After graduating with a BA in English in 1980, I decided that following my bliss—that is, making a career in the literary world–would be far more satisfying than attending Law School. I enrolled in graduate school, and with the help of a six-year teaching fellowship, pursued my PhD in English. Along the way I picked up an MA with an emphasis on writing.
There was no such thing as self-publishing back then, or at least what was being done in that area was considered the kiss of death for serious authors. The rule of the literary jungle was “publish or perish.” I wanted to be an author, so started training myself toward that goal. My workload was vigorous in all phases of what I did: academic study, the teaching of writing, and of course my own writing, which was mostly literary fiction. It was intimidating and draining, but I succeeded in publishing a few things, and, rather than becoming a professor—partly because I despaired of ever getting a job in the hotbed of politically correct English departments of the late 1980s—I decided to go it alone as a literary consultant and private teacher. I have never once regretted that decision.
In fact, I am now uniquely placed to talk about publishing on all levels. The exciting part of the industry right now, with way the biggest growth, is, ironically, self-publishing. Perhaps this happened because publishing had become so log-jammed by its various gatekeepers that the dam built against the throngs of well educated people wanting to publish, had to burst. And here we are with a million books going into print each year, most of them self-published.
Here’s the problem. The vigor required of literary practitioners prior to this flood of self-publishing has now been severely diluted. Most self-published authors send their books to print prematurely. It’s a nightmare for reviewers, journalists and competition judges, who are deluged with titles by authors who are far better at promoting themselves than they are at the actual writing of their books. Talk about putting the cart before the horse! I would estimate that 95% of self-published books go to print with not nearly enough research and editing.
Never let your book go to print without it having been properly vetted by professionals. This does NOT mean Aunt Betty, the retired English teacher. You can let her comment on your early drafts, of course, but what you consider your final draft should go to a professional editor, who can give you honest feedback on what you have actually accomplished, rather than what you think you may have accomplished. This is what happens when established authors submit manuscripts to their editors at the big publishing houses. Sometimes they get torn to bits and have to take the book “back to the drawing board.” You MUST put yourself through the same painful testing if you are serious about your work.
After the main body of the work is deemed satisfactory, the text then requires vigorous line editing and fact checking, usually at least two rounds. Then it is essential to bring fine copy editing (sometimes called proofreading) into the endgame of the book’s production. Most big publishers put a book through at least three rounds of this process, using printed galleys, and still we find that nearly every book has a few errors in it.
The growth in self-publishing does not look like abating any time soon, so if you are to stand out from the crowd as an Indy author, you should be prepared to think big and budget accordingly.
Authorship is not easy and it is not cheap. Authorship is a profession and you should never think about it any other way. Editorial support is the key to an author’s success.