Practice makes perfect. And, as Malcolm Gladwell points out in Outliers, it takes a lot of practice, at least 10,000 hours worth.
“The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert–in anything,” writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin. “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, … this number comes up again and again. … no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. …”
Practice is what I do. When I’m trying new techniques and work flows, when I need to practice, I pester my friends for projects. (My friends are wonderfully prolific and quite tolerant, or perhaps amused by my obsessions.) If my friends don’t have anything for me, I go hunting. I look for writers whose writing speaks to me and who could use my services to make their ebooks better.
Which leads to Thomas Pluck. He writes crime fiction–“Unflinching fiction with heart.” For the past year or so I’ve been bouncing all over the internet and buying short story collections in order to read Tom’s short stories. I’ve been bugging him to put his own collection together. Finally, I sez, “I’ll produce the ebook. You provide the stories and get a cover.” He said yes.
Which leads to co-op publishing. (Along with the boast part of this post) With Tom the writer, Sarah Pluck the artist, and me the editor/producer, we were a machine. A muscle machine, I tells ya. We pulled it all together, without any hitches or glitches, in about ten days.
(I have this dream of someday having a publishing company of my own–a co-op publishing company. I don’t know how yet and I sure don’t know all the aspects and ins and outs, but that’s what practice is for. Getting my 10,000 hours in.)
We did have a big advantage going in. All of Tom’s stories had been previously published and professionally edited. So the line-editing I did was little more than fine-tuning. That saved a lot of time. The real key to our success was two-fold: Dropbox and communication. For those who don’t know, Dropbox is a cloud storage service. People can share folders and files. When working with big files or folders, it’s essential. It keeps files organized, there are no worries about missing an attachment in an email, and no worries about translation hiccups that sometimes happens with word processor files.
Communication and delegation of responsibilities were the biggest factors in our success. Tom was in charge of selecting the stories. Sarah was in charge of the cover. I was in charge of the ebook formatting. I think it’s necessary in any co-op endeavor to establish who is in charge of what and thus has final say. That prevents elements from being nibbled to death by duck committees.
- Tom placed the stories he selected in the dropbox folder.
- Sarah worked on the cover.
- I line-edited the stories, and placed my edited versions in the dropbox.
- Tom accepted or rejected my editorial input as he saw fit, then placed FINAL versions in the dropbox.
- Sarah provided me with images and fonts from the cover (I wanted full package cohesiveness in the ebook).
- Tom and I went back and forth on story order and layout of the front and back matter.
- I created the internal graphics, then we did some more back and forth to get them just right.
BOAST ALERT: I figured out how to make an image look like stamped metal! I am absurdly proud of myself.
- I formatted the book. Tom and I had done such a good job of communicating about the layout that no changes were deemed necessary.
- I proofed the ebook then sent it to Tom for the second round. (Experience has taught me, one proofreader at a time. No sense stumbling over each and catching the same errors.)
- By then Sarah was done with the cover. I slipped it into the ebook.
- Tom returned the corrections and changes he wanted.
- I inputted the corrections, made up the various ebook formats necessary for distribution.
- Tom wrote the listing description copy.
We had a book.
In about ten days.
Polished, professional, an A+ ebook I’d put up against any big NY publishing house with the quality of the stories–and it would blow them out of the water in terms of production.
Let’s talk a moment about co-op publishing. Way I see it, it’s all about equal risk, sweat equity and equal benefits. Some books take off, some don’t, some hit the middle ground, and nobody can predict going in where any particular book is going to land–or when. I don’t normally charge for my special projects. I take my pay in practice and leeway in trying out new techniques (and occasionally, wild and crazy ideas). Tom thinks my service is valuable and wanted to pay. Well. So we agreed to a co-op, but with a twist. He’s a major supporter of PROTECT: The National Organization to Protect Children. I’m a supporter, too. Now 10% of all the earnings of this book will be donated to PROTECT. The better Steel Heart: 10 Tales of Crime and Suspense does sales-wise, the more PROTECT benefits. (hint hint, go buy the book)
Big take-away message for you, folks. Indie publishers need to be creative, not just in crafting the stories but in how you produce the books. Even if you’re low on cash, you don’t have to settle for second-rate productions. Build your networks, develop your side skills (design, editing, promotion, copy writing–all valuable), horse trade and barter, and most of all practice, practice, practice.
Addendum: Great minds think alike. Tom posted on his blog today, too. You can read more about the stories in Steel Heart here.