Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Getting Started: Before you publish

A few helpful hints as you embark on the first leg of your publishing journey:

So you have your manuscript written and formatted and it's ready to be published. Whether you are "self-publishing" (no longer considered a "Vanity Press" as technology refines our ways of communicating our ideas and stories in order to make them more accessible, as well as more "commercial" in their style) or are affiliated with a "small press" (aka "indie publisher") OR have actually landed a known publisher, you will need to know all you can about grassroots marketing and public relations.

Here are some guidelines to remember (if you'd like links to longer essays by experts online, send me a message and I'll supply them).

Not necessarily in chronological order:

1. Do not trust your own proofreading and editing abilities for that final polish. Hire or sleep with someone (yes, it's a joke) who can assist your tired eyes and brain with this very important task. All it takes is one typo on page 1 or on the back cover (Hint: If you think you know how to spell someone's name, don't trust to memory or spellcheck---look it up! Even famous people. Yes, I've seen famous names misspelled on the back cover! It happens.)

The hardest to proof is grammar. And that is really where the expert editor comes in at the very moment when the author just wants to "feggedaboutit" and just get the darn thing "out there."

Yes, there are authors who tell me after receiving copious grammar notes from a reader of their pre-published manuscript: "No thanks. I'm done."

As a fellow author and professional writer, I feel your pain. I also hate that part. Yet it's the spelling errors and incorrect grammar that can sink a book right out of the gate.

2. The Cover: Very important, yes? Everyone can agree that books are judged by their covers as there's "no second chance to make a great first impression." And yet choosing a blah or irrelevant image for the book cover is not so easy. I rank it in the same class as describing your own book in a "summary." Most writers, no matter how talented, cannot "pitch" their story or summarize their nonfiction book in a way that makes other people want to read it. More on that another time. Just trust me. It happens. And it happens to me when I am pitching my own stories. We have been looking at the material for so long, certain elements seem obvious so we tend to leave them out since we can see it so clearly in our own minds.

3. Your Bio. Hey, make yourself sound interesting. I have a longtime friend who was publishing her second book (her first sold 9000 copies), and she has won many awards over her illustrious career in various areas. Her first draft of her bio (life story) was a few lines that left out almost all her accomplishments. Not just the achievements anybody would be proud to brag on, but what would truly be of interest to a prospective reader. My advice to her was:

Imagine you are at a party and you have to tell a stranger something interesting about yourself or they are going to get bored and look for someone else to talk to--that's how much impact your experience should have on a curious stranger; it will make them feel they cannot look away from you or they will miss something they can use or has relevance to their own life.

Did she take heed? She did! And her next draft of her life rocked with all her colorful adventures and kudos.

4. Advance Reviews

It's hard to believe that most new indie authors leave this out (authors with agents and publishers are being guided to gather reviews before the book is released). Much harder to re-publish a cover with the reviews on the back cover and inside AFTER you forgot to do it the first time.

Where do you get reviews? That is a whole art in itself: querying for reviews from people whose careers are relevant to the book's topic or who are authors themselves (not necessarily on the same topic). Suffice it to say that it's the author's responsibility to gather these "advance reviews."

In my role as a publicist, I often assist authors in helping them write the query letter or ferret out likely candidates for reviews. I can also point them in the direction of online free networking sites for books such as Goodreads and Library Thing, which permit authors to offer a pdf copy of the manuscript as a "giveaway" to potential reader/reviewers. Very important to get started on that as soon as possible and before the book is printed.

Best place to start gathering reviews is through who you know. Do you have friends who are published authors? Ask them to write a "blurb" review. A blurb is usually a few sentences indicating that you have read the book (or at least skimmed it!) and here's what you think about it. They need to understand that the author isn't asking for a long New York Times review or critique; just a little time out to look at the book and write a recommendation.

There is much more to all this, but those are your helpful hints for the day!

Happy PR and Marketing, Everybody!