Book Review: ‘From Manuscript to Market’ (July 2017)

Gina Denholm reviews Editor Victoria member Susan Pierotti’s recently published book Manuscript to Market: The Lifecycle of Getting Your Book into Print.

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For many would-be authors, the end-to-end publishing process is a confounding one. How does a mess of ideas morph into a compelling written manuscript? And how does that hard-won prose shed its clunky, word-processed skin to emerge as a beguiling book? The growth of self-publishing has made getting into print easier than ever, but writers can be paralysed by choice: Should I do my own cover design? At what point do I bring Aunt Mary in to proofread? And do I really need an editor?

Into the confusion steps Susan Pierotti with Manuscript to Market, a guide that promises to unpack the writing and publishing processes in simple steps for anyone who wants to get into print. The target reader is the self-publishing author – while traditional publishing remains part of the discussion throughout, for most readers the reality will be assisted or DIY self-publishing, and these are the processes in most need of explanation.

To a subject often dumbed down in blog post listicles, Susan does a great job bringing depth and detail without the boring. Her use of ‘lifecycle’ as the carrying metaphor provides an engaging narrative arc and fodder for plenty of stories, which Susan uses to drive home the opportunities and risks inherent in each ‘life stage’.

Although the book’s title suggests starting the process with a fully formed manuscript, Susan begins by addressing the writing process itself. Her opening chapter, ‘Congratulations – you have a baby!’, looks at the benefits writing a book can bring, whether the author’s aim is to boost business, leave a legacy or entertain an audience. Chapter 2, ‘Health check’, addresses elements such as purpose, audience, genre and tone, helping the writer to find a clear vision for their book.

In chapters 3 and 4, Susan tackles the editing stage. ‘Going to school’ explains the importance of editing as well as how to find, engage and work with an editor, while ‘Best friend’ examines the levels of editing and the common writing issues editors address. These chapters are clearly an apologetic for the editor’s role but they also provide value for the reader by clarifying expectations. Savvy writers will use the advice to vet their own manuscripts well, thus reducing editing costs.

Chapters on design, print and marketing amp up the minutiae – fonts, dimensions, Cataloguing-in-Publication (CiP) data, ISBNs – yet Susan keeps things moving with helpful illustrations and anecdotes from her own publishing journey. Chapter 5, ‘Dressing up’, deals with aspects of interior and exterior book design. Chapter 6, ‘Graduating’, evaluates publishing options, which Susan identifies as traditional, custom, subsidised and self-publishing. The final two chapters, ‘Out into the world’ and ‘Celebrate!’, highlight the necessity of author-led marketing (whatever the publication path) and the benefits of a good book launch. An afterword, ‘What I learned from Lola’, brings the entire process to life in story form as Susan shares her experience of coordinating the end-to-end publication of City Kid by Lola Russell.

Not everything in the book can escape criticism. Susan’s chapter on book design, geared to the self-publishing author, provides advice on fonts, spacing and dimensions yet fails to clearly explain the internal design process. Readers may conflate formatting a word-processing document with typesetting itself, as the phases aren’t clearly distinguished. And while Susan mentions graphic designers in passing, she doesn’t clearly explain where they fit in the process or how to engage one. This is a missed opportunity to champion the experienced freelance cover and interior designers who, along with good editors, can lift a self-published work to its highest possible quality. Indeed, a few blemishes in Manuscript to Market’s own layout may have been avoided by bringing in a more experienced eye at typesetting phase.

Books about books inevitably attract high scrutiny. No doubt aware of this, Susan is candid about her experiences in Manuscript to Market’s own lifecycle, sharing wisdom as a fellow author rather than an infallible publishing expert. Her openness and convivial tone bring a sense of warmth and reassurance that will help readers feel they are in safe hands. This book is a must-read, not just for would-be authors but also for those of us who tread the path to publication with them.

Susan Pierotti, Manuscript to Market: The Lifecycle of Getting Your Book into Print, Box Hill North, Victoria, Creative Text Solutions, 2017.

Gina Denholm trained in editing and publishing at Acorn Press. She now combines freelance book editing and project management with her role as a structural editor for Grammar Factory, where she helps entrepreneurs write awesome books. Gina can be contacted at gina@grammarfactory.com.