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6 steps for vetting your vendors

Authors, are you vetting your vendors well enough?

I co-moderate a Facebook group for self-published authors that doesn’t allow members to promote their books or services. I’m responsible for deleting those posts when they appear so that they don’t clutter the page and interfere with discussion and learning.

One that showed up today made me laugh, so I didn’t delete it, choosing to use it as a teachable moment, instead.

It was from a book editor offering her services. Here’s an image of her post, altered to eliminate identification.

Vetting your vendors

I spotted two editing mistakes immediately.

Ironic, eh?

It reminded me that it was time for me to write about a topic I’ve been thinking about for a while: the importance of making sure that you vet your vendors before hiring them. If you’re spending money with a cover designer, book editor, marketing consultant, or anyone else, you want to be certain that they can deliver on their promises.

Editors who can’t edit? Yikes!

Who wants to hire an editor who doesn’t know how to edit?

But how can you hire someone good if you don’t know what you don’t know? For example, if you don’t know what’s wrong with the message in the box above, then you’re not going to spot the errors I see all the time on the websites of people who say they’re book editors.

Trust me, good editors don’t have spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes on their sites. But, if you can’t spot the mistakes, you won’t know that.

The goal, of course, is to avoid wasting your money on a service provider who doesn’t know any more than you do.

Try these steps

I asked the Facebook group’s members to share how they make sure they’re hiring vendors they can trust. Here’s our combined advice.

6 steps for vetting your vendors1. Ask around.

Keisha Page trusts good word-of-mouth buzz on resources. One of the best ways to get that is to ask people who they would recommend — that’s what Heather Townsend does.

I’ll add, though, that you want to ask people who have an end product that you admire and who share your values.

For example, I don’t decide which movies to watch based on the recommendations of just anyone. I first figure out who also liked movies I liked, and disliked those I also disliked. That tells me that we have similar tastes. It works that way with professional resources, too.

2. When feasible, give them a test.

When hiring an editor, Page likes to see a small sample of her work edited. It helps her gauge skill but also gives her a sense of whether she will work well with the individual.

Before hiring an editor for his book on Mormon history and doctrine, Frank Reid gave a short list of potential editors a quiz that tested their knowledge on that religion.

This isn’t possible for all work that you might outsource, but it is for some of it.

3. Look for people with experience.

I see a big red flag when a service provider’s website “about” page explains that the person self-published one book and is now in the business of guiding others through the publishing process. Experience trumps enthusiasm, whether you’re talking about designing a cover, serving as a book shepherd, or formatting your manuscript. You want someone who’s done the task well many times.

4. Request and check references.

Approach the reference check with a list of specific questions related to what’s important to you, not anyone else. Do you need to work with someone who respects deadlines? Put that at the top of your list. Do you want someone who responds quickly? Ask a question that will get you the information you need.

5. Know what you need.

Chances are, no matter what the task, you’ll be working closely with this person, so make sure you like their approach and style. Reid knew that he wanted his manuscript edited with Word’s “track changes” function, so that was one of his editor requirements.  Someone else might prefer another approach. Know what you need, then look for it.

6. Compare work styles.

Working with several virtual assistants with different work styles has helped me pinpoint what I need. One neglected to note that she would never be available to assist in the morning, while another wouldn’t take phone calls. What do you need from the person you’ll be working with on your project? You want a meeting of the minds.

How do you vet the people or companies you hire to help you with a book project? Please share your advice in a comment.

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  1. There are a lot of charlatans out there–anxious to “help” authors unsure of themselves and their product (and, face it, that’s all of us, sometime or other or most of the time!). And, as Sandy’s post points out, they are not shy or uncreative about trying to reach you and your wallet.
    I provided a few good sources for checking out and monitoring some of the bad actors on my blog this week: http://www.vweisfeld.com/?p=3015

    1. Thanks for the helpful link and advice, Vicki. I love how you refer to them as bad “actors” — that word is perfect!


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