mentioned and you’ll see that some of them are incredibly affordable, especially when you take into account that you’re paying for a unique piece.

– Design and typography

I review many self-published books and few things scream “Amateur hour!” like random blank pages, weird spacing, different fonts for no reason (sometimes starting in the middle of a sentence), and other design and typography atrocities. Just like the cover, this is something you can certainly do yourself. There are plenty of people who teach themselves and do a great job even if they’ve never done it before. However, if you are not inclined to do that or simply know you don’t have the time to do a great job, reach out and have someone who knows what they’re doing do it for you. A book with a pretty interior is easy on the eye and never makes readers stop and think “Did a toddler put this together?”

– Editing

As I mentioned in the previous column, self-publishing is not an excuse to skip the editing process. Listen, I teach creative writing and I’ve been an editor for a decade, and when I’m done editing my novels and think they’re perfect, I send them to an editor…and they find a bunch of stuff that needs fixing. You have to understand that you’re too close to your manuscript. You have memorized that story, which means what’s in your head is often different that what’s on the page. Think about those times where you write an email, read it, edit it, send it…and then spot a typo. Well, the same thing happens with clarity, pacing, economy of language, plot holes, and every other important element. I’ve read books where a character named Sara or Michelle for ten chapters suddenly becomes Rebecca or Sandra. I’ve read novels were the word “all” or “just” appear almost on every page. I’ve read info dumps that take up half a dozen pages. The point is this: even your editor needs an editor. Editing is like dental surgery; you should leave it to the pros.

– Marketing copy

Weird one, I know, but it matters. When you’re pitching your book to reviewers, you want it to sound awesome. Sure, you can send them the whole synopsis, but something shorter and punchier often works better. This brings us back to something I’m always telling people: writing is art, but publishing is a business. You want to sell your book, so think of ways to make it appealing to readers and reviewers. If the stuff you put on your Amazon page makes me yawn, you can say goodbye to that potential sale.

– Blurbs and early reviews

You know that rule about how you shouldn’t get blurbs because your book is self-published? Yeah, you haven’t because that’s not a thing. You’re publishing that thing, so give it the love it deserves and look for blurbs from writers you admire. If you think “I won’t ask for blurbs because I’m self-publishing and I’m ashamed of that” then go back to square one and rethink the whole thing. Same goes for reviews. I know you don’t have enough money to print a thousand galleys and mail them out to reviewers, but you can at least reach out to a few with a PDF or mobi. Build that buzz.

Okay, that’s it! Thanks for hanging out with me again. Next month, we’ll jump into the wonderful world of small/indie presses. Stay cool. Go write.

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