Monday, November 10, 2008

Writers: Would You Call A Doctor Or A Healer?

self-publishing: always, always call in the professionals
8. What advice do you have for newcomers to book publishing?

Always, always, employ professionals to print, design interiors and covers, and edit and proof books. The dividing line between amateurs and professionals is not a line at all: they are separated by entire universes.

Oh yes yes yes they are!

Listen, I started out like many other writers of my time: reading Writer's Digest magazine. It was an education. Not a complete education, but enough to:

1) Show me how to compose a query letter
2) Show me how to get an agent
3) Show me how to format a typed manuscript
4) Show me what proofreading symbols were
5) Tell me how other writers did things
6) Stop me from putting a stupid cover design on a manuscript submission*
(*manuscripts do not have designed covers!)

I used to do fanzines. I learned how to use a typewriter (not type formally, for god forbid males should have been allowed typing courses back then!). I learned how to do paste-ups (a foreign concept and skill today!). And goddam, Presstype too!

In high school, I learned about using a T-square and triangle. Rapidographs. India Ink washes. Perspective drawing and 3D mock-up design.

In college, I learned about using rubber cement for paste-ups instead of Scotch double-stick tape(!). I learned about typesetting. I learned composition and design (well, more of it). I learned how the world of illustration and publishing worked.

What high school and college and Writer's Digest all taught me was this: Hire professionals!

Look at this blog, for example. The only bits I create are the text and the header and the occasional rescaled or cropped photo or screensnap. (And yes, the header could be better. But all I've got is MS Paint, for crap's sake!)

If I had to come up with the server, the software, the bandwidth allocation, the template and every little thing that goes into it, there wouldn't be a blog. (Stop cheering!)

I leave all of that -- and getting my posts into search engines -- to the professionals at WordPress.

I know enough to know what I don't know. I know enough to know that there are people who know more. I know enough to recognize expertise.

I'd hire an editor to go over my fiction before publishing. Hell, I might even do two editors, in order to find one who not simply has the skills, but is also simpatico with what I am writing. (I wouldn't, for example, want someone who is very religious handling my work!)

When it comes to a cover, the most I'd try is a rough, in order to hand off to a real artist an idea of what I was looking for. The odds there is that a real pro would just trash my rough and create something wholly different and better.

As for the file creation of the eBook itself, I'm hoping that by then it will all be blog-easy. If it's going to stay as hairy as having to use an expensive tool such as Adobe InDesign, then that will have to be handed off to yet another professional. (This despite the fact I used to earn money -- ages ago -- with PageMaker and Quark XPress.)

And then, finally, there's making it available for sale. I don't know what that will entail yet. Will Sony live up to its implied promise to open its eBook Store to direct publishing? Will WordPress recognize an untapped market and offer a new level of VIP account for writers who direct publish? There's also Apple and its App Store still to reckon with.

I hope that by now anyone reading this can see the one thing a writer should stick to is writing.

All else should be handed off to others who can do the job with expertise, with talent, with experience, and when the need arises, even speed (for those odd quick opportunities that eBooks can capitalize on faster than print publishing).

Think of it this way: You're suddenly ill. Do you want a doctor or a "healer"?

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