Yesterday – meaning the day before this blog was originally posted – was Independence Day, a time for national celebration.
I spent it writing, as my own individual declaration of independence. No one except my wife and cats seemed to care or notice, though. It was business as usual in our house. I prefer to make my own fireworks, creatively speaking.
But I always need help setting them off.
While the act of writing is a mostly solitary endeavor, even if you’re collaborating, when it comes to the equally important matters of design, promotion, distribution, and consumption, you are hardly alone.
If any “independent” author or publisher – especially of they’re one and the same – wants to be taken seriously as a professional in a very crowded, competitive industry, you will need the services of others to make your book all it can, and should, be.
And then there’s the audience, perhaps the most antithetical aspect of the DIY delusion. Without readers, any writer is basically just singing in the shower.
But first things first.
Call For Backup
Once you finish writing your novel or short story, you are literally free to upload it and share it with a most likely completely apathetic world.
So what’s the point?
Well, for one thing, you’re a writer, so you keep writing. That’s entirely your responsibility. Sure, you can maybe count on others to encourage your, but ultimately, in this respect, your truly are a lone gunman.
But after you’re done pulling your own trigger, you need a target audience. And if you want to hit them where it counts, you will need the proper ammunition.
That’s where subcontractors come in. They are your “posse.” Without them, you are simply outgunned by the odds. But with their aid, you have at least a realistic shot at success.
As the saying goes, first impressions count, and the initial introduction most readers will have to your work is the front cover, whether it’s just an image for Kindle, or a complete wraparound for print.
Simply uploading a manuscript to CreateSpace is entirely cost free, which is much of the appeal, but I always recommend investing in professional cover art (and interior formatting) for your books. Amazon, Lulu and many other platforms offer these services as part of pricey packages, but I prefer to deny their monopoly on the process and hire freelance artists, who need the money much more than these corporations do.
Plus with a fellow “independent” creator, you can probably realize your own vision more cost-effectively, and with a much more personalized approach. They need you as much as you need them, so the partnership is mutually beneficial.
I always provide my artists with my own crude conceptual sketch, and then give them a free hand to extrapolate as they see fit, since the final product is not only a promotional advertisement for me and my work, but also for the artist.
This is equally important, even if the consumer won’t really notice the effort until they’ve already purchased the product. However, Amazon provides free “sneak peeks” at the first few pages of any book, so if your formatting is sloppy, it will turn off any potential readers right off the bat.
Plus, as a conscientious businessperson, you don’t want to be selling anyone an inferior product, especially one with your brand name attached. That’s not only unfair, but also self-defeating.
Just like there are cover artists for hire, there are also interior designers out there that offer reasonable rates for formatting your manuscript so it looks like it was issued by a top level publishing company. Most of these freelancers, like my guy Rik Hall, are veterans of the business, so they know their stuff.
And you probably don’t, and least not this stuff, so hire them.
But wait, not so fast – before you even hire an interior formatter, you will need to make sure your copy is as clean as possible. That means stripping it of annoying things like typos, grammatical errors, and glaring gaps in narrative continuity.
There are likewise many editors for hire out there – most of them with educated, experiential expertise – that can spot mistakes your own eye won’t be able to catch, because you know how it’s supposed to read. They can also fix problems you didn’t even know were problems.
If your budget is tight and you’d prefer to spend it on the exterior and interior aesthetics, you can scout around in your social circles for what’s known as “beta readers,” meaning non-professional readers that can still offer objective feedback and hopefully correct any of these issues.
Once you slap your own imprint logo and (ideally) respected byline on there, your labor of love should at least visually stand alongside any other commercially viable book in the world, proudly and without apology.
My last piece of advice? Always pay your people. Some may agree to “take it out in trade,” meaning swapping their services for free copies of the book, but don't count on it and in most cases, don't even settle for it, even at their urging. In short: treat them the same way you’d like to be treated, as a careerist, not as a hobbyist.
Whatever you do, don’t pull the old gimmick of exploiting their talents in exchange for the “cachet” they’ll supposedly gain to secure future gigs that offer real money. “Exposure” never pays any bills. It only exposes you as a cheapjack freeloader without any integrity. That’s not the kind of reputation that spawns lucrative dividends.
As artists, we’re all in this thing called Life together, even if we’re all “independent” in spirit.
PHOTO: THIN BOY FATTER
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