"My Self-Publishing Journey" is a new monthly column from PW Select in which we track, step-by-step, one author's adventures in self-publishing.
If deciding to self-publish felt like jumping off a cliff, entering the professionally-polish-the-book phase has been like learning to fly…without wings or a net. Because while you don’t have to hire editors or use beta readers or have a professional do copy edits on your manuscript before you self-publish it, a book without all that hard work feels, to me, a bit like a novel without a cover -- incomplete and still in development.
This stage of the process has been about setting aside worry and fear (and feeling incredibly vulnerable) to focus solely on the book. My goal is to make sure I have something my readers will not only enjoy, but will ask for more of in the months and years to come -- which means putting together what best-selling author CJ Lyons calls her “Street Team.” As she told me, “There’s good grammar, but there’s also good grammar that will stop readers in their tracks. You have to keep the reader in mind. It always has to boil down to what will best serve them. When building your team, remember that."
What I am certain of is this: you have to believe in yourself, and you have to believe in your book. When you have a team behind you, you’re adding strength to both. My Street Team, which I call the A-Team, starts with my beta readers. My betas are made up of avid readers and critique partners (like Cathleen Holst, Lauren Thoman, and Sarah Brown), as well as published authors (like New York Times-bestselling author J.T. Ellison and Ariel Lawhon). Since I write YA, I made sure I chose readers who love or write in the genre, who have strengths in plotting and character development, and who I trust to tell me the truth -- even when it’s hard to hear.
For editing, I sought referrals, and learned it’s imperative to do your research. “It’s absolutely essential to hire a competent, knowledgeable content and copy editor with good references and a proven track record,” said freelance editor Jodie Renner. “Check out potential editors very carefully. There are lots of excellent, dedicated, conscientious editors out there, and many who are just starting out and don’t yet realize their limitations; they aren’t aware of all the weaknesses they’re missing that should be addressed.”
There are also scam artists, which Renner found out firsthand, when another website stole testimonials from her website and passed them off as its own. To make sure I chose trusted professionals, I reached out to self-published authors and friends in the industry, and asked if they didn’t mind sharing who they’d use. The writing community is a generous one, and most people were happy to share sources. Ultimately, for developmental editing, I chose Brent Taylor with Teen Eyes Editorial. Not only is he my demographic for readers, but also his track record is stellar and he has extensive experience working with authors and literary agents.
I’ve chosen a second developmental editor and a copy editor that are newer to the field, but come highly recommended. Because my budget is tight, I’m focusing on both established and up-and-coming editors (with proven success), to keep the cost down. But if I see the need for another copy editor or even developmental editor, I will find a way to work them into the budget. Because the quality of the book has to be as close to traditionally published as I -- with the aid of my A Team -- can get it.
Since I parted ways with my former agent months before I decided to venture down the self-publishing road, I didn’t have anyone with whom to broach the subject. That said, I would have called and talked to my agent about this venture beforehand, if I still had one. There are so many supportive literary agents out there, who not only okay their clients’ indie publishing, but encourage and aid them with it. “There are many reasons I encourage it,” said Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency. “It's a great way to utilize backlist when the rights have reverted. It's also a way to get interest in a project that might be a harder sell initially, as we did with Robin O'Bryant's Ketchup Is a Vegetable. I helped Robin self-publish this title and after it hit the New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists, we sold the book to St. Martin's Press in a two-book deal.”
The stigma is slipping, or changing, or evolving -- however you want to put it. “Independent publishing has become an important space full of emerging talent, where a writer’s success often leads to a strong relationship with a major publisher,” said Kristyn Keene of ICM Partners. It’s no longer an either/or world in publishing, and the dream of traditional publishing doesn't have to fade just because an author decides to put their work out on their own first.
As CJ Lyons told me, sharing advice Jeffrey Deaver once gave her, “The reader is god.” The rest of the process, I suppose, is just details. As an indie author, my goal is to put the reader first, to do good work, and to keep writing -- as I (hopefully) write towards success. Perhaps Jenny Bent summed it up best. “What I love about self-publishing is that it's opened up the industry so much, and there is no one hard and fast route to success anymore. Self-publishing means that there are now many different ways for an author to be successful.”