Photos by Mari Deno
Okay, so you’ve written a book and decided you’re not going to look for a publisher and will it publish yourself as an ebook…or…you’ve written a book, shopped it around but while you might have had a few nibbles, no bites, so you’re going to publish it yourself as an ebook. Easy, right? Just upload it and it’s done.
Wrong. I think many independent authors (not all) try to take short cuts, and think all they have to do is upload their book and that’s it. That’s not it. Not even close.
As an independent author, what you need to do is think of yourself as a publishing house. And by that, I mean just because you’ve finished writing the book doesn’t mean it’s ready.
First step…story editing. This could mean hiring a professional editor (especially advised for those who have never been published before, but when looking for one shop around and get recommendations), or finding some other means of getting the feedback you need. For me, I have a group of trusted, savvy, and insightful readers who read my book and give me detailed feedback. The group contains several respected published writers, and others whose opinions I trust.
Okay, that’s done. Next: a cover. The rule of thumb here is: You get what you pay for. So if you want a cover that looks professional and will draw the attention of potential reader instead of turning them off, be prepared to pay for it. And trust me, it’s worth it.
But wait, your book’s still not ready. There is a vital step that cannot be skipped. You need (need, need, need, need, need) to have someone copyedit/proofread your manuscript. And I’m not just talking about finding someone who isn’t doing anything at the moment, and having them look for errors.
Good copyediting and proofreading are skills that only a small percentage of people have. I don’t have it. Never have, never will. So I’m lucky to have someone who excels at this who I can go to when I have a manuscript that is ready for this step.
I’d like to introduce you to her today. Meet my professional copyeditor and renowned Edit Ninja, Elyse Dinh-McCrillis.
BRETT: Okay, Elyse, first question: Why torture yourself copyediting other people’s material? I know that would drive me MAD! (Of course, as you well know having worked on a couple of my books now, I would suck at it.)
ELYSE: It’s much more torturous for me to read books full of errors! When I was younger, whenever I saw a mistake in a book/magazine/newspaper, I’d let out a full-throated ARGHHH! a la Charlie Brown when the football is yanked away. People in the room with me would say, “Why don’t you do something about it?” So I did. I like to think I’m helping put better books out into the world and preventing readers like me from the same kind of aggravation.
B: When did you first realize this was a skill you had?
E: I wrote for my high school paper and my journalism teacher said I was the only student who always turned in perfectly clean copy. I was compulsive about proofing my own work because I never wanted to look like a moron due to some stupid typo. My teacher named me features editor and I found I had a knack for telling others what to do editing other people’s work, too.
I also read a lot and retain much of it (do not flash your credit card numbers around me). I think it’s important to not only know the guidelines of grammar and style, but also be aware of pop culture and current events. A sharp editor would know there’s no such thing as a Mazda CRX, that sixty-six Americans were originally taken hostage in Iran but only fifty-two were held for 444 days, that the non-lightsaber weapons in Star Wars are called blasters, not guns. These may not be earth-shattering mistakes but you never now who might find them important.
B: Doesn’t everyone know they’re blasters? Oh…God…I’m a nerd, aren’t I? Anyway, you obviously enjoy doing it enough that you do it professionally. So, have you seen a psychiatrist lately? And if not perhaps one of our Murderati readers can recommend one to you. (Is my bias for how much I would personally hate being a copyeditor showing?)
E: Ha! Funny that you mention therapy because I think part of my job is being a therapist to my clients. I’ve spent hours on the phone with writers who are certain they can’t finish their book or they’ve written the worst book in the history of man. I talk to them and ask questions to help them figure out how to fix their problem areas. It’s quite satisfying for me when they achieve that breakthrough. That’s not to say I’m touchy-feely. If you’re just whining, I don’t have patience for that.
B: Joking aside, I cannot express how grateful I am for the work done by a good copyeditor, and in my case, that’s you. You have saved me from embarrassing myself multiple times in SICK and HERE COMES MR. TROUBLE. So I want to publicly thank you for that! Thank you.
E: Thank you for trusting me with your manuscript babies. You make my job a lot easier by writing thrilling stories. Plus you pay me and that’s cool, too.
B: Wait…are you implying you’d do it for free? Probably not, right? Okay, so why don’t you tell us a little bit about the process, how you work with authors, and what authors should expect from you?
E: The process is tedious so I should probably say something interesting like, “Well, Brett, it involves Samoan masseuses and corn” but that might confuse your readers. The real answer is, my fee includes fixes in grammar and style, rephrasing of awkward sentences, comments to help you fix weak spots, and fact-checking. Turnaround is about two weeks for a full-length ms, but I can do it faster if you have a specific deadline. If I’m doing developmental editing, I’m available for phone consultations and minor therapy as mentioned above. I’m not a licensed doctor, though, so you might have to sign a waiver releasing me from liability if you suddenly develop a drinking problem.
B: I know I have things I screw up all the time. In fact I have a list on my wall to remind me to check for some specific types of errors when I finish a manuscript. (It’s true, taped to the wall next to the kitchen.) What are some of the common mistakes you see authors repeating all the time?
E: Lie vs. lay, dangling modifiers, the misplacement of “only” in a sentence (“I only have one dollar” and “I have only one dollar” do not mean the same thing), i.e. vs. e.g., possessive pronouns vs. contractions, less vs. fewer, and redundancy (“I thought to myself,” “I rushed quickly through the door,” etc.). I guess that last one isn’t a mistake, it just annoys me.
B: Any pet peeves?
E: When potential clients want to pay me only $8-10 an hour and say that’s the going rate on Craigslist. I say go back to Craigslist and good luck.
E: HA! Good one. I refer readers back to the “get what you pay for” statement I made above about covers. Applies here, too. If an author is interested in hiring you, is there someplace they can go to find out more information about your services?
B: Ooooh. Spiffy! Anything else you’d like to add?
E: I think there’s a misconception that editors are sticklers for rules. I’m not. As long as your language serves your story, I don’t care if you coin new words or end your sentences in prepositions. But if your style starts distracting from your story then it needs adjustment. I think astute readers can tell the difference between someone who flouts grammatical conventions intentionally and someone who doesn’t know what they are.
B: Thanks for spending a little time with us today, Elyse. I love hearing your insights.
Let me just say to everyone, if you’re a writer in need of a copyeditor, I couldn’t recommend Elyse more. The only thing I worry about is that too many people will start using her services and she won’t have time for me when I need her. Seriously though, if you have a book in need of copyediting contact Elyse. You’ll be very happy with the results.
Now, if you have some questions you’d like to ask Elyse—specific or vague or completely off topic—fire away. Elyse will be checking in all day.