Rx from the Book Doctor: Self-Publishers! Prepare Now for the Christmas Market
I heard a wonderful Chinese aphorism the other day: “Do not pull the seedlings to make them longer.”
What does the saying mean? If we rush things, we surely will ruin them. Oh, how I wish self-publishers would abide by that simple truth.
Almost every month, one or more people contact me with a book project in progress and a deadline in mind. Most of their deadlines are unrealistic. Apparently these writers decided for themselves how long each step in the process would take, without researching the subject. Sadly many people inquire about editing in October, in hopes to have a book ready for Christmas. They think I will be able to edit the book and get it back to them in time for them to proof it, lay it out, proof it again, print it, and offer it for sale to Christmas shoppers. No, no, no! The process should never be rushed, because major mistakes can happen.
Good editing–careful editing–takes time, sometimes up to two months, especially when an editor is in demand and has projects ahead of yours. Even if an editor begins the project immediately, such a job can take three or six weeks. As a result, if you send your manuscript to an editor in October, you’ll be super fortunate if you can get it back in November, and you still have to go through the entire manuscript to make the changes or ensure you agree with the changes the editor has made or suggested. Wise self-publishers then go through the file one more time to check for errors added in during editing and revision, because every time anyone enters a change into a document, it represents an opportunity for an error to occur. Sometimes we delete things we did not mean to delete; sometimes we fail to delete things we meant to delete. Sometimes we add typographical errors. Gremlins creep in every time we open a file and touch our keyboard. Good self-publishers take the time to proof everything carefully before laying the file out in book format, and proofing, like everything else, takes time.
If you were one of the lucky folks to get your book back from your editor in November instead of December and you have made the final edits and proofed the final file, you probably will spend another two or three weeks in that revision phase, and the calendar will read November 15 or later. The Christmas sales have already begun, and your book has not yet been laid out for printing, let alone printed. Of course layout also takes time, and then trust me, printers will be at their busiest. Finding a printer that can schedule your project in November or December may take a miracle.
Let me assume for a moment, however, that while the editor was editing the file, you or someone else designed the cover, including back page (the book’s best sales tool) and the spine. Now you or someone must lay out the book, one page at a time, to ensure that the chapters start on a new page, each page is numbered correctly, and every single page looks good.
Layout can take three to six weeks, so forget about reaching the Christmas market, if you started in October. After layout and design, you must again proofread or have someone else proofread the designed book to catch layout flaws and glitches as well as repair any final items not caught during editing. This proofreading session should not include extensive editing. At this stage, you may find ten or eleven errors in the whole book and fix them, but if you or a proofreader finds an average of one or more errors per page, chances are you did not edit the file carefully enough during the editing phase. Making changes during layout and design can be costly and time-consuming. Ah, those seedlings surely are dying, now, if you tried to rush them.
Okay, assuming the after-design proofing is complete; next someone has to input those final changes, and that stage takes maybe a week or two.
Finally the cover and insides are all ready and the book can go to press. If you are printing copies and not using print-on-demand or making the book an e-book, you then have to allow the printer to take over the project. Only your printer can tell you how long that process will take.
In the end, though, my guess is that if you start looking for an editor in October, your book will not be ready to go on bookshelves until March or April.
If you plan to self-publish, then, consider every process the book must go through. Before you set a deadline for the book to be released, create a realistic timeline that includes every single process the book must go through. Query your sources to get an estimate of how long each process will take. If I were to take a stab at the whole schedule, my best guess is that if you want your book ready for the Christmas market, you must begin the editing process at least six months before the printing process, and possibly more.
If you try to rush any of the processes along the way, something will harm the value of the book. I can almost guarantee it. Let me explain. If you rush the editing phase (or worse, try to skip it), the book will reflect poorly on you or even be an embarrassment. The reviews will not be good, and sales will be dismal. If you rush the design, the book will not look appealing, and fewer people will buy it. If you fail to proofread the book, the errors will make the book look less than professional, and information may not be clear. Again, sales will be affected. If you try to rush a printer, good luck with that; it can rarely be done, but if you do get a fast print job, it may not be up to professional level, and again, the book will not look as good as it should.
Relax; do not rush. Do not pull the seedlings to make them grow, or you will kill the little darlings. If you have written a book that you want to sell during the 2014 Christmas sales season, start now. Get it to an editor by July at the absolute latest. If you cannot get your book ready for editing by July, seriously consider projecting a publishing date in 2015 instead.
About the Author: Bobbie Christmas, professional editor and award-winning writer, founded Zebra Communications in 1992 to help writers prepare books for publication. A lifetime member of FWA, she oversees the Editors Helping Writers service. Because she cures ailing manuscripts, people refer to her as a book doctor. Her website is www.zebraeditor.com, and her e-mail address is Bobbie@zebraeditor.com.