The value of Subject Matter Experts

In 2007 while a Fellow at the Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Retreat, one of the Retreat events was a panel discussion with publishers and editors. I asked a question about the future of self publishing and across the panel, the agreement was that for serious authors, the traditional route would remain the way to go if you wrote anything besides poetry, which has a long history of self publishing. Listening to publishers and editors the last few years at the San Francisco Writers Conference, self publishing has become a viable, honorable, non-self-indulgent method towards becoming published. A sea change over these five years.

I first explored self publishing with Chow,  an excerpt from Weekend Warrior, Dispatches from the Army Reserve, a future collection of narrative essays from my 32 years of service. Using Smashwords, I attempted to do all the work myself and swiftly accepted that in terms of cover design, I could spend the time to learn the software or I could spend less than $100 bucks and hire out. I had a design in mind and using the free list of recommended designers Smashwords will provide I found a great one, Joleen Naylor. I took the photo for the cover, described the concept I had in mind and Joleen put that concept into reality.

I chose to do the internal formatting of the text myself. Smashwords gives you all the direction needed, if heeded, no problem. But it took time. I’m pretty handy with word, I did learn a few things after reading the Smashwords style guide that made taking the time to read the style guide well worth the investment.

When I moved on to No Red Pen: Writers, Writing Groups & Critique, and actual complete work that I wanted to get into print. I got help again. Joleen again took the concept I had in mind, and the photos I shot and turned the idea into an excellent cover. (The photo is of the actual manuscript after I received it back from editing.)

With internal book design, again, I realized I was out of my depth if I wanted a good, professional product. There is also a world of difference between design for e-book publishing and design for print publishing.

For the initial print run, I chose a digital print company, 360 Digital Books, Using their recommendation list I choose book designer Patricia Rasch. For a few hundred dollars, Pat made sure that my internal formatting met the requirements for 360 to offset print, she also tweaked the cover files for the digital print press and turned my word document into the proper format for a create space printing.

Why, you may ask, would I do both a short run via a digital press and a create space print? Excellent question. I wanted to have copies on hand for the SF Writers Conference where I was presenting a workshop with Tanya Egan Gibson on writers groups and critique. I didn’t think I’d get things through create spaces process fast enough. Create space also solved distribution for me by putting the book up on Amazon.

Would I do the same next time? Another good question. No, but that is a different blog post.

Many self publishing authors seek to do as much as they can, if not all, themselves. That is admirable, and in my mind, not good use of an author’s time. First, I’m not a design expert, internal or cover, so paying someone to accomplish better what I would have to take time to figure out frees me up for what I want to do more, which is write. Second, in becoming my own publisher, I take on the responsibility to meet the standards of the publishing industry. That means a well done, professional product. When you look at my self-published book, and hold it up against any other book, there should be nothing that screams “SELF PUBLISHED BOOK”.

Ensuring I publish a quality product means I need one other type of professional help – editing and proofing. That’s where I went wrong. I did have professional editors, though I did not hire them as they were friends that volunteered to provide edits. They did good work and I still should have hired a copy editor to catch the dozen or so small details that both them and I missed. When the proofs came back, again, I should have had someone else, someone that had not read the work hundreds of times (like I had), someone not intimately familiar with all the incarnations of the work (me, the author), someone with patience to read the copy word for word, line for line, (not me the tired of looking at this author). Because I did not get that level of help, I have hundreds of “uncorrected proof” copies.

Moral of the story – yes, you can produce a product all by yourself. But why do that, when for really not a whole lot of money, less than $1000 all told, you can ensure a quality, professional product by contracting out with some subject matter experts (SME). Together, you and those SMEs will ensure a quality, meet or exceeding professional standards, product – the book.

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