I teach a class called Editorial Techniques to my journalism majors, and one of the first things I try to teach them is that the responsibilities of an editor go far beyond just making sure that grammar, spelling and punctuation are correct (although those are extremely important, more important than some indie writers seem to think!). Instead, I get them to think about what I call “The Package.” There is more, much more, to producing a book or magazine than just editing a manuscript, including title, cover, formatting, marketing, back cover copy and business plan. Being an editor is being a jack of all trades, which is even more so the case these days when publishing houses are hurting and having to make do with fewer people to do more things.
But it goes beyond even that. Years ago, a friend and fellow editor had written a collection of stories that he thought he would make a great book. When it was rejected by my publishing house, I talked to him about the “package.” It’s not enough to have a collection of stories; you have to envision each story as part of a larger whole, and that larger whole was what you were selling. I had him fashion his book manuscript into a cohesive whole that worked together, and he ended up getting his book published.
I’ve been an indie author for about two years now, and I believe I have an advantage over many of them, simply because I understand this concept. It’s not enough to write a great story. If the cover is bad, the potential reader will never pick it up. Same goes for the title. And when they do pick it up, if there is a typo on each page (as was the case on a recent time-travel novel I picked up), your reader will not have a lot of patience with you. Fair or not, a misspelling or wrongly chosen word can kill your story pretty quickly.
Indie authors have to be editors too. They have to serve as advocates for the reader, looking out for anything that might deter them from enjoying their book. The indie author has to constantly put their best foot forward. They have advantages over the traditional author, but they have many challenges as well.
Thousands of indie–and traditional–books are published every month. Historically, indie books have gotten a bad rap because they haven’t been properly prepared before making it into print. The indie author needs to put themselves in the position of the reader before they launch their book, and make sure that the “package” is complete. The alternative is a product that will be an embarrassment to them, and another smudge of the face of indie authors everywhere.