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Set boundaries, use tact and other tips for working with self-publishing authors

April 1, 2016 By Emily Donovan Conferences

Some of the self-publishing clients Dick Margulis and Jodi Brandon work with have no idea what’s going on when it comes to editing and publishing.

They include regular people who want to make a family history book, fiction writers finishing their first novel, nonfiction authors who have a niche trade following and speakers who want books to sell in the back of the room.

These are sometimes people who need you to hold their hand and explain what editing and publishing is going to be like before the process gets underway.

Margulis, who leads his own book editing, design and production company, has a series of questions he recommends asking before you get started on a project.

Is there a plausible chance of completing the project successfully? Margulis always asks what a potential client’s marketing plan is. He can make a good-looking product but it’s up to the authors themselves to make it profitable.

Is the client an author or a writer? An author is an authoritative source. A writer can craft a good sentence. It helps Margulis to know from the get-go if he is going to have to do heavy editing to make the words work.

Is this someone who you can work with? You don’t need rude, micro-managing authors in your life.

What is the schedule?

Are you OK with the content? You’re allowed to not want to work with something that’s pornographic or offends you.

What is the output? How many printed, digital, print-on-demand and e-books? What kind or kinds of binding?

What is the budget? You can produce a just-text, not-too-long, soft-cover book for a couple thousand dollars. Or a huge book could be as much as $100,000.

Margulis also has what he calls “Uncle Dick’s rules” for unexpected software behavior: Remove hands from mouse and keyboard. Breathe. Ask for help before closing the file. And remember that most situations are salvageable.

Jodi Brandon, a freelance editor with a background in traditional book publishing, also said self-publishing authors in particular tend to need expectations and boundaries set. You have to outline the editing and publishing processes for them. You also have to tell them if it’s not OK to call five times a day or expect you to call you back in the middle of the night.

Brandon recommends clarifying what the project needs versus the client’s budget versus your expertise to make sure you’re a match before the project gets started. Brandon said you’re allowed to and should turn down a project if it’s a bad match.

“A lot of times what the client thinks they need and what you think they need— they’re not the same,” she said.

The most important thing, Brandon said, is to get a contract. The Editorial Freelancers Association website has a good sample of what to make sure you include: schedules, a nonrefundable deposit, a review of services, a kill fee and no guarantee of perfection or publication. You can give the author the copyright and sign a confidentiality agreement if that makes them more comfortable.

Sometimes, one editor in attendance said, he will send an early, partial edit back to the author so the author knows what to expect from the editing process and ask if it is on the right track. It also helps them not be alarmed by the number of red marks.

“Tact” is Brandon’s favorite four-letter editing word. She recommends writing queries like “Reworked for clarity. OK?” instead of “This makes no sense! Revise.”

Lastly, Brandon suggests asking clients who seemed to be satisfied for a testimonial on your website or referrals.

ACES newsroom member Emily Donovan is a student at the University of Kansas.

Dick Margulis speaks at the 2016 ACES conference. (Mark Allen)

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