Five years ago, if I would have posted a blog entry that claimed the New York Times Bestseller List would be frequented by self-publishers, many in the publishing industry would probably have ignored me or sent me a hand-typed rebuke in a self-addressed envelope. But times, they are a changing. Today, big names in self-publishing like John Locke, Amanda Hocking, Bob Mayer, JA Konrath, Blake Crouch, David Dalglish, Victorine Lieske, and Courtney Milan are turning heads in the publishing industry, and new self-published authors are joining their ranks every day.
Moses Siregar III is such an up-and-coming author whose debut novella has accumulated 15,000-20,000 downloads through a combination of high-quality, epic fantasy writing and intrepid platform building over the past year. His first novel The Black God's War was released on August 1st, 2011, and he joins us today to discuss his self-publishing journey and the role of editing in writing his debut novel.
Rex: Welcome to the Rex Files!
Moses: Thanks very much for having me over, Rex.
Rex: Your debut novel was released on August 1st. What has the past year been like, and how did it feel to have that final release date set?
Moses: The wonderful part was getting absorbed in the crafting of my novel. I loved that. The hardest part was reading feedback from three editors and about a dozen beta readers. Although their comments helped me improve my book by leaps and bounds, if your readers and editors are as critical as you want them to be, reading so many critical comments just isn't fun. I had to wade emotionally through that constant drubbing. But it was good pain. I'm a better writer for it, and my novel is a better book because of it.
Setting the release date was like getting a monkey off my back. It's great to be on the other side of that date, although now I feel like I've only made it to the base of Mt. Everest.
Rex: One of the bigger taboos and repeated advice in self-publishing is that "the money should flow to the writer” and this seems to also extend to "do whatever you can yourself" and sometimes even "don't spend a lot of money on your novels—especially your first novel." You've mentioned on the Kindleboards that you invested roughly 1,500 dollars on editing alone for your debut novel The Black God's War, so it would appear that you buck this advice. Does this editing investment cover both the novella (which seemed to do well in sales over the past year) and the full novel which was just released? How do you feel this investment has affected the quality of your works?
Moses: My investment was well worth it, at least for producing a better book. It's been gratifying to see the early reviews coming in for my novel at Amazon and GoodReads (knock on wood). We recently had a thread in the Writer's Cafe about "Self-Publishing Regrets." The two top regrets seem to be: 1) waiting too long to get started and 2) releasing a work that needed better editing. You don't want to be one of those authors, because if your editing and proofreading isn't up to a professional standard, you will hear complaints in your reviews, and that can hurt your sales.
If you self-publish, you're also the publisher, so you'll probably need to spend some money on things like editing and cover design—unless you have qualified friends or relatives who can do these things for free or through some kind of bartering.
I didn't spend nearly as much on the novella, but I did have my first editor work on my novella for me. I needed the help even more a year ago, so I'm really glad I did that.
Rex: Do you plan on a similar investment for the second novel in the series? If not, do you have plans on how you are approaching the writing of the second novel that will affect the amount of editing that needs to be done?
Moses: I'll probably hire just one multi-purpose editor for the second novel. I've met one very successful indie author who uses a computer program called Serenity Editor to help her with her editing (she doesn't even hire editors anymore—just a proofreader). After I hear from my beta readers about my next book, I might use a program like that and then see if I can find an affordable editor. If my book is in good shape by the time the editor works on it, then hopefully I'll be able to get a good deal. If it came down to it, though, I'd pay for a good editor if I couldn't get a good deal with someone I already know. I want to build a reputation for producing quality works, because that's what I hope will sustain my writing career over the long term. I want my reviews to sell my books for me, not to warn readers that the book was just okay. I love this quote from Seth Godin:
"It's cheaper to design marketing quality into the product than it is to advertise the product."
Put another way, spend the extra time and effort to make your books great, so that you won't need to work as hard at the advertising and promotion. A lot of indie authors get tired and exhausted due to promoting their books. That's perfectly understandable, because it's really hard work. Now that I have a book out, I can see how much promotional effort is required, at least until (you hope) your book starts selling. By making the book as good as you can make it in the first place, you'll save yourself a lot of time and effort (and maybe money) when the time comes for promotion.
Plus, indie publishing is already extremely competitive. It's only going to get harder to thrive in it. You have to do everything you can to stand out, starting with producing a well-edited book that kicks ass.
Rex: From your interview with John Mierau, you mentioned that you had used three different editors in the past year. How did you come across these editors, and what roles did they play in the shaping of your novels? Also, did they all do the same kind of editing, or did you try out different kinds of edits with each one?
Moses: The first editor was a friend of a friend on Facebook. She doesn't read fantasy, but she has a lot of experience and she possesses wonderful language skills. She’s mostly a copyeditor.
The editor you and I share, D.P. Prior, wrote a fairly critical review of my previously released novella. He's also an indie fantasy writer. I hired him because I decided that if I could write something that he would rave about, then I might have a bestseller on my hands (Ha!). He helped me on so many different levels, particularly with point of view, internal monologue, and my fight scenes.
The third editor, Joshua Essoe, is a friend that I met at the Superstars Writing Seminar. He's a new editor, but he did a fantastic job at a reasonable price and he offered great suggestions. He balanced the big picture with the line editing.
I also hired Anne Victory to help with proofreading. She was great.
Rex: From the sound of it, you started with a copy editor and then branched into other types of edits. Did Derek end up doing a literary edit for you or was this a light/copy edit followed by a separate line edit and a final proof from Anne Victory? Would you recommend a similar editing path for new authors?
Moses: I benefited from paying three editors. Each editor had different gifts and skills, and as a first-time author, I needed all the help I could get. But when it comes to hiring editors, buyer beware. Be careful with who you hire, and get samples of their work if you can. I nearly hired one editor, but after reading her sample comments on my novel, I realized would've been money down the drain. This was an editor who is sometimes recommended at Kindleboards.com, and I feel bad for anyone who hires her and thinks he's getting a good editor. I'm not talking about Lynn O'Dell/Red Adept, just in case anyone is wondering (I say this because she is often recommended at Kindleboards. From all I’ve heard, Lynn is great).
On Derek Prior's website, he says that he did this for me: Editorial comments and light copy edit. I had asked him to let me know how he would criticize about the book if he were to review it, and then he made a lot of deeper comments on roughly the first 25% of the book (I learned a lot from that), as well as some comments here and there on later sections of the book that had issues. He also gave me some more general suggestions that helped me tighten up my plot and continuity issues.
With Anne Victory, I paid her for Oops Detection, which is proofreading with some light copyediting. That service is something you can use at the end of the journey. She didn't look at my novel until a week or two before it came out, but it was well worth it. She does deeper editing work, too.
Here's another thing helped me with proofreading. About ten days before my novel came out, I asked my friends on Twitter and Facebook if anyone wanted to read my novel a week early to help me with proofreading. It never hurts to ask, right? About five people stepped forward and found a good number of errors (and saved me some embarrassment here and there). These angelic beings ended up in the Acknowledgments section of my book.
Rex: So, first novel is finished and released. Is there a sequel on the horizon? If so, when? Any interesting projects planned for this year or next year?
Moses: I'm realizing what they always say, that the best way to promote your novel is to write the next one. So I'm working on the sequel to The Black God's War. The working title for the next book is The Gods Divided. I hope to get that one out in the first half of 2012. We have our second child due in late January, so I'm hoping to get the book out by then. To adventure! :-)
Thanks for inviting me over to your blog. I can't wait to check out your book!
Rex: The pleasure was all mine. Thanks for stopping by and talking with me about your fascinating novel and the journey you took to publication!
End of Interview
Moses and I went two different routes with editing. In The Black God's War, Moses started with a 1) copy edit, and then got a 2) line edit with reviewer notes on the first quarter of the book, followed by another 3) line edit with overall feedback from an up-and-coming editor and a 4) final proofing pass. Along the way, he had roughly a dozen beta readers. After these paid services, Moses had 5) five more volunteer proofreaders read over the manuscript after it was done. The quality definitely came through in his book, and he’s had great reviews because of it. Total cost for the editing process came to 1,500 dollars.
My upcoming novel Lucifer’s Odyssey went the other route that Moses mentioned thinking about for the sequel. Derek Prior did a full literary edit (three passes, each looking for different things—two developmental passes and a line edit) and at the time, the substantial edits were cheaper per word than they are now. Lucifer’s Odyssey was 104,000 words when I submitted (and it was cut down to 84,000 words after the rewrite). With Derek’s prices, the multilevel edit of his novel would have been 1,680 dollars at current prices, but for me, the literary edit was only .009 dollars per word and the edit came in at 918 dollars. The same edit would come in at 1,456 dollars today with Derek. After that, I had five beta readers on the novel, three of whom have advanced English degrees. They caught hundreds of typos, small problems in story arcs, etc. And each have asked to beta read the sequel. That seems like a good sign!
So, what does this all mean to other debut authors? Well, hopefully this interview gives the reader an idea of the kind of money that other speculative fiction authors are spending on editing and how many passes are actually required to remove typos, poor pacing or character development and other issues from a debut novel using professional editing services. However, your mileage may vary. For me, these services were invaluable because they taught me so much about good writing practices like sticking to a tight POV, story pacing, and how to ferret out passive verbs. For you, you might only need a decent copy-edit, line-edit, and some beta readers, or a combination of those three.
For those wondering about the payment model that fee-based or flat-rate editors use, most good editors require full payment up front before starting work to prevent an author from taking all of their advice and product and not paying. That’s why it’s important for authors to only work with reputable editors. If you are working with a new editor, you may want to ask for a half-now, half-later model to ensure both parties honor their ends of the contract.
Relevant reading and service providers:
Stages of Production: Courtney Milan talks about the process of editing and formatting one of her books.
What to Expect From an Editor (pt 2): Harry Dewulf's 2nd blog entry about what an editor should be doing
Moses and Dionysis Walk into a Bar: Moses Siregar's Blog
Red Adept Editing Services: Slightly more affordable substantive editing at .0075 dollars per word.
Homunculus Editing Services: Derek Prior is an editor that both Moses and I have used. His rate for substantive editing is .014 dollars per word, but I believe he is worth every penny and then some!
Questions to other authors:
So authors, did you use editors on your last novel? Did you use beta readers? If so, how many of each did you use and how did you feel about the finished product?