Crowd Sourced Editing
By Alex Blackwell
Having written a book, any book, the hardest thing for most authors is working with an editor. An editor’s job is to critically review the writing, perhaps tearing it apart and putting it back together in a form that will appeal to a wider audience. For the author, this can mean perceived insult and/or injury. Whether it is fact or fiction, the book has been an outpouring from deep within the author’s soul. It is his or her ‘baby’, the author having nurtured it over a period of months or years from the merest of ideas to a tome of however many pages or words.
But then, the one stated objective of writing a book for most authors is to get other people to read it and of course to pay money for it. Editing is, therefore, critical. As one cannot edit or proofread one’s own work, outside eyes are necessary.
The Front Cover
The old adage of, “You can’t tell a book by its cover,” might actually be passé in this digital age. The book cover is all anyone is initially exposed to when browsing through books in bookstores and online – although online you get reviews as well. The cover design must draw in a potential reader’s eye. It must stand out from the huge volume of titles on the same “shelf” competing for attention. It must be compelling enough to make that prospect want to “pull it off the shelf” and look what the back cover has to offer. Color, design, title, imagery, and layout all have to work together to achieve this first step towards the ultimate objective – a sale.
For this reason, we chose to kick off our marketing campaign with a Book Cover Poll. For my latest book (The Butterfly Effect) we designed a number of potential cover options, which included several title variations. We put these into a web poll and asked everyone we knew to make their selection. We then also put the word out on several social media sites, some of which generated interesting discussions. The question we posed was “Which cover would make you want to pick up the book?”
Many comments were received. Some of these were about color combinations, others about the image combinations, while some related to the title variations. One respondent noted that an image element was the wrong type for the portrayed overall theme. The poll has identified one clear leader, though several of the other designs also received votes. Through this poll we have achieved two results. We have a winning cover that we also happened to like best ourselves. By asking people’s opinion, we have made them part of the project. We hope this will induce them to pass on the word attracting more potential readers.
The Back Cover
The back cover is equally, if not more important than the front. What is written here must entice the reader to want to read the book enough to purchase it. It needs to tempt the reader, give him or her just enough of an insight into the plot to want to bring the book home.
We did another poll for the back cover, though here it was the text (and text layout) that we were targeting. The question we asked here was “Which cover would make you want to buy the book?”
We had one version that we originally liked best. We had wordsmithed the text to where we thought we conveyed enough information in intriguing style to hook potential readers. One respondent suggested moving a particular art element from the front to the back cover, which simplified the front quite nicely and fit the back perfectly. We received several comments on the detailed wording and where we thought it appropriate, we revised the text accordingly. Another respondent sent us a suggestion for totally different text and layout. It was based on what we had done but written in a more telegraphic way. We added it to the poll and it turned out to be the favorite.
This was our first foray into Crowd Sourced Editing for a cover design. It resulted in what we believe is a better, more appealing cover.
The Book Itself
One of our previous books is a non-fiction, how-to book for boaters, "Happy Hooking – the Art of Anchoring”. Once we had completed and edited the first draft, we sent the manuscript out to manufacturers and industry experts all around the world. What fascinated us was the length and depth of the comments we received. Not all were complimentary, but each and every one was very constructive. We wound up rewriting the book from scratch before self-publishing it (more on this process later). This foray into, an albeit limited, crowd sourced editing of our book was hugely successful, and the book, now in its second edition, has been a best seller in its small genre ever since (of course we do conduct an ongoing marketing campaign for it).
As “The Butterfly Effect” is fiction and is meant to be a mass market thriller, we took a slightly different route once all the edits and rewrites seemed to be done. Our first step was to send e-books out to family and friends. Comments and constructive criticism started coming in almost immediately. One respondent picked it up in the afternoon and was so gripped that she did not put it down until she finished it sometime the next morning. She had several poignant suggestions.
One friend, gratefully accepting her free copy, declared that I was daft. Why was I giving it away to everyone I knew, when these were the only people who would buy the book? “Hopefully, that will not be the case,” I replied. If all goes as planned, that is where our marketing campaign will prove its worth.
The Bottom Line
The editing process and the numerous comments and suggestions we received on the Butterfly Effect had two consequences.
Please send Alex a note if you would like to participate in helping edit his next novel