Publishing: Odds and Ends and Lessons Learned

We are approaching the one year anniversary of the release of Khel’s book, To Thee is This World Given, and we thought this was a good time to share a few of things we’ve learned over the last year and a half that don’t quite merit posts of their own.

1) Lightning Source/Ingram Spark has no objections to your selecting a 30% discount rate and making your books non-returnable. 

When we settled on the prices for our print formats, we were under the impression that Lightning Source/Ingram Spark required a 55% discount rate. In order to make any profit from our print editions with a 55% discount rate, we had to set the prices much higher than we wanted to. When we learned that we could have set the discount rate at 30%, it was already too late — the prices had been locked into their ISBNs and printed on their covers. The only way we can change their prices is with a second edition, which we hope to be able to release in the not too distant future. So, before you choose the price of your books make absolutely sure you know what discount rates are available from your printer/distributor, and chose the lowest.

2) Make sure your cover designer gives you the JPEGS (without crop marks) of the front cover, back cover, spine, and flaps (if a hardback) to submit to Amazon for the look inside feature for your print editions. 

You’ll need separate files for both your paperback and your hardback. If you can, get your interior designer to give you the complete PDF file with both the front and back covers included (that’s Amazon’s preferred way to receive the file). If you can’t, you can combine the JPEGS and the PDF text yourself with a PDF merger program. And if you don’t have the JPEGS, you can always scan your cover and merge it with your PDF file as a last resort (but keep in mind that the thicker your book, the worse it will look if you do this).

Also make sure your interior designer gives you a PDF of the front matter, first chapter, and back matter so that you have a professional sample chapter on hand. If you can have the front and back covers included as well, that is even better. So, before you choose a cover designer and an interior designer, make sure they will provide these files for you as part of your package. And if they won’t, find ones that will.

3) You will need your cover designer to create separate covers for your paperback and hardback, even if they have the same trim size.

Fiction hardbacks usually have book jackets, not printed case laminate covers. The information that appears on the back of a paperback, appears on the inside flaps of the hardback’s book jacket. The back of the jacket is usually text-free (even the bar code goes inside the back flap). If you order all of your covers at the same time, the additional formats should be less expensive than the first (at least they were for us), but hammer this all out before you place your order.

4) Unless your paperback and hardback formats are the exact same trim size, you will need your interior designer to create distinct interiors for each.

There is no fudging with the interior designs and you won’t save money on them by trying to push the two trim sizes as close to each other as possible in order to get away with using only one interior for both. Trim size should be a function of the number of pages and the thickness of the book — the fewer the pages, the smaller the trim size. Because hardbacks are inherently thicker than paperbacks, they usually have larger trims, you may not even be able to get a hardback as small as your paperback. So, budget for two interiors and pick the trim size best suited for each format.

The interiors for the second format should be less expensive than the first when you order them together (they were for us), but again, hammer this all out before you place your order.

5) Wait until your interiors are finished before you have your cover designer create the final cover files.

You have to know the exact spine dimensions before your covers can be created and sent to your printer. You can only know this when you have the final page count that includes all of the pages — the front matter and back matter, as well as text. If you don’t wait until you know for certain you may have to pay your cover designer for corrections. So, plan ahead to give yourself time for the interiors to be completed first.

6) It’s a hassle trying to get an eBook  formatter to comply with your design preferences and non-scaleable style-sheets for your print interiors.  

Interior design is not the same thing as eBook formatting. Because eBooks are scaleable, eBook formatting is more utilitarian and generic than the interiors of print books, and the relationship between the reader and the text is less personal. One example: hyphenation in an eBook is a function of whatever size font the reader chooses. In a print book, the hyphenation is fixed. Having one line end with “ev-” and the next start with “rybody” is awkward, even though not technically incorrect. Make sure you create a style sheet for your editors, formatters, and designers and make sure that they are willing to comply with it before you hire them. If they aren’t, you might be better off using someone else. So, just go with a true interior designer for your print editions, if you can afford it.

7) You do not need to purchase bar codes from Bowker.

Bar codes are provided free of charge by your printer/distributor when they set up your print covers. Bowker will charge you $25 per bar code– save your money! (You will need to purchase your ISBNs from them though; a bar code cannot be generated without one). Don’t forget that every print edition — hardback, paperback, 2nd edition, etc. — needs its own unique ISBN, and that eBooks do not have bar codes.

8) Your book is not automatically added to Bowker’s Books-In-Print database.

After you purchase and assign your ISBNs with Bowker, you will still need to add them to Books-In-Print yourself. Being listed in Books-In-Print isn’t necessary, but it does improve your visibility, open new avenues for sales, and enhance your legitimacy.

9) When offering free books in exchange for reviews, use Goodreads, not Story Cartel.

Story Cartel is a for fee service ($25) where you provide free copies of your eBook for a limited time to Story Cartel members in exchange for their honest reviews, except that Story Cartel does not require its members to follow through. We had ten downloads and received one review (we found out later our results were on par with what Story Cartel itself anticipates: ten downloads typically generate zero to one reviews). Goodreads, on the other hand, is free and out of twelve downloads, we received six reviews.

10) To get feedback from those who take review copies but do not post reviews, you can send a free Survey Monkey survey to them.

We emailed a survey to the fifteen people who did not post reviews of To Thee is This World Given to learn if they had read the book and to hear their thoughts about it if they had. Nine responded: Seven of the nine had read it. Three rated both the writing and plot as excellent. Three rated both the writing and the plot as good, and one rated the book as terrible (oh well, you win some, you lose some).

11) When providing free eBooks for reviews, use Amazon to gift them to the reviewer instead of emailing them a copy or providing them with a link to the text.

When you gift copies, each copy counts as a purchase, which helps your sales ranking, which offsets those copies that are taken but never reviewed. For more details, see our longer post on how to make Amazon work for you.

12) Goodreads giveaways are a better investment than Goodreads ads. 

Giveaways generate verifiable exposure. We had three giveaways between September and December of last year: over 900 entered the first giveaway, over 700 the second, over 600 the third, and over 100 entrants friended Khel. The cost of each giveaway is only the price of the book plus shipping, a total of $45 for the three month period. 

Unlike an ad, with a giveaway you know for certain how many people, who were at least somewhat interested, saw your book. Also, when someone enters a giveaway, your book is added to their “to read” list, which provides ongoing free advertising until they choose to remove it. The giveaways also provide a way to establish relationships with Goodreads members who have shown an interest in your book.

Goodreads ads, on the other hand, require a non-refundable upfront deposit. For each click the ad receives, part of the deposit is subtracted from the total until the entire amount is exhausted. Unless an ad is clicked, there is no way to determine if it has actually been seen. The ads are small and grey, and over the three months that we ran our ad it received no clicks, even though the number of times it had appeared on a Goodreads members’ home pages was over 9,000, and despite the fact that we were continually tweaking its text. If your ad is not clicked, your deposit just sits there, unable to be refunded and applied to anything else.

13) Goodreads is a forum first and foremost, and it behaves like one.

This probably seems obvious, but it’s something to keep in mind if you are planning to use it as a central part of your marketing plan. Forums are insular and difficult for new users to break into and users often need to have a certain personality defined by the existing members in order to fit in. We use Khel’s Goodreads page primarily as a point of contact.

14) A cover has to be shockingly bright to stand out online.

The particular color and the image are probably not as important as having a super bright thumbnail that pops out at the viewer, because:

Thumbnails are puny,

The internet is crowded,

And you have about a half of a second before someone moves on.

So, you need something that they can’t not look at.

Better bright pink, than not even noticed.

Update, Jan 2018: You can see our redesigned covers for To Thee is This World Given and its companions in the Quinquennium series here.

15) Front matter, including any opening quotes, are overlooked in eBooks because the books automatically open to the first page of the first chapter.

Khel’s book To Thee is This World Given opens with quotes that precede chapter one:

“It is required of every man…that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men and travel far and wide, and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is doomed to wander through the world and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth and turned to happiness” (Charles Dickens)

and

“What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world where each person is clinging to his or her piece of debris? What is the proper salutation between them as they pass each other in this flood?” (Siddhartha).

We noticed that those who read the story in print had a different reaction to it, a reaction more in line with what Khel was hoping to achieve, than did those who read it as an eBook.

To be honest, we’re pretty stumped by this. It could just be selection bias, but we did notice that the opening quotes in the eBook version cannot be seen unless the reader deliberately chooses to view the front matter. We can’t be sure this accounts for the difference in responses between our print and our eBook readers, but it might, since even the font in which a book is printed impacts a reader’s reaction to it.

At first, we thought the fact that the quotes in the eBook were being jumped over was due to a mistake by our eBook formatter, 52 Novels, but it turns out that all modern eBooks jump over the front matter (Jim Crace’s novel Being Dead opens with a poem — but you’d never know it in the eBook unless you looked for it. In Benjamin Percy’s The Dead Lands, this flaw was overcome in the eBook by putting the opening quote on a stand alone “part one” page).

We aren’t sure how to overcome this problem in eBooks that do not have multiple “parts.” Putting the quotes on the top of the first page under “chapter one” would prevent them from being missed, but then the reader might think they only relate to chapter one. If we discover a better solution, we’ll let you know (likewise, if you know how to fix it, we’d love to hear from you).

16) Make sure to plan your contest entries, crowdfunding projects (such as Kickstarter), and the like, so that notifications and results do not overlap.

A person can only take so much bad news at one time, so it’s best to prepare for the worst and stagger the receipt of any potential bad news, just in case.

17) Stick to your original goals. 

Keep to your original marketing plan, activities, and goals. It’s easy to get sidetracked and start hopping from thing-to-thing willy nilly, but all you wind up doing is diluting your efforts and distracting yourself. If new goals and marketing ideas occur to you as you go, write them down and work them into your next marketing cycle’s plan.

18) And last but not least, listen to your heart.

There is a ton of advice telling you to do this and not that, but in the end you have to do what feels right for you and your book. If you are uncomfortable doing something, you aren’t going to do it successfully anyway, so it’s best to do something else.

 

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Getting Amazon to Work for You

We’ve been meaning to post this for some time.

It’s no secret that Amazon is where micropresses and authors rise or fall.

And while there are certainly, undeniably, legitimate reasons to find fault with Amazon as a corporate entity, the fact remains that their egalitarian, open door policy for all authors, their lack of pretension and self-importance, and their market dominance, single-handily made the micropress revolution possible.

There are numerous articles around the web on the importance of generating customer reviews on Amazon (here are two goods ones by Author S Smith and Gwen Whiting). There are also many articles on how to go about generating those reviews (the Creative Penn has an nice one). Additionally, there are numerous forums on Goodreads dedicated to reviews-for-books exchanges (here’s one; here’s another). There is also a for-fee service where authors and publishers can pay for access to potential Amazon reviewers called Story Cartel (you can read our review of Story Cartel in our post Publishing: Odds and Ends and Lessons Learned — see #9. Short story? Waste of money).

But even more important than book reviews are Amazon sales rankings, and unfortunately, very few reviewers are willing to purchase copies of the books they review. We are actually the only one we know of who does. We won’t review a book unless we purchase it, because we feel the only real way to support our fellow micropresses and authors is by purchasing their books.

The price most reviewers pay for the books they review are the reviews they write. It’s a system that works reasonably well for everyone. But because the books are usually distributed as eBooks directly by the authors themselves, they rarely help boost a book’s sales ranking.

There is a very simple way to rectify this and make sure that the books you distribute (for whatever reason) are counted towards your Amazon sales ranking — purchase the books from Amazon yourself. This also ensures that complimentary copies to reviewers who fail to review the book still help the book’s success.

Purchasing and distributing print copies is straightforward — you simply purchase the book and have it shipped to yourself or directly to the recipient. Purchasing and distributing eBooks is a little less intuitive — you will need to use the “gift to” feature, and gift the copy to the recipient (unfortunately, we did not think of this until about a week ago and are still kicking ourselves that we didn’t do this with the twenty-two complimentary eBooks of To Thee is This World Given we gave out in June, only six of which generated reviews).

Buying the books you need from Amazon probably won’t be enough for you to break into the top 100, but if you do it consistently, it should keep your book in the 70,000 range, which is in the company of many traditionally published mid- and back list authors. And if you have chosen your Amazon genre categories well, it might even keep you under 5000 in those categories (this How to for Authors has some good advice about how to choose categories).

For small orders of print books, the financial outlay of purchasing them from Amazon, as opposed to purchasing them from your printer/distributor, is negligible (our printer/distributor is Lightning Source/Ingram Spark — we highly recommend them). The primary difference in price is your publisher profit, which is included in the Amazon price, but not in the direct sales price, so it is eventually returned to you from Amazon by your distributor. And as long as you always purchase enough copies at one time for free shipping, your shipping costs are less than they would be from your distributor. [Note: If you are purchasing in bulk — i.e. whatever quantity at which your printer’s bulk order discounts kick in — it is almost always going to be more economical to purchase directly from your distributor].

The financial outlay for gifting eBooks is even less burdensome, especially if you reduce the sales price to ninety-nine cents for the giveaway. Twenty books will only cost you thirteen dollars (ninety-nine cents less your thirty-five cent publisher profit times twenty).

Once you start purchasing your books from Amazon, Amazon starts purchasing additional copies of your book to keep on hand. Print on demand (POD) books are listed on Amazon as “in stock, but requiring additional time for delivery” unless it has copies on hand. If it does not have copies on hand, the customer will not be able to receive the book as quickly as they normally would expect, so an additional benefit of purchasing through Amazon is that it ensures your book remains readily available.

To give you an example of how few books it takes to get Amazon to take notice, we only purchased 7 copies of the hardback of To Thee is This World Given between mid-June and the last week of September, but Amazon now keeps at least 5 copies on hand — that’s five books Amazon purchased outright. So our seven purchases not only helped our sales ranking, they were offset by Amazon’s own purchases. Additionally, the first three of those seven books took between two and three weeks from the date of order to reach us, but the last four we purchased for the IBPA Ben Franklin Awards arrived less than a week later.

With contest and giveaway season gearing up we have several purchases of both the hardback and paperback editions of To Thee is This World Given lined up between now and the first week of November. Because Amazon’s sales rankings are a rolling count, you will get the most impact by staggering your purchases — one sale a day for thirty days gives you a higher rank than thirty sales in one day. The German website Self Publisher Bible did an excellent study of how rankings work on Amazon (no worries, it’s in English). This is something to keep in mind with book launches and promotions as well — if you are gifting eBook or print copies for the launch, a promotion, or a Goodreads Giveaway you might consider staggering when and how many you purchase to get the most benefit. [To learn more about Goodreads Giveaways, see our post here  #11].

Most of the public, including micropresses and authors, have very little understanding of how traditionally published books get their initial sales rankings and end up on best seller lists. Their rankings are based on pre-orders by libraries and booksellers. They are not a function of how many books are actually purchased by individual book buyers. And the vast majority of these books are never truly purchased as they end up back at the publisher as returns. This is especially true of mega-hit best sellers.

Booksellers game the system too by buying books by the carton for displays, knowing they will return all but one or two before the net thirty or net sixty on their invoice comes due, thereby requiring the publisher to pay for the return postage. The publisher remainders the books and writes the order off as a loss. The bookseller gets a nice holiday display. The publisher gets a huge sales bump for its books. And the book buying public gets to believe that 100 million people actually read Fifty Shades of Grey.

There is a service that ostensibly tracks actual retail sales of books called Book Scan, but it’s pretty much a joke, even inside the industry. The truest indicator of actual sales is…Amazon. This is something traditional authors and publishers object to because Amazon’s numbers frequently tell a different story than the industry’s do. One of the most disappointing things we ever read was Ursala K. LeGuin accusing Amazon of intentionally “disappearing” her books out of spite.

One other thing to keep in mind about a traditionally published book’s sales ranking is that the books are almost always bought as part of pre-set packages from book jobbers like Baker & Taylor. This is especially true of the books you find in libraries. Booksellers and librarians sign up for certain types of package programs and then purchase whatever books the jobber includes in that package. So these sales aren’t truly a reflection of what books readers are buying or even interested in.

Don’t be ashamed or afraid of using the system to your advantage. There is almost nothing a micropress or an author can do, short of hacking Amazon, that rivals what tradition publishing houses and booksellers do as a matter of course to take full advantage of the system.

You also might like our post on lessons we’ve learned over the past year.

AutoCrit Automated Editing — An Author’s Best Friend

AutoCrit is an easy to use, automated, online substantive editing tool for fiction of any length, be it flash fiction or an epic novel. It can be used at any stage of the writing process — from the first draft to the last — to help identify common weaknesses in your writing and any areas that may need your attention. And it’s awesome!

The aspects of your writing that AutoCrit examines relate to sentence craft, not grammar — it isn’t a copyediting program. It doesn’t flag misspelled words and punctuation mistakes.

When you upload your text, it generates instant reports on your story’s pacing, dialog, word choice, repetition, strength of writing (overuse of adverbs, passive voice, showing vs telling, cliches, redundancies, and filler words), and a comparison of your work to successful fiction.

When it locates potential problems, it lists them in the sidebar and highlights them in the text in the main window. It doesn’t make changes, or recommend any specific changes to make, it just suggests the number of any given problem to remove. It does allow you to make changes to your text while you are in AutoCrit and to export the edited text to you computer, if you like.

Because To Thee is This World Given has circular structure, where the first and last chapters, second and second to last chapters, third and third to last chapters, and so on, are mirrors of each other, we needed to be able to evaluate each pair of chapters side by side, so printing the reports out and making the changes in the manuscript itself worked best for us.

We’ve posted a sample of one of the reports from the 3rd draft of To Thee is This World Given here, so that you can see a real world example (the changes made to the 3rd draft with the help of AutoCrit became the 4th draft, which was the first draft sent to an outside, [human] editor). This sample report illustrates why you still need a human editor — the section evaluated was all dialog. AutoCrit can’t distinguish between dialog and narration, and since people tend to speak in the passive voice using a lot of filler words and vague pronouns, dialog will often be “red flagged,” even if it is fine.

There are three 12 month subscription plans available: for $60, you can evaluate up to 1,000 words at a time; for $96, you can evaluate up to 8,000 words at a time; and for $144 you can evaluate an unlimited number of words at a time. You can use any level repeatedly over the duration of the subscription, so while there are limits on the number of words you can upload at any one time with the first two plans, over the course of the year all three programs allow you upload an unlimited number of words. You can try it for free here.

We chose to go with the $60 / 1,000 word option, both because we were skeptical the program would be worth it and because we weren’t sure how unwieldy the longer reports would be. The service so greatly exceeded our expectations that it’s hard to put into words how satisfied we’ve been with it.  AutoCrit is the best $60 we ever spent.

One final “plus” — AutoCrit can help you gauge a prospective human editor’s competency. In the future, we plan on requiring potential editors to provide a sample edit of around 1,000 words that we can compare to an AutoCritted sample.

Wendy Van Camp on her blog, No Wasted Ink, also reviewed AutoCrit and provides a nice comparison of it to a few other automated editing services.

You might also like our proofreader, Chereese.

 

Design For Writers — Great Covers, Great Service, Great Experience

The cover art for To Thee is This Word Given was designed by Andrew at Design For Writers.

The final design was the culmination of a 3 month collaboration between eponym and DFW.

When Andrew presented us with the first pass proofs, we were impressed with how he well had captured the essence of Khel’s book.

We didn’t have a clear idea of what the cover should look like up front, only that it needed to be somewhat enigmatic and not stereotypically post-apocalyptic, because the story, while placed in a post-apocalyptic setting, is not stereotypically post-apocalyptic.

We wanted a cover that could appeal across genres. A cover that could appeal to those who would not normally consider picking up a post-apocalyptic novella.

The covers that we referred Andrew to were almost all from literary titles such as Fiskadoro and Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge.

The process at Design For Writers is geared for success — they have a very lengthy, in-depth intake form, which not only elicits information, it forces authors to think seriously about what their stories “look” like and what emotional response they want their covers to evoke.

Their attitude is also geared for success — they are responsive, they listen, and they respect their clients’ feelings, wishes, and input.

We had a great experience working with Design For Writers. If you are looking for a cover designer, drop them a line at hello@designforwriters.com.dfw-km-ttitwg-cover-3d

You might also like our proofreader, Chereese.

Need a Proof Reader? Try Chereese at GrammarRulesAtoZ

Because of complications with our editing service, Kirkus Editorial, which put us behind schedule, when we received our 1st pass proofs for To Thee is This World Given from 52 Novels (our eBook formatter and print book interior designer), we had to find a competent proofreader on short notice who would agree to do the work at a reasonable price on an expedited schedule.

Chereese with GrammarRulesAtoZ came to our rescue. Not only did she reply to our inquiry within twenty-four hours, she had our proofs back to us in four days and only charged us $150.00 (her rate is based on a flat fee of $1.50 per each double-spaced, twelve point font page).

Cheresse was great to work with and the process was simple and straightforward — you just email her your manuscript and when it’s ready she will forward you an invoice via PayPal and send you your edited manuscript upon receipt of payment.

GrammarRulesAtoZ has a no-frills website, but the service is competent and professional. We also recommend AutoCrit, which is an automated online editing service. While it does not offer copyediting and is not a substitute for a human editor, it is has been indispensable to us for early round substantive editing, and we can’t recommend it enough. You can learn more about it here. Another post you might find helpful is To Lie or To Lay, That is This Question, which provides a quick guide for how to keep lie and lay straight. Finally, you might also enjoy our post, Publishing: Odds and Ends and Lessons Learned

To learn more about our experience with Kirkus Editorial, see our post here

 

Author Beware — Kirkus Reviews Editorial Service

We employed Kirkus Editorial, the editing wing of Kirkus Reviews Author Services, to edit our novella, To Thee is This World Given, in December 2014.

We chose Kirkus Editorial to edit To Thee is This World Given  both because of the reputation of the Kirkus brand and because we could not find any negative reviews from those who had used the service (to be honest, we did not find any reviews of Kirkus Editorial at all; we did, however, find reviews of Kirkus Reviews’ pay-for-review service for authors and micropresses from Alli and Michel Sauret— both discouraged others from using the service).

The idea that the Kirkus Editorial staff would provide oversight and trouble-shooting in the editorial process appealed to us. But in hindsight, we realize that assuming this would be the role they would play was our projection of the role we hoped they would play, rather than the role they advertised they would play. Reviewing their website in light of our experience, we concede that the only service they claim to provide is to job manuscripts out to an free-lance editors and collect the fees for the service.

Our first word to the wise — at no time in the editorial process with Kirkus Editorial are you allowed to know who is editing your manuscript or what their credentials are, nor are you allowed a new editor if you feel uncomfortable with the assigned editor’s abilities.

Our second word to the wise — Kirkus Editorial is part a family of services created by a company that does not give the customers of these services equal treatment and the same level of respect it gives others in the world of publishing.

Our third word to the wise — the “Big 5” is not an employer. An editor may have done work for particular houses and imprints that make up the “Big 5,” but if they have, they will likely say that they have worked for such-and-such house or imprint, not the amorphous “Big 5.”

Before we continue, we wanted to share some of the comments the editors at Kirkus made about To Thee is This World Given, to assure you that our account is not simply a case of sour grapes. The response we received was overwhelmingly positive:

“Impressive job”

“The descriptions are visceral and sensory”

“The dialog is generally outstanding”

“The characters are vivid and believable”

“The story’s pacing is excellent”

“The zombie element is handled with great skill”

“Brilliantly imagined and skillfully executed”

Our experience:

We opted to go with Kirkus Editorial’s three stage pro-package.

This package begins with “collaborative” editing. We assumed that this was their name for substantive line-editing, but this is not what we were provided. The manuscript received a very light edit, similar to what one expects from a beta reader. In fact, the editor did not catch anything more than our two betas did. And in the case of one of our betas, she caught substantially more than Kirkus Editorial’s editor did.

Particularly troubling was that the editor failed to catch a series of continuity errors that ran over 3-4 pages in the last chapter, nor did he catch point of view lapses that occurred throughout the story, including a lengthy lapse in chapter 2. We had specifically requested that the manuscript be read for this because To Thee is This World Given is written in third person objective, which is a very strict, difficult point of view to write in, making it easy to slip out of (there can be absolutely no “telling”).

Also troubling, the editor changed all of the “laids” to “lay.” By doing so, he was only exchanging one incorrect word for another. Both “laid” and “lay” are versions of “to put or place.” In all instances in question, the action being performed was reclining, so the correct word was “lie,” as in “lie back.” Admittedly, we had made the same mistake, but this was exactly why we had hired an outside editor.

[For a quick and easy reference guide on the proper usage of “lie” and “lay,” see our post here. ]

The 2nd phase of Kirkus Editorial’s pro-package is the copyediting phase. After making the changes from the first round of edits, you submit the updated text for copyeditng.

What one expects from copyediting is pretty straightforward — a manuscript returned with primarily mechanical mark-ups, i.e. punctuation, dropped/transposed/repeated words, grammar and usage errors etc. What was returned, however, was a very lightly edited manuscript with bizarre, highly questionable edits and very few true copyedits.

As with the first editor, the copyeditor did not know the proper usage of “lie” and “lay.” This editor changed the “lays” back to “laids,” thereby altering the tense, but not the action, of “putting,” in situations where the intended action was “reclining.”

Additionally, the copyeditor missed obvious mistakes, such as where the word “shadowing” was used were “shadows” was clearly intended (ex. “their shadowing ran ahead of them”). Yet while missing obvious errors, the editor made inexplicable changes, such as inserting dialog tags and filler words, changing active, “showing,” sentences into passive, “telling,” sentences, inserting sentences that popped a given section out of the 3rd person objective into the 3rd person subjective, and insisting on the incorrect usage of various words.

We contacted Kirkus Editorial about these problems, along with our concerns that the copyeditor was not competent, only twenty-three pages into our review, and before we had reached the end of the 2nd chapter. The Director of Kirkus Editorial stood by every edit, insisting that each was correct. The Director’s responses were dismissive — always some version of “if you don’t like it ‘stet it’ or reject it.” Her responses were also tone deaf — we hadn’t voiced our concerns because we “didn’t like the edits,” we did so because we wanted our manuscript to be edited properly, rigorously, and thoroughly. Our concern was, that based on the copyedits made, the assigned copyeditor did not possess the skills necessary to do this.

Of particular concern to us, because the point of view the story is written in is so critical to the story itself, was the Director’s response regarding the insertions that changed the point view. Her response strongly suggested that she did not understand the difference between the two types of third person points of view and that she was not able to discern the difference between a “telling” sentence and a “showing” sentence.

The final round of editing in Kirkus Editorial’s propackage is called the “final polish.” Our manuscript did go through the final polish, so we cannot comment on what it entails.

At no point did Kirkus Editorial acknowledge our concerns as legitimate. After contacting them a second time with additional problems we uncovered by the half way point in the story, the Director offered us a nominal refund for the final, 3rd stage of editing, which had yet to take place, and let us know that we we could go find another editor. We declined the refund and the “opportunity” to find another editor due to impending deadlines of which she was aware.

In the same communication in which we declined the refund and the “opportunity” to locate a new editor, we informed the Director of Kirkus Editorial that the copyeditor, whom she was defending as “one the best, who had worked with the Big 5,” did not know the proper usage of “lie” and “lay.” The next communication was an email from another individual at Kirkus Editorial summarily terminating our contract and refunding us $1,000.00 of the $1,500.00 we had paid.

At no time did we ask to terminate our contract or receive a refund. In fact, we expressed our desire to continue on to the 3rd and final stage due to our quickly approaching production deadlines. We expressed our hope that between the copyedits that were made, our own review, and the final round of editing that all of the errors would be located.

A thousand dollars is a lot of money, and while it was nice to suddenly have it, what we needed and what we wanted and what we paid for was top-notch professional editing, and we did not get that. Throughout, the attitude of the Director of Kirkus Editorial came across as patronizing and condescending. She appeared to have disdain for micropresses and authors, and to have assumed she was talking to thin-skinned rubes with hurt feelings and bruised pride.

In order to not forfeit our reservation on the typesetter’s production calendar (which would have required at least another four weeks to be re-slated), in the end we had to copyedit the manuscript ourselves, submit it to the typesetter, locate a proofreader, work with the proofreader to locate problems in the proof and any mistakes we missed during our rushed self-edit, make the changes, and pay to have the proof corrected.

The pubdate for To Thee Is This World Given was pushed back at least one month; we missed the deadline for the Writer’s Digest Book Contest; and we missed the window available to us for a reputable, not-for-fee, review. These are things that can not be compensated monetarily.

Looking back on everything, we realize that one of our mistakes was not insisting on terminating the contract after receiving the disappointing 1st round of edits. We received them early enough in the process to have allowed us to seek a new editor and still make our deadlines. But our ultimate mistake was in choosing a service that does not allow the customer to know anything at all about the person editing their manuscript. This was particularly galling in this instance given the appeal to “the Big 5” by the Director of Kirkus Editorial in her defense of her anonymous editor’s skills. We believe that one forfeits the right to extol the credentials of one’s staff or contractors when you refuse to release any information as to who they are.

We hope our experiences help you form an informed opinion about whether to use Kirkus Editorial for your editing needs. We are happy to provide copies of all of our communications with Kirkus Editorial, as well as the edited manuscripts and editorial reports.

While it is no replacement for a human editor, we highly recommend AutoCrit, an online editing program for works of fiction. You can read our full review of AutoCrit here. One thing AutoCrit can be helpful with, in addition to its editorial function, is in gauging a prospective editor’s skills. You could have the editor submit a short sample edit and compare it to AutocCrit’s sample. This is what we will be doing in the future. Additionally, we recommend our proofreader Chereesewho helped us at a moment’s call. She is affordable and pleasant to work with.

If you found this post useful, you might also enjoy our post Publishing: Odds and Ends and Lessons Learned.