Who’s gonna hold your hand? Preparing the author to self-publish.

It’s tempting to look at companies that provide design, editing and other publishing services to authors and say, “Oh, they overcharge to do book design because there’s no competition,” or, “They don’t really want to do this work so they charge a lot and take a long time to do it.”

Statements similar to these were made in a blog post about book design, with a specific reference—even a recommendation if you can believe it!—to the services of 1106 Design and The Book Designers.

Besides getting a little hot under the collar (because yes, clients did read this article, forcing me to explain myself), the blog post made me think about how narrow a focus some people use when they think about self-publishing. It’s easy to look at cover design, page design, editing, marketing, and distribution as separate tasks with no connection. However, the steps to self-publish a book are inter-related, not autonomous. Indeed, the word “publishing” means to “prepare and issue (a book, journal, or piece of music) for public sale.” (Oxford dictionary, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/publish).

But it made me think: who prepares the AUTHOR for publishing?

Back in the day, traditional publishing was the way authors got their books to press. Lacking the technology and wide accessibility to printers, publishing companies were the true gatekeepers of the publishing business for all but political commentary printed on pamphlets and posters. They prepared the books for publishing, and they looked after the issuing piece as well.

The editor was the author’s contact at the publishing company. The role of the editor changed dramatically with Max Perkins, editor at Charles Scribner’s Sons. Unlike most editors of the time, he committed himself to signing young, promising authors, and he went on to sign such literary legends as Hemmingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe.

In the article What Exactly Does An Editor Do? The Role Has Changed Over Time, writer Lynn Neary quotes A. Scott Berg, who penned a book about Max Perkins. According to Berg, Perkins had a huge influence on the editors who came after him because of the way he worked with his authors. “Not only did he change the course of the American literary river, but he changed what editors do by becoming their best friends, their money lenders, their marriage counselors, their psychoanalysts,” Berg says. “And along the way he began offering them titles. He often provided structure for what their novels ought to be. He often gave them whole ideas for what their next book should be.”

Indeed, Max Perkins was a mentor and a guide. He worked closely with his authors, dealing with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s alcoholism and wrestling Thomas Wolfe’s thousand page tomes down to something more marketable. According to Berg, that was the way editors interacted with their writers for many years after Perkins. However, publishing has changed, says Berg. These days there is more pressure on editors to acquire best-sellers, and they are much more involved in marketing a book, which leaves precious time for actual editing or for investing as much time in any one author.

And this article doesn’t even begin to touch the self-publishing industry. Who plays “Max Perkins” for an indie author today?

Self-publishing companies are focused on preparing books for publishing. Unless the author has hired a ghostwriter or a professional editor for developmental editing, there is no one to prepare the author to publish. Even literary agents are focused on “issuing” the book, with few agents having time or inclination to nurture or mentor an author.

After reading up about Max Perkins, we at 1106 Design realized that we often take on this role; we call it “hand holding.” We fall into this role naturally due to the nature of our business model. We provide all the services to prepare a book for publishing under one roof, and even some services to “issue” the book as well. The majority of our clients hire us for most, if not all of the steps in self-publishing a book. Over the weeks and months it takes to prepare a book for publishing, we get to know our authors pretty well. And they come to rely on us for advice, mentoring, direction, and more. Because we spend so much time together—in a virtual sense—our team gets somewhat involved in the author’s life, and yes, sometimes it gets personal. Authors don’t hire us for “hand holding” per se, but in retrospect they realize the value of the added support. We prepare the author to self-publish.

While no one can replace Max Perkins, we recognize the role of friend and advisor to indie authors, and “hand holding” has been part of what our project managers do since we started in this business many years ago. It’s important for authors to find this type of support, perhaps from another author, a friend, or someone in the publishing business. Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Work Week, researched best-selling authors in his genre, emailed them all, and surprisingly, got responses! They provided an invaluable resource as he wrote his best-selling book.

Whoever ends up holding your hand throughout your self-publishing adventure, it’s imperative that you interview several candidates and make sure you feel comfortable communicating with the team you ultimately choose.

And that’s why statements such as “They don’t really want to do this work so they charge a lot and take a long time to do it,” annoy me so much. We want to do this work so badly that we willingly take on the role of “hand holder” and advisor. Providing this level of service sometimes means charging a bit more than the others. And if we only focused on doing the minimum required and not interacting with the author, perhaps we could get our work done a lot faster. Hand holding takes time, but the rewards to the author are priceless.

And that’s why we do what we do.

Contact 1106 Design to discuss your self-publishing project and how we can help prepare you to self-publish your book.

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