Month: May 2017

Committed—Self-publishing Part 5: Last Stop Before the judgement

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

After diving headlong into research on various genres, not only the BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) codes, but into Amazon’s, Barnes and Noble’s and’s categorizations trying to divine their yardsticks for classification, and even culling blogs and literary agent sites, I suggested literary fiction, not because of it’s “literariness” so much as no genre fit well.

iUniverse countered with several different ones, saying that literary fiction has to be more stylistically complex, even experimental. I wasn’t so sure of that, but I couldn’t build a case for what I sensed was right, and as the book had to be classified somehow, I rolled with it. Looking over their suggestions, I settled, uncomfortably, with three: Fiction General, Fiction Urban, and Fiction Romance—Adult/Contemporary. None of these felt quite right, and the last two I didn’t really understand, and so this continued to bother me.

While refining the marketing text, I worked on developing an online presence: getting a domain name, a WordPress account, starting Facebook and Google + pages, though not publishing them yet, cleaning up my social media appearance, and reading more about what I needed to do to market effectively. I collected ideas, filling up yet more pages in notebooks. To the point of surfeit.

Then the content edit came back, again with many more changes than I had imagined. At least these were at the sentence and word level. Most of the changes were either necessary or obviously preferred, but some I disagreed with. Like their correction to “El” for what everyone in Chicago calls the “L”. Everyone including the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Transit Authority—style manuals be damned. “El” is for Elevated, not the whole public transit rail system. “L” is correct. Period. I wouldn’t defer on this one and they agreed. In time.

I, though, caved on using then as a coordinating conjunction: while it’s gaining acceptance, it’s not in their manual so not adding “and” might cause me problems—repeated grammar ‘errors’ don’t bode well for Editor’s Choice. The point is minor versus what I might sacrifice. If this book is successful, I won’t change it in my next I’d told myself: that though is for the future.

Mostly, this edit cleaned up some bad habits of mine, and improved the readability of the text significantly. While working on accepting, rejecting or modifying the changes made by the content editor, I had to resist the temptation to rework scenes or insert new ideas. This edit is only for sentence level changes. Deep changes would send this back to a Developmental Editor, which makes sense: We’ve been through structural issues, and are now down to the language level.

An author must mind that the structure has already been handled, and should expect that if he or she makes additional structural changes, the book will have to be evaluated at the structural level again. This helps assure the integrity of the process used by the Special Recognitions program, a process meant to assure a reader or book buyer of a book’s high quality.

As one of my editorial contacts had written me early in the process: “When we identify a book with Editor’s Choice potential, it’s about 5 percent of the books we publish. We do know that better books sell better […].”

A Perfect Blindness was written to sell well.

I was able to address all the editor’s concerns in 6 weeks and then returned the manuscript.

Next edit is the final stop before the reading that will either recommend the book to the Editorial Board for acceptance into the Special Recognitions program with an Editor’s Choice designation—or not.

This is the Quality Review. This editor does not read the whole manuscript, but rather minds the changes made after the Content Edit, assuring those specific issues have been resolved, and that no new issues have been introduced.

The standard acknowledgement came back telling me this would take approximately seven weeks to complete. It took five weeks, during which, I continued working on the marketing text as well as generating more marketing ideas, cleaning up my social media presence, and preparing for the “Cover Copy Polish” a service included in the book’s particular package that edits and proofreads exterior text and helps ensure that the cover maintains accepted industry standards in content and design.

When the manuscript came back, there were a number of minor fixes to attend to which took only three days to remedy. I returned the final manuscript to iUniverse on October 13th for judgment.

After all this effort, time, money and debate over fixing some fake underage sexuality, the book’s genre and the proper way to refer to the Chicago mass transit rail system, A Perfect Blindness lies in the hands of a reader who would, or would not, recommend it to the Editorial Review Board for the Editor’s Choice designation.

I waited. Again.

On October 20th, I got an email.

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of *A Perfect Blindness*

Committed—Self-publishing Part 5: Development edit—The rewrite

By the time I started to attack the text itself, I’d generated very many pages of notes and a copious number of ideas on note pads, in emails to myself, in Evernote and Scrivener. Even more appeared as I marched through every sentence from the first to the last. What of these piles of notes, plus the 20,000 words of cuts?

Was this now all a waste? Of my time, effort and imagination?

Then, I realized I could give this away: all these deleted scenes, false starts, and pages of behind the scenes documents can be repurposed as freebies for anyone who signs up for the mailing list, or joins the FaceBook group, or follows the FaceBook page, or Ideas for how to repackage all this material kept suggesting themselves while I transformed A Perfect Blindness into a new book.

When I first submitted the manuscript months before, I’d been burned out on it after the many versions over the past two decades: four completely different versions that shifted in person, in starting points, by adding frames, and in changing endings (even titles going from Jennifer Y to And She Smiled to Hey You, It’s Me to A Perfect Blindness), and the innumerable edits of each different incarnatin; I’d been certain I’d never have the will to completely rewrite this book yet again.

But that unpleasant gift from the developmental editor set a new fire in my mind that burned with a “hard gemlike flame”.

The rewrite took from mid August 2015 to the end of May, 2016. Much of these ten months was hijacked by other life demands, but the difficulty of the task made the time spent actually rewriting slow going, full of note checking and remembering forgotten points. Importantly though, I was under no deadline, no outside pressure. It’s my book and I’m paying for it, so it goes at my pace. I rushed nothing, and checked every change against the copious notes.

Finished with the latest, lightest version, I sent it off to iUniverse for the next step—the content edit. This editor gets down to the style, syntax and grammar of the writing itself, while making sure I addressed the developmental editor concerns.

Oh, yes, I did. Be sure of that. But not in the way Developmental Editor suggested. Nor in a way anyone could have imagined.

Then, I waited. Again. This time for seven weeks.

In the mean time, iUniverse suggested that I work on all my marketing materials, which included the cover design. I received a link to ThinkStock from which I could choose cover images. Because the full developmental package includes help in cover design, I needed to create a concept for their designer. I mocked up three. Generated back cover text. Rewrote my bio, and the keynote pitch, and all the assorted elements that would represent A Perfect Blindness in the real world.

One thing that had always nagged at me, since the initial Editorial Evaluation, was the genre of A Perfect Blindness—it doesn’t have one, yet it must have a BISAC code, a number that helps determine where a work would be shelved in a bricks-and-mortar store or the genre(s) under for which it can be searched in an online store. This has been confounding.

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of *A Perfect Blindness*

Committed—Self-publishing Part 5: Development edit—Getting down to business

After a surge of insulted outrage passed, I carefully went over all of the editor’s notes throughout the manuscript. Depressingly, I understood why the editor felt some correction or other was needed: every place with a note or suggestion for a change, well,  needed something. Not that I agreed with the suggested fixes all the time, only that it needed fixing, sometimes meaning a complete overhaul.

There were also scattered compliments: on dialogue, description, and use of little noticed habits we all have, which took the edge off some of the sharper cuts.

Still. Damn.

The first thing I decided without even thinking about it was there was no way I was going to turn this over to a book doctor.

I’d taken a gut shot to my view of myself as a writer, but I was not going down: I had tried to pull off a number of sophisticated maneuvers but had failed in most. Spectacularly. All those problems that the earlier readers couldn’t quite get a fix on or express clearly now had highlighting, notes and explanations, in specific terms that I could grasp and so act on.

I quailed at the amount of work needed. I had to re-dramatize the arcs of two thirds of the book, convert dialogue and static scenes into action in order to drive the reader through the pages, at the same time as cutting out 25 plus percent of the text, all in a book I felt completely burned out on.

A hell of a challenge, but I decided I would be up to it in spite of not wanting to live another moment inside the heads of those characters or that universe.

Starting with the main characters, I created more complete sketches, with a distilled sense of what drove them, sharpening the particular form their struggle took, clarifying each one’s arc and the specific route along the path from self-ignorance to self-knowledge each traveled until finally confronting who he or she really is, and then finding concrete ways to dramatize each path including whether the character accepts this truth or not. For each sketch, I created a specific key word that illustrated the lens through which he or she viewed the world: Passion, Power and Media.

Each sketch drills down to what would make each sympathetic: Jonathan must to be torn apart by his passion just as it lets him create, giving him a seemingly impossible choice between the two things that make his life worth living: his lover or his music; Scott was always to have been Tragic—with the capital T. Now his single-minded attention to power combines with a potent secret he keeps even from himself and drives his every action, until a final revelation, one that changes everything he has been for the reader up to that moment. While Jennifer needed the least work, she still needs to be stronger and even more sympathetic, pushing the reader to want her to tear away the lens of mass media through which she sees the world and gets her sense of self. Finally the secondary characters got treatment: many were given a secret that explained why they act as they do; the roles each one played in the individual stories of the three Point of View characters, as well as the over arching story of music, from White Heat to Mercurial Visions and finally to Merciful Release was clarified and sharpened.

These sketches allowed every scene to be rewritten to bring into sharper relief each one’s individual struggle, as well as contrasting the way each sees the world, and letting their natural conflicts flare, more often and more brightly.

All obvious this: things I’d thought I had already accomplished but had not, and my earlier readers, while sensing these failures, either didn’t have the vocabulary, or perhaps lacked the specific knowledge to enable them to explain these problems to me in a way I could recognize and fix.

These sketches generated more pages stuffed with ideas to realize.

Then, with my new character guides, arcs, sketches and notes, I set out rebuild each of the four story arcs—one for each of the three POV characters and the larger one the three create together—scene by scene looking for ways to dramatize what I had failed at before, all informed by ideas from a particularly excellent Freakanomics podcast on suspense and surprise, called, “How to Create Suspense”.

Nothing was spared the hard stare of Do You Work or NOT? Even whole scenes I recalled spending hours on, repeatedly, to the point of reading each sentence aloud to improve its sound: If it didn’t pull it’s weight, it was gone. Two bars with some of my favorite descriptions lasting dozens of pages: chopped out.

The scenes that survived, I trimmed to their essence. Over nineteen thousand words worth fell to the knife: dropping the word count from 149,000 words down to 129,700, shedding roughly 67 pages.

At the same time, the original 18 chapters grew to 61, by slicing up chapters into tighter dramatic movements with fewer scenes, frequently only one, and always with a mind to leaving unanswered the reader’s most important question: “what’s next?”

As I cut, remolded and augmented, I imagined the developmental editor reading this new version, thinking he’d never have suggested such massive changes: who’d have the patience? More importantly I knew what I had intended. She never could because I’d failed in achieving them, and it’s impossible for the editor to have suggested changes to achieve goals and effects that existed only in my mind, never on the page.

Now, I understood why no agent bothered with the manuscript in its original form: it sucked. It had never had a chance to make it to a traditional house for a development edit in the first place: no one knew what it was to look like but me, and that book was buried under so much detritus that no one could have see it. I.e. it could NEVER have made it the traditional way.

But knowing everything that I’d done wrong, I could rewrite the manuscript to that it could make it in a traditional house. The proof: an Editor’s Choice designation.

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

Committed—Self-publishing Part 5: Development edit—the startling recommondations

As iUniverse already had the manuscript, I had only to electronically sign various documents, give a deposit and accept the terms of the payment plan. That done, I was given a 5 question Developmental Editing Questionnaire to complete. It asks for a description of the intended audience; a description my vision for the book, and with that vision in mind, what specific things the editor should keep in mind; it also asks what I hope to get out of the edit; and finally gives space for other “brief” comments for the editor.

I returned 5 pages of detailed answers, including the desire to cut 25-33% of length, in order to keep the cost of a printed copy of A Perfect Blindness under $20.

Then, I waited from May 20th to June 10th.

Before the revealing the recommendations this editor gave, the structure of A Perfect Blindness needs explication for reasons that will become obvious. A Perfect Blindness uses ideas from Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet and Normal Mailer’s Armies of the Night. Both of these books explore the many faces a person can show or the many versions of an event that can be discerned, depending on the point of view taken; they require the reader to discover the truth in-between the conflicting narratives from various tellers’ points of view, most specifically told by the I of first person subjective narratives versus the he or she of objective third person narrative. Each is flawed, and all disagree—if even the stories we tell ourselves can’t be trusted, how can one decide what’s true and what choice is right?

            In A Perfect Blindness, there are three protagonists: the best friends Jonathan and Scott, and Jonathan’s lover Jennifer, each of whom narrates their personal journey as a subjective I, and as these individual stories tell the larger story of the band Mercurial Visions, each of these subjective Is collide with the he or she versions of themselves in the form of newspaper articles, other characters’ comments and their own inscrutable choices. These many points of view frequently disagree with and even contradict others, while changing over time. Late in the book and exhausted from the many mistakes each of them keeps making, Jennifer concludes that “Who we really are hangs someplace between all the stories, suspended in the contradictions.”

A Perfect Blindness moves through a world in which we constantly encounter contrary narratives of who we and everyone around us are, and that all of these stories—including the ones we tell about ourselves—distort what happens and misinterpret people to one degree or another; yet somehow, the characters must find enough truth between all these stories to “stop tripping over who people really are”, in order to live their confusing, messy lives the best as possible.

To accomplish this, the structure of A Perfect Blindness follows three primary point of view characters as each journeys, not necessarily successfully, from self-blindness toward self-understanding—both as the I in subjective first person narratives and as the he or she in objective third person narratives, with all of these stories combining to tell a larger story of their band Mercurial Visions.

And when nothing is certain, self-deception proves to be the greatest treachery.

The reason for such detail on the structure is that instead of getting the expected notes about scene cuts, small fixes, and maybe some improvements, I found that I had utterly failed with two of the three points of view. In fact, the editor suggested that I strip both Jonathan and Scott of their roles of being point of view characters, and make the book about Jennifer alone: the only character the reader found sympathetic, but who still needed to grow more of a backbone.


I’d spend untold numbers of hours of the course of nearly two decades carefully building up Jonathan as a man who always gets jilted only to find out he comes across as nothing more than a predatory lady’s man.

But, wait, that’s not what I intended…

            Too bad: That’s what is on the page.

With Scott’s motiving issue: he fails to see something very basic about himself, a fact I’d thought I’d done everything but trot onto stage as the author and tell the reader straight out.

I’d made it SO obvious!

Wrong again. On the page, Scott is nothing more than a stick-figure jerk, who’s mean simply by nature, and eventually ruins things for everyone, for no good reason.

The editor ended by suggesting a ‘book doctor’. Basically someone I turn the book over to, who then rewrites it top to bottom to fit this new developmental plan of a book about Jennifer.

Uh…. What?

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

Committed—Self-publishing Part 5: Development edit—pulling the trigger

While I had put a lot into A Perfect Blindness, I knew that alone didn’t matter. I’ve told many students who complained that they had worked “so hard” on a paper yet still got a low a grade that teachers can’t grade effort, only execution. The book market is far harsher and utterly pitiless—readers pay only for books they think they’ll enjoy: A writer can spend every spare moment on a book for decades, but if it’s not good, people won’t buy it. Period. No one can read the hours, emotions and sacrifices invested in writing it. They can only read the words on the page.

While considering whether I should take the plunge or not, I struggled less so about the book being good, or me being committed to the process of making better and then selling it—I was completely confident of these. Rather, I worried that I was being conned (spores of the cynic’s fungus had taken root in my mind, and started to spread) that these services would be expensive and useless, illusions born of my vanity; and now I had to overcome these doubts in order to sell the idea to my wife: it’s not my money, but ours.

Returning to my due diligence, I dove deep into the reputation of iUniverse, one of the family of companies Author Solutions owns, which Penguin-Random House had acquired in 2012. I delved back into the lawsuits, and actual success of self-published authors. Then, I queried my contact hard about these and a number of other logistical points, and she directed me to the dismissal of most of those law suits; I did uncover real success mixed in with oft cited statistic that most self-published books sell less than 500 copies; after a number of emails back and forth, I discovered that while a traditional publishing house pays their own editors to do all this work, plus might, possibly, give a writer an advance on expected royalties, they essentially buy the book, and then shape it the way they wish to get it ready to sell. If I pay, I do what I want: Interesting and all well and good, but of little consolation if I’m being taken advantage of.

My contact was patient, and told me everything’s up to me, but that even books that go to traditional publishing houses go through all this editing, and she finally pulled out a direct appeal to my pride: “The word the evaluator used was actually ‘stunning’.”

Flattering. That did swell my pride up. Then again, given the usual quality of writing that crosses that reader’s desk, I wasn’t sure stunning meant much more than “not awful”.

Another call, more emails. Money came up again. The additional editing would come to a few times more than the publishing service itself. But it wasn’t a firm cost: the cost of each edit depends on the number of words, and if I cut the manuscript down as planned, the costs for subsequent edits would drop. I might even get money back. Still…. This was more than a couple of month’s rent for us, and rent ain’t cheap in our part of Brooklyn.

My wife had read a draft of A Perfect Blindness, and liked, well, most of it. She had her issues, as did another couple of friends whose opinion I trust and who had read a much earlier draft that was 30% longer that what I had submitted. Their opinion, as seen between the lines of many comments, was that it could be quite good: if certain things got fixed. These things and how to fix them had always remained elusive, and after my 5th complete rewrite (7th depending on what one counts as a complete) in the past 20-odd years, I didn’t know how much more I could do with it. I was burned out on it. I had several other ideas I wanted to move on to.

After I talked all these things through with my wife, she said that since do have the money, I should go ahead with the full developmental edit package: developmental and content edits, wrapping up with a quality review and then, with luck, a recommendation to the Editorial Review Board to start on iUniverse’s version of the Traditional Publishing Path.

With her blessing, I pulled the trigger.

Next came the most serious challenges to the view I had of myself as a writer I’ve ever faced.

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

Committed—Self-publishing Part 5: onto the alternate Publishing Path—what to do with the feedback and its costs

With a generally positive, but hardly gushing evaluation, I got at list of recommended services: basically the typical things that happen to a book in a Traditional Publishing house, which follow three basic stages of the editing process from structural, to mechanical, to surface editing.

This full package starts with the Developmental Edit, basically a first to last page reading, with an eye on the target readership to determine if the content is complete and appropriate. The developmental editor addresses big-picture issues such as plot development, point of view, dialogue, characterization, and setting, and who then provides a summary of the main structural issues in the manuscript as well as more specific notes in the manuscript itself as needed. This includes flagging erroneous information, or elements not relevant to the readership, minding the plot and characters to preserve consistency, flagging instances where the material strays from the plotline. It may also offer additional suggestions to improve the work, including light fact checking.

The author receives a summary these comments which cover broad, structural issues at the story, chapter and scene levels: it could mean the addition or removal of whole scenes or characters, perhaps adjustments to the plot line, and possibly suggestions about missed opportunities. In the manuscript itself, the editor addresses issues best shown there, including pointing out contradictions, factual errors or places needing reorganization. Big picture stuff. This editor does not so much edit or revise; rather they advise.

Then it’s up to the writer to act on this, taking what advice he or she wants, rejecting other, and adapting the rest, meaning: rewriting the manuscript. Depending on the book and advice given, this rewrite could be anything from a complete overhaul to minor fixes throughout. Once the writer (or hired hand) rewrites based on the notes from developmental edit, it’s time to resubmit the manuscript for the Content Edit.

Using a different skill set and training, the Content Editor then addresses the manuscript’s details and language. While working to make sure the manuscript meets book industry style standards—the Chicago Manual of Style—this editor also ensures that the developmental issues have been addressed adequately. The editor ensures plotline and character traits are consistent throughout, and flags any parts of the book that are inappropriately placed or puts these inappropriately placed parts of the book in the correct order. Finally, he or she flags minor instances where the material strays from the intended purpose, and highlights any questions that come up for the reader that only the author could answer.

This stage gets down to the sentence level and kind of the work usually imagined when the word edit is heard: correction of errors in syntax, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. In sentences where the intended meaning cannot be discerned, the editor may merely flag it or suggest revisions to the sentence. This editor also checks for consistency of mechanics and internal facts. For phrases and word choice that are inappropriate for the subject matter or readership, the editor suggests alternates. And finally, this edit includes light fact checking where accuracy or continuity of content may be compromised (e.g., research biblical quotes, statistics, or quoted material as needed).

When the manuscript comes back from this second edit, the writer goes at it again, this time at the sentence and word level. Once the writer has finished correcting what errors there may be, answering any questions and taking or rejecting this editor’s suggestions—polishing the manuscript to get it in the best possible shape—the manuscript moves onto the Quality Review.

The Quality Review is the last stop before the manuscript goes in front of the Editorial Review Board to be judged on its quality for the “Editor’s Choice” designation. This editor does not review the entire manuscript—rather, this set of eyes checks what the author has changed since getting the Content Edit. This takes less time, usually 1–2 weeks, depending on the extent of the changes. The editor again follows the Chicago Manual of Style, the stylebook used by traditional publishing houses, throughout the review.

That edit received back, the author is given once last chance with the manuscript to take care of what notes, changes or questions that might have arisen in this last review. Once done, the author returns the finalized manuscript for submission to the Editorial Review Board.

This is a thumbs up-thumbs down read by a member of the board who is trained in publishing industry standards, reading the book as if he or she were an acquisition’s editor at a traditional publishing house. This editor decides if this book is of sufficient quality that a traditional publishing house would consider acquiring it for publication, and writes up a report for the Editorial Review Board. If it’s positive, the book gets recommended to the Editorial Review Board for the “Editor’s Choice” designation, which they take into consideration along with all the other materials the author and the editors have created, including the genre and length.

This board meets when need be, so the wait time is uncertain.

Since the book will be published with or without getting the “Editor’s Choice” designation, the waiting can be filled up with the many preparations for publication, such as updating marketing materials, working on ideas for the cover—any aspect of the book and it’s support other than the body text.

If the book with that good report is accepted by the Editorial Review Board for the “Editor’s Choice” designation, a number of good things happen.

But before any of those good things can happen, someone has to pay all these people to do all the work to get the book to good enough for that kind of report. This being SELF-publishing that means the author. This does not come cheap.

Unless someone is so wealthy that the thousands of additional dollars these services cost—many thousand more for a book as long as A Perfect Blindness—doesn’t matter to them, this forces a gut check: a clear eyed evaluation of the writer’s true commitment and the book’s realistic possibilities of selling enough copies to, at least, break even.

I am not wealthy like that. So, for me, it was time to step back.

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

Committed—Self-publishing Part 5: onto the alternate Publishing Path—first comments from the Editorial Evaluation

In the editorial evaluation, the merits of the manuscript’s writing are examined for commercial potential with the standard being would a traditional publishing house consider publishing it? To my knowledge, no other self-publishing company offers a cover-to-cover reading and evaluation like this.

Someone, ostensibly person with industry experience, reads the book cover to cover, evaluating its potential for commercial release. I took this as a weeding out process cum analysis of actual possibility: thus, for books so poorly written there is no reasonable hope for commercial success even with an extensive editing, a report will come back as a polite no, with indications of general issues.

The author of a no manuscript has a variety of choices of how to proceed after getting a negative evaluation: He or she can move on with the publication of the book, more or less as is or try to rewrite based on these comments, either by doing the work him- or herself, or by hiring editors to do the work. The latter takes the author’s initiative: iUniverse won’t recommend their own services, as they understand that no one can spin gold from straw, nor are they in the business of ghost writing someone’s great idea for a book, and that getting the reputation of selling useless services to hapless writers is a major problem. Not only as a source of bad press and negative feedback online, which drives clients away, but for the always-possible lawsuit from a disgruntled author, whole series of which they’ve won. Yet even in winning, they still lose time and money, and worse, the concomitant negative press about getting sued at all—whether or not the suit had merit or that they won—mars their reputation as well as that of the whole industry.

Once the author has either rewritten his or herself or hired editorial help, the manuscript can either be resubmitted for evaluation (incurring a second reading fee), or simply published in this new form without that second evaluation, which would remove the manuscript for possible consideration by the Special Recognitions Board: all at the author’s will.

But if the book shows reasonable possibility for commercial success, even if it needs work, a positive evaluation comes back.

Once an evaluating editor indicates a book does have commercial potential, the book becomes a candidate for the Special Recognitions Program. Only then does iUniverse talk to the author about what it takes to get a book accepted into the program. Here, a cynic cries out gleefully, “See, they are trying to milk the author for every penny they can. Every self-publisher will tell most any author, except maybe those with the most hopeless manuscripts, that their book ‘might’ be able to make it. Pay us and we’ll make it all it can be—no guarantees of course.”

But the cynic has forgotten that iUniverse wants to publish good books: not only does that burnish their own reputation, but adds to the bona fides of the self publishing industry in general, and most importantly, iUniverse makes money on every copy of a book sold. A good book that sells well will keep making them money long after any services are sold, month after month, perhaps year after year. A good book might also get translated, be made into an audiobook, or as has happened, a film. All this is additional revenue from a single

In the end, best business practices dictate giving authors a realistic appraisal of their manuscripts, and then letting the author precede as he or she wishes, encouraging editorial help only for books that have actual potential to become future money earners.

To be clear, encourage does not mean require. iUniverse never requires an author to buy any extra services. An author can take the notes from the editorial review and do any additional work on his or her own, or hire independent editors to help, or do nothing at all and simply barrel straight ahead into print. Hiring an independent editor is not difficult; there are many sites offering all kinds of freelance editing services. The implied advantage of using iUniverse services is that their editors are explicitly from the industry, and they know the specific outcomes demanded by the iUniverse Special Recognitions Board, whereas anyone else may, or may not, provide appropriate guidance or services, and thus iUniverse suggests it’s better to go with their people. A reasonable argument, even if tainted by self interest.

The wait for the Editorial Evaluation lasted three weeks, leaving me to stew in skepticism, suspicion and anticipation.

Then, I got a humbling summary evaluation of my manuscript:

You have a very promising novel. But publishers and editors are always on the lookout for ways to trim a book down to a marketable size. The plot needs some trimming and tightening: the intervals are too long between interesting action. Dialogue outweighs action, and some of the dialogue is speechifying. There are too many minor characters; although all of them are interesting, the large cast adds more bulk to a novel that is too long–149,000 words. There are not too many surface errors, although the format of thoughts not spoken aloud is inconsistent and some sentences are convoluted.

Ouch. Hardly what I’d expected: It’s good, nebulously, and has potential, but here’s a list of general problems that need fixing, including removing whole characters and chopping out hunks of text I’d spent innumerable hours on over many years.

            So, what I am to do now?

Going it Mostly Alone: the Publishing Path of A Perfect Blindness

Mind Changed: Self-publishing Part 4: intake to the alternate Publishing Path cont’ further

Hours passed as I waited for word I had to find a different publisher over explicit writing.

An email finally arrive: She explained that the restriction refers ONLY to underage characters, and so long as the characters are adults NC-17 is fine.

That resolved, they moved forward with the content edit and I returned to waiting: This time for almost three weeks.

Then I got an unwelcome surprise: I’d violated that same provision in two places.

No. That’s impossible. Everyone in the book is over eighteen.

The violation notice came with about a page and a half of text from two scenes with the offending details highlighted. I read the yellow highlighted spots as well as the exact provision it violated: “too much detail when at least one of the characters is underage.”

But these scenes didn’t “actually” happen: Both scenes involve a lie being told to a character, inside the story. In the first instance, one character lies about her age to see how the other character would react; in the second instance, one character tries to make another jealous by lying about a tryst with “younger” woman—of no specific age—at a party. In other words, the first time a character lies about her age; in the second a character lies about something that never happened. It seemed so obvious: these are both lies; no underage anything happened.

That though got me to think: This is a novel; none of this actually happened. So in a work of fiction, what is the difference between giving an explicit description of a fake sex scene and giving an explicit description of a real one? Whatever that could possibly mean in a world where everything’s fabrication. To the content evaluators, none. To a postmodernist PhD candidate, questions about the meaning of relative truths between storytelling levels could make a fine, subtle doctorial dissertation.

For me though, I had a simple choice: stick to my artistic guns and refuse to remove the subterfuge and find another publisher, or revise a couple of sentences.

I revised. The first instance, when the character lies about being 17, only required moving the clause that “she turned 19 on her next birthday six weeks later” up a couple of lines. In the second instance I simply cut out the explicit parts: Jealousy doesn’t need a graphic details. Yet after I removed them, I realized I’d missed an opportunity of raise the stakes in the scene. So, I reworked it again for another level of jeopardy by playing on the audience knowing something one of the characters didn’t. So in spite of my grumbling that this was only a lie in the first place, I was able to make the scene stronger.

That second crisis resolved, I sent the revised manuscript back, and started waiting for the okay from the content evaluator, which came quite quickly.

Because the book was on a track toward the Traditional Publishing Path, it now had a second hurdle to cross: the editorial evaluation to see if the book had any real potential.

Going it Mostly Alone: The Path to Print of A Perfect Blindness

Changing my mind about Self-publishing Part 4: intake to the alternate Publishing Path cont’ further

After taking care of the financial end, the details on how to prepare the manuscript to send into iUniverse arrived. As I’d indicated that the book was written to sell, iUniverse kept probing, and my signaling continued. The preparations for the initial manuscript intake required creating a lot of additional material including a short bio, a ‘keynote’ description (the elevator pitch for a book: a intriguing summary of the novel in 50-75 words), an 8,000 character sample of the book—what one would find on a website if it offered some sort of “look inside”, and some favorite quotes from the book: All material required for promoting a book, which is exactly what I was doing to iUniverse—selling them on the idea that the book and I might be worth investing in.

By preparing all this material without foot dragging, I was pitching myself as someone who took the process seriously, and was willing to work to deliver the best material possible to the people who would eventually recommend the novel to the Special Recognitions Board.

A few days later, A Perfect Blindness finally left my hands as an MS Word document, accompanied by various supporting documents such as the target audience, the book’s genre, my own bona fides, and thus began its trek towards becoming a book that would find its way on that alternate route to the Traditional Publishing Path.

Receipt was confirmed, and iUniverse began the one evaluation all books undergo regardless of its goals or what publishing package the author decides to get, which requires a small ($150) nonrefundable deposit against the total cost whatever package was chosen: the Content Evaluation. Here, the book’s content is analyzed to, in their words, “ensure the originality of content, integrity of works sited, usage rights of images, and [for any] statement which might be considered libelous, defamatory, or against our policies.” If it passes this test, then it moves on. If not, the writer can either fix any violations or refuse to revise the offending text. In the latter case, the publication stops, the agreement is voided, package fee refunded, deposit kept. Done.

While its content was being evaluated, I read deeper into the agreement to make sure I understood what I was and was not getting. While digging into the small print, I came across verbiage that looked like a deal breaker: that explicit sex is a violation of their terms and will not be printed. Since there are few explicit scenes that I cannot remove without breaking the book, I told my contact that if they can’t print the book because of this, they can keep my deposit and we’ll go our separate ways.

She had to get back to me.

Going it Mostly Alone: self-publishing A Perfect Blindness

Changing my mind about Self-publishing Part 4: intake to the alternate Publishing Path cont’

After the call, my contact at iUniverse sent over a selection of three packages that fit what we discussed. Each included an “editorial evaluation”, which would open the door to their Special Recognitions Program— if it got a positive assessment. One plan was fairly stripped down, no frills, quick to see it in print idea, but had a restriction in the Special Recognitions Programs eligibility: I knew very little about the program then, but that didn’t seem good. The other two plans looked better for the aspirations I had for the book: Both had a number of features geared toward making sure the book gets into good enough shape to have a better chance to survive on a bookseller’s shelves (e.g. review of the cover copy), and the more flush of the two included features that made the book financially more attractive for stores to put it on the shelves in the first place, especially the returns program similar to the one that traditional distributors give. Given the cost for these important extras was not great (around a grand then) I decided on that plan.

When I’d browsed the iUniverse site earlier, I seen quite a number of plans offering various configurations of different services and add-ons—this or that help in editing and marketing, others with help for websites, and so on—things that sounded nice, but seemed excessive for now: I wanted to take things slowly, and make sure I was fully informed and clear eyed before making any large commitments: did I actually need this or that service? Fortunately, my contact at iUniverse had understood my position well enough after our call to not have wasted my time even offering them.

The agreement arrived via email. It dealt mostly with the logistics, each party’s responsibilities, the copyright owner, guaranteeing ownership of content and the like —the tedious legal end of publishing—as well as some discussion of available book sizes and formats, such as soft or hardbound and eBooks, only mentioning that editing and marketing options existed but are not included. I hadn’t known then, but iUniverse won’t suggest those additional services until after the manuscript has first been vetted for prohibited content and accepted for publication, and then only for books with packages like mine, which include an Editorial Evaluation—if and only if the book gets a sufficiently good assessment on its evaluation to actually warrant more work. After asking a lot of questions about the logistics of POD, bookstores, returns, who pays for those (not me) and the like, I signed the agreement.

Very soon, the complete faith I had had in my book and my skills as a writer were both seriously challenged.