5 Ways an Editor Is like a Dentist

by Carla Douglas and Corina Koch MacLeod
@CarlaJDouglas  @CKmacleodwriter

This post first appeared on August 6, 2014, at TheBookDesigner.com.

scary dentist
Image by Soxophone Player

Most of us look on a trip to the dentist with a mixture of guilt and dread: we know we need it, but it’s going to hurt. The sight of the needles, the sound of the drill and the thought of the final bill are enough to induce hyperventilation. Sadly, we’ve observed that some writers perceive editors the same way.

Don’t editors also probe and poke a little too deeply and strike a nerve when you least expect it? And don’t they tell you to rein in your head-hopping POV and avoid adverbs, just as a dentist will caution you about the perils of red wine and too much candy?

Now, we know that dentists provide essential and worthwhile services, and so do editors. They’re necessary, but they aren’t always pleasant. Just for fun, here are a few more ways an editor is like a dentist, along with some tips for getting the most out of an editing experience.

1. When needed, a dentist will refer you to a specialist. There are specialties in editing, too. Do you need your teeth straightened? Then you should see an orthodontist. But if your manuscript needs straightening? Ah—there’s an editorial equivalent: a structural editor. For cleaning and polishing? A dental hygienist…or a copyeditor and proofreader. Need a new set of teeth entirely? See a denturist…or perhaps you need a ghostwriter. The list goes on.

Ideally, when you choose an editor for a project, you’ll want someone who is familiar with your genre and with the kind of editing your book needs. Each kind of editing requires a special skill set. Most editors develop specialty subject areas and genres, and many will have an educational background that matches your requirements. The key is to conduct a thorough search for someone who has the experience and knowledge you’re looking for.

Tip: Look for an editor who has experience with the kind of book you’re writing and the kind of editing you need. Consult editors’ profiles at professional editing organizations for this information:

  • Editorial Freelancers Association
  • Editors’ Association of Canada
  • Institute for Professional Editors (Australia)
  • Society for Editors and Proofreaders

You can also ask authors whose books you admire to share the names of their editors. Improve your chances of getting the best editor for your book by selecting authors who write books in the same genre.

2. Dental work can be expensive, and so can editing. And for both, you can get a quote up front about exactly what work needs to be done and how much it will cost. Sometimes, though, in performing a service, a dentist will discover an underlying problem that will add to the total bill. That can be true for editing, too.

Tip: To prevent any surprises, ask your editor to tell you right away if she uncovers something in your manuscript that could cost you time or money later. The problem, once identified, might be something you can address on your own or with your editor’s help, early in the editing process.

3. Dentists perform extractions, and so do editors. In both cases, it can be painful, but it needn’t be. A good dentist will only extract a tooth when it’s absolutely necessary. She’ll offer and administer anesthetic and pain medication, and the result will be a healthier mouth. An editor may suggest that you cut out areas of text that are not working for the project as a whole. As painful as this may be, paring down almost always improves a book.*

For example, if there are many instances of telling instead of showing in your story—something that will most definitely cause readers to zone out—wouldn’t you want to know about it? It doesn’t feel great when an editor points this out, and getting that news will likely require some rewrites on your part. Dealing with the problem now may prevent you from wondering why your book isn’t selling later. Keep in mind, too, that a good editor will deliver news in a respectful and constructive way, with steps you can take to fix the problem.

Tip:  Be brave: ask your editor what’s not working in your story. The answer might mean more work for you, but it could also mean a better book. Remember, an editor reads with the reader in mind, but he also wants to help you to write your best book.

*You should probably not count on your editor for pain medication, although she might buy you a nice bottle of red when your manuscript is published. Don’t tell your dentist.

4. In dentistry and in editing, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Having regular check-ups and following your dentist’s advice about brushing and flossing can save you discomfort and money later on. You can say the same thing about editing. Here’s what an editor can do for you if you check in early—even before you begin your first draft. An editor can

  • help you structure your novel or nonfiction book, preventing hours of rewrites later
  • suggest other ways of presenting information that will be more accessible to the reader (nonfiction)
  • help you create a sample chapter (template) that you can pattern the rest of your chapters after
  • highlight quirks in your writing (we all have quirks), which, once identified, are easy enough for you to fix on your own
  • suggest resources that will help you improve your writing
Tip:  If you’re not sure what kind of editing you need, ask for a mini-manuscript evaluation. An editor can do an assessment of 50 pages of your writing that will tell you what you can do to improve your book, without the expense of a complete edit.
Dental Tools 1
Image by CircaSassy

5. Dentists have an abundance of tools at their disposal, and so do editors. If you walked into a dentist’s office and saw these  in your dentist’s toolkit, you’d probably turn and run. To stay current, dentists regularly invest in the best equipment and tools, and they also invest the time needed to learn to use them effectively.

Editors, too, invest time and money in tools and training. An editor’s toolkit, while just as varied as a dentist’s, is hopefully much less threatening. It’s possible to edit a manuscript without tools, but editing tools can make all the difference, as they help editors complete editing projects more quickly, accurately, and efficiently.

Tip: Writers can learn to use some of the tools that editors use. Some tools, like writing and editing macros, are free, and involve a willingness to try something new and a small amount of time (see this 20-minute macro course for a an effective tool that won’t take too much time to learn). Others will require some study and will cost money. All the editing tools automate tasks and can help you to improve the quality of your book.

Finally, there’s one important way an editor is not like a dentist: Your dentist will never encourage you to work collaboratively with him. He will never say, “Hey, why don’t I freeze your mouth, then I’ll give you the pliers and you can pull out that pesky tooth yourself. I’ll be right here if you need help.”

But an editor might. Hiring an editor doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. At least, at Beyond Paper, we don’t think so. We think editing can be a collaborative process between the author and editor.

Sure, you can hire an editor to fix your writing for you—which is traditionally what authors have done—but this option often costs more than a self-publishing author is willing or able to pay. When presented with the potential costs, self-publishing authors opt out of editing entirely, not realizing that there is another workable and affordable option.

Consider approaching editing in a new way: participate in the editing process by asking your editor to point out what needs to be fixed, and then do some of the fixing yourself with your editor’s guidance, if you like. If you’re willing to do some of the heavy lifting, this approach to editing can save you money on editing costs, and you’ll also gain valuable insights into your writing that you can apply to your next book.

Tip: Editors often know a great deal about how to make writing better, so don’t be afraid to tap into that knowledge and, in the process, acquire some of it yourself.

We’re fairly sure that we don’t need to convince you of the value of going to the dentist. Similarly, if money weren’t an issue, we think more self-publishing authors would avail themselves of editing services.

Bestselling books usually go through an editorial process that helps to create the best possible reading experience, and you’d probably like to provide your readers with a similar experience. If you’ve suspected that working with an editor may be more pain than you’re willing to endure, try suggesting a collaborative approach to editing. And don’t forget to floss.

What Kind of Self-Pub Are You? A Questionnaire and Tips for Maximizing Your Self-Pub Style

4 of a kindby Carla Douglas and Corina Koch MacLeod
@CarlaJDouglas     @ckmacleodwriter

What’s your self-pub personality type? That’s right—there’s more than one!

Maybe you see yourself as one of a kind, and therefore you won’t be thrilled to be lumped into a category with others. On the other hand, you might see yourself as a member of a tribe. Your common traits and goals help establish your identity, and you won’t like the idea of being placed in a sub-group.

As editors, we’ve had the opportunity to work and interact with a variety of self-pubs. And over time, we’ve identified some distinct self-publishing styles and approaches. Below, we’ve narrowed our findings to four self-pub personality types.

Take our quiz to find out what kind of self-pub you are.

Note: Results may vary! You may discover that you don’t fit neatly into one category. That’s okay. This questionnaire is designed to get you to begin thinking about how you approach self-publishing and where editing fits into the scheme. We’ll summarize the characteristics of your type, and add some tips and resources that will help you get the most from the editing and production process.


1. What is the most important feature of a published book?

a) The story or message has to be compelling

b) It has to be highly appealing to many potential buyers

c) Impossible to narrow to a single feature—everything is important

d) Depends on why the book was written, but overall it has to be professional looking


2. What are you mostly likely to do after you get a story idea?

a) Start writing—the story or structure will emerge on its own

b) Start writing from the beginning and systematically work through to the end

c) Sketch a loose story outline and begin writing at any point in the story, as soon as possible

d) Create a detailed story outline before writing, with most things worked out ahead of time.


3. What steps are you most likely to follow to get your book from idea to published?

a) Draft, rewrite (x3), publish

b) Write, proofread, publish

c) Draft, edit, publish

d) Draft, revise, edit, proofread, publish


4. How do you handle the editing part of the self-publishing process?

a) I self-edit. I may ask a critique partner or trusted friend to read my book.

b) I self-edit and use beta readers.

c) I use beta readers for the revision stage and an editor to polish the final product.

d) I only use an editor.


5. What do you do with the feedback you get from critique partners, beta readers, editors and readers?

a) If I get feedback, and it’s not what I expected, I freak out and stick the book back in my drawer for several months.

b) I only make the changes I agree with.

c) I take some time to think about the changes before I make them. I might even research some of the suggested changes to see if they’ll actually make my writing better.

d) I make nearly all of the changes an editor suggests because I’ve hired an editor to tell me what I don’t know.


6. How do you tell if an editor is a good fit for you?

a) I don’t use an editor.

b) I send a chapter to several editors and ask for a sample edit from each of them. If I hire an editor, I base my decision on the sample chapters.

c) I ask fellow self-pubs for recommendations and go with a recommendation.

d) I scour professional editing databases for an editor who’s an expert in my genre.


7. What kind of editing are you comfortable with?

a) No editing. My story, my words. You shouldn’t mess with art.

b) I’m open to suggestions about how to make my story better, but please don’t touch my words.

c) I want to know what will make my story better, and I’m fine with suggestions for cleaning up my writing.Tell me what I need to do and I’ll try and fix it.

d) Fix it for me.


8. How likely are you to use tech tools to improve your writing?

a) There are tech tools that can help me to improve my writing?

b) I have my favourite writing tech tools. I’m open to learning about new tools, though, especially if they’re free or low-cost, or if they help me to do something more efficiently.

c) If you apply the tech tools to my writing, and teach me what the results mean, I’ll try to make the changes they suggest.

d) Not likely. I prefer that my editor run the tech tools on my writing, and apply the changes they suggest.


9. How likely are you to use a style guide to polish your writing?

a) What’s a style guide?

b) I’ve heard about style guides, but I don’t use them.

c) I try to follow the style guide that fellow self-pubs or my editor recommends.

d) I let my editor pick a style guide. My editor will ensure that my book follows that style.


10. How much are you willing to pay for an editor to edit a 300-page book?

b) Up to $300 —

a) $0 — You can’t mess with my words—my story will carry itself.

Give me feedback on a chapter, and I can apply your advice to the rest of my book.

c) $750 — Read my whole book and make suggestions for improvement. Do as much as you can for me within my budget. Copyedit a sample chapter so I know how to clean up my writing.

d) $1500+ — I’d like the best possible outcome for my book project.

What type of self-pub are you?

If most of your answers were

a) you’re an Optimist:

  • for you, it’s all about the writing
  • you have a great story to tell, and you’re eager to dive right in
  • you’ll give self-publishing a try, see what happens, and hope for the best
  • you have a long list of books that you can’t wait to get started on
  • you figure you’ll get better with practice—your next book will naturally be better than the last


b) you’re a Do-it-Yourselfer:

  • you’re hungry for knowledge and you scour the internet for info because you want to understand every aspect of self-publishing
  • you’re not afraid of the more technical aspects of self-publishing
  • you want control over all stages of the publishing process
  • you like to keep costs down by doing things yourself
  • you might look for low-cost services


c) you’re a Collaborator

  • you work to your strengths by doing what you know you can do well
  • you tend to get help for things you don’t know how to do
  • you want to participate in every aspect of the publishing process
  • you can’t think about possible future writing projects until this one is all tied up
  • you don’t necessarily want a career in writing—you want a container for this one important book


d) you’re a Project Manager

  • you know there’s a lot to know, and don’t know a lot (yet)
  • you know your limitations
  • you hire experts to help with those things you don’t know how to do, or that aren’t the best use of your time
  • you’re business savvy—efficiency is important to you
  • you have the resources to build a publishing team


Types and Tips

So, how did you do? Any light-bulb moments? Remember, this is all in good fun, and as we said, you may straddle more than one category. Our hunch, though, is that you’re probably more one type than another. What follows are a few tips that will help keep you on the straight and narrow while still remaining faithful to your own personal style.


You’re confident in your story and your storytelling abilities. You might be a bit intimidated, though, by everything that goes into the self-publishing process. Editing? Yes, you know it’s part of the process, but the story is what matters. And you’re still not sure about allowing others to edit your work. For you, editing might not extend beyond self-editing or revising, but it’s important to know that you could be limiting your options. Revising is the best you can do with your own writing with some or no feedback. Editing is the best that someone else can do with your writing.

The more you know, the more confident you’ll be when making decisions about everything from editing to cover design. Where to begin? Right here, at The Book Designer website, where there are carefully curated posts about editing and self-publishing.

If you prefer an all-in-one package for getting started with editing and self-publishing, we recommend Joanna Penn’s Author 2.0 Blueprint, available free at The Creative Penn. She covers topics like first draft, revisions and editing, and explains the differences between these tasks. The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself, by Susan Bell, offers practical tips for self-editing and case studies of famous writers and their editing practices.


As the name implies, you’re all for doing it yourself! Truthfully, though, it doesn’t always make sense to try to handle the whole process of self-publishing alone. How many of us can say we’re skilled in writing, editing, designing a book interior and creating a great-looking book cover?

The good news is that you can accept help from the pros and still do it yourself. How? Avail yourself of some of the many tools designed for self-pubs: Print and ebook interior and cover templates from The Book Designer will take care of two of the most difficult aspects of book production for self-pubs. There’s also Joel Friedlander’s free resource,10 Things You Need to Know About Self-Publishing.

And, for true DIYers, check out the editing macros you can use to fix common problems in your writing. Also, watch for our forthcoming book, You’ve Got Style: A Self-Publishing Author’s Guide to Ebook Style, which outlines tips and tools for copyediting your book.


You have a clear vision of what you want from your finished book. You know and respect your audience and you’re certain that your message will resonate with them, too. What’s more, you also know your own limitations—you can’t do it all yourself.

When it comes to writing, you don’t necessarily want a career, you want a container for your ideas—they need to be arranged and packaged in the best way possible to meet your readers’ needs. You have an idea of the kind of help you need, but you still have many questions.

Finally, you want to both understand and participate fully in the process, and Corina Koch MacLeod’s Idea to Ebook: How to Write a Quality Book Fast is the book that will help you do that. It steps you through the process and clearly defines the revising, editing and proofreading tasks involved along the way.

Project Manager

You understand well that self-publishing your book will involve many hands. You’ll need an editor, book designer, proofreader, cover artist—and perhaps publicists and marketing consultants as well. Whoa. That’s a lot of balls in the air! But you’re business savvy, and you love nothing more than orchestrating this kind of operation.

To stay on course, you need to know what the role of each participant is. Once you know what everyone is doing, you’ll make decisions with more confidence and you’ll also see where there might be bumps in the road.

You’ll find, too, that there are many tasks you can do yourself, and that these are both fun and rewarding. For a comprehensive guide to self-publishing, Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch explains the process clearly. For a discussion on the role of editing in the self-publishing process, consult Sarah Kolb-William’s book, The Indie Author’s Guide to Book Editing: How to Find, Hire, and Work with the Right Editor for Your Manuscript.

That’s it—our first foray into self-pub profiling. Don’t be overwhelmed by the long list of resources. They’re there to guide you, to dip in and out of as needed when questions arise. Also, try stepping outside of your usual pattern. Explore resources and tips from the other profiles and see if doing things a bit differently improves your results. Self-publishing is a process, after all, and it’s likely that you’ll improve over time.

Image by Domiriel

At a Glance: Ebook Formatting for Kindle Publishing

Updated January 10, 2015

by Corina Koch MacLeod

In a previous post, I provided you with a “cheat sheet” that will help you format an ebook for Lulu using Microsoft Word. This week’s cheat sheet is for formatting an ebook for Kindle Publishing, using Microsoft Word 2010.

Amazon has a few guides for formatting a Kindle ebook using Microsoft Word:

Building Your Book for Kindle
Building Your Book for Kindle for Mac
Simplified Formatting Guide
Formatting for Kindle
Kindle Publishing Guidelines

You may need to read beyond these guides in order to troubleshoot the quirks of the Kindle conversion software. I’ve found these resources to be helpful:

Formatting of Kindle Books, by Charles Spender
From Word to Kindle,by Aaron Shepard
Pictures for Kindle, by Aaron Shepard
HTML Fixes for Kindleby Aaron Shepard

Kindle Cheat Sheet


  • You can upload one of several file formats to Kindle Publishing. In this post, I’ll focus on the Word-to-Kindle process, where you upload either a Microsoft Word .doc file or a .docx file. Tracy R. Atkins suggests reasons for why you might want to work with a .docx file instead a .doc file.
  • After you’ve formatted your Word file, Amazon recommends that you save it in Word as Web Page, Filtered (Windows) or Web page (Mac).

Document Clean-Up

  • Be sure that you’ve removed any typewriter formatting from your Word document before you begin to format it. Extra spaces between words and paragraphs, as well as “unintended” fonts lurking invisibly in the background, can make a mess of your ebook.
  • Remove any headers, footers, page numbers, comments, columns, text boxes and nonbreaking hyphens (these typically show up in files originally formatted for print). Accept all tracked changes.

Document Set-Up

  • Use Word Styles to style chapter headings. This will make it easier to generate a table of contents (TOC) automatically in Word later on.
  • Tip: to see if you’ve used Word Styles to style your headings, open your Word document and then open the Navigation Pane or Document Map if you’re on a Mac. Click on the Outline tab on the left. If you’ve styled your headings using Word styles, the headings will be listed in the Navigation Pane. You can click on these headings to navigate your document.
Navigation pane in Word 2010


  • Set your book title in the “Title” style in Word Styles.
  • Set chapter headings as Heading 1s and subheadings as Heading 2s, and so forth.
  • Setting your headings in this manner will ensure that readers will be able to access your TOC from the Go To menu.

Table of Contents

  • Generate an internally hyperlinked TOC by using Word 2010’s automatic TOC feature (References tab>Table of Contents). Mac users will have to generate a TOC manually.
  • Place your TOC at the front of front of your ebook, so it shows up in the Look-Inside feature on your Amazon book page.
  • Use Word’s bookmark feature to bookmark your TOC so that it shows up as a “guide item” on an e-reader’s Go To menu.


  • Use a “safe font,” like Times New Roman, that translates well on a variety of Kindle readers and apps. Remember, the reader has the option to change the font, anyway.
  • For font sizes, stay within the 10-point to 18-point range. A 12-point font works well for running text.
  • Make sure your font is set to “Automatic” in Word. This will prevent your fonts from showing up in an unwanted colour.
  • Chris Robley suggests to avoid using special characters that don’t appear on your keyboard (yet another reason why Times New Roman is a good font choice: it contains lots of “legal” special characters. Access them in Word by going to Insert > Symbol).
  • You can apply boldface and italics using the buttons on Word’s ribbon.


  • Set paragraph styles based on Normal in Word Styles. According to Aaron Shepard, in his book From Word to Kindle, the Kindle converter hijacks Word’s Normal paragraph style, but will leave any style based on Normal alone. Tip: renaming Normal will “trick” the Kindle converter into leaving your Normal style alone.
  • Avoid using too many hard returns to create spaces after paragraphs: they can create blank pages in smaller e-readers. It’s better to set a 10-point space following a paragraph by modifying your paragraph style (Word Styles>Normal>Modify).
  • Style your paragraphs as justified, as the Kindle converter will change them to justified by default, anyway. If you prefer left-justified text, you can tweak your paragraph settings in the HTML code (see Aaron Shepard’s book From Word to Kindle).
  • First-line indents are the paragraph style by default. If you want to use block style, you’ll have to trick the Kindle converter by setting an imperceptible first-line indent or by tweaking the HTML (Aaron Shepard’s book HTML Fixes for Kindle will tell you how).
  • Avoid hanging indents. Older Kindles don’t handle them well.

Page Breaks

  • Insert a page break right after the last sentence of the chapter by going to Insert>Page Break in Word. This will prevent your chapters from running together.
  • Insert a page break after the title page.


  • Don’t style bulleted and numbered lists from the buttons on Word’s ribbon.
  • Style bulleted lists using Word’s paragraph styles (see Formatting of Kindle Books, by Charles Spender) or insert a bullet manually using Insert>Symbol, and select the bullet symbol.
  • Style numbered lists using Word’s paragraph styles, or insert numbers manually.
  • Consider using Jutoh to format your book and create your .mobi file, as it tends to handle bullets and numbered lists rather well.


  • To create an off-book hyperlink, go to Insert > Hyperlink > Address and type in the URL. Don’t link to other online bookstores.
  • For within-book hyperlinks, go to Insert > Hyperlink > Place in this document.


  • Save images as a JPG or GIF, with a resolution of 96 ppi (Windows) or 72 ppi (Mac).
  • According to Aaron Shepard in Pictures on Kindle, JPGs are the best format for pictures, and GIFs are best for line drawings and tables. PNGs work for line drawings, too, though they tend to be a rather large file size.
  • Insert images inline and centre them (In Word 2010: Insert>Picture).
  • Place an image in its own “paragraph.”
  • Set larger images on a page by themselves. This may require you to insert a page break before and after the image.
  • Images should be no larger than 500 x 600 pixels and no smaller than 300 x 400 pixels.
  • Make sure images are in RGB (red, blue, green) format.
  • Recommended cover image size: 600 x 800 pixels.

Diagrams and Tables

  • Save diagrams, line drawings and tables as images in GIF or PNG format, and insert them inline.
  • Diagrams and tables should contain a font size of no less than 6 pixels for the letter “a.”


  • Use Word’s bookmark feature to link “footnotes” to “footnote” markers in the running text. Go to Insert > Hyperlink > Place in this document.


Most distributors have strict rules about advertising in your ebook (don’t do it), and Amazon is no exception. Remember to fill out your book’s metadata so readers can find it on the Amazon website.

Each distributor’s conversion software has its quirks. Their formatting guides are designed to help you to prepare a Word document that works with their conversion software. If your file doesn’t convert the first time, don’t give up! Go back to the formatting guides to see if you missed anything. It often takes a few tries to get it right.

For additional help with Kindle ebooks, check out the KDP support forum.

Image by Petra B. Fritz

Where Are the Self-Pubs in Educational Publishing?

by Carla Douglas @CarlaJDouglas

image by Libby Levi

It’s no secret that change comes slowly to education—it’s a big ship, and for so many reasons, it can’t change course as quickly as most of us think it should.

But education, at least in the K–12 stream, is embracing digital—from e-textbooks to tablets to blended and online learning, digital is making its presence known. The large, traditional educational publishers are certainly present, having introduced digital components to textbooks (iClickers, for example), online testing, e-textbooks and more.

And you don’t have to look far to see that there’s a mad scramble to be innovative. Startups are elbowing in with learning apps and other tech solutions for curriculum design and delivery. The digital dynamic is well represented. But the self-publishing revolution that accompanied the digital disruption of the wider publishing industry doesn’t appear to have hit education yet.

Where Are the Self-Pubs?

Well, I think they’re where they’ve always been: in the classroom, hiding in plain view. They’re here, but they haven’t yet embraced the idea that the education ship can and should change direction.

Teachers have always been self-pubs. Remember the Ditto machine? For generations, it was the instrument of content production. Teachers ran off math sheets, language arts readings and questions, review units, chapter summaries, tests and exams—anything that might be called a consumable. Much of the content they created themselves.

The Sharing Economy

Teachers are resourceful, and in public education there is often an air of scarcity and a perceived need for frugality. Teaching exemplifies the sharing economy—busy teachers trade their custom-made resources amongst each other to meet their local curriculum needs and to keep the classroom machine humming along. (Sometimes they share a little too generously: as creators of educational resources, we know that the photocopier has never been our friend.)

What does this have to do with the self-pub revolution? Teachers are already performing that role, to a degree, by doing what they’ve always done. They’re creating content—original or patched together from various sources—and distributing it to colleagues at little or no cost. Course textbooks selected and prescribed by school and board administrators provide the bulk of the curriculum, but locally developed materials supply the rest, and sometimes this is a large gap to fill.

Educational Self-Publishing?

But K–12 teachers haven’t yet embraced the indie model. For one thing, they’re distributing their content to a narrow base without considering wider opportunities. I get this—the life of a classroom teacher is hectic and demanding, and sometimes just looking beyond the next period is a challenge, let alone casting one’s eye to the horizon. But whether they are suppliers of content or consumers, teachers don’t yet seem ready to upset the apple cart.

Time for Disruption?

Is anyone prepared to interfere with what’s going on up the food chain in traditional publishing? Yes, there are small independent publishers that contribute handsomely to the curriculum resources pot. But they seem to have agreed—tacitly or not—to play by all the old rules. Not just by observing traditional pricing strategies, but also by following the terms for discounts, purchasing, shipping, billing, and so on, that harken back to the old model.

It’s like there are two worlds: the industrious hives of activity in schools and classrooms, which are carrying on much as they always have, and the established traditional educational publishers who continue to occupy their share of the turf.

There’s room for disruption here. We plan to be part of it.

Image by Libby Levi

Our Route to Self-Publishing: 3 Moments That Mattered Most

by Carla Douglas (@CarlaJDouglas)

Image by Jun
Image by Jun

Isn’t hindsight wonderful? If you’re willing to look back, you’ll find a map of not just where you’ve been, but also your wrong turns along the way. Better still, hindsight reveals those gilded moments when you made all the right moves, launching yourself in a new direction.

Over the past 12 years, we’ve made plenty of both. Here are three of the most significant moves we’ve made, to date. They’ve been pivotal, and have pointed us in the direction we’re now taking now with self-publishing.

1. We redesigned our first book.

We’ve always had a dual audience: the 15-year-olds who have to write a standardized high-stakes literacy test and the teachers who are tasked with preparing them for it. This move required us to shift our focus from teacher to student, but always with an eye on how teachers were using our books.

Changing our resource from a comprehensive teacher guide to a consumable workbook that students could use for self-directed study was the right move, and the incentive came from our publisher who, after all, had a direct link to teachers and schools. She was both listening to what teachers said and watching for trends. We subsequently revised and reissued this resource four times, and it remains our top seller.

2. We published an ebook.

Don't Panic 2.0: On-the-Go Practice for the OSSLT
Don’t Panic 2.0: On-the-Go Practice for the OSSLT

In 2012, almost ten years in, the ebook and self-publishing revolution was well underway. The market had slowly become saturated with similar resources and our sales continued the decline they’d begun in 2008. By now, social media was all we needed to track trends ourselves. Messages from our publisher—our link to our market and audience—were vague and intermittent: There’s an election around the corner. Budgets are very tight right now.  

With little to risk, we updated our most current workbook with new content, had it formatted, and put it up on Smashwords. Creating an app was also a possibility at the time. But this was 2012, and creating something that complex would have required working with programmers and designers priced beyond our budget.

Publishing the ebook was the right next move. Although we didn’t sell a lot of copies—we realize now that it wasn’t the best format for the skills we are teaching—it moved us forward in countless other ways.

For one thing, it prompted us to create our own website and social media presence, providing a place where we could interact with our audience first-hand. And this is where the real work began, researching trends in ebook production, how digital technology was being used elsewhere, sales, marketing and promotions—all the things we’d been relying on our publisher to take care of.

Education is notoriously slow to adapt to change. This worked in our favour, though, because when teachers were ready to dip a toe into digital, we were already there.

3. We created an interactive digital resource that uses free, widely available tools. It mimics beautifully the best features of our print book, but it enhances literacy development in ways that print just can’t.

What’s more, this happened almost by accident. We were attending an editing conference in 2013 when a teacher contacted us through our website. Describing herself as not especially “tech savvy,” the teacher explained that she thought she wanted a bulk order of ebooks—something students could download to a computer, complete their work, and re-upload to a teacher.

Our ebook wasn’t designed to do that, but Corina recognized right away that an interactive PDF, coupled with Adobe Reader XI’s Read Out Loud feature would offer students the options they needed. A back-and-forth exchange with the teacher, further adaptations to our student workbook, and voilà: a pilot of our new resource the following winter at this teacher’s school.

Yesterday we sold our first interactive resource from our website—and don’t think for a minute that getting there was easy or fun. But here we are, as a result, we think, of our readiness to listen to our audience, to be aware of trends in education and digital technology, and to recognize an opportunity when it presents itself.

Why We’re Choosing Self-Publishing Now

by Carla Douglas (@CarlaJDouglas)

Image by DieselDemon
Image by DieselDemon

For 12 years, we’ve been successfully writing educational resources and publishing them with an independent press. We’ve had a good run, producing eight titles, and our relationship with our publisher for the most part has been positive and warm. This fall, however, we’ve made a sharp turn. We’ve taken the publication process back, and we’re doing almost all of it ourselves.

Here’s a bit of background. Corina and I met on the job in 2001, writing and editing curriculum for the Ontario Ministry of Education. Around this time the Ministry piloted a province-wide literacy test—a requirement for high school graduation—that 40 percent of students failed.

Corina was certain that something was wrong with the test—how questions were worded, how students interpreted instructions. We scoured the Ministry website for anything we could find about the test and how it was designed, then we wrote our own guide that teachers could use to help their struggling students over this hurdle.

We wrote and revised several drafts in MS Word, and through some digging, Corina found a guy who offered her a password protected copy of his very helpful formatting guide, From Word to Print. (Thank you Jim Hamilton of Green Harbor Publications—the generosity of the self-pub community was evident even then.)

Then we needed a publisher. The test would be administered again in October. We sent out queries, and we generated some interest—first from a small educational publisher with an excellent reputation for teacher resources, who told us our book was “too niche.” Yes—a resource to guide 100,000-plus students through a high-stakes test each year was considered niche.

We also shopped our book to a major Canadian educational publisher who 1) wanted exclusivity for 60 days, 2) said that if accepted, the book would be published in 12-18 months, and 3) told us that author royalties were 6 percent.

We were pretty sure we could do better, and on the Friday afternoon before the Labour Day weekend, I searched once more, and sent a query off to a little educational press I’d never heard of. The publisher replied by phone the next day at noon, and she was eager to act on this quickly. She offered us a generous (for the time) royalty rate of 26 percent, and by the end of September 2002, we had books in teachers’ hands.

By the time we began sending out queries, we had a good product—professionally written and edited, print-ready, with a clearly defined audience and identified need. As authors, we’d done our part. But it was finding this particular publisher that was key.

She was a perfect fit. It’s a stretch to say that we chose her—we found her, and she chose us. She was always on the edge—not a traditional publisher at all, and she offered much more— something similar, really, to supported self-publishing:

Agile, nimble publishing, always with an eye on the horizon. We knew there was an immediate need to get a resource like ours into the hands of teachers. The test was brand new, and we were the first responders. Our publisher also recognized this, and had the experience with printing, marketing and distribution and a relationship with school boards and teachers to make it happen quickly.

A collaborative approach, including control over our work and retention of our rights. Collaborating with a publisher is a sure sign that that publisher is non-traditional. Over the years we created new resources in response to trends our publisher identified by listening to what teachers were telling her. Similarly, she could get behind most of our ideas for new resources, always with the marketing savvy and reach into the schools that we were lacking.

Generous royalties. For the time. Yes, we shared 26 percent (a rate later reduced to 20 percent when printing and shipping costs increased). But the only interest we had from a large traditional publisher offered a measly 6 percent, so 3 percent each.

Why, then, are we choosing now to take back our titles and self-publish?

For many of the same reasons we chose our independent publisher 12 years ago, except that times have changed (in case you haven’t noticed). For one thing, we are more experienced and confident. For instance, if a publisher were to tell us now that our yearly renewable market of over 100,000 students is a niche, we would not need to stifle that snort of disbelief.

Many of the functions our publisher performed can now be automated or handled electronically. Social media has made reach into schools much easier (if still a bit tricky) and truly, it’s been hard to watch 80 percent of revenues from our books drift past the window while we’ve held on (barely) to a paltry 20 percent. It took us a while to fully realize this, but when we did, there was no turning back.

Beyond the obvious efficiencies that digital makes possible, a couple of principles are guiding our decisions.

Educational resources should be digital—for ease and speed of delivery, and for the ability to update and customize content quickly. Why should schools wait a year or more for the most current resource? Why should they pay for shipping? Students have been ready for digital for some time. Teachers, too, are stepping forward to make this request on their students’ behalf. Digital also takes consumption out of play. Most of our resources are consumable workbooks, and making these digital reduces a huge amount of paper waste. But not until recently have the format and tools that best support literacy activities been made widely available.

Print is the anchor dragging behind our boat. For students who require a print format or schools that aren’t adequately equipped with computers, we are happy to make a printable download available—and the delivery is digital. But as long as we actively promote and offer a print book alongside our digital interactive workbook, we’ll be standing in our own way. So we’ve stopped. Pedagogically, the digital tools available to teachers and students using our interactive resource are far superior to anything available in print.

A couple of years ago we published an ebook, and last year, in response to a request from a teacher, we created and piloted our interactive workbook. Teachers have responded with interest and a bit of caution. But they like our books—which are tried and true, after all—and so teachers are willing to give them a try.

During this process, though, it became increasingly clear that our publisher would never give up print. She had stopped resembling a self-pub and seemed now to have more in common with traditional publishers, trying to wring the last nickel from a format that no longer best serves its audience.

How to Become a Publisher, Step 1: Build a Website

By Corina Koch MacLeod

Traditional Publishing Bingo


What’s the first step you need to take when you’re setting up a digital publishing company? Writing a business plan? Maybe not. I’d like to suggest building a website should be your first step.

Start With a Website

I have nothing against writing business plans, but the act of building a website is, to me, a more authentic exercise to help you consider what you want your publishing company to be about. You’ll need to know what you’re about in order to communicate it to your potential customers. Why not begin with that end in mind?

Self-publishing author Joanna Penn has said, “I don’t know what I think until I’ve written it down.” I believe that’s been true for us. Writing content for our website has forced us to narrow our focus and make lots of important decisions.

Start Small

We’ve published several literacy print resources in the past 12 years, but we’ve decided to focus on our bestseller for now while shifting from printed books to digital resources (with printable PDFs for those who still like print). We will roll out our other resources as time allows.

We realize the Don’t Panic Books website is a work in progress. We are going to make some mistakes, and we will need to make changes. It is, right now, our best attempt to communicate to our audience what we’re about and how we can help them.

As we begin to interact with our audience—something that wasn’t easily done when our publisher was at the helm—we can adjust our message as they make their needs more clear to us. Now, I don’t know of a customer who’d read your business plan, do you?

Steps for Building a Website

Are you setting up a publishing company, too? Are you considering selling books directly to your customers? Creating a website involves a few steps that can be a little confusing at first. Here are the basics:

1. Choose a domain name.
Your domain is the web address people will use to find your publishing company. Put a great deal of thought into what you’ll name your site, and make sure it’s easy to remember. There are many do’s and don’ts for naming a web site; you may want to consider all of them.

We didn’t choose the name of our publishing site: our audience did. The first book we published in 2002 was titled: Don’t Panic: A Guide to Passing the Literacy Test in Ontario. At the time there was a great deal of anxiety surrounding the test (hence the Don’t Panic in our title). Teachers were asked to prepare students for the test without resources to support this process. Teachers began to refer to our resources as “the Don’t Panic books,” so we stuck with the name. Listen to your audience: they may tell you something important.

When you decide on the name of your website, you’ll need to see if that domain name is already taken. You’ll then need to purchase your domain name from a site that offers domain names for sale. Go Daddy is a popular domain registrar, but it isn’t the only choice. We were able to purchase our domain name through our web host (see below).

2. Choose a web host.
A web host is a company that hosts your website. Think of hosting as space you rent on the Internet. Again, there are many web hosts to choose from, so do your research. We chose Bluehost because it

  • offers 24/7 support for the first year,
  • has some great website building tools,
  • offers a free domain name for one year,
  • will allow us to build more than one website with the same account, and
  • offers five free email addresses.

3. Choose a website building tool.
Website building tools are designed to make setting up a website easier. Gone are the days when you’d have to hand code your website in HTML.

WordPress is a popular open-source website building tool with lots of features, but if this is your first website and you’re looking for something easy to use, the Weebly website building tool is by far the easiest way to begin. Building a site with Blogger is an option, too, if you’re interested in blogging or setting up an author website, and not selling anything from your website.

We built our first two websites with Weebly, and housed our blogs on Blogger, but recently switched over to WordPress so we can make use of some of WordPress’ time-saving plug-ins. Both WordPress and Weebly have options for setting up an online store, or using plug-ins that enable you to sell books from your website.

4. Follow a tutorial.
Weebly is pretty intuitive, and I found I could just experiment with Weebly’s drag-and-drop features to set up a website with little frustration. WordPress was another story. It’s packed with features, and it can take some getting used to. I followed this tutorial by Simon Whistler to set up the Don’t Panic Books WordPress site.

5. Use a website checklist. Once you have your website set up, you’ll want to consider what features you’ll need. A website checklist can help you to make decisions and keep you on track.

6. Build anticipation. Your website doesn’t have to go live right away. It can go live when you’re ready. See if your website building tool has a “coming soon” page template or plug-in that you can mount while you work on your website in the background.

Setting up a publishing company is a bit of an undertaking, but beginning with a website will help you to set a direction and to clarify what you want to be about.

For more information on the ins and outs of setting up a website, see Jane Friedman’s post, Self-Hosting Your Author Website: Why and How to Do It.

Image by Shmuel

Why You Should Become Your Own Publisher

By Corina Koch MacLeod

Are you a traditionally published author who wants to self-publish?

Carla and I have been working with a small independent publisher for 12 years, and recently we’ve made the decision to self-publish our educational resources. To do so, we need to become publishers.

New Series

This post is the first in a series about the steps we’re taking to set up our publishing company, Don’t Panic Books. These won’t be “we’ve got it all figured out” posts, but rather, “this is what we’re trying” posts. So, if you’re on the fence about self-publishing, do stick around and watch our trials and triumphs.

Why Self-publish?

Why did we decide to strike out on our own? There are many reasons. Here are a few of them:

  • According to The Guardian, traditional publishing is no longer sustainable.
  • It’s time to move from print to digital. Print costs and shipping costs have skyrocketed. We can offer teachers (our audience) our resources at a lower cost if we can provide digital resources and resources they can print on an as-needs basis.
  • Removing shipping and printing from the equation means we may be able to automate the selling process. Because we’re also busy editors (hands-on time), we need to figure out where we can be hands-off.
  • Teachers are looking for ways to incorporate tech literacy into their teaching. Our interactive resources will make it easy for them to do so. There are many good reasons why going digital can help students learn.
  • There is a move in self-publishing toward “going direct”—selling from your website instead of relying solely on a publisher or distributor, such as Amazon. This is especially true if you have an established audience. Now is a great time to give that a try.
  • Author royalties for traditional publishing are typically low (8–15%), compared with self-publishing royalties (35–80%). Having said that…
  • We don’t have much to lose. These resources have been successful for 12 years. We’ve had a good run with them, and they owe us nothing.

Check Your Rights

We were able to stop the presses, so to speak, because we hold all rights to our books. We’ve realized that this arrangement with our traditional publisher has been rather atypical.

Many authors would like to take back their books from their publishers but can’t because the publishers hold the rights. Check your publishing contract. Some authors can get their rights back after a period of time. You may be one of them.

First Steps

In The $100 Start Up, author Chris Gillebeau writes:

“To start a business, you need three things: a product or service, a group of people willing to pay for it, and a way to get paid. Everything else is completely optional.”

We have our product—Don’t Panic Interactive: On-the Go Practice for the OSSLT—so we started our publishing company by devising a way to showcase it. In our next post, I’ll share the first step we took, and I’ll clarify a few things so you don’t run into the snags that we did.

Authors have been moving from print to digital and from tradpub to selfpub in waves since 2010. Are you a traditionally published author who is thinking about making the leap to self-publishing? What is the first step you’ll take to set up your publishing company?

Image by Bernard Goldbach

Print to Digital: Cleaning Up Your Word File

by Carla Douglas

If you have a print document that you’d like to self-publish, you can turn it into a digital file and convert it to an ebook.

The first step is to get it into MS Word, and this post shows you one way to do that, using OCR software.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll have scanned your print document and saved it as a pdf, and then run it through an optical character recognition (OCR) program and saved it as a Word doc (.doc). Note that MS Word is your best friend right now. Editors use Word for a few reasons, and efficient cleanup and editing are high on that list.

Here’s what the file I’m working with looks like as a pdf (produced on a Macintosh Classic and dot matrix printer):

The manuscript has been marked up with pencil, and these marks are picked up by the OCR software, sometimes in unexpected ways. Here’s what the Word file looks like:

Two Kinds of Cleanup

There’s junk in the file—the stuff you can see, and the stuff you can’t. Sometimes, what’s hidden behind the scene in Word is the cause of the junk you can see—things like garbled text and wonky formatting. Also, the pencil marks that haven’t been converted to text remain in the document as pictures, and will have to be deleted. Some random characters appear, too, and the text is all boldface. These are just a few of the things you can see.

To clean up this file, will a spritz of vinegar and water do, or will you need industrial-strength degreaser? The answer depends on what you plan to do with the file next. If you’re going to revise or edit the text, clean it up enough to continue working on it, and save the heavy-duty cleanup for later.

For Initial Cleanup

The story I’m working with here is just over 4,000 words, and it won’t be converted to an ebook any time soon. I’m going to do an initial cleanup using FileCleaner from Jack Lyon’s Editorium. (Wiley Publishing has a free add-in with many similar features. You can find it here.)

FileCleaner is about US$30, but there’s a generous 45-day free trial available, too. It runs as a Word plug-in. Follow the directions on the site to download and install it. It will appear on the Add-ins pane in your Word ribbon. Here’s what it will do (you can select/unselect features):

Running FileCleaner cleaned up most of the junk in my story file—it’s now in a format I can continue to edit without too many distractions. Here’s what it looks like post-FileCleaner:

As you can see, FileCleaner didn’t catch the text that had been marked up with pencil. After trying a few ways to clean this up—including selecting the text and applying Normal style to it—I ended up having to repair it manually by deleting the picture and re-keying the sentence that’s squished together. Because my document is short, this wasn’t a problem, but in a longer document it could present a significant inconvenience. Here’s a last look at the cleaned-up text:

Other Cleanup Tips

At times, Word can be frustrating to work in—with extra page breaks and hidden formatting, it will do things you don’t want it to. For now, I’ve cleaned my file up well enough to do further editing. If your Word document is really acting up, there are a few of things to try. I’ve found that the best place to start is by using the show/hide feature on the Word ribbon. Corina’s post, Find the Hidden Formatting That Will Mess Up Your Ebook, shows you how.

What’s Next?

When you’ve finished revising and editing your document, you’ll need to do some more cleanup. In a future post, I’ll show you what I’ve done to prepare a document for ebook formatting—and I’ll show you the mistakes I’ve made, as well.

image by atomicjeep

Related Posts

How to Format Your Ebook the Simple Way: A Word-to-Ebook Cheat Sheet 
Use CrossEyes to Prevent Ebook Formatting Problems
Editor’s Tip: Cleaning Up Your Manuscript Can Save You Money

How to Use Reader Feedback to Improve Your Writing

by Carla Douglas and Corina Koch MacLeod
@CarlaJDouglas  @CKmacleodwriter

This post originally appeared on May 28, 2014 at The Book Designer.

Self-pubs: Your readers are trying to tell you something. Here’s how to get the most from what they’re saying.

I know I need to edit my book, but I don’t know where to begin. — Indie Author

Step 1: Start with the Reader

We hear this comment frequently from self-publishing authors. Completing a book-length work is exhausting, and the last thing you want to hear when you finish your first draft is that you need to start again, this time with revisions.

You might not realize it, but the place to begin is right in front of you — it’s the reader you’ve had in mind since you began your first draft. That reader is talking to you, and if you can figure out exactly what he’s saying, he can act as your guide in the revision, or self-editing, process.

As Hugh Howey says, “Indie authors are maniacally focused on the reader … Indie authors are doing well because they know it’s all about the reader…. It’s the reader, stupid.”

So start with the reader — the reader can direct you to the problem spots in your work, if only you’ll listen. Not only that, but careful attention to what the reader is telling you can help you improve your writing.

Where do you find readers? Well, there are your beta readers, and there are reviewers. Both are giving you feedback about your work. If you’re about to publish a book, you’ll have beta reader comments to work from. If you’ve published a book already, then you might also have reviews to scour for information.

Finally, if you haven’t previously published a book and you don’t have beta readers yet for your current work, don’t despair. You can read others’ reviews … and learn from their mistakes!

The point is, the information is out there. But you need to learn how to use it.

Step 2: Do Things in the Right Order

The Editing Continuum

In her book, The Indie Author’s Guide to Book Editing, Sarah Kolb-Williams points out that the order of things matters. A big-picture edit, for example, needs to happen before a word-level edit. In other words, when you’re at the beginning of the editing process, typos should be the least of your concerns.

We said something similar in a previous post: order matters, and as you begin the editing process, you’ll save yourself time and endless frustration if you keep this order in mind:

Big-picture —> Paragraph level —> Sentence level —> Word level

If it helps, try thinking of the editing continuum as something similar to the order of operations in arithmetic. If you perform addition and subtraction before addressing division and multiplication, you’ll end up with a meaningless jumble. Similarly, if you attend to spelling and punctuation or dialogue and characterization before you’ve resolved issues in the plot, your results will be disappointing at best.


1. Focus on the reader and what he says he likes about a book—and pay special attention to what he doesn’t like.

2. Order matters (see above). Don’t even think about correcting typos until you’ve got your big-picture and paragraph level ducks in a row.

Keeping these two items in mind will position you to use valuable reader feedback to your best advantage.

Step 3: Use Reviews to Improve Your Writing

Interpreting Reviews

At last, you’re ready to apply feedback to your manuscript. This is the hard part. You know where to find feedback and you know the order of revisions. We can hear you asking, “What now?”

When beta readers, readers, reviewers and editors—editors are readers, too!—offer constructive feedback, what are they actually telling you, and how can you use that information to improve your writing?

It’s possible to read what reviewers say and figure out what kind of attention your manuscript needs. Situating your manuscript on the editing continuum will also help you to determine the order in which to address things.

We searched through reviews on Amazon for examples of constructive feedback. Readers won’t necessarily tell you that you need to focus your attention on in a big-picture edit, for example, but they may suggest it. The table below interprets examples of reader feedback, so that you can see how you might identify what you need to improve on.

Once you know what readers are telling you, you can do something about it. The Google search engine is your friend, here. There is lots of great information about the craft of writing fiction on the internet. In the right column of the table, we’ve suggested some search terms you can use to find information that will help you.

*Note: As we searched the Amazon reviews for examples of the four levels of editing, we encountered surprisingly few references to typos and spelling errors. This wasn’t the case even a year ago, when comments about careless proofreading were frequent. As we’ve said before, the landscape is changing—self-publishing authors are listening, and they’re taking measures to produce professional, polished books.

How to Use this Information

You’ve received some great reader feedback, or you’ve found reviews of others’ work that might also apply to yours. And, after identifying the trouble spots in your writing, you’ve found relevant resources to help you sort things out in your manuscript.

You’re on your way.

But making revisions is slow and difficult work—don’t try to rush things. Acknowledge that your book will take time to develop, and your attention to detail now will pay off later. Keep in mind, too, that integrating all this information is complex, and it may take more than one try to get it right.

Tackle items one item at a time in an order that makes sense—straighten out the plot and fill in the holes, for example, then address pacing. Through experience and practice you’ll learn that you can’t achieve the pace that will keep a reader engaged unless you dismantle all the infodumps standing in the way.

Yes, there’s a lot to learn and it’s hard work, but if you listen to what readers are telling you, you’ll become more aware of your writing strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately, you’ll also become a better writer.

Image by Found Animals Foundation

Related Links

How to Improve Your Writing With Macros: Tips for Beginners
3 Ways to Pare Down Your Prose
5 Things Editors Know About Readers
How to Get Helpful Feedback from Beta Readers