Thursday, November 21, 2013

You Won NaNoWriMo (ie, wrote a book)!? Now What? Part 1

So, you're on your way to finishing National Novel Writing Month with a completed manuscript (or already have one). Congratulations! It's quite an accomplishment to finish a novel. Now, the real work begins. Editing, revising, having "real" people read it. Getting it into shape to be published. If you're on the road to traditional publication, my usefulness probably ends here. Good luck to you. If your book ever gets published, I look forward to seeing it on a shelf in a bookstore several years from now (if bookstores are still around). I'm for independent publishing. And what follows is the first part of my list of "must haves" for successfully self publishing your novel. So, here goes...

1. A Finished Novel
Ok, this might seem obvious, but you'd be amazed the time some people waste looking into how to publish when they haven't even finished the story yet! If your manuscript is incomplete, you're not ready to be reading this list! And even if you think you're ready, you might not be. Story finished? You have my permission to read on. Not finished? Get back at it!

2. Honest Feedback
Yep, it's time to seek out some people who aren't your Mom, Dad, Sister, best friend, grandma, etc. Honest feedback is what can really take your writing to the next level. Let's face it, we all get a little blinded to our own writing. It's perfect in our mind and, obviously, what we've put on paper (or screen) is just as perfect. Errr... probably not. So, find a writer friend, a writing group, go out and seek people who are writers (or regular readers of your genre) who are willing to be brutally honest. Even if it hurts, it's an important part of the writing process. Guess what? If you're planning on publishing, you'll get that feedback one way or another. And, personally, I'd much rather have the feedback offline than online for the world to see.

If you can afford it, I highly recommend hiring a professional editor. Even a simple copy edit from professional eyes can make the world of difference. Your readers will thank you. However, be prepared for a bit of sticker shock. A simple edit of a 60k word novel will run you upwards of $500... and that's without really looking at content. Shop around. Preditors & Editors is a good place to start.

3. A Professionally Designed Cover*
*Unless you're an amazing artist with mad Illustrator/InDesign skills
What to not do...

Despite the wisdom of "don't judge a book by its cover," we all do it anyway. With the ease of self-publishing, it can be tempting to make your own or have that "nephew who knows computers" slap something together for you. Don't do it! If you invest any money in publishing your book, make it the book cover. You can get a professionally made cover for as little as $50 (for non-exclusive artwork) and ~$200 and up for custom work. It can make all the difference. And, while I could go on forever about what to not do (see image at right), I have a couple of pet peeves that stand out in what you should do when designing your book cover.

  • Big text for all! Your name should be as prominent as the title of the book. Most readers remember the author's name, not necessarily the book title. Make it big
  • Use bold colors or striking contrasts. Your book needs to stand out from the crowd. Avoid bland and vague
  • Make sure you can still get the gist of the cover when it's super small. Remember, Amazon uses thumbnails that are no bigger than 1"x 1.5" depending on the screen and some people are using B&W Kindles (the horror!). It should scale well and be clear
  • If you're going to use artwork, make sure it tells the right story. Readers notice these things. If there's a picture of a desert on your cover, your main character better be hopping camels through the sand (or something like it) or you'll hear about it. A recent example of this was a traditionally published book that had a dog prominently on the cover. Turned out the dog had very little to do with the story

4. A Properly Formatted Manuscript

No one wants to read
                   a poorly formatted                               BOok.

See what I did there? Believe it or not, this is how your book can look if you're not careful. If you're familiar with Microsoft Word, you shouldn't have a hard time. But, if Word seems like it's been written in a foreign language, you might want to seek out help. There are people out there who will format your book for epublication for a nominal fee. Anything over $50 is pushing it. That might seem like a lot, but again, if it's the difference between people making it through your book or returning it because they couldn't get past the formatting errors, the investment is worthwhile. Most epub sites (Kindle Direct Publishing, Nook Press, etc.) have instructions on how to format. Smashwords, which is a mass distribution site has what they call "The Meat Grinder." It takes your manuscript and turns it into whatever format is needed. It's a very strict process, so if there are mistakes, they'll flag it and notify you before allowing it to be published.

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We're half way there!

Be sure to check out Part 2 of my You Won NaNoWriMo (ie, wrote a book)!? Now What? series!

What do you think so far? Agree? Disagree? Please feel free to post questions on any of these topics below. Thanks! :)