Dear Fellow Writer,

So you want to write a book this year and then MAP it for the masses …

(MAP meaning market and publish, ideally achieving your own definition of success.)

According to best-selling author Joanna Penn, “Publishing takes no time at all. The work is in writing and marketing.”

She’s right, of course. If you self-publish, it’s not much more complicated than a one-click upload. If you go with a traditional publisher, they do that part for you.

Marketing is a whole different cup of tea, though, and that’s where the bulk of your post-writing attention should go.

But if you don’t write a great book to work with in the first place, it’s tough to pull off any kind of fruitful marketing.

Mark Coker, founder of e-book distributor Smashwords, put it best when I heard him speak at the RT Booklovers Convention last month:

“Your best marketing is a great book. Give your reader a wow book. Honor your reader with a great book. Nothing is more important than a great book that moves your reader to an emotionally satisfying extreme. Be fanatical about quality.”

Look, nobody wants to write a bad book. But thanks to the digital transformation of the book market, it’s far too easy to hammer out a book, get excited in the afterglow of completion, and put the thing up for sale without any backwards glance at quality.

And if we’re being totally honest here, that’s one of the hazards of being a writer: Mistakenly seeing your artwork as an untouchable creative piece of genius.

Maybe you are a genius, but even geniuses need proofreaders. And editors. And beta readers. And first reviewers. So let’s talk about that.

How to Guarantee Your Book is the Best it Can Be

I remember a light-bulb moment I had years ago as an aspiring writer. It happened when I read the Acknowledgements section at the end of a Jennifer Weiner book. She’d written something like,

“Only about one out of every ten words in this book came from my original manuscript, and so for their tireless devotion I thank my agent and editor … ”

If you know nothing about the business of writing, which was me at the time, you might be shocked to discover just how much work and how many drafts and revisions and scrutinizing pairs of eyes go into making a manuscript feel seamless and effortless.

So here’s a list of people who can help you do that and approaches you can take to make sure your finished manuscript is the very best it can be:

  • Copy Editor: This is the person who fixes your errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, word choice and tense, and sentence structure. The copy editor will look for lapses in logic, incorrect or conflicting statements, repetition, and consistency in details. The end result is usually line edits throughout your manuscript, often with a tool like Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes” feature.
  • Developmental Editor: This person may give you feedback about your book’s organizational structure, your stylistic and informational strengths and weaknesses, and possibly feedback on plot, point of view, and characterization. A developmental edit is often delivered as a detailed report as opposed to comments throughout the manuscript.
  • Proofreader: A proofreader is the last one to go over your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb. The proofreader is looking at every tiny detail, more than just typographical errors. The proofreader makes sure every inconsistency or inaccuracy is removed. Perfection is the goal of the proofreader. Note that this is a different person from the copy editor. Too many people skip this step in self-publishing, which is usually a terrible idea.  
  • Beta Reader: This is a non-professional reader who reviews a written work, usually fiction, and offers suggestions to improve the story, characters, or setting. You wouldn’t usually pay them, but you might thank them in your Acknowledgements section or give them signed copies of the finished book.
  • Critique Group: If you belong to a book club or have a group of friends with reading interests that parallel what you write, you might show your book to them and then schedule a meeting where the group openly discusses your manuscript, including ways to improve it.

Hiring editors or proofreaders could cost you a few hundred dollars all the way up to several thousand. Some charge per page, some charge flat rates, and some include additional services like writing your bio or back cover for you.

A simple online search can connect you with seasoned editors and proofreaders, but be sure to look for professionals who prefer to read in whatever genre or style you’ve written. You want your reader to be excited about your project and knowledgeable about the category.

Another approach to finding critique help is to look in the Acknowledgements section of books similar to yours. Authors will often publicly thank their editors, proofreaders, and others who helped polish the book. Once you find their names, do an online search for those professionals to see if they offer their services publicly.

Word of Caution for First-Draft Manuscripts

Note: While you should definitely reach out to someone for a full review of your book before you publish it, you should not send them your first draft.

In fact, most seasoned writers say the best thing you can do once you finish your book is to put the first draft to rest for at least three weeks and as many as six weeks. Completely step away from it. Clear your head of it. Hide it under the mattress if you have to. (Here’s more on why you need to let your book rest for several weeks before launching into your first round of edits.)

Above all, make sure the final book you decide to go forward with is the absolute best you and your team can make it. To underscore Mark Coker’s advice, “Be fanatical about quality.”

Because at the end of the day, it’s not hard to market and publish a great book successfully. But even the most dedicated, passionate marketing campaign risks fizzling if you’ve only got mediocre material to work with.

(By the way, do you have experience working with copy editors or any of the above? Please tell me about your experience in the comments below!)

To your book-writing success,

mindy mchorse, author