Overcoming Pitfalls in Self-Publishing
Style and Presentation
by Jef Bartow
Most of us writers overwhelmingly focus ourselves on what we're going to say in our book; what we need to communicate through our writing. Yes, that's very important. Unfortunately, there are a number of pitfalls which will sabotage your ability to communicate through your book. Our next pitfall in self-publishing is undervaluing style and presentation versus content. This seems the opposite of the saying that "he is all style and presentation with no depth." If you look at many of the best-selling books in America, they are indeed style and presentation over content. Within the realm of metaphysical and spirituality books, my experience shows that the bestsellers are usually 150 to 200 pages with content that would only fill a 30 to 40 page book. The reason why is that most readers want to be engaged and entertained first, educated second. Let's begin by addressing style in our writing. We all understand the difference in how a textbook reads versus a romance novel. Psychologically, we all approach the world through four personality functions defined as sensation, feeling, thinking and intuiting. I also include imagining as a basic personality function. In each of us, one or two functions predominate, while the remaining are less developed. The reason to understand this is that we all more enjoy and learn from reading material that has been styled to the personality functions which are predominant for us. Good fantasy novels tend to focus more on our imagination or feeling nature. Good do-it-yourselfer books normally focus more on thinking or sensing. I have found that good books on spirituality engage our intuition and feeling as much as our imagination and thinking. I don't think I've read a metaphysical book focused on stimulating our sensing or feeling nature. So, our writing style needs to match which personality functions our target audience is looking for stimulation, engaging or vicarious experience. Within the spirituality book arena, we authors also need to be careful in what energy expresses through our writing. It needs to be consistent with the mission of our book. Simply, intellectual writing is inconsistent in describing mystical experiences. Writing from the head will create a very different book than writing from the heart. Beyond style, book presentation is one of the most important pitfalls to avoid. The publishing industry has some very archaic ideas about book presentation. Many publishers will not accept a manuscript unless it conforms to the Chicago Manual of Style. Even though things are changing, we need to be very discriminating with each aspect of our book presentation. This includes the font style and size we use; page format and spacing; even the dimensions of the final published book and the cover design and copy. For my books on spirituality, I threw out the Chicago Manual of Style and chose each aspect of presentation according to my key criteria: that each paragraph and page is easy to view and read and appealed to one's feelings and intuitive nature (e.g. short separated paragraphs with a more flowing and larger sized font). Frankly, the most important part of book presentation is the title and subtitle, front and back covers and the table of contents. It seems obvious that we need a catching or engaging title and subtitle. So, simply put a lot of thought into it regarding your target audience. Beyond this, use a truism that applies both to your resume for business and your book for presentation. The potential reader will spend less than 10 seconds determining whether your book is worthy of interest. To understand this principle, go to your bookshelf and do that with a number of your books. Your book front and back covers must be eye catching and immediately engaging. Only if one gets past this will she/he actually read your cover copy. Your actual back cover copy is your most powerful sales presentation. It should not tell them what the book is about, but why they should read the book.
The table of contents is where you tell them what the book is about. Remember, they're only to spend a few seconds scanning the table of contents. So each chapter title needs to be as well thought out as the book title and subtitle. Deciding whether to provide anything more than a chapter title in the table of contents depend on the focus and target audience of your book.
The final part of this major pitfall in self-publishing is the editing of your book. Of course, you will have gone from rough rough draft to finished manuscript through a number of revisions and editing yourself. Every publishing expert will tell you the same thing: "Only a fool edits their own book." Utilizing a professional editor with significant experience in your genre is a good idea. This applies less to metaphysical and spiritual books. Personally, I wasted $2000 on an editor of my metaphysical book. A better solution is to give your manuscript to someone to read and provide objective feedback, then determine whether you can do it yourself or not.
This pitfall in self-publishing, or any publishing method, is a major stumbling block to getting your book accepted within the marketplace. If you stumble into this pitfall, few will ever get to appreciate what you have to say.