So many factors warred and balanced in my mind, but two ideas floated above the battle—untouched and uncontested.
- After constructing this story mentally for over a decade, I needed to be in complete control of the final product.
- I anticipated that traditional publication for future stories might become more feasible if I’d already worked to prove my value and attracted an audience through self-publication.
And we can’t have just one beta reader, either, or we risk writing solely to that one individual’s tastes—which would be in no way representative of a wide, diverse audience.
In a previous blog post, I touched lightly on some of the problems too few beta readers can cause. The best thing to do is to take all the varying opinions and average them against your own best judgment. As agonizingly stressful as deciding between recommendations can become, it’s always better to have those decisions to make, than to seek only one person’s opinion before marketing your story to every other person.
Over the course of three years, I sought out twelve of my friends to beta-read Bless the Skies. English majors and writers and avid readers and close friends.
Nine acknowledged my request and definitely read at least a little. Five finished reading a whole draft. Four of those five gave me extensive feedback. Three read the second-to-last draft. One beta reader walked through the book with me for eight hours straight on Skype. Paul read the book five separate times.
No one read the final draft before I published it. I didn’t give anyone the option, because I’d finished emotionally with the book by that point. I’d reached a sense of personal closure. And no one—not even your significant other—has time to read your book much more than once.
The lesson? Either stack your deck and ask a LOT of people, or only ask the people you absolutely know have the time and stamina to assist you for free. (Unless you aren’t a broke post-collegiate English major, in which case, pay people!)
The other lesson? Get ready to rely on your own judgment.
No one else will be signing off on the absolute final change.
My editor was Callie Revell of MightyMarkup.com. I chose her because someone I trusted had given her a pretty significant stamp of approval. It’s important for indie authors to approach “stranger” editors and author services with caution. Many, many websites exist to take advantage of us, and if you can absolutely verify an editor’s legitimacy, pick that person.
For what it’s worth, I absolutely vouch for the legitimacy of Callie and Mighty Markup.
Editors assist authors with a number of things: formatting, typos, the sound of the line, the structure of the story, the consistency of the voice. They look for grammatical errors and typing errors and other errors, like accidentally having the sun rising in the west (when it’s definitely still supposed to rise in the east). Editors will approach your book with more personal accountability and more on the line for their careers than any friend of yours—no matter how skilled.
Hire an editor. Even if you’re an editor, hire an editor, because you will never-not-ever be able to approach your own work from the same place you approach other people’s.
Maudie worked with me from the first finished draft forward—Andy started working with me two months before publication.
I knew that I would need a map of the setting, and I was hoping for some other small images to pepper throughout the novel—the sun/cloud/stars image on the title page, the major part dividers—but Maudie’s presence prompted one of the most important decisions I made about the book.
The first beta readers of the first finished draft all agreed: the transitions between the characters came too abruptly, and it strained the reader to continually re-learn the identity of the speaker.
Paul suggested beginning each sentence with the characters’ names as a quick fix, but I disliked that idea. My characters’ names act as a thematic device, and for one character in particular, a single name wouldn’t be appropriate. Others are intentionally tied to disembodied concepts. In all, I felt a name would be too limiting, would put my characters and my prose in a tiny and uncomfortable box.
Then Paul referenced The Wheel of Time and Harry Potter, which both utilize small graphics to introduce events in the subsequent chapter. Though that device didn’t specifically address my problem, it did spark what I've been calling The Idea.
Create a graphical representation for each of the point-of-view characters. Something that encapsulated their being, opened them up to more interpretation, a set of symbols coded throughout a book about symbols!
The how-and-why of the symbols will likely make a good standalone post, so I’ll leave that for the future.
Needless to say, Maudie worked with me for a long time, conceding to my often-absurd author requests, and pulled my characters straight out of my brain and put them on the page in front of me.
I also needed a book cover. I contracted a cover made from stock footage on the Internet, and though the graphic artist did exactly as I requested and never acted unprofessionally, the result didn’t… WOW me. It didn’t feel like what I wanted on the front cover of my debut novel, which I’d been writing since the age of 14.
Two months ahead of my publication date, I realized that I couldn’t commit myself to that cover.
I realized it in front of my friend Andy Tripp and his wife, who kindly jarred me out of my idiotic-and-whining haze.
Andy was already familiar with designing book covers for indie authors.
Andy would be able to work quickly.
Andy is incredibly talented.
And so, Andy designed a book cover in line with the one image that spawned this story and all that followed.
Two girls. Fighting their way through the woods.
I am not an artist. I will never be an artist. Some authors have that skill, and they are able to produce incredible artistic supplements to their stories.
But if you’re limited to using Microsoft Paint to make your cover—you’ll need to work with someone else to get your book published.
The manuals for creating these files and for formatting those contents are… long, bulky, intimidating PDFs.
I’m the kind of masochist who adores forcing Microsoft Word to behave. I know a lot of tricks and I understand how to dig deep, deep down into the menus and options. So, I formatted these final files myself.
If so, there are people out there, I'm sure, whom you can pay to assist you. But it's important to be aware that you cannot do anything with the raw .doc where you've likely been typing your story. Prepare accordingly.
You might want to hire someone to make your text look nice. To pick the right fonts that lend to the tone you’re weaving, the right sizes to make the book as big or as small as is best. It’s probably a good idea to hire someone professional to do that for you.
But I’ll be honest—I didn’t. I was tired by the time I thought of this component, and my funds were extremely limited, and I assumed that the majority of my sales would be in ebooks. Most e-reading devices ignore the layout and let the user decide the size and style of the font themselves. For me, hiring a layout professional seemed like an unaffordable luxury.
Nonetheless, if you’re picturing your publication team, a layout artist might also be sitting at the table.
There are many, many valid reasons to choose to self-publish—but working alone isn’t wholly feasible, if you want to produce an eye-catching and valuable product.
I could not have done this without my friends and partners. I certainly could not have done it well.
If you have any questions at all, I’d be happy to answer them in the comments!