The end of the year: Lessons learned

One thing that I think tends to keep people from trying new stuff is fear of making a mistake. This I think is especially pronounced when it comes to things that are allegedly outside of one's competence, and there tends to be this idea that normal learning experiences are proof positive that you cannot possibly ever manage the task. For example, if you are a woman who has been raised to believe that women cannot handle "man tasks" like fixing things around the house, the first time you try to do something and make a mistake, you say, "I knew I couldn't do it!" and never try again, as though a man doing it for the first time would do it perfectly.

So, I'm going to list what I've learned this year, as I've moved from being a former editor to being a one-woman publishing enterprise. It's been an education, and hopefully if you feel like you screwed up doing this or that, you will realize that it's not you--it's where you are on the learning curve. That said, these lessons apply to me--your mileage may vary.

Here we go:

  • Do the physical book first, and then the e-book. When you lay out a book, you notice all kinds of errors. Since I put up the e-books first, I had to repost them over and over again every time I fixed something in the paper book.
  • Hire a (real) copy editor. Mine made the book look much more polished as well as catching many tiny errors. You want one who actually works in the book industry, though.
  • Don't rely on Amazon's or Barnes & Noble's conversion process. It was really annoying to realize that their easy-to-use tools resulted in a hard-to-read book. Using Calibre made the books look much better.
  • E-books need to have a clickable table of contents and an interior cover. Readers expect them, and if you don't give them a clickable table of contents, you've made it all but impossible for them to navigate the book.
  • A line by itself on the top of a page is a widow. This is one of the drawbacks of having worked with professional book designers--I never saw these sorts of widows when I was proofing layouts! I sure put them in my book, though.
  • Make your margins narrow. This makes a book MUCH easier to lay out, and it results in a shorter and therefore less-expensive product.
  • Put some space between your headers and your main text. This is something the copy editor suggested, and it makes a big difference. If the header is crowded down over the text, it looks heavy and amateurish (like a report, not a book).
  • Spread out production tasks to avoid burnout. I find production pretty exhausting, and because I put the e-book up (without a cover, even!) and then scrambled to complete the production side, certain things got short shrift. And then I had to go back and re-do them again and again, so it was many times the work.
  • Cats and children hamper production. But I like them anyway.
  • If you can't write, figure out something else to do. I was having a hard time figuring out how to revise Trust (there was other stuff going on, but I think a major issue was that I needed to get some feedback on that book first), so I didn't do anything. I definitely could have worked on other things in that time.
  • Writing groups can be very useful, but can also be a major time sink. I'm going to start going back to the one I was going to earlier, but I'm going to go less frequently than I was before.
  • Many more things are possible now than were before. I need to forget all the stuff I learned about what is doable and what is not.

Here's to a more efficient and productive 2012! (God, do I sound like North Korean propaganda or what?)