Who is the keymaster and where is the gatekeeper?
No, I’m not talking about Ghostbusters. Although it might be time to watch the movie again. This post has been bubbling around, trying to take form for several weeks. Kate’s post this past Sunday, and the comments to it, brought it to life.
A little background first. When I first got my kindle, I was a skeptic. I love books. I love the feel of them, the look of them, etc. I couldn’t imagine reading on anything like the kindle. For one thing, I spend so much of the day sitting before the computer that the thought of reading on some sort of device simply didn’t excite me. Then I got the kindle and very quickly realized that I preferred it to physical books — at least when reading for entertainment.
It didn’t take long to realize something else. The errors in spelling, punctuation and formatting I’d started seeing in hard copy books seemed to leap off the digital page. There is something about reading on my kindle — or on my tablet — that seems to accept the errors that have gotten past the copy editors and proofreaders. Was it because there were more errors in ebooks than in hard copy books, or was there another explanation?
A figurative stroll through different e-reader related forums quickly revealed I wasn’t the only one asking these questions. Even now, two years after receiving my kindle, the question is asked in the kindle forums almost weekly. Speculation runs from laziness by legacy publishers to too many people thinking they are the next great writer waiting to be discovered and who are taking advantage of the ease of self-publishing digitally. The truth of the matter is a bit more complex.
When it comes to problems seen in e-books put out by publishers, the first occurs when titles are scanned and then digitized. This process often creates OCR errors where letters are altered. This usually occurs near the margins and is easy enough to spot — if the file is proofread. Unfortunately, it appears that many of these titles aren’t proofed before being put on sale. I’ve seen a couple of examples where the OCR errors were so bad, the text was almost unreadable.
The bulk of errors in e-books seem to come from the lack of proofreading and, to a lesser extent, copy editing. This occurs, despite what a lot of the complainers in the different fora believe, in both indie and legacy published titles. It occurs in indie titles, especially those that are self-published, because authors are, on the whole, their own worst editors. It occurs in legacy published titles because they have cut back on their employees so much that they now rely on the authors and agents to do much of the editing and proofreading that editors used to do.
So, how does this relate back to Kate’s post and what are we, as authors, supposed to do?
Simple, we follow the guidelines, especially the one that almost every publisher includes: make sure your work is as close to publishable as possible. That means more than having a good story. It means making sure it is formatted according to guidelines. It means having beta readers who know to look for more than misspelled words and comma faults. It means, if necessary, hiring an editor to go over your manuscript before submitting it.
There are reasons for guidelines that go beyond making it easy for the editor to read the submission. First — and this is very important — your ability to follow the guidelines is the editor’s first impression of your work. Take the guidelines for Naked Reader press for example. The very first thing listed under “guidelines” is the fact that we have set submission periods. So, if you send something outside of the submission periods, I know you haven’t read the guidelines. The same goes if you fail to send a synopsis of your novel or if all you send is the synopsis. We want both.
Now, back to Kate’s post and some of the comments. Part of any publisher’s guidelines are how to format your submission. NRP uses standard manuscript format: double spaced, one inch margins, 12 or 14 point Courier or Times New Roman. Simple, right?
Apparently not. We get titles that are single spaced. We get titles without first line indents. We get titles where there are additional spaces between paragraphs. We get submissions that don’t have a cover email with the information asked for: name, contact information, publication credits.
NRP hasn’t gotten to the point yet where we are refusing to look at submissions that don’t meet our guidelines. I know of a number of other publishers and agents that have. I will tell you, though, that a manuscript not formatted according to guidelines starts with a strike against it. Why? Because I have to wonder about an author who doesn’t care enough to follow them.
So, it is up to the author to make sure he’s followed the guidelines just as he’s done all he can to make sure he is submitting the best story he can. Frankly, this is true whether the author is submitting a title to a publisher or he’s publishing it himself. If there is a reason for not following the format guidelines listed by a publisher, tell them. Or at least send an email and ask if it’s okay.
I hear you saying that you have decided not to submit to a publisher but are going the self-publishing route. After all, you have a great novel. You’ve done your homework and know there are free programs out there to help you create your e-book. So why worry about format guidelines and submission processes when you can take your e-book directly to the public?
As an author, I understand the sentiment. It’s hard to get a publisher these days, especially a legacy publisher. It’s even harder to get an agent — something you need to get your foot in the door at most legacy publishers. It really is easy to understand why so many writers are choosing to do it themselves.
What many of them seem to have forgotten is that the same rules for submitting to a publisher apply to self-publishing. You have to have a well-edited, proofread manuscript in a format readers are used to. That means beta readers, proofreaders and, if necessary, professional editing. It also means cover art and GOOD cover art. Readers will tear you apart on the boards for bad cover art, or for generic cover art. If they don’t like the font you use for your title, they will let you know.
Despite what you hear from a lot of bloggers, despite the fame of some indies like Amanda Hocking, there is still an onus about self-published work. If you doubt it, read the boards. See how many people won’t buy a novel originally priced at 99 cents because they know it’s by an “indie” and won’t be any good or will be so poorly formatted as to be unreadable. Check out threads like those asking why indies keep shooting themselves in the foot by not having their novels professionally edited or formatted for e-books.
Don’t get me wrong. As quick as they are to condemn a poorly written or poorly edited/formatted book, they are just as quick to praise one. So, what does that mean?
It means he writer is not only the keymaster — the creator of the story — but is also the gatekeeper. It doesn’t matter if the novel is going to a legacy publisher or is being self-published. It needs to be as clean — as well written, edited and proofread — as possible before submission. You are the master of your story. Don’t be afraid to act the role.
What do you think about the keymaster/gatekeeper roles and about the future of publishing?
Oh yeah, everyone be sure to wish Dave a happy birthday!