TUCKER: On the responsibilities of a self-publisher

The responsibilities behind self-publishing go beyond just writing a polished and refined manuscript. Proper, professional and quality editing must be considered as important as the writing itself.

The Responsibilities of a Self-Publisher
By Sheila E. Tucker

Fifteen years ago—way before I self-published my memoir—I attended an indie book fair with some friends. There was a discussion panel and a selection of poets and writers reading onstage. Tables displaying books surrounded the perimeter of the hall and before we left I bought one from a woman near the exit. I cannot remember why I chose this book, but I do recall my disappointment when I began to read it the following week.

Editing is a game-changer, but it’s not a game
I tried for the first few pages to ignore the misplaced modifiers, misspellings and the sheer amount of bad grammar, and finally realized I’d never get through it. It went into the recycling bin. I learned a lesson from this experience: never self-publish an unedited manuscript. Doing so diminishes credibility. Writers who neglect the editing stage also do a disservice to other self-publishers, because then we all get a bad name.

By editing, I don’t mean giving our work to a friend to read. At least, not unless that friend has experience in content editing, copy editing and proofreading. Now, I understand that not everyone can afford to pay a professional, although if you can, then do so. But many of us have bills and expenses that tie up our funds, so, what to do? Everyone’s texts need the fresh eye of someone in editing mode—even Margaret Atwood has assistants for this. When we’ve spent a great deal of time writing and rewriting, adding and deleting, we do arrive at a point where we cannot see the forest for the trees.

It would be mutually beneficial to find like-minded individuals to form a critiquing group, but no more than five or six. I have been part of an invaluable group of five that I credit in part for the kudos given my memoir, launched six months ago. We meet every three weeks. What we do is send up to 5,000 words of our work to each other a few days before getting together. This means we have four manuscripts of a few pages each to concentrate on. We all work hard at marking up because we know the others are doing the same for us. I cannot emphasize enough, how helpful this method is. Way more than just bringing along copies for others to read on the night of.

About my critiquing friends: two write crime fiction, one is in the romance field and the other writes magic realism. I’m the only nonfiction author, and all of us are self-published. Our backgrounds differ too, and this brings new worldviews to our considerations. We discuss, for instance, whether a character’s actions make sense (believability), how the protagonist could possibly be at home so soon after the crisis (time/space management); why did this person do such a thing (motive), how come you spell it ‘colour’ in some places and ‘color’ in others (consistency)…you get the idea. So putting a call out for committed fellow writers is one idea. By the way, one rule we have is, even if we don’t have any work to submit every third week, we must still read the others. It all works out even in the end because occasionally one of us is too busy to write.

Another idea is to barter. You perhaps know someone who is educated in some form of the humanities or is simply well-read. Think of something you can do of value for them if they read your whole manuscript. Be super generous here; i.e., if you’re a massage therapist, offer a session a month for six months (or find out how much an editor would charge and base your “service-swap” on that).

My last takeaway is this. When you receive your marked-up documents, take the suggestions seriously and make the changes, unless there are some you completely disagree with (in which case, discuss with your editor). We all inwardly groan when we realize we should go back to the drawing board, but that is part of what writing is about. Honing your skill and perfecting your story. Because, remember, once it’s a book, it’s forever.

It cannot be just “good enough.” Aim for perfection. Your story deserves it.

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