Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch’s book, APE: How to Publish a Book, discusses the strategy of crowdsourcing editorial feedback. It is a variation of crowd funding, where an individual or organization tries to generate interest in their idea or project, to raise money to support the development of the project. They use various means to promote and make their project as attractive as possible, casting a wide net (particularly on social media) in hopes of convincing people to invest in the project. Crowdsourcing editorial feedback employs this strategy in the content creation phase of a book project. If we zoom out to a 20,000–feet overview of the publishing process, this idea of crowdsourcing introduces a very important fundamental concept for authors: Approaching writing with the entire publishing chain in mind improves the odds that a book will succeed. Once independent authors complete writing their manuscript, they need to put on their publisher hat and start thinking and acting like a publisher. This advice simply pushes that transition and the related change in mindset to the beginning of the publishing process. While authors may prefer to focus first and foremost on simply getting words on the page, the more you keep in mind all the steps in the publishing process as you write, the better the writing, production, manufacturing, marketing, and distribution phases will go.
Writing as a Collaborative Process: Crowdsourcing Editorial Feedback
Authors can apply this concept of crowdsourcing to seek feedback on their manuscript prior to publishing it as a book. It is one thing, however, to have close friends and family members read and comment on your manuscript—i.e., people you know and trust, people with whom you are comfortable bearing your author’s soul—it is much more risky to ask total strangers to weigh in on your story, words, and ideas, especially if it is a work in progress, rather than something you consider complete.
Crowdsourcing editorial feedback can return a wealth of valuable input and criticism that directly impacts your manuscript. The people who give you feedback offer diverse perspectives that you don’t have, and which you would be hard pressed to find and pay enough qualified people to give you, were you to solicit professional feedback. Crowdsourced feedback can save you from embarrassment, significantly improve the book, and increase the prospects of success, however you measure success. And as we shall see when talking about writing with marketing in mind, crowdsourcing editorial feedback can also bear fruit on the marketing and sales end of the publishing chain.
Writing with Production in Mind
As you write, inevitably you imagine holding a finished copy of your book, your baby, in your hands. The vision of the look, feel, size, and heft of what you created are what keep you plugging away in your spare time when you have leaky faucets, dirty laundry, your kid’s school play, and so many other things clamoring for your attention. You can only realize that vision if you actually produce your book. If, while you write your manuscript, you are mindful of what is coming in the production phase of the publishing chain, and anticipate some of the problems and decisions that you have to make eventually, then you can save time and avoid hassles throughout the production process. What production issues, you may wonder, should you be thinking about while you write? Three of the many examples that could be pointed out are design, structure, and formats.
The cover and interior design of your book will make the book’s first impression on customers. These communicate visually what your words communicated verbally. As you write, imagine those words laid out on the page and your readers turning from page to page. Do your words require boxes, tables, callouts, extracts, and other elements? Will the book include artwork of any kind, which will require special consideration in the design? Is your target audience going to expect a certain look, or does your genre tend to use a particular font or typeface? The number of characters or words in your manuscript will influence these choices, because they relate to page count, which translates into the cost of printing and manufacturing the book. These considerations may make you set a target length or size for your manuscript. Or, the type of book you are writing may require special design elements (e.g., a cookbook, a how-to book), which will necessitate that you restrict the number of words per section, or force you to write material to fill different design elements that repeat throughout. If you write with design in mind, you can discipline yourself to produce a manuscript that comes close to the actual finished book and reduces the amount you will need to pare down or revise during copyediting and proofreading.
Some authors naturally understand structure and others find it hard to wrap their minds around. Structure pertains to the organization of content and relationships between parts and elements of the manuscript. A logical outline is supposed to present the structure of the manuscript on a macro level, commonly contained in the table of contents of nonfiction titles. However, novels, for instance, normally only contain a sequence of chapter numbers, which conveys a flat structure, as if all the chapters are on the same level of importance structurally. Whereas in fact, the plot of novels generally builds to a climax, then comes to a resolution. Even with a table of contents to tell the reader the overall organization of the book, the structure of each chapter is communicated through section heads and other elements. Writing with structure in mind achieves two ends. First, it communicates the point of your book before the reader actually reads the words on the page. Therefore, as with this blog post, authors are well advised to insert short descriptive heads to guide the reader through the chapter and help the reader distinguish between primary and secondary points of emphasis. Second, the structure of of the manuscript can be embedded as structure tags; you can impose style tags on paragraphs and characters using Microsoft Word’s style feature. These tags can be utilized by the typesetter to lay out the book quickly and accurately, thus avoiding errors and corrections in proof pages. By writing with structure in mind, you are smoothing the way for the typesetter and making your book communicate more clearly to your readers.
We might equate formats with product types. Print products are generally produced from typesetter files, which typesetters create using InDesign and similar software. Print format, however, is different than e-book formats, of which there are two primary types: EPUB and MOBI. As an author, the more you understand about the possibilities and limitations of each format, the more effectively you can employ the formats optimally in your book products.
One issue that affects both print and electronic products is spacing. The spacing around level-1 heads is not always the same; it depends on what precedes and follows the head. It is aesthetically preferable from a design perspective to insert white space (blank lines) above and below level-1 heads to make them stand off from surrounding text. However, if a level-1 head is followed immediately by a level-2 head, no white space separates the two heads, but it appears below the second head. This aesthetic requirement of white space around heads further complicates matters in printed books. The physical dimensions of the pages mean you run out of white space at some point as you print lines of type on the page, especially with fixed margins around the entire page. If a sequence of level-1 head followed immediately by level-2 head falls at the bottom of a page, rules of good typography would require the typesetter to push the pair of heads to the top of the following new page, which would leave a lot of white space at the bottom of the preceding page. That is as aesthetically displeasing as an orphaned line of text, be it a head or a first line of a paragraph.
An example of elements that present different types of problems in different formats is tables. They are great for presenting complex data sets in easily digestible form. However, tables work better on the printed page than they do in the dynamic electronic environment of e-books. Although you can control how tables are displayed in e-books within the cascading style sheet (CSS) and through local formatting, the fact that the e-book can be displayed on any number of devices means all bets are off when it comes to predicting how those tables will appear on any individual customer’s device(s). Since it can be frustrating for customers to see misaligned columns and weird text wrapping in rows, you can instead opt to present tabular information in hierarchical lists, which e-books handle quite easily. Lists present the same information, but they avoid the graphic problems of tables by leaning on one of the strengths of the dynamic e-book environment. That is, e-books rely on the structure of the content to present material consistently. All level-1 heads will be presented identically, unless you manually alter something about individual heads. Remove the structure and the e-book becomes a string of indistinguishable text.
As you write with different formats in mind (e.g., print and electronic), you should present the content in ways that take maximum advantage of each format and avoid their drawbacks.
Writing with Manufacturing in Mind
Following the production process, many books are manufactured as print products. I intentionally use “manufactured,” rather than “printed,” to distinguish between printing, which only puts ink on paper, and manufacturing, which encompasses the complete process of printing, binding, and packaging your book. Prior to your book physically appearing in bookstores and being held by customers, they will need to be manufactured. This requires you to select some method of printing and type of press (e.g., offset, digital, ink-jet, print-on-demand), to choose paper and ink, a binding style, stock, ink, and finish for the cover, and of course quantity. Decisions you make as you write will directly shape the manufacturing options you have when it comes time to make the physical book. A full-color children’s picture book or heavily illustrated architecture book require paper and ink of a certain weight and quality. Digital and print-on-demand methods will often restrict trim size options. Rather than wait until eight weeks before you want finished books to decide on manufacturing specifications, you can think of them as you write the book and tailor the contents, structure, and design of the book to the bound volume you dream of your customers buying, reading, and cherishing.
Writing with Marketing in Mind
We shouldn’t confuse writing with marketing in mind with the notion of product placement. In our discussion of crowdsourcing editorial feedback, we pointed out that you have to be willing to share your manuscript with people. One payoff of doing this is the editorial itself, but this same outreach brings benefits on the marketing side, as well. Namely, when people spend time reading and providing you with editorial feedback, they are investing in your book. They invest their time and skills, they offer insights based on their own writing and publishing experience. If they like your book, they begin rooting for you to succeed, whether because the resonate with the story of the underdog independent author trying to overcome the publishing odds, they just enjoy what you wrote, or any number of other reasons. That turns a total stranger into a prospective customer who could buy your book. In fact, you could offer anyone who provides constructive feedback a discount on your book when it is published. In addition, through crowdsourcing and social media, you can get your book in front of influencers, such as book reviewers, authorities in your field of study or writing, and bloggers. These people can in turn help you market your book. The act of crowdsourcing editorial feedback, thus becomes the first step in your marketing strategy. It informs the market that your book is under development and connects you with people who might buy your book. You can’t find a better return on marketing dollars, or improve on the ability to connect marketing efforts to sales results.
Writing with Distribution in Mind
Authors have access to distribution today in ways that simply were unavailable a decade or two ago. Online retailers, as well as bricks-and-mortar stores are accessible to independent you. But, to capitalize on the possibilities offered by distribution channels, you have to lay the groundwork long before your book shows up on an Ingram or Bowker feed. As you write, remember the end game and ultimate purpose of your writing, which is selling the book to customers. Awareness of distribution considerations may lead to set your story in a particular city, where you know bookstores are successful selling the type of book you are writing. The average price point of books in your chosen category may limit your pricing options, which in turn may affect how many characters, words, and pages you write, or the production choices you make, because these decisions may increase or decrease your unit costs. You may also begin building relationships with bookstores to persuade them to carry your book, by asking for their input on your manuscript—e.g., Does the authenticity of a scene set in their city ring true? The more you keep in mind distribution as you write, the easier it will be to pitch your book to bookstores and other channels of distribution, because you will have rehearsed your elevator pitch a bunch of times before you actually present it.
Writing Is More than Just Writing
Independent authors have plenty to think about as multitaskers who write, produce, promote, sell, and distribute their books. You can turn this burden into a strength by writing with all facets of the publishing process in view. It is to your advantage to anticipate the end game as well as the intermediary steps as you write. Your manuscript will be stronger and your finished book will achieve so much more than you expect as a result.