Category Archives: Publishing Industry

Audio Book Update

Many moons ago, I posted about the possibility of doing an audio book edition of The Changed. I’m pleased to say that it’s finally come together. With any luck it will be available on (exclusively) within a couple of weeks.

Narrating the book is Steve Carlson, a man whose credentials are vast and technique is fantastic. Many worthy producers auditioned to narrate the story, but Steve took the cake. I know you’ll enjoy the style and character he brings to the story. I definitely did.

A little background on the project: At first I planned to DIY the whole thing. Ultimately, I decided against it. To create a truly good product, I quickly discovered that it was going to take more than just some equipment and time. Professional audio book producers like Steve don’t just bring high-quality microphones to the table, these folks are experienced voice actors, audio editors, and technicians all rolled into one. Doing the thing right takes experience, dedication, and talent. When I started hearing Steve’s chapters, I knew I had made the right choice. There was no way I would’ve been able to deliver that level of quality narration to my readers without him.

For other authors out there who are curious about the technical side of things, I used ACX as the platform to launch the book. Since I’m an member myself, it felt like a good fit.

More good things coming soon. I’ll post an update before the audio book is set to launch.

Kirkus Fully Booked Podcast

Earlier this year I posted Kirkus’ review of Survived. It was a very positive review from a publication that is notorious for not pulling punches and holding a high bar. Naturally, I was stoked. Who wouldn’t be? As much as it sounds awesome to be one of those aloof, too-cool-for-school writers who chain smokes and drinks whiskey while clacking away at a typewriter and just doesn’t give a heck what you think — that’s not me. I write stories for other people to read, so I do care how my work is received. Obviously, I’ll never achieve universal popularity, but I love it when I see a positive review or get an email from a reader. Also, I don’t smoke, get hangovers too easily, and using a typewriter in this day and age is masochistic (I learned to type on a typewriter, it was awful).

Point is, I got the review from Kirkus, rode that high for a while, then moved on.

A couple months ago, Kirkus reached out to me to tell me that Survived had been singled out as one of their “Indie Books Worth Discovering,” a category of books reserved for indie titles that were in their top ten percent of favorites for the year. Awesome! Along with that I had the opportunity to plug my book in the Kirkus Fully Booked podcast. Sweet! So, last week I did a short interview which should be part of the January 8th edition of Fully Booked. If you’re one of the many podcast listeners, listen for an interview with a bestselling author, and then stay tuned for four minutes of me babbling incoherently.

For real. Listen, I’m not an extroverted person and I live in a general state of nervousness, like one of those dogs that pees when it’s really happy. Or sad. Or scared. Or when you bring food. When the editor called me on Skype for the interview, I was already humming along in a state of Maximum Anxiety. He was super nice, but I just couldn’t get it together. It went something like this:

Editor: Okay, A. Michael, we don’t have a ton of time, so try to keep your answers short so we can get to as many questions as possible.

Me: You got it. No problem.

Editor: Starts recording. Asks first question.

Me: Rambles like a methhead.

Good grief. I don’t even remember what the hell I said, or what questions he asked. All I know is that I made words with my mouth-hole. Hopefully, this interview doesn’t actually have a reverse effect and discourage people from checking out Survived.

Despite that, I’m still excited that Kirkus gave me this opportunity, and I’m hoping the actual interview won’t be as bad as I think it is. Fingers crossed.

Survived – The First Review!


Reviews can be tricky. You need reviews (ideally positive) to get people to read a book, but, you also need people to read a book in order to get reviews. It’s a vicious cycle that is the bane of many an author.

Unless you’re already a powerhouse author, a celebrity, or the child of a publishing executive, chances are that the New York Times isn’t going to come knocking on your door for the privilege of reviewing an advance copy of your latest tale. That’s okay. It’s just life as an author. Everyone has to earn their stripes.

What it means to authors like yours truly is that we have to engage with unbiased third parties to review our books. For the most part these are trade publications that specialize in reviewing new books — folks like Kirkus, Clarion, and Publisher’s Weekly. These reviews, when positive, can let readers know what to expect from a book, hopefully, enticing them to read and leave a review of their own on sites like Goodreads or Amazon.

Which is why I was absolutely stoked to see the first trade review for Survived come back. Foreword Clarion reviewed the novel ahead of its release and awarded it five out of five stars. Check out the review in its entirety here:

I’m setting up a Goodreads giveaway for the book as well, it should be up in a couple of weeks. I’ll also be posting a page for more information about the novel soon.

Survived is scheduled to launch on September 1st.

Some Love for The Changed

Reviews are important. People need a trusted source (not from the author’s homies or cousins) to get more information about a book beyond what they get in the sales copy and flavor text. Sure, not all reviews will be applicable to all readers as tastes vary widely, but overall it’s a helpful tool. When it comes to getting your work into the hands of readers there really is no substitute.

There are some little known nuances when it comes to getting reviews, though. Most readers aren’t aware of this because, well, why should they care, but getting a novel reviewed is actually sort of difficult. If you want a trade publication to review a book that isn’t being published by an already well known author or from a juggernaut publisher, it can take a lot of time and money to make it happen. Because of this, reader reviews become even more important to today’s authors. There are way more books than there are trade publications so we rely heavily on the opinion of readers to help others navigate a marketplace stuffed full of content and find the books they’ll love.

Point is, I truly and deeply appreciate when readers write reviews. It takes their time and attention to do so and it means a great deal to me when they do. Earlier this week I received a message from Hayley Cosgrove, showing me her review of The Changed which appeared in a recent issue of her university’s library circular (on the first page, no less!). You can check it out here: What We Read 201510

So here’s a big shout out to Hayley for sharing her review and pimping my book for all of her university’s reading community to see!

If you’ve ever shared some love for The Changed drop me a line, I’d love to hear about it.

Book Pirates! Yarrg!



So, here I am, cruising around teh interwebz and I find this lovely site called “booksweeks“, which has apparently made The Changed available for download or online review to it’s subscribers.  Obviously, this is some shady business because the only place legally authorized to sell the digital version of that book is Amazon.  I’ve given Amazon exclusivity so that my book can be shared by readers with the Kindle lending program.  Since Amazon has the market cornered as far as eReaders go, it seemed like the best deal for people who wanted to read the story.

Needless to say, the guys running this site are assholes.  I didn’t bother trying to create an account to see if one really can get the book or if it’s just phishing, and I really don’t recommend you try, either.  A friend asked me if I was mad that people are getting the book for free.  Funny thing is, I’m not.  Not at all.

The way I look at it, if you bought a hard copy of the book and then handed it off to a friend after you were done, that’s basically the same thing as you making a digital copy and giving it to a friend.  Sure, there might be a legal grey area there, but as far as I’m concerned it means that you liked the book and you want your friend to read it.  To me, that’s actually a huge compliment.

I swear by my pretty floral bonnet...

I swear by my pretty floral bonnet…

What puts a bee in my bonnet is that these mugs are taking what isn’t theirs to begin with and then attempting to make money off of it.  That’s just straight up theft.  It’s no longer giving a book to a friend.  That’s stealing a book from a stranger, making photocopies, and hawking them on a street corner.

Trust me, I have no illusions that this practice will discontinue anytime soon.  And the money?  I’m not losing sleep over the few dollars in royalties I’m getting cheated out of.  I’ve just always viewed books and reading culture as a sort of sacred experience.  Predatory people like those who run this site are taking advantage of both readers and writers, which is kind of like smearing a big turd on something I hold dear.

TL;DR If you’re an author, your work might be somewhere on that site, too.  If you’re a reader, please, for the love of all that you consider holy, don’t give these guys a shred of your personal information.

Writer Artisan — Getting off your ass and writing. Well, on your ass… Whatever.

For as long as I can remember I’ve written stories.  A little over a year ago I was with family at my mom’s house for Christmas.  She was showing old photos to significant others — the more embarrassing the better, as per article six, subsection three of the Mother Code.  But inside one of these boxes was a single-sheet newsletter from my second grade class, where an A. Michael Marsh original was featured front and center.  Okay, it was in the back, but that doesn’t help the story so let me embellish a bit.  What are you, the story police?  Anyway, this little nugget of prose was my retelling of a family camping trip that featured such zingers as, “I’m not saying mom’s cooking was bad, but I barfed.”  Or, in regard to a campfire ghost story, “Real scary.  Last time I heard that one I fell off my dinosaur.”  Yep.  Gold, people.  Pure gold.

Point is, story has always been something that I naturally gravitated to.  I’ve always written.  The first time I set out to write a novel I was ten.  It was going to be about a cop that gets injured in the line of duty and returns to service as a half-man, half-machine servant of justice.  Yeah, I know that’s the plot of Robocop, but lay off.  I was ten, okay?  What were you doing at that age, Captain Judgmentalpants?

That’s what I thought.

Regardless, I must have gotten about twenty five pages into the rough draft before I lost interest.  That was probably the first time I realized the biggest fact about writing that people who don’t write will never truly understand:  Writing is hard.

Shout out to Brittany Dashiell

Shout out to Brittany Dashiell

Which was a shame because I had big plans for “Night of the Cyborg” (oh, shut up already).  The book was going to be a bestseller, on the shelves of every library and bookstore around.  Once the ducats came rolling in we’d be able to afford name brand cereal and cable tv.  Shit was going to be legit, folks.

Fast-forward a decade or so and I’d still been writing.  Short stories, journals, that sort of thing.  There was even the occasional foray into poetry but I’ll just file that alongside cyborg cop stories as “failed experiments.”  Around that time I decided to make a serious go of it.  Actually write a novel, start to finish.  Ever since then, I’ve been a daily writer.

Except for about nine or ten months out of the past year.  I could speculate as to why I didn’t feel the drive to produce as much as I normally do, but that’s beside the point.  For a long while I didn’t get my fingers on the keyboard, and a hole formed inside of me because of it.  Even though I had thought that I was long past the stage of abandoning drafts twenty-five pages in, I realized that there’s a part of me that will always need a kick in the ass every now and again in order to get going.

Chuck Wendig wrote in his book, The Kick-Ass Writer, that “…just finish the shit that you started.  Stop abandoning your children.  You wouldn’t call yourself a runner if you quit every race halfway through.”  It’s absolutely and unequivocally true.  For those writers out there, just write.  It’s okay if it doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would the first time around.  Just start and don’t stop until it’s done.  There’s a corollary truth to Chuck’s lesson as well:

Aaaaadventure Time!

Aaaaadventure Time!

Sucking really is the first step to being sort of good at something.  Writing is no exception to that rule.  You get better by practicing, learning, and honing your skills.  Period.  People don’t become virtuoso violinists by simply intending to play.  A painter doesn’t master their technique by reading books about Van Gough and picking up their brush once every couple months.  You have to actually do it.  Writers are absolutely not an exception to this rule.  For a while there, I forgot those fundamentals and it affected me in more ways than I realized.  Never again.

For any readers who are interested, the sequel to The Changed is coming along and should be released this winter.  I can’t wait to bring it to you.

Pretty Awesome News

Yesterday I received a review on The Changed from Foreward Clarion.  For those who haven’t heard of them Foreword Clarion is a book review publication, like Kirkus or Publisher’s Weekly.  The purpose of their publication is to provide critical feedback on available titles for the good people who purchase books for libraries and the few surviving bookstores.  These publications aren’t known for pulling punches or treating authors with kid gloves.  Their reviewers provide an unbiased opinion, which is exactly why purchasers care what they have to say.

I’m not one of those writers that labors under the impression that every sentence I type is pure gold.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  I work very hard to improve with every story I write.  To me, one of the greatest gifts a storyteller can give someone is a sense of wonder, and the feeling that they’ve been taken to a new world — even if it’s just for a couple hundred pages.  My writing process is a series of emotional highs and lows, writing, re-writing, re-writing, more writing, then followed by re-writing.  It’s hard to leave the baggage of all that work behind when you submit something that has been such a large part of your life for review to a complete stranger.  When I put my work out there like that, I can only hope that the reader will care about my story as much as I did.

So, needless to say, I was ecstatic, surprised, and maybe a little shocked when they rated The Changed five out of five stars, and wrote a glowing review about my novel.

Just wanted to share, because this really made my week.

Writer Artisan – Printing Your ARC

Here’s the third installment in my series on the mechanics of self-publishing.  Again, this isn’t meant to be an expert guide, just a relation of my own experience.  In the last post I made a case for hiring a professional editor and set out a couple of reasons and resources for doing just that.  After the copy comes back from the editor, there are still a couple of steps to take before putting out the no-kidding, final draft of your book for sale.

Galley Copies and ARCs

The terms “Galley” and “ARC” are somewhat synonymous, but they aren’t exactly the same thing.  In a publishing house, the galley is the first, rough copy of the book that gets moved around within the company and to selected readers outside.  This is generally done before the book is ever shown to anyone outside the circle of trust.  Why?

Remember that most editors have approximately a 90% catch rate on typos.  That means that somewhere in your copy these little critters are probably still lurking around, dead-set on making you look bad.  The galley copy will help you track and eliminate these pests by getting extra eyes on the draft.  Beta readers who are given galley copies will annotate any typos or errors in the copy.  Usually, they’re also asked to provide feedback on the overall story as well.  This is the last chance for changes to be made before the story goes to print.

Ugh.  My hands are getting shaky and I feel the ooga-booga spirit possessing me.  I can’t help myself, I’m about to get preachy.  So, fair warning, I’m going to spend a moment on the topic of beta reading.  If you don’t care, skip on to the next section.


When you look for beta readers, I’ve found the best feedback comes from avid readers of the genre who aren’t afraid to give honest opinions.  These are readers — not necessarily other writers.  The distinction is important.  At this point in the process, other writers should have already ran their dirty eyeballs all up and down that manuscript.  Right now, you need to be concerned about what the readers think — and there is a difference.  Writers are readers by nature, true.  The issue is that once you’ve committed to being a writer, you’ve peeled back the layers of the craft, and you’ve opened your eyes to the technical details of the story’s construction that a reader won’t necessarily care about.

It’s like going to see a band play with your friend, who happens to be a musician.  You loved the show for a dozen different reasons.  When you ask you friend, he windges a little and says that he wanted to like it, but the drummer held his sticks in an irritating way, and he doesn’t understand why the lead guitarist would ever use a Marshall stack while the rhythm guitarist had a Vox setup.  Don’t they know those create two completely different sounds?

In this imaginary scenario, your friend has some valid (if not nitpicky) points.  However, as astute as his statements may be, the fact remains that you and almost everyone else at the concert had an awesome time and loved the show.  For the people who weren’t well-versed in the technical points of the performance, none of your friend’s observations mattered.  All they know is that they enjoyed themselves.  So, despite the expert opinion, maybe the guys on stage actually knew what they were doing…

This is why non-expert feedback is exactly the feedback you want at this stage.  What I’ve found is that we writers have a difficult time taking our eyes off the mechanics, just like the musician friend in the previous example.  Technical and craft discussions should be had much earlier in the draft process, not when you’re two steps from show time.  By now, those issues should have long-since been put to bed.  At the beta-reading stage, you want to understand the reader experience.  What was their overall impression?  Was there anything they didn’t understand, issues that were unintentionally left unresolved, did one of your endearing characters turn out to be hated, etc.  Experiential issues and typos.  These are what you should be concerned about from your beta readers.  It’s exactly what a seasoned reader can point out to you.


Exhale.  And done.  Back to printing books.

ARCs, or Advanced Reader Copies, are copies of the book that are sent out to reviewers or retailers before the book’s official publication date.  The goal is to generate interest in the title before its release, that way booksellers can place their orders ahead of time, and reviewers will (hopefully) start saying positive things about the book that can be blurbified on the back cover before the final printing.

While the galley and the ARC are two separate types of copy for the major publishers, the independent author generally treats the entities as one and the same.  My thought is that one can use the same method of printing for each type of copy, but should still treat them as separate and important phases of the publishing process.  In short, use the steps below to produce both types of copy.  Just make sure not to send a galley copy which could still contain typos to a reviewer as an ARC.  Take the time, print out your galley copies.  Work with your readers to catch the typos and fix the errors.  When the copy is in good shape, do a fresh printing of ARCs for the pre-release audience.  Remember, the ARC should be prepared after you’ve collected and acted on the feedback you’ve received from your beta readers.

Methods of printing

Good news, when it comes to printing, you’ve got options these days.  From the images above, you can see that a galley copy looks a bit like something spit out at by a copier, and the ARC looks like a plain-Jane paperback.  This is because back in the day, it was much cheaper to assemble the galleys in office using your own equipment.  Short-run printing runs on books (anything under about a thousand copies) through an actual printing house were ridiculously expensive.  Since the galley was shown to a relatively small number of readers, the publisher would distribute those hand-made copies, and then after all the resulting changes were made, they’d order an actual print run of books for the ARCs.

Thanks to Print on Demand technologies, you don’t have to use hand-made galleys.  In fact, it’s cheaper not to.

The hell you say?

I do.  Let’s say you have a standard, three hundred page novel to print out.  If you went to FedEx Office (the print shop everyone still calls Kinkos) and printed one of these out, it would cost you about forty dollars.  Don’t believe me?  Go ahead, go to their site and put an order together.

You can take that same content, and print it in an actual paperback book for about four bucks a copy.  That’s quite a savings for something that’s going to look much nicer when you hand it to a beta reader.

Using Createspace

There are plenty of sites that will print your book.  For my purposes, I’m going to use Createspace.  I’ve found that their setup is relatively easy, and there’s no minimum order of books.  In the next few sections I’ll get a bit technical and walk you through the way that I, and some other writers, use this platform to create galleys and ARCs.

If you’ve never used Createspace, it would be helpful for you to acquaint yourself with the site.  Create an account, check out their user documentation, and get a feel for how they do business.

Setting up your projects

Getting a project set up in Createspace is pretty easy, IMHO.  They have a step by step process that will walk you through each step.  The only real consideration here is what you want the publication date of your final product to be.


Lemme splain.  When you set up a project in Createspace, the system will not allow you to select a publication date that takes place in the future.  This means that you can’t plan on a December launch for your book and then use this project to start cranking out ARCs in August.  What does it matter?

Well, that kind of depends on you.  If you’ve set a release date for your novel, and you are a stickler for what the publication date associated with your ISBN is, then this is going to put a hitch in your giddyup.  I’ve heard of some review and giveaway sites which only accept titles that within a certain window of their official publication date.  I don’t think this is a common practice anymore, so it’s probably not a big concern, but it is a concern.  Additionally, if you get reviewed by a larger publication like Kirkus, they’ll use the publication date associated with your ISBN record on their review.  So, again, if that’s a concern you’ll want to do two projects.

If you don’t care so much what the official publication date for your ISBN is, then go ahead and just set up one project in Createspace for your novel.  If you do care, then you should go ahead and create two new projects.  One for the galley/ARC, and create the second for your official publication of the novel.  For the project that will be your final novel, go ahead and fill in the title information for the project, but leave the publication date field blank.  When you do eventually approve the proof for printing, Createspace will use that date as the official publication date.  The advantage of setting the project up ahead of time is that you’ll know what the actual ISBN of your novel is ahead of time.


If you’ve created a separate project for your galley/ARC, then just bear in mind that Createspace will automatically place an ISBN on the back of the book when it’s printed.  I don’t believe you have any control over that.  The ISBN they print will not be the ISBN that’s associated with your final product, so you’ll have to cover it before you hand out copies.  I’ve got some tips for that at the end of the post.

Another caveat for those who will be creating two projects is that you shouldn’t enable sales channels on the project which you will use for your galley/ARC.  Once you approve the proof, make sure that none of the channels are selected, like in the screenshot, below.  If you don’t, people will be able to buy copies of your galley.  Not a good thing.


Preparing the interior

I’m going to assume that you’ve already got this novel written out in a Word document.  If you’re a Linux geek, you may even be using Apache Open Office.  The instructions in the link could probably translate more or less to any solid word processing software.  Unless you’re so dedicated to being obscure and hip that you’ve pounded out your novel on a typewriter, you should be okay.  As an aside, I actually met an author who wrote an entire novel using command-line Emacs.  That’s dedication, man.

What the article tells us is that if your software can format the document correctly and produce a pdf, then you’re in business.  However, if you’re using Word, you can upload the docx file and Createspace’s web application will do the conversion for you, which is a little bit easier.

Additionally, if you’re using Word and you don’t want to mess around with the formatting too much on your own, you can use one of Createspace’s document templates, which you can paste your own text into.


After you upload your document or pdf, Createspace has a text reviewer that will parse your file and report any errors that it finds.  Like any piece of software, it’s not perfect, but I’ve found it does a pretty good job of alerting you to any formatting issues.  Please keep in mind that this tool doesn’t proof for spelling or grammar, it just looks at the document set up and couple other items.

One such item is the ISBN number.  If you’ve listed the ISBN on your cover page (which the templates do) it will have to match the ISBN that Createspace has associated with your project.  Normally, this is no big deal at all.  However, if you’re creating an ARC in a separate project, and you want to insert the ISBN of your actual book, then the checker will reject your document.  The easiest way to resolve this is to just not include the ISBN in your galley/ARC cover page.

Another common gotcha comes about when you’re using Createspace’s document templates.  If you delete a section from the front matter, there’s a good chance you’ll throw off the alternating page gutter setting.  When that happens, your pages won’t align correctly and the interior document will be rejected.  The easiest way to manage this is to simply not delete any sections from the front matter.  Customize as you like, just try not to get rid of any complete sections.

Preparing the cover

Ah, cover art.  I’m saving the topic for another post, but if you’re putting out your galley/ARC, you’ll need some type of cover for it.  If you’ve already got a cover, great.  If not, then there’s no need to panic.  For the most part, ARCs released by publishers just have plain-Jane covers on them.  Take a look at the these.  Cover art usually isn’t finalized until shortly before a book is sent to print, so in order to get an ARC out well in advance of the release date, they just use placeholder covers.  Most people in the business understand the practice.

Darth_PlagueisArt_Fowl_ARCRed Mars (1992)_phixr

Now that you know I’m not lying to you, those who don’t have cover art ready yet can take a deep breath.  Use your favorite image editing software, and whip up something simple.  Createspace provides a good example of how to set up a document using Adobe InDesign, but really, the guidelines they provide as far as dimensions and document setup are concerned could be applied to just about any software you want to use.

If doing the document on your own is too much work to handle, they even provide their own cover creator tool.  I haven’t used it, so I can’t speak to how well it works.  It seems simple enough though, and for an ARC cover that’s going to be kept simple, it’ll probably do.


Screenshot of the Cover Creator

Covering the ISBN

If you decided to go the two-project route, then one last consideration when printing the galley/ARC is the ISBN which will be automatically printed on the back cover.  Since your finished novel will use a different ISBN than the one printed on your galley/ARC, you may not want to expose it.  Covering it will eliminate confusion, as people who read and review frequently will use ISBNs to search for books online, or will place them in a review for others to search on.

The auto-generated ISBN on the back cover is 2″ wide by 1.2″ tall.  That means that all you have to do is get some Avery Labels  large enough to cover the code, and you’re good to go.  You can print them out to say “Promotional Copy: Not for Resale” or something similar.  If you want to get crazy professional, you can go to a site like this  and get barcode labels printed that reflect the actual ISBN of your novel — the ISBN which is available on the second project you set up (see what we did there?).

That’s All, Folks…

With a little bit of prep work on your end, it’s easy to get galley copies and ARCs at a very economical price.  Whether you decide to go with the one or two project approach, it’s a great way to generate the copies.  I’m an advocate of Createspace, and I feel like they make the process of printing a book really easy.  More importantly, they provide a method to get a great-looking book printed.  When you’re an author who cares about your reader’s experience, then putting together your novel is actually pretty exciting.  I hope that some of the tips in this post will help others out as they get ready to print out their next book.

Writer Artisan — Editing


As promised, here’s the first part to my series of posts regarding self/indie publishing.  There are more than a few how-to guides out there.  This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive step by step.  My intention is to relate some of my experience and provide some resources to those traveling the same path.

You may have read my post on why I decided to handle the production of The Changed myself, or you could’ve breezed past that long-winded crap.  Either way, here you are.  You, like me, have decided to take your fate into your own hands.  Where do you start?

Most writers that I’ve met will immediately start obsessing over getting reviews lined up and creating cover art.  STOP:


Before you get to that stage of the publishing process, it’s best to first consider the core of your product.  No, not marketing.  Your manuscript.

Major publishers have been following a production model that’s worked for them for years.  While the indie publishing process deviates in some ways, in others it should work more or less the same.  One thing the industry has been doing very well is editing books before they’re published.

I’m going to get a little preachy for a moment.  Bear with me.



The biggest problem that I see with most self/indie published books — IMHO — is that the authors are in too big of a hurry to put their work out, and they don’t give the editing process the time and attention it needs.  I understand that in today’s ebook market, fixing a typo can be as easy as uploading a corrected file.  Some people see that as a license to let errors get away from them.  I’m telling you not to do this.

For generations, publishers printed books exclusively on paper.  Weird, I know.  The deal is that you can’t take back an error once the ink hits the page.  I believe that same level of diligence is needed, even in today’s increasingly digital market.  The first and most important reason is that typos and errors take people out of the story.  It makes them stop, dead in their tracks, and wonder about the words.  This is death to a narrative flow, and chokes the life from the reader’s experience.  If that isn’t enough of a reason, consider that even if you can upload a new, corrected version of your novel text to KDP or Smashwords, there’s no guarantee your readers will actually get that corrected file.  Depending on when the server updates, how they downloaded the file, when and if their device looks for updated versions of the document, they may not see that corrected text for days, weeks, or ever.  Most people only read a book once.  That’s your only chance to make a good impression.


Which brings us to editing.

In the traditional model, a manuscript is developed — more or less — using the steps below.  These steps are actually cyclic, and can be repeated as many times as needed to get a story into the best shape it can be.

  1. Write the damn story
  2. Revise the draft
  3. Developmental edit
  4. Revise the draft again (and again)
  5. Copy edit/proof read
  6. Finished manuscript

Most writers are creative at heart, and hate the tedium that comes with editing and proofing.  When no one is holding us accountable, there’s a tendency to skip over steps or to not complete them as thoroughly.  Even when we are trying to be good, it’s very, very difficult to properly edit your own work.  There are tools, texts, tips and tricks, but at the end of the day if you’re the one who wrote the story, you’re probably not the best person to edit it.

So, what do you mean by editing, then?

This is Writing 101 for many authors, but for people new to the game this is a perfectly valid question.  When I started out I wasn’t clear on the concept, either.  I thought that editors were people who went through your draft and found grammatical mistakes and typos.  They do that, yes, but they also do a lot more.  To understand what you should get out of editing, first understand that there are different types of editing.

Copy editing/proofreading.  This is what most people think of when they think of editing.  The editor will review your work, line by line, and make corrections for grammar, spelling, sentence structure, punctuation, etc.

Developmental editing.  This category of editing approaches the story from a more holistic view.  The editor will review your prose and point out more technique-driven flaws like over-writing, POV slips, poor characterization, or badly written dialogue.  The editor will also look at the structure of your story and make suggestions in regard to the plot, pace, and internal consistency of your story.

While different editors may offer an array of more specialized services, including things like critiques, these are the two broad categories of editorial services that an author may need.

Do I really need to hire an editor?

*Sigh*  Yes.


Look, it’s expensive.  But, if you’re committed to putting out a quality novel, you can’t get around it.  At the very least you’re going to need copy editing before you publish your book.  Full stop.  End of story.  Get a professional editor to proof your work.

Depending on your proficiency as a writer, you may not need developmental services.  If you’ve got a handle on the elements of craft, and you’ve worked with your critique partners to whip your story into shape, then that level of editing may be overkill.  A good editor can recommend a level of editing based on sample pages from your manuscript.

What about self-editing?

Okay, you’re trying to get out of paying for a copy-edit.  Don’t lie to me, you are.  Here’s the thing.  You can self-edit.  You can even be good at it.  I would highly recommend that any writer who cares about their craft learn all about editing, and apply those lessons at every opportunity.  But the cold truth is that with very few exceptions, a writer isn’t capable of catching all the mistakes in their own work.  You know how your story should read, which is dangerous, because when your tired little eyes scan the sentences for the billionth time, typos, missing words, bad punctuation, and common errors are all going to sail right by you.  For the reader who’s just picked up your book for the first time…  Not so much.

But my critique partners looked it over…

Yes they did.  And they probably caught a bunch of stuff.  I’m going to wager they didn’t get it all, though.  In most cases, your critique partners are not professional editors.  And even if they are, you probably aren’t paying them, which is going to decrease their attentiveness.  Remember that every typo will throw a reader out of the story.  You may have caught 99 mistakes, but it only takes a few to make it through and cost you readers.

The hard truth is that getting a manuscript ready to publish is an effort that will require multiple sets of eyes, including that of a professional editor.  Even the best editors aren’t going to catch every single mistake in a manuscript.  Where you and your critique partners and beta-readers are really going to come through is in catching those errors that got past your professional help.

Wait.  You’re saying that even though I’m paying an editor, there isn’t any guarantee that they’ll give me an error-free manuscript?

Yep.  Look, man.  You can either view this fact as evidence that since editors aren’t perfect you don’t need one, or further proof that good editing is damn hard and you’ll need all the help you can get.  You know where my vote is.

As an exercise, the next time you read a novel put out by a major publishing house, highlight any typos you find.  Chances are you’ll find up to three.  That’s a small number, sure.  Small enough for most people to forget about after they’ve finished the book.  But remember that as an indie-author you’ll be under greater scrutiny by readers who’ve been subjected to poorly edited books in the past.  Do the right thing for your readers.  If a book put out by a major publisher is allowed a few mistakes, then you should shoot for a zero-tolerance policy.  Don’t just match the quality of the big guys — try to do better than them.

Fine.  Where are the editors, then?  How can I find one, and who can you trust?

The first place you can start looking is the Editorial Freelance Association.  This is an association of — you guessed it — freelance editors who offer their services to authors.  In today’s market, many of them are used to working with authors who plan on indie-publishing their work.  There are some great resources on the EFA’s site.  They publish what the average going rates for services are, as well guidelines an author should use when selecting an editor.

Buyer beware:  Do your homework on any editor you plan to work with.  Make sure they’ve worked with manuscripts in your genre.  Check out the testimony from previous clients.  If they’re new to the game, look at their credentials and education.  You’d be surprised how many people read a couple books on editing and then believe they’re qualified to enter the market.

Another resource are companies which specialize in providing editorial services.  There are some shifty operations out there, so make sure that your dealing with a name that’s been around for a while.  Writer’s Digest and Kirkus are among companies who have recently entered this aspect of the author services game.  With the big publishers tightening their belts, many qualified editors who were looking for work now take assignments from these companies.  One of the advantages of working with a company like this is that you’ll have a large support structure.  People to contact should you have questions, or recourse in case you have a dispute.

Buyer beware:  First and foremost, research any company you plan on working with.  If their rates are too good to be true, or their claims just a little too outlandish (return manuscripts in less than a week, etc) consider that a red flag.  Aside from that, my biggest single issue with paying a company is that you have no idea who your editor will be.  This person may or may not have the experience or skills necessary to edit your work — you won’t know until the edited copy comes back.  The relationship between author and editor is important.

When looking for an editor, most freelancers will offer a sample edit for free, just so you can get a feel for how they like to do things.  This usually consists of you sending them a few pages of your manuscript, which the editor will work their magic on and return to you.  I recommend that you always do this when working with a new editor.  It’s going to show you most of what you need to know about their style and efficiency.  This is critical to knowing if you and the editor will make a good team.  Consider this like taking a car for a test drive.

You’re really dead set on this, aren’t you?

Oh, yeah.  The reason why I’m so opinionated on this topic is that I’ve been there, man.  Let me tell you a little story.

When I first decided to indie-pub The Red, I had no idea what I was doing.  At all.  The publishing tools hadn’t been available long, and many of us where feeling our way around blindly.  Authors who had experience working with big publishers seemed to do the best in this new landscape, because they already knew the publishing process and had the right connections to get the services they needed — such as editing.

Before I published the manuscript I knew I needed editing.  I did some research and found out how much it would cost.  I’m not rich by any means, and several years ago the situation was much tighter than it is now.  This led me to believe that despite the advice I received from people who had been in the game much longer than I had, I would just edit the book myself.  I reasoned that if I was really careful, I could catch all the errors.  I would be the exception to the rule, I’d be the author who could do it all.


Yeah.  So, that didn’t work out too well.  My draft was still riddled with errors that my beta-readers found.  Apparently, I was not the skilled self-editor I believed myself to be.

You’d think that would have set me on the straight and narrow.  It totally didn’t.  After I realized that I’d need an editor, I did what every budget-conscious person in need of an expensive service would do:  I looked for the Homie Hookup.

You know what I’m talking about.  Find that friend of a friend who’s in the industry and see if they’ll do it cheap.  I found an acquaintance who had experience editing.  For newspapers.  At the time, I didn’t stop to think about how vastly different editing for journalism is than editing for fiction.  Even if I had, I’m sure the cheap rate he offered me would have blinded me.  He was eager to branch out into a new area, and I wanted the cheap service.  Win-win.  Kinda.

After paying for his services, I received back a version of my manuscript that was virtually unusable.  Sentences had been abbreviated and concatenated, and the narrative read as though it was coming off a clipped newsreel from the 1940s.


This just in… Your manuscript blows. Now more than ever!

Not to mention that there were still more typos than I felt were reasonable.  But we had a good faith agreement, so I paid the man his money.

It took months to get the copy back into decent shape.  The effort was far more of an energy investment than I should’ve had to make.  Even after all of that, readers still found typos in the final version of the draft that went to print.  Let me tell you something, folks.  Getting unsolicited, positive responses from readers is the best thing in the world.  Hands down.  But, when you see a comment about finding typos in the copy, it’s a kick in the teeth.  I’d even go so far as to say that if you can see that sort of criticism about your work and not get a terrible feeling, then I have to wonder how much you actually care about the quality of what you’re putting out.

Like a high-school teacher once said to me, “If you just did things right in the first place, you’d already be done and it would’ve been half as much trouble.”

Just do it right.  Get an editor.  A good one.  Pay them for their time and effort.  After you get your copy back, give it to some trusted associates and proof it with them before you go to print.  Your readers will be better off for it, and that’s what it’s all about.


…right the first time.