Saturday, February 25, 2012

Themes in Publishing: Priming the Pump

When I was a little girl, we had a pump that periodically lost its prime. My father would have to prime it so water would again flow freely from our faucets. I remember watching him and wondering about the mechanics of that process.

Publishing a book bears a strong resemblance to priming that pump. Whether you choose to self-publish, use an indie publisher, go for e-books, or find another route to get your work out, you need to make certain the mechanics of what you do assure that your book will flow seamlessly into the marketplace and find its audience.

Doing this guarantees big book sales, right? We all know better than that. What it does guarantee is a finished product that is mechanically and aesthetically pleasing. Our clear, tight content speaks to our intended audience; and our critics cannot find justifiable fault with the grammar, punctuation, presentation, or appearance. What’s next? No matter the genre, the journey we take from idea to first draft to publication follows the same mechanical route.

• Start with a plan – the journalistic who, what, when, where, why, and how.
• Research your topic – even when you think you know what you’re talking about, double-check your facts because “facts” have been known to change. This applies to fiction as well as non-fiction and do-it-yourself projects.
• Consider the needs, interests, educational background, and age of your intended audience.
• Create an outline that works for you – doesn’t need to look like an English-class assignment but should be logical and cohesive.
• Review your notes (in whatever format) and write your first draft. Grammar and punctuation need not be serious concerns at this point.
• Put the completed draft aside for a period of time – at least a few weeks if possible.
• Get it out and go over it thoroughly and with a critical eye – and so the rewrites begin.
• Now’s the time to consider grammar and punctuation. Have you used powerful verbs, created vivid word pictures, and kept your reader engaged? Does one scene or segment flow smoothly into the next?
• Send your best draft to your beta readers for feedback, and consider their suggestions and the reasons behind them.
• Polish your manuscript to the best of your ability.
• Send it to a competent editor who’s well-qualified in your genre and a good fit for your story, style, and personality. Then, under the guidance of the editor, fix the problems in the manuscript.
• If you plan to self-pub, choose a cover designer and a book-layout professional. Great content hiding inside a blah cover and stretched across uninviting pages doesn’t sell books. Also, be sure you or your designers contact the printer for appropriate templates and other guidelines.
• Present your publisher or printer with a full, press-ready package that pops – or at least as full as that entity permits.
• Be sure you have the prerogative to review the blueline or other proof and make necessary changes. If you’ve done your work right, you should find very few problems at this stage.

Now you’ve gone through the mechanical processes that take you a step closer to graduating from amateur to professional writer. You’re ready to publish your book and prime your marketing pump.

What other steps do you take to create press-ready copy of your work? What issues have you encountered in the process and how have you handled them? Do you have any advice for fellow writers who want to prime the pump to facilitate flow from hard drive to hard copy?

Linda Lane and her editing team are now teaching writers to write well. Just as teaching a man to fish will feed him for a lifetime, teaching a writer to write well will help launch him/her into the ranks of professional author and save big bucks on future editing costs. Learn more about what she and her team do at

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.