Four Questions to Ask Before You Hit “Publish”

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by Allison Maruska

A friend emailed me a question. She’s written a book and is considering what to do with it.

Her question: “How do you self-publish on Amazon?”

She didn’t mean what buttons to push on KDP that makes the book go live. She meant: “What are the steps necessary to prepare a book for publication?”

I emailed her my response, and as I did so I realized my email was pretty darn close to a blog post. Ergo, I’m sharing it with you.

Some may see self-publishing as an easy way to get your book into the world. It’s not easier. It’s just faster. There are some important questions to ask before hitting “Publish,” else your book will drown before it has a chance to bob once on the water’s surface.

While this post is meant primarily to those considering self-publishing, the following questions apply to ALL publishers and authors. Some publishers have sub-par editors, for example, and no matter which route you take, marketing will mostly fall on you, the author. So you must know everything there is to know about your final product.

 

Question 1: Is my book edited? 

Your book is your masterpiece. Your baby. It can be scary to let someone pick on your baby. It’s easy to get defensive. Here’s the thing, though: nobody’s first draft (or even fifth draft) is perfect. This is why publishers have editors.

Realize that editing is necessary. It’s more than finding typos. It’s cutting boring parts, enhancing character development, and eliminating crutch words, among many, many other things. A cursory self-edit is a good first step (starting with these items is a good idea), but that’s all it is – a first step.

You have a couple of options when it comes to getting your book edited. The most obvious is hiring an editor, but there are different types of editors. Proofreaders will help you find typos and wonky sentence structures. Content editors will point out plot problems.

Another option is to work with good critique partners (read how to find some here). No, they usually aren’t editors, but they are fellow writers who have likely been through the editing gauntlet themselves. CPs come to the table with different experiences and talents, and they bring those to your book.

While hiring an editor is one opinion, that opinion is (hopefully) current on publishing trends and is knowledgeable when it comes to story structure. A CP group gives you a variety of opinions, and you can use the suggestions that best serve your story.

Best case scenario – work with both an editor and a critique group. I’ve found this brings the best results, and I’ve learned a great deal from both.

 

Question 2: Does my book have a professional cover?

I Googled “bad book cover” in search of an image for this point, and now I need eye bleach. *curls into the fetal position and shakes*

Don’t judge a book by its cover is more cliche than truth anymore (and it’s also more about not being prejudgemental in general). Everyone judges books by their covers. I’m certainly not going to read any of the books that popped on that Google image search, and odds are at least a few are good stories.

Your book cover is the first thing a potential reader sees. If they are put off, they won’t open it and read the first page unless they are related to you (and maybe not even then). If you publish and the book isn’t selling, pretty much every piece of advice will say to criticize your cover first (editing second).

Unless you are a graphic designer yourself, do not try to create your own cover. It is worth the money to hire a professional cover designer. Dig into portfolios, get recommendations, seek out the designers of covers you love. I’ve used a few different designers. Read about two of them here.

 

Question 3: Is my book professionally formatted? 

Yes, formatting is boring, and that’s on a good day. On a bad day, you’ve angered the formatting gods and the process is downright maddening (this is especially true of paperback formatting).

But published books are not formatted like your manuscript. You’ll have to go to single spacing, smaller indents, and remove ALL extra spaces and line breaks, or your ebook will not behave on all the devices. For your paperback, you’ll need page numbers and headers.

Once you get the hang of formatting it’s not too difficult. You can also hire this service out if you don’t want to deal with it.

 

Question 4: Do I have a platform? 

If you create a Twitter account the same day you publish and start spamming book promo tweets, you’ll be promptly ignored. Potential readers on social media like to know who the hell you are before you start trying to sell them stuff. And you know what? So do potential agents. When you query, expect to be Googled. They want to see if you have the ability to market yourself.

Build a newsletter email list and/or a blog. Post updates regularly. Start a Facebook author page and Twitter account and work on building your following. Depending on your genre, explore Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, and StumbleUpon. And start all of this before you publish. That way, on launch day, you have an audience who will listen to you.

The point of all of this is to make yourself visible. Known. Yes, use your platform to promote your work, but also use it to help and entertain others. Show that you’re a real, interesting person and not a spam-bot. Your pre-published following can make the difference between a successful book launch and your book falling into the abyss.

 

 

 

Guest post contributed by Allison Maruska. Allison likes to post in line with her humor blog roots, but she also includes posts about teaching and writing specifically. Check out her website for more of her work.

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28 thoughts on “Four Questions to Ask Before You Hit “Publish””

  1. I’m interested in the requirement of a platform in the publishing world… when I first heard it from a publisher it took me a little while to realize what they meant by platform… and I took it in the general sense… ‘where do you stand?’ ‘what perspective do you speak from/to…’

    But… to already have a gaggle of readers? WTH.

    It make sense if you’re self-publishing… but I have to say the requirement of publishers for a ‘new’ writer to already have a platform seems counter-intuitive and predatory, and a reversal of job roles… any thoughts?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know what you mean, it’s like that policy some employers have of only wanting to hire people with experience. I guess if you move the analogy to music, will a record label sign a band that has a loyal following who regularly turn up to see them play, or an identical band that have barely played a gig?

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Good point regarding ‘experience’… however, I don’t see already having a reader fan-base as the same thing as ‘experience’… that’s more like ‘references’ which most employers only require 3 for an applicant.

        The experience in a traditional job comes from study, education, and ultimately an increasing level of expertise as you progress in a career field.

        What if beginning lawyers were expected to already have won cases before being hired in the field?

        Thanks for the ponderings. 🤔 Still considering it…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Re the lawyer metaphor – I guess it’s kind of the difference between objective & subjective ability to do a job. A lawyer has a lot of specific hurdles to overcome before they can be hired, so the employers can use an objective yardstick. An artist (in all forms) needs to prove that enough people (or one or two powerful insiders) consider them good enough (subjectively) to have a contract. And even if they like what they see, the big question is: do enough people like it to make it worth the money?
        Which is why publishers, record labels, TV & film studios all try to mitigate the risk by going with something or someone that has a proven track record (and we end up with pigeon-holes and sequels).

        Liked by 1 person

      3. lol. Yes… please no more sequels or remakes… this is actually a subject I’ve been considering for a blog. Because I think it’s a necessary conversation. There’s a movie out there with Mark Ruffalo called… (let me check IMDB, lol) “Begin Again” (2013)… anyway… it’s one of the movies made to be a part of a longer discussion about what constitutes art… and how The Business takes a life of its’ own… no longer there for the artists… watch it and let me know what you think… 🙂

        Other than that, I see your points and the justifications for how the business is run… For my part, the End does not justify the Means… There has to be some level of ‘risk’ on the part of any enterprise… otherwise… well, among a multitude of sins… where’s the fun in that?

        Liked by 1 person

    2. It is counter-intuitive to a degree. Back before the internet existed, it was up to publicists to get the word out about books and authors. But back then self publishing was also pretty much not a thing. I tend to lean towards cynical on the matter – like they want me to promise to do their work for them before they’ll sign me, and I get to give them a big cut of my royalties for the pleasure. Yeah, no thanks.
      That said, books sell better when the author is enthusiastic about their own work. Enthusiasm is contagious. So it makes sense for potential agents/editors to see if the author is excited about their own stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Enthusiasm hasn’t served me well… lol. And I am a terrible salesperson… I learned that lesson in my retail sales days… if it looks bad, I’m tellin’ ya. lol.

        I’m with you too… on the cynical… if I finish another book, I am going to just self-publish… what’s the point in wasting all that energy on multiple publishing houses? 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This post is spot-on! A lot of the points I knew during the publishing phase but it wasn’t until my book was out there for the world to read that I realized why it was so important to get it close to perfection. The advice resonated with my own personal experience self-publishing which I blogged about. The point you made on building a platform is easily overlooked but very important if you want to increase your chance of a strong launch. I started blogging months before my book was released but I wish had a stronger platform before I launched my book. The practical suggestions listed are so simple that I wish I thought of some of them the first time around. Thanks for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. All good points, particularly the need to build up our own platforms in order to market ourselves.

    Ironically this process (I’ve chosen to blog and occasionally promote posts via social media) has become a full-time task.

    Now I’m hardly even writing.

    Liked by 1 person

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