And the Publishing Process Survey Says: Part 2

Book Production Process SurveyEarlier this month, I wrote about overall publishing costs among respondents to our Book Production Process Survey. I included an extensive disclaimer which you should read first if you haven’t already. (It wouldn’t be a bad idea to read it again, even if you did the first time.) Also, for this or any of the posts in this series, it could be worthwhile to review the definitions given for the different roles and functions on the original post if there is some question about the terminology used.

In this installment, I’m going to look at the overall process used by survey respondents in moving their books from the first draft through publication, with a focus on which of the potential steps are used most often. In future posts I’ll drill down, going into more detail on some of the steps, as well as how and when they are used.

Prior to the evaluation for this and other posts I did some scrubbing of the data. Specifically, the survey instructions asked that if you did multiple iterations of the same step one after another (maybe have your manuscript proof read multiple times by different people in sequence) to record that as a single step, only repeating a process if it was done in multiple places (possibly copy editing before and after beta readers have given their input and any changes made). Several respondents didn’t follow that instruction: the majority repeating the self-editing step multiple times in a row, sometimes in multiple places. One of the responses I threw out entirely since they filled the entire process with self editing and as far as I could tell are still editing and haven’t yet released their book. For the others, I removed the redundant steps. One interpretation is that authors who think they can do it all themselves aren’t as capable of following instructions. A more likely interpretation is that these authors were making a point. (See the section on bias in the disclaimer if you’re curious about what that might have been.) I also tossed the response that appeared to be an attempt to claim a process as close to the opposite of the traditional approach as possible. (If one of you out there really does proofreading, copy editing, and content editing in that order, I’d be interested in knowing your reasoning for this approach in the comments.)

Looking at the overall processes used, the most obvious conclusion is that you all go your own way. Out of 88 responses evaluated, there are 84 unique processes. Four processes had two people who use the same approach; the other 80 are unique to a single author.

The most streamlined processes reported were two respondents where the first reader to purchase their book will also be the first person other than the author to read the book in any form. Neither uses critique groups, alpha or beta readers, or any outside editor although one did hire a cover designer. With only two reporting they prepare their manuscripts with no outside help, expecting to glean any useful information about how that works for them would be the ultimate in overreach. It also turns out that they have very little in common, one appearing to be relatively successful, selling a lot of books and making a significant income while the other falls on the opposite end of the scale. The one thing each has in common is they’ve released more than a handful of books and are reasonably happy with how their indie author career is shaping up thus far, so this approach appears to be working for them.

Also on the minimalist end of the spectrum are five authors who report using a combination of outside readers (critique groups, alpha readers, beta readers, and ARC readers) along with self editing to polish their manuscript.

On the opposite end of the scale, there are seventeen of you who reported using every kind of outside resource we asked about to polish your manuscript, saying you used a content editor, a copy editor, and a proofreader as well as using at least one kind of outside reader (alpha reader, beta reader, ARC reader, or critique group).

Of those resources, here are the percentages for those who reported using each, in order from the most common to the least:

90% – Outside reader of any kind (at least one of critique group, either of the work-in-progress or the completed manuscript, alpha reader, beta readers, or ARC readers)

  • 72% – Beta readers
  • 66% – Proofreader
  • 49% – Alpha reader
  • 44% – Content editor
  • 38% – Copy editor
  • 38% – ARC reader
  • 19% – Critique group (after completion)
  • 18% – Critique group (work-in-progress)

Some of these were what I expected, for example, I’m not surprised the use of beta readers is that high. Others took me by surprise (the percentage of authors who use content editors and ARC readers was higher than I expected, even when taking into account as much as a +/-10% margin of error).

In future posts, we’ll dig more deeply into how authors are accomplishing the various parts of the production process and delve into how much they’re paying for those who hire outside help.

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

14 thoughts on “And the Publishing Process Survey Says: Part 2”

    1. Thanks, Yvonne. I wasn’t completely surprised. (I’ll expand on that a bit in response to other comments below.)

  1. Interesting results, Al. I’m surprised by the number of people who hire content editors, as well. Given the number of people who use beta readers, you’d think content editing would be redundant, but I guess not. Did you get a cost break down for content editing (I can’t remember how the questions were structured to know if that was possible)? I’d be very curious to know what people who got content editing paid for it, as well as if they felt happy with their publishing process or had more or less monetary success than those who didn’t get content editing.

    And of course, I know you’re goint to tell me to wait til the next installment. 🙁 So, I will.

    1. Yes, that was something I never would have predicted, RJ. In my mind content editing is (a) generally more expensive, and thus something you’d expect a budget minded person (and what indies aren’t, to some degree) would be most likely to consider alternatives (b) very amenable to a crowdsourcing alternative using beta/alpha readers, critique groups, exchanges with fellow authors, etc and (c) the editing function that seems to me to be most open to judgement calls and to raise questions where there isn’t a clear and correct answer.

      To me, all of those reasons made me expect different and even think it is the one editing phase that made the most sense to use a non-traditional approach (or the most non-traditional approach) to address. And yes, we’ll get into costs, but I will tell you now that the most expensive books to produce spent a big chunk of their investment in this area.

  2. Interesting results, Al, particularly the varying success rates of the two authors who go it alone. And I’m not at all surprised that we each have our own review/editing process.

    Looking forward to the money posts. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Lynne. I wasn’t surprised that there was a lot of approaches. Those authors who I’m familiar with their processes have some approaches that are very different. But I was surprised there were that many unique combinations of all the elements that made sense to someone to try.

  3. These results prove accurate, Al. Authors want as much feedback on their work as they can get before they hit the publish button. Beta readers can point out weaknesses in plot or characterization. I prefer a fresh pair of eyes for proofreading. Authors who haven’t had much luck with editors are the ones who prefer to “do it all themselves.” Which is untrue, of course. Without help from outside sources, it would be impossible to hone our manuscripts. For me, each book requires multiple revisions and seemingly endless rewrites.

    1. I tend to agree, Linda. However, some authors have more and better refined skills than others. There are a few who I think are possibly capable of putting a good book out with few other people having to touch it. But those few I’m familiar enough with to think they’re capable don’t. I see lots where the author thought they were up to it (or at least that’s the way it appears to me) and weren’t. (Of course, if someone did it all themself and it was up to a reasonable standard, I’d never know.)

      One possibility I’ve considered is that an author who only writes short stories would be likely to have several books out (a book in this case being a short story) and I can see someone being able to do it on their own in a shorter work. That may or may not be the situation with those who say they did that, but it is a possibility that could fit.

  4. Al, this is great stuff. Really interesting to see how it breaks out, what people use and what works. One thing that doesn’t surprise is the fact that there are very few who do the exact same thing–we’re indies, after all! I love the fact that we are all free to find the process that works the best for us, regardless of what the “traditionally correct” way might be. As always, while others are saying we can’t do things in a non-mainstream way, we’re busy doing them! And succeeding!

    1. So true, Melissa. If you’re your own boss you can do it any way you want and if it works for you, that’s what matters. (Of course, working for you *probably* implies it works for your readers as well.)

  5. I am trying to remember how I answered those questions and failing. 😉

    Thing is, I vary in my method. I have had some work see ZERO outside eyes before publication. I have paid for a copy edit and proofread of others. And still others, I’ve just used a good beta reader.

    And there seems to be zero correlation between which method I use and how well the books are received. So I dunno which is best. Am I wasting my money when I spend a few hundred bucks on edits instead of doing that work myself? Personally, I don’t think so – because instead of spending those hours doing the editing (a part of the process I don’t really care for), I get to spend more hours writing.

    It’s not like the choice impacts the final quality at all. But if I can pay $300 for a copy edit and proof and get out of having to spend hours editing the 70k word manuscript… I pay. 😉

    1. I should have asked for names, Kevin. I’ll go out on a limb and say I doubt you were the author who never stopped self editing, but I’m sure you did some of that. 🙂

      As for your approach (whichever one you do at any particular time), if it works with any of them, then I think you’re making the right decision for you. Ultimately the market will decide if it worked and if you’re seeing no correlation between the different approaches, then deciding based on other factors (money versus time and desire, in your case) makes sense to me.

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