Friday, July 24, 2015

How to Avoid a Tarnished Reputation as an Author

“This book was really good. But there were so many errors in it that I couldn’t give it five stars.”

This statement could be a formalization of an author’s worst nightmare. Imagine someone posting that review on your Amazon author page? It could mean your reputation as an author is already tarnished.

The recent buzz over the release of Harper Lee’s novel, Go Set a Watchman, was dampened considerably when news reports surfaced about missing pages in some printed editions. Many readers felt cheated, and others questioned why there seemed to be such a rush in getting it out. One thing is for sure: no one proofread the final galleys properly before the book’s release.

This can be a great frustration to readers. Imagine being excited about the release of a new book, such as was the case in the Harper Lee book scenario, only to discover that the book was not properly prepared for release. Readers can obviously get a bit miffed, particularly if they paid good money with the expectation of getting a high-quality product in exchange for their money. When readers purchase books at a store, whether online or at a brick-and-mortar store, they are paying for something they believe is worth their time and attention. The same is true for readers of self-published books. That’s why authors work with publishing companies in the first place. There is an unspoken expectation on the part of authors that the publishing house will do everything possible to make sure the content is up to standard, just as there is an unspoken expectation that readers will reap the benefits of all the labor that went into preparing the manuscript for publishing.

What do I mean by “up to standard”? Let’s go back to the scenario of an author seeking a publisher. The author will eventually work with an editor to get the content into good shape. He or she will read over the manuscript and correct anything that doesn’t look like a standard book, and then likely send it back to the author. The editor reads the manuscript again to make adjustments to any new content the author and/or editor may have added. Finally, after the manuscript has been typeset, a proofreader will go through the layout, just to make sure additional errors, such as formatting mistakes or pagination issues, have been taken care of before the book is published.

“There is an unspoken expectation that readers will reap the benefits of all the labor that went into preparing the manuscript for publishing.”

This is a critical step that many self-publishing authors don’t realize. It’s great to work with a really proficient editor when you are going through the publishing process; many authors are already hiring editors to work with them on flushing out the finer details of their manuscripts. In some cases, authors work with substantive editors, who can help them hone other details of the manuscript, such as character development or storyline issues. But, if authors are not also using proofreaders, before their books are published, they might be running the risk of sending out a product that is less than satisfactory. Unhappy customers mean sluggish sales… and could mean a tarnished reputation.

In order to maintain the highest standards of publishing, a manuscript is reviewed several times throughout the book production process. Self-publishing authors should not cut corners if they intend to produce high-quality books. This means simply that authors must be willing to work with both editors and proofreaders before launching a book project.

For some authors, an editor can double as a proofreader. If you are seeking one on your own, however, here are some things to consider:

  • Proofreaders are accustomed to reading galleys (proofs) in print or via an electronic PDF. They will make adjustments to the book either by marking up the hard copy or by using electronic editing tools (for example, Adobe Acrobat Pro allows you to make comments within the document). Make sure your book designer can create a PDF proof of your book.
  •  Look for proofreaders with book experience. There are many types of proofreaders, and each one conforms to a style of proofreading. Book proofreaders try to follow the Chicago Manual of Style closely while marking up copy. There are always a great supply of top-notch editors and proofreaders through the Editorial Freelancers' Association.
  • Familiarize yourself with standard proofreaders’ marks. There is a section in the Chicago Manual of Style that lists all of the marks. Book proofreaders may use these marks to make omissions, errors, additions, and to comment on layout and other issues. Knowing how to recognize them can help you both to understand what they mean and to be able to mark up the hard copy on your own.
  • Pricing. Book proofreaders typically charge somewhere between $2.00 and $4.00 per typeset page. While many editors charge a per-word rate, proofreaders base their rates on pages. The number of words per page will vary depending on the size of the book (the trim size), the size of the font, the line spacing, and any other content that may take up pages (graphs, charts, images, etc.).

By following these simple steps, you can save yourself the embarrassment of removing a title from Amazon or some other POD and then making the adjustments. By that time, you may have people commenting on your book, and you’ll have to work extra hard to win over readers who may have seen those less-than-stellar reviews posted online.

Now through September 7, 2015: professional book proofreading and Kindle- and Smashwords-compliant ebook layout for $299 (a $600 value). 

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