Style sheets. A style sheet is a list of choices you made while writing, which you keep track of so you can ensure consistency. If you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, your characters may have unique or oddly spelled names—all of them should be in your style sheet. Reading aloud. Reading your work aloud brings your ears into the mix and can help you catch typos, missing words, and flawed syntax. It also gives you a sense of how the words flow.After you’ve used all these tools to QC your work, you should hire an editor. Every manuscript should have a second pair of eyes on it so that it will be clean before you move to the next step, publication.Do you need to pay for an editor? Well, if you know a competent editor who is willing to work for flowers, a bottle of wine, or your undying affection, you might not have to pay them cash money. However, editing requires skill and training, like being an auto mechanic or a plumber. Sure, lots of people can tinker around and change a washer or a spark plug, but if you want your car to stop leaking oil and your toilet to stop flooding your bathroom, hire a professional. It’s the same for editing: hire a professional and pay them appropriately, or you risk a job not done right.What I DoI use all the tips outlined above, and I still hire an editor. I have worked as a professional editor, and I write clean, but editors still find things to fix in my work—my last novel underwent review by a substantive editor, and her work uncovered more problems beyond my beta reader’s pass. After she and I had finalized it, another editor copyedited it (which is a light editorial pass focused on grammar and spelling), and it underwent a third round of proofreading before publication. I would never release a book to the public without a professional editor reviewing it first. A second pair of eyes is essential.5) Sub It or Pub It?Your manuscript is beta’d edited, and squeaky clean. You’re ready to publish! Now you must decide whether you’re going to strike out on your own like the maverick visionary you are, or if you’re going to shoot for a contract with Tor or Bantam. Are you going to submit it to agents and publishers, or will you self-publish?Before you decide, read Jane Friedman’s and Joel Friedlander’s blogs, which offer essential advice for both aspiring and established writers. In particular, I recommend starting with Jane’s blogs on How to Publish Your Book and How to Self-Publish Your Book.Sub It: Traditional PublishingPros: Credibility, low start-up costs, and bigger stage at launchCons: High potential for rejection from gatekeepers at all stages, long production schedules, lack of author control, lower royalty ratesIndie publishing may be the latest thing, but the fact remains that traditionally published books still carry a gloss of credibility that self-published works cannot match. For example, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), which gives out the Hugo and Nebula awards, won’t consider an author for membership unless he or she is published with an established press.Another benefit is that the publisher pays all the costs of editing, production, and distribution, getting your book into the big chain brick and mortar stores as well as online retailers. They might also spring for advertising and promotion. Thus at launch, your book’s visibility and discoverability are much, much greater than what indie authors can achieve, at least in the beginning.However, to be published by a traditional publisher means spending months or years submitting your manuscript to various gatekeepers at literary agencies and publishers. If you want to aim for a Big 5 publisher, you’ll need to submit to literary agents first, because your chances of being picked out of a major publisher’s slush pile are slim. (Yes, it does happen, but your odds of winning the lottery are better.) The independent publishers and small presses are more open to reviewing unsolicited work, but even with them, you’re more likely to secure a contract—a fair one—if you have an agent.Agents and publishers alike have one goal when choosing to represent or publish a book: making money. Their decisions will be subjective and market-driven. They’ll probably be chasing a trend. If you’re excellent at pitching your work, you might convince them that it’s going to start a trend, but be prepared for rejection.Once you secure a publishing contract, the publisher will retain control over all decisions related to the production of your work. They may insist on editorial changes, and they definitely will decide what your cover looks like, how your interior (your text) is laid out, whether the first printing will be paper or hardcover, and to whom the book should be marketed. Until you have a proven track record, they may not consult you on any of these decisions, and even if they do seek your opinion, the final choice will be theirs. Also, because the publisher bears the cost of production and marketing, they take the lion’s share of the profits. Typical author royalties run around 30% of net (i.e., the revenues after all the production costs are paid back), and if you have an agent, you’ll give him or her 15% of your earnings.Most traditionally published authors also end up doing a lot of the book’s marketing themselves. Agents and publishers often expect authors to have an established fan base before they offer a contract (it’s a notorious catch-22), and they always expect the author to work to grow that fan base. So if you’re traditionally published, you’ll likely spend as much time blogging and tweeting as your neighbor who chose to go the indie route. Your main advantage here is that the publisher may support you with advertising dollars (at least at the book’s launch).Pub It: Self-PublishingPros: total control over the book’s interior and exterior content, production schedule, and marketing and promotion efforts, plus a higher share of salesCons: total responsibility for the book’s interior and exterior content, production schedule, and marketing and promotion efforts, as well as all the associated costsThis Is What I DoI’m an indie author, which means I call all the shots with my books’ production, inside and out. I produced my first three publications myself—I hired an editor, commissioned a cover designer, and laid out the book’s text myself. In the case of my latest novel, A Wizard’s Forge, I collaborated with a team of publishing professionals at a hybrid publisher (Wise Ink Creative Publishing). Hybrids offer authors the high-quality editorial and production available from traditional publishers, but the author bears all the costs and keeps all the profits.As I said earlier, Jane Friedman and Joel Friedlander (The Book Designer) are the real gurus of the self-publishing world. Both offer online seminars, blog posts, and tons of information about everything from digital interior design to ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers—your book will need one if you want to sell to libraries and brick and mortar bookstores) to marketing. You should check them out, but here are some of my tips for success:Hire an editor. Yes, again. You may want to have a substantive editor or book coach review your book (as I did), but at minimum, you should have the manuscript copyedited and the laid out text proofread. Hire a professional cover designer. You can go DIY on the cover, but most amateur-produced covers look that way. Guest writer A.M. Justice brings us her top tips in becoming a successful publisher author like her. Her recent work A Wizard’s Forge has been getting fantastic reviews. Here’s what the sci-fi/fantasy maven has to share with us on getting your writing out into the world.It’s 2 am. You’ve just wrapped up an RPG session, and you think, “that campaign would make an epic novel!” You invested hours into developing your characters’ backstory, quirks, and flaws. Their goals are clear and so are their obstacles, and lots of antagonists lurk in the shadows, ready to pounce. This is going to be a killer story.Swigging your favorite late-night beverage, you flip open the laptop and stare at a white screen and a blinking cursor. Now, what?November is National Novel Writing Month, and a lot of people are cracking open their laptops, teaming up with fellow writers, and typing like mad to meet their word count goals and finish a novel. Whether you’re racing to the finish line in this month’s NaNo, or intend on slow and steady progress, here are some tips, tricks, and decision points you’ll face on your quest to bring your work to the public.1)Pants It or Plot It?When fiction writers meet, one of the first questions they ask each other is, “are you a pantser or a plotter?” In other words, do you fly by the seat of your pants and let your imagination steer the broomstick (or airship, X-wing fighter, etc.), or do you carefully map out your novel’s plot before you write a word of the story itself?There’s no wrong answer to this question—creativity comes in all forms and what works for some, doesn’t work for others. But each method has its advantages and disadvantages.Pants ItPantsers have the freedom to let their wild unicorns of creativity run loose, kicking up trouble and having lots of fun along the way. Pantser authors will tell you their characters are always going rogue and taking the plot in unexpected directions, leading to surprising discoveries. Often those paths lead straight down a box canyon with no way out, and the only option is to backtrack and try another narrative path, tossing out thousands of words along the way. Pantsing lets you pursue any wild idea that pops into your head, and sometimes that leads to a story that is super cool and original. But you should expect to put a lot of time and effort into herding the wild unicorns into a compelling narrative—one other people besides your mom and your Wattpad followers will want to read.Plot ItPlotters write fiction the same way you write a term paper: they outline it. Some plotters just write a simple treatment—a rough, 400- or 500-word description of the book’s plot: Francine went here, met Frank there, this mentor character told them to go to this other place, where they found the talisman, fought the villain, and saved the world. Others write detailed chapter-by-chapter outlines with bullet points detailing each plot turn. By mapping out all the narrative paths before they write, plotters don’t spend time backtracking and rewriting like pantsers. On the other hand, when a cool idea pops into a plotter’s head, he has to decide whether to deviate from the outline and pursue the new idea or ignore a creative spark that could make the novel better. Plotters also have to deal with a potential challenge to character development—a character’s plot-driven actions may seem forced and artificial, rather than a natural outcome of the personality you’ve written.What I Do?Pants it! I love my wild unicorn ideas! It’s thrilling and fun when one of my characters does something unexpected! I feel like I’m the reader, and I sit back and watch avidly as my fingers fly across the keyboard. Of course, as the author, I’m the one really driving that character’s actions, but my subconscious is tossing curveballs at me, and I swing away with relish. It’s Fun.But…After I pants my way through a first draft, I take a BIG step back and look at the work. Sometimes it’s a freakin’ mess, or worse, it’s actually boring. Then, I might do an outline before I set off revising. As a result, I’m slow, which is why I don’t participate in NaNoWriMo. However slow I am, this turtle finishes the races she starts.2) Overcoming Writer’s BlockThe blinking cursor on the blank screen mocks you. Each time it disappears and reappears, you feel a greater sense of failure. After 5 minutes of staring, you go get a snack. Five more minutes sends you out for a walk. You play with your cat. You clean your house. You get up to get another muffin and end up in a Florida swamp. You run off to Paris and start taking tango lessons. You get drunk and wake up with a murdered woman in your bed. You start talking to ghosts and try to kill your wife and son.Writer’s block comes from many places, from self-doubt (which every writer knows), simple laziness, or even a misguided sense of artistic hubris (“I only write when the muse is upon me!”). A related malady is writer’s inertia, where you put other activities higher on your priority list and you simply never get around to writing. Whatever the source, the only way to overcome writer’s block (or inertia) is to write. Start typing (or scribbling if you write longhand), and just keep at it. Sometimes it takes me several paragraphs before I find the rhythm and tone, or even the purpose, of a scene, and I may end up deleting those paragraphs. You have to allow yourself to write stuff you’ll throw out later. It’s OK. It’s not wasted effort because it’s helping you find your way, and however bad it is, you can fix it later.NaNoWriMo and its off-season writing camps are extremely popular because they help writers overcome the inertia of not writing. Writing in teams also provides motivation, as every team has a word count goal, and of course, there’s the camaraderie of a shared experience, which itself is inspiring. Outside of NaNo, many authors set daily, weekly, or monthly word count goals for themselves that they strive to meet all year long. One writer friend writes a thousand words per day on any topic, just to exercise his creative muscles. This helps him work quickly and efficiently when he sits down to work on his fiction.What I Do?I’m more guilty of writer’s inertia than a sufferer of writer’s block, although when I was working on my second novel, the plot was so complex and I hit so many narrative dead ends that I felt stuck because the work was hard. Time and again, the only way I’ve pulled myself out of the morass is to sit down and force myself to write.I constantly remind myself that good writing habits are like good fitness habits. We feel better when we’re writing every day, just like we do when we eat healthy foods and exercise every day. But we all fall off the wagon, and sometimes we stay on the ground, binge-watching Luke Cage or playing Titanfall all night while cramming Cheetos in our mouths. I’ve spent months and months out of writing (and physical) shape. But I always remind myself, whatever I did or didn’t do yesterday, or last week, or the last five years, each morning is a new day and a chance to do right for myself. Eat a carrot, go for a walk, and pound out a thousand words on the keyboard, and you’ll be back on track to good habits.3) You Wrote “The End.” Congratulations! But You’re Not DoneYou pantsed it or plotted it, kept writer’s block at bay, and you finished your story! Hallelujah! You’re ready to publish, right? Wrong.Recently I watched a train wreck of a movie called The Black Cat. Produced in 1934, the film starred Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff as a pair of old enemies who duel over the fate of young newlyweds after the couple takes refuge in Karloff’s house during a storm. Each scene in the film is disconnected from the others, and the character’s actions within and between scenes make little sense. After we MS3TKed our way through the movie, I said to my husband, “it was as if a dozen different writers wrote this, and none of them knew what the others were doing.”You’re probably the only writer working on your novel, but major continuity problems can still creep in. Right after you type “the end,” tuck that manuscript away on your hard drive and go consume some celebratory chocolates and champagne (or, as I prefer, a nice Malbec). Let the novel rest for a few weeks while you catch up on backlogged Netflix series. When you’ve gained enough distance to be objective, open up the file and begin reading critically for plot holes, out-of-character behavior, and anything else that just doesn’t make sense, and fix those things.Now, you’ve revised the novel, and you’re certain it’s the best novel it can be. Do you release it to the world? No. Now is the time to send it out to beta readers. A beta reader does for fiction what a beta tester does for software. They use it (read it), and they report back on what doesn’t work. This is important: a good beta reader will tell you what is wrong with the novel. Their purpose is not to tell you how awesome the book is. Every author wants to hear they’ve written the world’s greatest book (I sure do!). Even so, the beta reader who only tells you want he or she likes about the book, and says nothing about what they perceive as its flaws, is doing you no favors.The tricky bit here is that unlike software, whether fiction “works” is a subjective judgment. You might be thinking, well, if they don’t like it, that’s their problem. It’s my work; it’s my vision.Yes, it is, but…when you read your beta reader’s comments, don’t think of them as a criticism of your story but rather as a reflection of how the reader viewed the story. In other words, if a reader disliked or misinterpreted something, can you make changes so that she’ll see it the way you intended her to see it? Did he understand why the hero chose to leave the sword in the stone instead of pulling it out? Did she get the heroine’s decision to go alone into the zombie-filled hotel? If your beta readers don’t like a plot point, it doesn’t mean you need to change the plot, but it does mean you need to set it up better, so it makes sense.What I DoMost people use multiple betas. I have one beta partner, and we are brutal with each other’s work. We write stuff like this in each other’s margins:You’ve got to be f—king kidding meBORINGDude, that is seriously out of left fieldNo way would anyone with half a brain fall for thatWe follow up on these blunt remarks with tons of notes for why we think the passage doesn’t work, and how we recommend fixing it. We also give each other an overall assessment of the book—and we do say what we liked, as well as what we didn’t like.Despite the way my beta and I beat each other up, I love getting her comments, because I love making my work better. Still, I often don’t follow her advice on how to fix the problems she sees. The novel is my work, my vision. Once I know what its flaws are, I fix them my way.4) Revisions Are Finished! But You’re Not Done: Quality ControlSpelling and grammar mistakes ruin a book. Your story might be totally gripping, but if every third word is misspelled or your nouns and verbs don’t match, no traditional publisher will buy your book—and if you self-publish it, few will buy it, and even fewer will give it a good review. Fortunately, writers have many tools to help them QC their manuscripts.Your word processor’s spell and grammar check. Use them. Search and replace routines. When you notice an inconsistency in a name or usage choice, use your word processor’s search function to find all occurrences and fix them. Don’t rely on your eyeballs to catch all the mistakes. Decide on your goals for the book. Do you want to play on the same field with traditionally published authors or are you happy going after a niche of mostly online fans? Do your homework on ISBNs (International Standard Book Number) and ASINs (Amazon Standard Identification Number) and what you need for your book.Finally, read and research as much as you can before diving into self-publishing. Self-publishers are either hobbyists or entrepreneurs. Either is OK, but you won’t hope to make money on your books if you approach self-publishing as a hobby rather than a business. In addition to Jane’s and Joel’s blogs, here are some other resources for people interested in self-publishing:Ingram-Spark—an international digital and print on demand (POD) distributor currently considered the place to list indie titles for market distributionAmazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and Author Central—Amazon’s tools and resources for authors, where you can upload book data, track sales, and find useful informationCreatespace—the print on demand arm of AmazonBookLife—marketing resources for self-published authors; BookLife is the indie publishing outlet of Publisher’s Weekly, the publishing industry’s main trade magazineSmashwords—a digital distribution channel and eBook sales outletPredators and Editors—a website listing legitimate publishers, literary agents, and freelance editors and designers who can help aspiring authors, as well as the scam artists who prey on themThis article barely scratches the surface of how to write and publish a book. If you’ve got questions, you can reach me through my website, or my Twitter, and don’t forget to follow my blog.