Melinda Tipton Martin supports writers in their journey to transform their manuscripts into published books. Through Martin Publishing her eponymous company, Melinda manages the vast breadth of services that include book cover design, interior formatting and EPUB publishing. In this article, she has generously shared advice and learnings gleaned over the years as worked with varied clients and projects.
Hello, Melinda let me jump in with a question many authors ask me, “What is the cost of creating a ‘good book’… apart from the writing?” From what I hear, it can start from zero and go to any number depending on how you define it…
Yes, it’s crazy out there! I mean some people are paying $50,000 to have their books produced and that’s awesome if they have the ability to invest that amount in themselves but most people don’t have that ability.
I know, I too wasn’t born with money and it’s taken me forty-five years to get to where I have a savings account and it’s difficult for the average person but you know it can be done.
It also helps if you can figure out and understand which service is essential and where you can cut corners.
Wow, there seems to be a lot to unravel here! Let’s start from the author’s point of view. How does the author understand what to do with their book after it’s written… maybe even after it’s edited?
Even between the stage of writing and getting it to an editor, there can be many steps. There can be several rewrites, beta readers, and alpha readers (before you ever send it to the editor).
Then you have different types of editing.
I always encourage a developmental edit on a fiction book especially since we’re so close to our stories and we need somebody to say, “this doesn’t make sense like, she was wearing a dress on this page but on this page on the same day she’s wearing a different outfit!”
Developmental edit helps clarify the timeline and how the story is progressing.
After working with the developmental edit then there comes the copy edit. You may have seen Shayla’s Post in the Self-Publishing Support group the other day (I had seen that and it totally resonated).
I know the majority of books that she works on are in the 80,000-word range so I would say in an 80,000-word book that is submitted for copy editing she usually discovers close to 4,500 errors. A copy editor is looking for typos, sentence structure, use of tense proper tense… those types of things and so on. Usually, when you hire a copy editor they go through two rounds of copy editing. You have that first red pen markup… your manuscript looks like it is bleeding.
Oh Yes! I tell the authors I coach that you need a wine glass in your hand when you open that document because it’s going to look terrible. But that’s the process… it’s not you, it happens to me too
Yes, it happens to everyone and even an editor needs an editor… I mean we’re all just too close.
I always say our brain is the original autocorrect. You know, it is correcting things for us as we are moving through them. But it’s just doing it in our mind and often we don’t realise that something’s wrong because our brain is reading it correctly.
That’s why when you have two rounds of copy edits you get around 4,500 very small changes but important changes.
After the manuscript has been copyedited, it’s ready to go to the person who’s going to do the interior layout. That’s what I specialise in— designing covers and interiors.
I do lots of other things but those are the two core elements that I provide. I work with editors like Shayla a lot because they know they just need to send me an email that says, ‘this document is ready for formatting,’ or ‘here is the manuscript that the author has signed off on we have copy edited this now it’s ready for you to do your thing’
That’s when I take the document off Microsoft Word and I place it into Adobe InDesign. First I clean up the technical structure and build a style guide.
What is a technical structure?
There are about twenty different steps that I have to do before the manuscript is in a reviewable format. Twenty is like an overview because each of those twenty steps has smaller steps. Like I go through and remove any tabs because authors love to put tabs in their manuscript (for indents). Many authors don’t know how to format and style headings with Microsoft Word… and it’s ok because there are a lot of things I don’t know!
I learned all this when I worked as an instructor for the Microsoft Office Suite and that’s how I know all about the amazing things that Word can do. But most people don’t (know), so they put tabs to indent when they just need to set that style guide.
At the end of the day, these are the very small things that I just need the author to focus on because that’s what they’re paying me for… to make the chapter headings look pretty, to make the body text conform to Industry standards.
So I have to go in and basically undo a lot of stuff that was done.
One of the major things I do is not only do I set paragraph styles but because I’m interested in words, I also go in at a word-by-word level and set character styles for certain words. Say like this word is an italic character style, this word is a bold character style, this one is a footnote…you know. So, as I go in I’m basically touching all of the words and then also giving them structure.
That’s how I create the style guide which says things like chapter heading has to be 24 points, with half an inch of space under it… I set the line spacing within a paragraph… where we want the page numbers and the chapter of the page headers.
All this is extremely technical and that’s just really the beginning of what I do. There’s also micro typography where I’m making sure like first and last names stay together and if there are titles like Mr, Mrs, or Dr they are printed with their last name in the same line. I mean, we don’t want Dr written at the end of the line and then the last name starts at the beginning of the next line.
Another thing that you really need a book designing software for is what’s called the book block composition…that is when you have two pages that both have full text, then those text frames have to be balanced so that when you are looking at the text on the pages (like you have to look at things as shapes) it should make two same size rectangles, you know so you have to balance vertical justification. I can talk about it all day because again this is just the tip of the iceberg…
Let’s break it down so that it becomes easier for our readers. So what are the top 5 things that an author can expect from you?
Okay, so I set the technical structure and I build a style guide for that I basically present the best decisions for them like- based on their book this is the trim size that we need, this is how the interior should look. If they have graphics in their book, I make sure that those are cohesive
I do what I call book branding because authors hire me to do the cover as well as the interior. In my process, it all starts from the cover. At that point, I’m choosing the right aesthetic for the book, the correct typefaces, and the colour palette and then I make sure that all that is correctly represented throughout the interior.
I also work with the editor after copy editing and I do my formatting and then the manuscript will have to go back to an editor at some point to do proofreading.
So I am basically managing as much of the process as I can to make sure people know what they’re supposed to do, and when they’re supposed to do it so that we can get the project completed… as you know it is easy for projects to stall especially if you multiple people involve… so I’m helping to make sure the process doesn’t stall and if I see that they are working with an inept editor I will point that out as well if their editor needs training on working with a high-level book designer. All these processes are designed to help save everybody time and prevent other mistakes from being made.
I also take care of the EPUB coding. This is the only work where I take outside help. Like (for all the other processes) it’s just me, I don’t have a team per se but Minhajul Islam’s the only other person who helps me in my business.
He does all of my EPUB coding for me and he is an EPUB coding expert. So when you’re working at an expert level, pretty much everybody you work with also has to be an expert and I need Minhaj’s expert level to reflect my expert level on the interior.
So it is just a kind of a long process to move through to catch all of the errors and make sure the book looks the way it’s supposed to look. The book meets the page count criteria it’s supposed to meet and also meets all of the technical specifications it’s supposed to meet.
That’s a lot of things to be ticked before publishing. What I understood from here is also that formatting starts from the book cover design?
With me, yes.
I prefer to do the book cover design because the fonts or the styles can then be carried forward in the book, especially for fiction books. It’s not as big of a deal, you know because with the fiction books it’s just the chapter heading that is really reflecting the title treatment on the cover but when you have a non-fiction book you not only have chapter headings but you also have subheadings and sub- subheadings.
If you’re creating graphics those too have to be cohesive with the branding so it is very important specifically for a non-fiction book that the cover design is established first so that the rest of the top-level formatting can then be adjusted.
Is there a specific font that is well-used or an industry standard?
I usually use the same typeface for the interior. For the majority of my books, I use Adobe Garamond Pro which is an industry standard. But sometimes the authors want to see other options for the body text and then we just kind of work through it for what’s best for that book.
I do a lot of children’s books and occasionally get authors who say, “I want the interior text to look fun!”
Well, we need the interior text that the kids are reading to be functional. When children aged three to seven years old are reading picture books, they’ve just now learnt to read. We don’t want to confuse them with the ‘fun type’ because they’re still learning.
You can’t mix the capital with the small (letters). I mean there is a time and a place for having fun words on the inside of your book but that’s when it becomes more of like part of the art instead of part of the text. Even in Dr Seuss’s books, he has some pages that have ‘Hip! Hip! Hooray!’ in a bigger fun text but the words that the kids are supposed to be reading…those words are actually set in Adobe Garamond Pro… the majority of them.
When you work with me I’m not gonna do something that’s wrong or looks bad and so there’s a lot of times where I have to coach an author, especially, if they’re a first-time author and don’t know what’s expected of their book. At those times, I have to kind of toe the line and be like, ‘no I’m not doing that,’ so I am definitely not the designer for everybody if you want to control me.
All right, so according to your experience, the steps for an author after a round of copy edit and proofreading are— first, get your book cover design, then do the formatting and then after the formatting again it goes for another proofreading
Yes, it will go back for a proofread.
What’s interesting, is you know numbers don’t lie and it’s always interesting to break things down to numbers and percentages when we can.
So on average if you’ve worked with a very thorough copy editor and the editor finds 4500 copy edits… well, when the book goes to a proofreader there’s still going to be about half a percentage of errors remaining. 0.5% errors still remain!
0.5% errors may seem like not much. But in a book of 80,000 words that means 400 edits still remain!
So sometimes people get their manuscript back after it’s gone through copy edit, it’s gone through me for formatting and I send it to them for review before it’s it to be sent to a proofreader and then they say, “oh my copy editor did a bad job. I’m finding so many things wrong”
Well, that’s because the process isn’t done. At that point, if you’re finding about 400 things wrong then that’s totally normal in a long-form book.
A lot of times definitely authors aren’t aware of the processes. I have found at this stage it is best for the author not to read the book until the proofreader is done because if they see the book mid-process, they just get up in arms.
So when authors work with me they don’t have direct access to their files. That can lead to chaos because if they just go into a word document and make corrections, it can just add to the work for everyone…formatting and editing.
They have to go through my professional processes and use the commenting tools within Adobe but I really discourage them from making any revisions until the proofreader is done.
How long does your process take?
So on average it’s about three months it can take it can take shorter, it can take longer and includes the following steps
- cover design,
- the layout of the interior,
- signing off on the top-level formatting,
- fully typesetting the book back to a proof-reader
- ordering a print proof and receiving the print proof
- making one last round of revisions
- getting the book EPUB coded
All this easily takes three months. Some companies will take longer depending on how much editing you need. Different companies have different structures. When you work with some companies that are also going to print your book, they usually have a schedule like, ‘we’re doing 10 books in the first semester and we’re going to start yours in January and we’re going to be done by July and then it will be in bookstores next January.’
It is a lengthy process and there are a lot of moving parts. It does really just depend on what your goal is for your book is, who you’ve hired, and what their processes.
People that hire me directly right now get about a three-month window. I am wanting to move to more of an intensive model and my rates are going to be premium there. I’m still working out the details but I am aiming for a six-week process, even if I just focus on one client at a time every day. Six weeks is the minimum to get it a hundred per cent done.
Some people say, ‘yeah, you can have a book in 90 days.’
I say, ‘yeah, you can, but it’s usually not going to be very good if you didn’t hire the right people to do it… and hiring the right people is equivalent to making the correct investment which brings us back to our where we started!’
Yes, so what is the cost of creating a good book? That’s what authors keep asking me so what is the range when I work with you?
Most authors spend about $4000 with me and that’s for :
- cover design
- interior layout
- EPUB coding
- uploading their files
Other people who have employees and also have editing included. They give you a package deal for editing. They’re not doing it themselves…like they’re the owner of the company but they’ve hired an editor, a cover designer, an interior layout person… those packages are about $10,000.
We are talking about print-on-demand books. That’s not even getting into offset printing, distribution, warehousing…all of those fun Investments!
A 1-minute video overview of how Melinda moves from concept to finished cover. It took her approximately 20 hours to complete this cover.
Right, there is a lot to be done…What kind of publishing do you recommend, because there are so many ways you can publish— self-publishing or traditional publishing or hybrid publishing…some people just want to do an eBook…what are your thoughts?
Yes, focusing on eBook only is a great strategy because you have to only dial into the eBook audience… you can work with the Kindle Select option, you also use Kindle Vella (only for authors based in the USA for now) where you release your book one chapter at a time and build an audience that way.
My authors are not interested in just eBooks they want a print book and an EPUB book. The majority of people I work with write non-fiction and they are using these books to advance themselves as an expert in their field, or I work with a lot of counsellors or doctors who really just have a heart for educating people on how to get healthy, whether that’s mental, emotional, or physical health. Most of them can usually afford the investment better than maybe a stay-at-home mom who’s just doing what she can to get it all together.
One thing that I find very encouraging is that I have a Facebook group called Self-Publishing Support Groupand there is another group called 20 books to 50K it focus focuses solely on marketing. It is an amazing group. They recognize that different people have different budgets and whereas I am a stickler for perfection and for industry standards, that’s just who I am as a person… I don’t want to be associated with an unedited book, or with a book that did not get laid out correctly, that’s just not me.
But some people are successful authors on a shoestring budget. Their intention is not to stay on a shoestring budget but right now, it’s not a priority for them to hire the best.
So, do what you can do.
Melinda you really answered some interesting questions which authors struggle with a lot when they decide to publish.
There are some great articles too about self-editing…
Here’s the thing your average person who’s buying a book doesn’t know about the Chicago Manual of Style. But there are articles that you can Google on how to self-edit your book and that’s going to give you pointers for things that are commonly missed. It will also give you a process for evaluating your writing so even if you can’t afford an editor, you can afford your time to read a free article, sit down and assess your book based on what that article is pointing out.
A while ago I was just thinking of just about people that don’t have their books edited and usually on the copyright page you will list who edited the book, who did the cover design, who did the interior layout you know on the credits… so I thought authors who don’t have their book edited, should have to put on the copyright page, ‘I ignored the advice of my editor,’ because it does matter to the professionals in the industry.
There are a lot of manuscripts that I reject because I can tell that the author just isn’t making any effort to check any of it… even after giving them some advice, they decline. I find that hard to believe because when an expert gives you advice you should hear what they’re saying… usually it’s because we’ve had to learn that lesson the hard way ourselves and we’re trying to prevent you from making the same mistake.
I say, ‘why would you pay me four thousand dollars and not listen to my advice? Why would you do that?’
Another option for people on budgets is that I charge $1500 just to do the cover design. But I always tell people, if you are on a budget there are a lot of other good designers you can go to. You can find somebody that can give you a pretty decent cover design for a few hundred dollars and it’s so worth it to have somebody who knows what they’re doing, do the file preparation for you.
In the worst-case scenario, you can purchase a pre-made cover design. These are book covers which are only licensed to you. Many designers create myriad designs with some sample text on the cover. When you select it then that cover is no longer available for anybody else. They also customize it with your title and your name. They are in the range of $50 – $250.
For formatting the interior, you can also buy templates which already have the style guide built for you. A person I can recommend is Sandeep Likhar. He’s in India and his website is called Likhar Publishing. Sandeep offers templates and I’ve reviewed these templates for him. I find them to be good. You can try them, if you don’t have the budget to hire somebody to do it for you.
A template is never going to get you the level of work that I do. It’s just not, but it can get you started to where at least you don’t look like such a beginner and then if you have trouble you can hire Sandeep or you could hire somebody else to help you get it across the finish line.
Thank you Melinda for sharing so many nuggets of information!
Resources shared by Melinda Tipton Martin
- Melinda’s website: https://melindamartin.me/
- 10-step process overview of her entire Book Design Process
- Video of how a book cover comes together
- Shayla Raquel – editor, self-publishing mentor and author
- Minhajul Islam– EPUB coding + designer
- If you are on a budget:
- Likhar Publishing for book formatting templates
- Buy pre-made covers (from $50-$250)
- Research how to self-edit your book
- Melinda’s FB group— Self-Publishing Support Group
- Melinda also recommends — 20 books to 50K
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