Guest contributor: Matt Turner

From time to time, when my pager goes off, I swap my editor’s ‘hat’ for a Coastguard cap and jump on a boat. And it strikes me that, if all went well in the world of boating – if engines never broke down, if batteries lasted forever – I would never spend time on the rescue vessels, much as I love it.

It’s a broadly similar story with editing: if manuscripts were perfect, I’d be out of work. But who’s to say when an MS is ‘perfect’? And what am I, as an editor, expected to do anyway? That varies widely – infinitely, even. But when working with self-publishing authors in particular, I see my role extending beyond that of a mere copy/structural editor to fulfil a brief that, in the traditional publishing mode, would be met by a commissioning editor. Let me explain.

In my former life as a non-fiction publishing manager in Auckland, we would receive unsolicited manuscripts (the ‘slush pile’) and make decisions on them, but mostly we would recruit books to our list by making our own blue-sky decisions about what to publish, and then commissioning an author. Thus, we were very much in the driving seat, hopefully with a clear vision of the road ahead. And when the author submitted her/his MS, we could expect to do a little steering to ensure it was on track.

When you’re a self-publishing author, there’s no commissioning editor to act as your back-seat driver. Yes, you could ask friends or family to read your MS (and if you’re dishing any dirt on them, you probably should . . .). But you also need neutral, professional input, for obvious reasons. And that’s where an experienced editor can do more than check your spelling. I particularly enjoy being an author’s extra pair of eyes: perhaps because it’s a rare opportunity to collaborate in a creative process, and it enables writers to ‘road-test’ their work before going to press.

Having said all that, occasionally I have had manuscripts that required almost no editorial input. Chapters by historian Dame Anne Salmond, or archaeologist Janet Davidson; an Antarctic title from Neville Peat; an exquisitely written angling memoir from Dave Witherow. Dave did play hardball, though. At one point in his narrative, Gareth Morgan style, he shoots a cat caught prowling birds in his garden. ‘But Dave,’ I wrote, ‘you’re going to alienate a lot of readers with this. Cut it?’ His answer was laconi and to the point: ‘The cat dies.’ That was probably my cue to swap hats and jump on a boat.

Matt Turner

Guest contributor: Sarah Johnson

Some thoughts on publishing your own books

In 2015, I set up my own publishing imprint (Flat Bed Press) and published one of my own books. The Bold Ship Phenomenal is a chapter book for junior readers aged 7/8 to 11/12. I published it as both a hard copy and an e-book.

It seemed to me at the time, and still seems, that self-publishing is a misnomer.

In fact, very little of the publishing was done by me. I did the writing. The rest of the work was done by a host of industry professionals, without whom the book would still be a manuscript.

From the editor to the illustrator, to the designer, to the proof-reader, to the printer (and the print broker), to the distributor, mine has seemed the relatively easy part of the process. I have no doubt that without the involvement of these talented individuals the book would not be as beautiful as I now consider it to be.

What I did get to do, is to have a degree of hands-on involvement in the production of the book that I hadn’t experienced with my previous books, published by a mainstream publisher. I found that involvement to be satisfying to a degree I hadn’t anticipated. It was, from start to finish, a deeply creative act.

Which must be why I am considering doing it again.

I feel the book has been a success. It hasn’t become a bestseller, and it hasn’t made my name as a writer. But it has recovered the financial cost of producing it, and been well-received by the children who have read it, their teachers, librarians and schools. It has also attracted some industry recognition, in the form of an award and a shortlisting.

That’s good enough for me.

I saw publishing the book as an investment in my career as a writer at a time when the publishing industry felt uncertain and constrained. Has that investment been worth it? I think it has, if only for the people I have worked with, and things I have learnt from them, along the way.

Sarah Johnson, Author


Sarah Johnson (second from left) with the other finalists in the junior fiction category of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young People 2016; Kate De Goldi (second from right) won the award.

Sarah Johnson (second from left) with the other finalists in the junior fiction category of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young People 2016; Kate De Goldi (second from right) won the award.