Can’t remember if I’ve recommended it here before, but two recommendations would still be insufficient for David Gaughran’s e-book Let’s Get Digital, which works as both a fearless argument for and primer into the world of digital self-publishing, which is what my co-author and I are pursuing for Seeing by Moonlight.

Could our book be accepted by an established publisher? Maybe – we’re pretty proud of it, after all, and it’s in a commercial genre. But we have elected not to wait. This means being our own promotional and packaging institution, which probably means less sales than if we were picked up by a publisher. However, it also makes everything involving sales and inventory a hell of a lot simpler; we’re not moving books all over the world, we are essentially placing four or five files (formatted for the widest variety of devices) into the computing cloud and then tracking downloads. And it makes the bar for “success” in terms of sales insanely lower.

Now, it is possible to publish an e-book for essentially nothing, but one of Gaughran’s most unignorable pieces of advice is that you must be willing to spend money on those basic elements which will make your book look like a professional product; and the two biggest elements in that regard are editing and artwork.

So my co-author Mr. Thomas has licensed some art elements and hired a graphic designer to work on our cover, because I have nightmares where our book shows up on a blog like this one. And despite that my writing background is in journalism and I have worked as a copy editor, I set out to hire an editor to catch not just the little things I missed, but any style errors that may have become habits of mine. If you’ve got a mistaken semi-colon rule implanted in your brain, that stuff’s going to show up on every page and you won’t even notice.

I posted an ad on Craigslist in Orange County and Los Angeles. Usually I’m the one answering the Craigslist ads. Seeing the process from the other side was educational. First, I received over two hundred letters/resumes; and they came from all over the country. What we were offering money-wise was lower than a professional editor would make for a full manuscript edit, but for copy editing in today’s marketplace I think it was a competitive rate. So that probably helped generate interest, since there are plenty of people on Craiglist who think you should be happy to do any skilled work for below minimum wage and I get annoyed by that stuff all the time.

There were people who tried to bid under the rate, just as there were people who tried to explain why I should pay triple what I was offering. Honestly, I hope to reach the stage where I can afford to buy a full suite of manuscript evaluation/editing services because I think they are worth it to writers. But this was not that day, so the quality of their argument was unfortunately irrelevant.

My resume is pretty varied, and there have been times when I’ve tried to pitch my wide variety of experiences when job-seeking. What I found, though, was that the resumes that floated to the top for me were the ones that were most dedicated to the specific task I needed done. That’s a fairly obvious lesson but one you can forget when you’re always chasing so many different types of work. There were people who honestly admitted they had almost no experience but that they were nearly done with school and super-nice and super-dedicated and…I have to admit I was kind of cold to that argument. Maybe if I had been offering less money and that was all that was available to me, then tone and attitude might have played more of a factor, but I had people with good quality credentials writing to me, so it didn’t make up for the lack of experience.

I shuffled my favorite ten percent of resumes to the top, and then sent them a longer explanation of the parameters of the job along with a sample chapter. The others, unfortunately, I simply didn’t respond to. I don’t think this is unusual in the modern job market. Doesn’t make it courteous, but it’s what happened.

The sample chapters were a great opportunity to measure the candidates’ exactitude as well as how light a touch they took when it came to author’s voice. Some proposed significant changes with arguments. Others were extremely deft and protective. Some just started writing their own stuff into the text, which is weird but not completely surprising. I don’t know that we really have a formal agreement on the bright lines separating “writing” from “editing” in this Brave New World, and I’m sure plenty of freelancers get hired by amateurs to “edit”, but really end up writing. I could hope that my writing would have dissuaded them from the assumption that I needed such services. Alas…

From that group I had probably a half-dozen people that I was confident could do the job well for the price. And from there the more ephemeral stuff came into play: the comfort and rapport and matchup of working methods. I made my pick, got my partner’s approval on the resume, made the offer and closed the deal.

Our editor got the job done on-time and within budget. I’ve been working to implement his changes into the manuscript and I have been very impressed by what I’ve seen. There’s a point where I quote some lyrics from a Wagner opera, albeit translated into English and not identified as Wagner. He actually went and found the source of the quote, studied the lyrical line breaks in the original German, and then used that research to argue for a comma instead of a semi-colon.

That’s when I knew for certain I had made the right choice. He doesn’t know it yet but he might be hearing from me about more work in the future.

Adventures in Bookmaking
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