Friday, March 30, 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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  1. I write. I consider preparing to publish but it's seems so overwhelming, I guess I will just write.

  2. I'm teetering on the edge of whether to e-pub or not right now. I worry whether the numbers that sell will help or hurt me...

  3. You had me, Linda, until I got to the line: start with a plan ...

  4. This is a great technical starting point for priming the pump, Linda. But as a developmental editor, one thing I often see missing are the emotional elements of story. The heart-thumping tension, the heart-wrenching dilemma, the heart-warming conclusion. I think an author needs to be willing to go to a deeply vulnerable place to be able to write a book that will not only entertain, but stick to the ribs and impact lives.

    The last thing an author wants to hear is that his reader got to "The End," pushed the closed book away, and thought, "I am curiously unmoved." Even humorous works need to reach in and grab the reader on a deeply human level. With all our harping on technical and marketing issues, we need to make sure we don't forget why we're doing all this in the first place: to tell an unforgettable story.

  5. Get your social marketing foundation in place now. After five years, I have a network that allows me to charge clients money to promote them. Now I need to use the same platform to promote my own books, because on the marketing side, I'm ready. Again I say, get your blog, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other social sites primed now even if you haven't published. Branding = Sales. That's the way it is in today's world. And you know what? It's fun.

  6. It's best to take it one step at a time, and then it's not overwhelming. Otherwise, you'll go bonkers.

    Also, as Kathryn points out, the book needs to pack emotion. If when you're writing, you're not in totally immersed in your character, the reader will know it.

    Morgan Mandel

  7. Gail, Writing/publishing a book is a bit like building a house. You start with the foundation, and that's what you focus on. This could be character sketches, outline, or whatever works for you. Then you frame it - i.e., move on to writing the first draft. That becomes your focus. And follow a stepwise progression until you have the roof on - the inevitable rewrites. Each element is vital, and individually they aren't that intimidating. So just write. When you've completed your manuscript, you move on to the next step. But enjoy the creative process, and don't stress over what lies ahead.

  8. Traci, building a following - aka, fan base - is a good thing. That might come with e-pubbing. I just read that writers who garner significant e-pub sales may now get a second look from the publishing houses, unlike the way it was the past.

  9. Ah, yes, Christopher, the infamous plan. It'll get ya every time.

  10. Kathryn and Morgan, you're so right about the emotional elements being ever so important. This article was a bare-bones attempt to show the steps from concept to cash in the pocket, and it isn't nearly as detailed as I would like to have made it - but didn't because of space constraints.

    Writers, take note: your readers need to connect emotionally with your characters or you will lose them. As you stated so well, Kathryn, our primary goal is always "to tell an unforgettable story."

  11. Oh, Dani, how the face of publishing has changed! Great advice for writers who want to be successful marketers of their wares.

  12. You had me, Linda, until I got to the line: start with a plan ...


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