Long-time readers of this blog know how much I love making analogies -
If you want to, say, update your kitchen, or build an addition on the back of your house you have some options:
- A real do-it-yourself-er and general handy-type might need to call a plumber or electrician but otherwise is fine with doing the framing, hanging wallboard, hanging cabinets, setting tile, installing carpet, and all the finish work — not just plaster and paint, but wood trim, weatherstripping and caulk, maybe some wallpaper. And when all that is done, our intrepid homeowner also does their own interior decorating, furnishing the space to as-seen-on-TV standards buying salvage & fleamarket and doing their own refinishing on vintage and near-antique pieces.
- More realistically, you get on Google and read online reviews and ask around and you subcontract all that other crap out — you maybe take care of your own demolition (yeah! break stuff!) but you get the real professionals to come in and fix it. You end up juggling different schedules for weeks (or months) and dealing with multiple contractors (first the concrete pour, then the framing, exterior siding, interior walls, windows & doors, floors & finishes) and when it’s all done, you look at your newly-fattened credit card bills and sob — while sitting in the beautiful new addition to your home. bittersweet.
- You can cede even more control (and more money) in the process by hiring a general contractor — someone to take point on the job and juggle the various subcontractors for you. The drawback is that you’re paying costs plus fees (to the GC) but the tradeoff is that maybe you get to keep more of your sanity. Plus (and this is often a big plus) the General Contractor has done all this before, projects both bigger and more complicated than your little bathroom re-do or new screened porch.
The tradeoffs are obvious: you can keep control, and spend less money, while doing more of the work — or you can choose to spend money to solve problems and take a more hands-off approach.
As a writer who wants to ‘build’ a book (either from the bones of a draft or doing some small repairs on a mostly finished manuscript) you have the same options as our hypothetical homeowner: Do the work yourself, coordinate a bunch of subcontractors (free lancers) to get the work done, or maybe try to find a ‘book packager’ to work as your general contractor and bring the book to print.
Your fourth option is to sign a book deal with a publisher, but that’s not really your option – it’s theirs. (Getting an agent and landing a book deal would be a different analogy.) Let’s just assume for now that it’s your ‘house’ and you’re the one building it.
When dealing with home repairs and renovations most of us are clueless — unless and until we’ve done it a few times. But most homeowners know the general scope of what’s about to happen, and they’re willing to do a little research (months or even years of on-again-off-again plans) before they make any calls or write any checks. And because we live in houses, we have a pretty good idea of what the final space should look and feel like, even if we’ve never lifted a hammer or trowel before.
When writers have the same opportunity to ‘fix up’ a book, they often go the do-it-yourself route, underestimating the scope of the work and (perhaps) overestimating their own skills as self-editor. The primary reason to do this is of course the cost — either we begrudge the expense or we just don’t have the extra cash right now to pay a freelancer to do the work for us.
To get the job done, we can also borrow against the ‘equity’ in the book: trading rights or revenues to get the book into salable condition, either with a small publisher or a digital-only publisher. There are risks, of course, but no money is required up front* and the other option, keeping the manuscript in a drawer for who knows how many more years with no potential for readers or sales at all — well, we all know how that would work out.
* …goes without saying: if a publisher asks for money it’s likely a ‘vanity press’ or some similar scam. caveat emptor.
To authors, all I can do is caution you to think things through. It might not be a bad idea to get some professionals to help — even the most die-hard DIY weekend-warrior will hire an electrician or plumber. And instead of trading equity in the book, maybe think of editing and production like any other household and/or life expense, and find some other way to pay the money out of pocket to get the work done. Be a smart book owner: do your research, consider your options, treat the pros you hire to work on your book the same as a contractor who works on your home (i.e. with respect, with open communication about scope of work and expectations, with a clear outline for when the work is complete and when payments will be made). (There isn’t a Yelp for online freelancers—that I know of—but as the market grows, maybe there will be? Never be afraid to ask for references or a portfolio …or to ask other writers for recommendations.)
Just like a major change to your home, you’re going to have to live with the results for a long time, maybe the rest of your life.