One of the ways to distinguish self-published material from traditionally published books is by counting the typos and plot holes. No, trad pub books are not perfect. I’ve seen all kinds of fun errors in books from big name publishers, but one quick look around self-published tiles on Amazon will reveal countless reviews detailing typos, confusing sentence structure, and gaping plot wounds.
You only have one chance to make a first impression, so avoid these three mistakes, and you’ll have a better chance at winning over readers for life.
- Sharing your work too soon. You’ve just finished your first draft and are very excited. You want to let your friends and family read it. STOP! Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. The rough draft is for your eyes only. The manuscript is still new and will require rewrites, and if you begin seeking opinions too early in the process, your artistic vision will be altered. Readers may see the book going a direction you never intended, and you might be inclined to follow their advice and end up penning something you never wanted to write in the first place. In addition, you might be discouraged by your friends’ response because, let’s face it, early drafts suck. They’re supposed to suck. If readers are cutting you down and not jumping up and down, it’s not going to help motivate you.
- Not hiring a professional copy editor. Copy editing is expensive. There. That’s out there. It’s a difficult, tedious job, and it takes a talented person to do it. Many first-time indie publishers balk at laying out the funds for this service, and it’s almost always to their detriment. Many people think they can copy edit themselves. But all writers reach a point where they cannot see their own mistakes. They are so familiar with the words on the page that they can no longer see errors at all. You need fresh eyes on the words.
- Not getting an outside opinion. Many indies use “beta readers” to critique their manuscripts. In my understanding, beta readers are friends or acquaintances who have some knowledge of the book in advance and who give their advice on the plot etc. They may have helped brainstorm and offered suggestions early in the writing process. I believe it’s crucial that at least one early reader be more like a true story editor, someone completely outside your friend realm, someone who does not worry about hurting your feelings or who has not been involved in the writing process of the book at all. If you’ve discussed plot or character with the beta reader, you’ve already tainted their view of the book. They know what you’re trying to achieve, so they may project that onto the book whether or not it’s actually there. You need someone with no bias at all, with no preconceived notions of the book and limited input from you about what you were trying to achieve. Sure, tell them your audience and a general overview of the plot, but let the book speak for itself. Someone needs to come to your manuscript cold to make sure what you think you’ve written and what you’ve actually conveyed in words are the same thing.
What advice do you have for first-time publishers?