The #1 Key to Successful Self-Publishing

In grad school, I studied the publication and history of texts. The prevailing assumption was that the author’s original version, warts and all, was inherently more interesting than what had been conformed by editors to printers’ “house style,” corrected by proofreaders, and silently changed in subsequent reprints (e.g., to modernize spelling). Only late in my doctoral program did the premium on original authorial versions begin to be challenged, as critics pointed out that publishing itself was what gave us access to most authors’ work. Nevertheless, the preference for the naked authorial document, stripped of all the wardrobe provided by the publishing process, still held the upper hand at the time of my exit from academia.

I exited academia to become a publishing professional. I became part of the manufacturing process that massages and tweaks a text to the point that it is considered publishable. I made this career move originally to pay my bills, but as I progressed from proofreader to production editor to editor to writer, increasingly I appreciated the need for this assembly line to ensure a good final product. Someone’s cherished final draft clearly had to pass under many eyes–be queried, conformed, and corrected–so that no one who had a stake in the final product, including the author, would have occasion for embarrassment or regret. I accepted readily this quality control process even when I myself was the author, and my own draft under someone else’s scrutiny.

The notion that the traditional publishing process gets between authors and their readers is not a dead idea. It still lives and is experiencing renewed vigor with the current gold rush to self-publish, inspired and enabled by the World Wide Web and its parvenu publishers such as Amazon and Apple. Casual reading about the exploding e-book phenomenon easily gives the impression that many authors now think that they can leave behind editors and other publishing production (and distribution) personnel as expendable ”hidden costs.” They are so wrong.

Precisely because editors and other publishing personnel are not expendable, the production of e-books costs about as much as that of paper books. For a clear and simple explanation, see this blog post by the chairman of one major publishing company, “Why Do eBooks Cost So Much? (A Publisher’s Perspective).” If publishers must continue to invest so much into the making of e-books, then can self-publishers afford to neglect these functions? Self-publishers often fail to hire professionals with the needed skills, and the results speak for themselves to the reading public. Note the first reason given in this article for readers’ low expectations about self-published texts: “The Big Reasons Indie Authors Aren’t Taken Seriously.” The cost of not hiring editors and other publishing professionals extends way beyond dollars.

Becoming your own publisher means that you need to take on the responsibilities of a publisher. You need to be sure a text is ready for its public. Securing the services of editors and professionals with other necessary skills is as essential to publishing your own work as securing copyright. To be professional, you must use professionals. No one can do it alone. So come on: be a player.