I’m one of those people who sticks to my guns when I believe I’m right or on the high moral ground, despite being lambasted for airing an unpopular opinion. In fact, I’ll air it again and again. Eventually, I’ll find someone who agrees with me, right?
The latest contremps centered on my response to a post in a writing group from a writer who was having difficulty formatting her manuscript for publication. In short, she was using the wrong tool and I said as much. It didn’t go over well with someone else who accused me of trying to sell my services when I made no such mention any any such thing. But the sentiment remains true: you get better results when you use the correct tool.
Think about it. You can drive a screw with a hammer, but the results won’t be as good as you’ll get if you use a screwdriver or a drill with the right bit. It aligns with what I’ve said for ages: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. For those who don’t quite get that concept, consider this: I can dance naked in the street, but that doesn’t mean I should. (Hurry! Break out the eye bleach!)
Using the right tool gets better results and it’s more efficient. There’s a reason why professional graphic designers don’t create brochures and such using Microsoft Word. It’s because Word, despite its many formatting capabilities, isn’t designed as a page layout program. For page layout and document design, Adobe InDesign is the industry’s standard. It’s also expensive and has a steep learning curve. Just like an accountant will use software made for accounting rather than a basic spreadsheet, writers seeking to self-publish should use the correct software to perform the tasks at hand.
The person mentioned earlier who took me to task also stated that not everyone is wallowing in disposable income and not everyone can afford to outsource every service. That means there’s a compromise to be made. It’s all well and good to learn a new skill, but anyone’s early attempts at doing just about anything won’t turn out at a professional level, and professional is exactly what readers deserve. If you’ve ever tried a new skill like welding, then you understand what I mean: your first welds won’t be pretty. This is why I strongly recommend self-publishing authors hire editors, book designers, cover designers, and proofreaders.
Editing and proofreading are related to writing, but not the same as writing. (Proofreading, by the way, is not editing.) Writing creates the product; editing refines the product; proofreading puts the final polish on that product. Frankly, an author is too close to the manuscript to see its flaws. The author’s brain glosses over the flaws because it knows what’s supposed to be there. The author also tends not to remember what the reader doesn’t know. Every author needs an editor and a proofreader.
Few authors have expertise as graphic designers. Not only can most not boast of advanced command of illustration and photo editing software, but they don’t know the elements of page design. Formatting the manuscript for publication entails more than merely filling the pages with words. Various design elements come into play that directly affect the reader’s experience. Not only are there best practices when it comes to book design, but cover design follows another set of rules, trends, and best practices.
Not to make myself special, but I do have professional experience in writing, editing, page layout, and cover design—not because I’m an author. I worked for various organizations where I served as the resident expert in all things pertaining to marketing documents, newsletters, and more. Perforce, I was required to learn to use the different software and to become competent in their use as well as acquire a working knowledge of the different skill sets. Therefore, I developed skills in a professional capacity for writing, document design, and graphic design. I have added to my skill through practice and study and have learned what I do really well, where I command mere competence, and what I don’t do well.
So, I put my money where my mouth is.
That means I do hire skilled professionals to do those tasks which I do not do well or cannot do at all. I pay for an editor to review my manuscripts and tell me what I did wrong, show me where I can improve, and suggest alternatives to rectify the flaws. I pay for a graphic designer to create cover art that exceeds my limited skills and talents.
Hiring a professional doesn’t mean you blindly accept what they produce. When you’re the author, you have control over your project. If you have a concept in mind for the cover, then it’s your responsibilty to convey that idea to the artist and work with the artist to get a cover design that makes you happy. An experienced artist will suggest alternatives that may better suit the book itself or its genre in general. Listen to the professionals you hire, because they’re working in the best interests of your book. They want to see your book succeed so they can point other potential clients to that with pride and say, “See, I helped produce that wonderful project!”
Hiring professionals gets expensive, which makes self-publishing very much a pay-to-play game if you want to excel at it. Professionalism costs money. You’ll find that in every level of society and in every profession. Therefore, to win at the game, most of us need to save our money and budget for the expenses incurred when hiring professional assistance. I am no different. Think of it this way: you save your money for a downpayment on a car, a large appliance, a major repair, or something similar. It’s the same concept, except you can budget for this expense and begin saving for it well in advance of when you’ll actually need the service. (When your boiler springs a leak or your car’s brakes fail, that needs immediate attention.)
Finally, the reading public expects and deserves books that meet professional standards for quality. That expectation covers the entire book: cover, interior pages, and content. I cannot expect people to spend their hard-earned money to buy my book if I’m not willing to invest my money in ensuring its quality.