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Over the past few months, my writing posts have primarily been Intentional Writer interviews (which I totally love!). But let’s say you were inspired by some of these amazing writers. Let’s say you want to write to change the world too. How do you start?
Today’s interview is with Ali Shaw, the founder of Indigo Editing & Publications, an awesome company that supports every aspect of publishing. Since 2005, she’s edited a diverse range of nonfiction authors from Ram Dass to Rodney King, from Chade-Meng Tan to Kim Barnouin, and many emerging writers. She’s a writer of narrative nonfiction as well! Ali took some time out of her busy schedule to share insights into different aspects of publishing, and the importance of taking your time (even though it’s tempting to speed through pubbing!). Enjoy!
Interview with Ali Shaw
Tell us a little about how you got involved in publishing and your expertise.
It all started when I was three. While that seems ridiculous, it’s actually true! That’s when my parents bought a print shop and I became fascinated with the way the printed word is produced. Twenty years later, I went to graduate school for book publishing and earned my master’s degree through a hands-on program at Portland State University, where you don’t just learn to edit, design, and market books—you do it. I decided to focus on editing because that’s what came most naturally to me and I loved working directly with authors to help their books be as strong as possible. A month before I graduated, book industry people I knew started referring authors to me for freelance editing, and my business pretty much built itself.
Indies have a lot of hats they wear, and it can get a little overwhelming. What would you recommend to someone who is just dipping their feet into independent publishing?
It’s so true—the process can be really overwhelming when you start to realize how much there is to independent publishing. If you’re just dipping your feet in, my best advice is to take a half-day class on being your own publisher to get an overview of the process and when you need to start thinking about which details. This class should give you an idea of what you need to know about editing, design, marketing, printing, distribution, registration fees, publicity, and so much more. There are various options for most of these, and there’s no one right path for every book, so learn as much as you can to make the best choices for your project.
If a class isn’t available to you, you could also hire a publication consultant. These publishing professionals often walk authors through the whole process of indie publishing, but you could also hire one for just a consultation or two to get a feel for the overall process and the best path for your book. While it can be nice to meet with your consultant in person, virtual meetings get the job done just fine, so don’t let geography limit you.
Many indies will want to hire out editing services. What is the difference between a proofer and an editor, and how does a person know if they’re any good?
There’s so much more to editing than meets the eye. For example, because I specialize in editing nonfiction, I often work with authors who are experts in a subject other than writing. This means they come to me with a whole lot of notes and need help figuring out how to put them into a book. So editors can help from the early stages by coaching an author through the writing process.
There’s also developmental editing, which takes a look at the big-picture elements like plot arc, character development, chapter structure, and how complete an author’s research is. Then the editor gives feedback to the author to help guide revision.
Line editing is sometimes called copyediting and refers to the line-by-line look at grammar, spelling, and syntax. It also includes fact-checking the spelling of proper nouns and the accuracy of quotes as well as formatting citations, if there are any.
Proofreading is the final-eye edit to check for typos that may have slipped through in earlier rounds or could have been introduced in revision. Proofreading is often done on pages that are already laid out for design, so there’s no room for changes of more than a few words here and there—by the editor or by the author. If a revision were to happen at this point, the designer would have to reflow the text across multiple pages, costing time and money.
Editing should always start with the big-picture edits first and then move on to fine-tuning. But not every manuscript goes through all editing phases—it just depends on the author’s goals and progress so far, and what the project needs. Most editors will take a look at a sample of the manuscript, and from there they can recommend services, possibly provide a free sample edit, and give a cost estimate.
Experienced editors will have been in the industry for at least a few years. Good experience to look for can include a graduate program in publishing or a certificate program in editing, internships with publishing companies or literary journals, and other clients like you. If you’re looking to send your work out to publishers and agents and want an editor who can give you an edge for this, look for that experience. Or if you’re planning on publishing yourself, look for that. They should definitely be proficient with The Chicago Manual of Style, which is the standard in book publishing, and if you’re seeking developmental editing or coaching, be sure the editor has experience with your genre.
Hopefully the editor will also give you a sample edit, as it’s a great way for you, the author, to be sure the editor will treat your manuscript the way you hope. It also shows that the editor knows that every project is unique and needs different services—you don’t want an editor who just plugs your word count into a calculator to give you a bid.
If you could give only one piece of advice to indie authors, what would it be?
Give yourself time. People often come to us at the beginning of the process wanting to launch their book in six weeks at their milestone birthday party or at a conference related to their book topic.
I know it’s tempting to think this process is quick, but the truth is, most projects take more than a year to independently publish at a professional level. Editing alone takes about a month per level, and then there’s design and printing or ebook conversion, which add on a couple more months. Publicity should start at least six months before you plan to launch your book in order to get a good buzz circulating among reviewers, booksellers, and librarians so they’re excited to share your book as soon as it’s launched.
Your head might be spinning with all that, and I know it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but take a deep breath and give yourself permission to take your time. When you talk with your publication consultant about your project, he or she should be able to help you put together a production timeline. Be sure to include some cushion room in case you decide you want to revise or you need to sleep on the cover ideas for a week or whatever else might take longer than you think right now. This process can be really fun, so enjoy it as much as you can!
Tell us about your company Indigo and how it can help indies.
Indigo Editing & Publications [www.indigoediting.com] has been providing editing, design, ebook conversion, and publication consulting services for independent authors and publishers around the world for over a decade. We also offer classes for writers and indie publishers in Portland, Oregon, and publicity services and online classes are coming soon.
I started Indigo when I was just finishing up grad school, and I worked independently then. Now we’re a team of seven publishing professionals, and we work on approximately 135 books per year. A highlight of my job is attending our authors’ book launch parties!
I’m so grateful Ali could share her wisdom from a different perspective in publishing! I can tell you, the biggest stumbling block to publishing success for me has been editing. I can’t stress enough the importance of investing in solid professional editing services (and cover design). While it is possible to be successful in selling books by cobbling together edits and design, it is so much easier if you bring in an expert.
Every experienced indie author will tell you this because it’s the truth.
If you have a manuscript you’re ready to pub, are interested in some online classes, or just want to find out more about how Ali’s team can support you, contact them by clicking here (email firstname.lastname@example.org) for more info.
Have you struggled with editing? Been impatient about pubbing? Leave a comment below!
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