10 Essential Steps To Take Before Publishing Your Digital Content

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The window of opportunity for entrepreneurs and thought leaders to proclaim their message and establish their expertise with a published work has cracked wide open with new digital publishing tools.

The Future of Ink is on the cutting edge of teaching us how to harness the power of these tools to get published and solidify our reputation as an expert in our niche.

I was on the webinar when Ellen Britt and Denise Wakeman launched The Future of Ink, and I’m as excited as anyone about the enormous possibilities it creates for my own work.

The voice of caution

But I hear a voice of caution getting louder in my ear, and I’d like to share it before we all get carried away publishing our work in mass profusion. The voice is saying,

Just because you can digitally publish your content quickly and inexpensively doesn’t necessarily mean you should!

Why on earth would I throw a wet blanket on all the happy partying? Don’t I want everyone to enjoy the fun of finally seeing their name in print without years of toil and rejection? Of course I do.

Yet in our haste to be authors and published experts, if we don’t uphold standards of articulate and well-written work, we run the risk of doing significant damage to the whole industry.

Consequences of hasty publishing

If we flood the digital book market with shoddy, poorly-written, bloated content, we could jeopardize the confidence our future readers have in purchasing digitally produced content. We might even push those consumers back into the arms of traditional publishers who have vetted and screened things more carefully. We risk losing the hard-fought ground we won in opening up new markets for our work and new visibility for our business or mission.

Pre-publication checklist

Before you deem your digitally published work ready to for public consumption, ask yourself these important questions:

  1. Does your work add value to your industry and your audience? Does it educate, entertain, or inspire? If not, rethink your approach.
  2. Can you articulate a purpose or goal for your work? Does every page—every word—contribute to that goal?
  3. Have you received positive feedback from anyone other than your mother or your best friend? Even when you ask for honesty, those closest to you have a hard time pointing out the weak spots in your writing. You’d probably have a hard time hearing it from them anyway. Professional peer groups are often invaluable for getting honest feedback.
  4. Does each chapter deal with a central idea, and is it developed logically without meandering? The more complex your topic, the more critical this is.
  5. Would you be proud to show your work to your most beloved and respected writing teacher? What might that teacher suggest to make it stronger?
  6. Have you run a spelling and grammar check? This won’t catch everything, but it’s a good start.
  7. Have you done a search for commonly misused or mundane words, weak sentences, or acronyms only understood by a select few?  The Internet is filled with editorial checklists and valuable resources.
  8. Have you hired an editor to review your work for feedback on clarity, substance, and value? A good editor can add immeasurably to the energy, clarity, and impact of your piece and help you avoid embarrassing ambiguity or omission.
  9. Have you hired a proofreader to catch spelling or typographical errors and word usage mistakes? If you think proofreading isn’t important, consider the one-letter difference between the words “public” and “pubic.”
  10. Have you formatted your work so it’s compatible with the medium in which you’re going to publish? I’m an avid Kindle reader, and it’s so frustrating to read books that have been sloppily uploaded with inappropriate line and page breaks or unreadable graphics.

Don’t blow it!

Your digitally published work reflects your expertise, intelligence, sensitivity to your target market, and attention to detail just as surely as a public presenter’s speech or an artist’s painting. It’s another essential building block in the “Know, Trust, and Like” foundation on which you’re building your business and your reputation.

Don’t blow it in your haste to see your name in print. I’d love to know your thoughts on this in the comments below…

Elizabeth Cottrell
Widely recognized for her ability to connect with others and with a special gift for being able to articulate clearly and meaningfully both in writing and in speech, Elizabeth H. Cottrell has become sought after by individuals, organizations, and businesses to lend her talents and expertise to a wide array of projects, including freelance writing and editing, as well as social media marketing solutions.
Elizabeth Cottrell
Elizabeth Cottrell
Elizabeth Cottrell

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  1. Breaks my heart to see so many self-published authors rush into publishing and completely ignoring (or nearly so) point #8. Why is it that editing for content scares so many? Of course, they do not admit it scares them. They will tell you they want to preserve their creative expression and integrity of their words.

    • You’re so right, Kathy. If writers only realized how empowering it is to have a good editor ramp up the level of your content to ensure that you’re conveying your message in the best possible way. I’ve been blown away time and again with the impact of a small change to a word or phrase. It’s so much more than just error-checking.

      It’s also important to find an editor who “gets you” and knows what you’re aiming for. I was fortunate to find Karen S. Elliott through a LinkedIn group we shared, but if anyone has had a less than stellar experience, I encourage them to keep trying to find an editor who will be a true teammate.

  2. Your message title:10 Essential Steps to Take Before Publishing Your Digital Content, is most impressive and very educative. Thanks.

  3. Checklists born of experience can be very useful and this one by writer Elizabeth Cottrell and her editor, Karen Elliott, is especially so. Only the last point, about digital formatting, does not apply to editing generally, which points up the fact that whatever the medium of publication, meticulous editing and proofreading are essential processes. A non-editor friend or family member can sometimes be too polite or so careful of damaging a promising new writer’s self-confidence (easily done!) that they avoid mentioning the errors — or, more often, are simply unaware of them. We show the same polite restraint to migrants’ struggles with English, when they would probably welcome a correction if their aim is to improve their expression. On the other hand, well-meaning but tactless or conflicting suggestions to writers can be at best unhelpful. Editing is, after all, a learned skill and profession. Few editors do their own plumbing or electricity wiring for the same reason; they call in an expert. One of my clients has just sent me the link to Elizabeth’s checklist, and I am pleased that we can honestly say that even without their excellent advice we did tick all 10 boxes (and then some!). It is a pleasure to work with a writer who values a high-quality result. This client has worked her way up the learning curve of digital publishing largely on her own, and I have learned a lot from her experience. We started off with print in mind, but after experimenting with self-publishing the e-book on Amazon, she has continued with the print version at her readers’ request. The first criterion in the 10-point list is vitally important to me in choosing the work I accept to edit: ‘does it educate, entertain or inspire?’ The second, which seems to follow naturally from that choice, is the growth of the author-editor relationship of ‘Know, Trust and Like’. Sharing with a client a mutual desire for quality and the willingness to be almost obsessive in achieving it is (despite the stress) enormously satisfying — and Elizabeth’s and Karen’s 10 essential steps are clearly the result of such experience. My rating: 10 out of 10!

    • Christina, I so appreciate your endorsement of the points in this article and especially your support of the spirit behind it. The editor/client relationship is so important, and when they both have high standards, as you and your client clearly do, the results will be superlative. Thank you, too, for posting these comments on your blog. I’m heading back over there to subscribe.

  4. Thank you, Elizabeth. I appreciate the plug!

  5. Thanks Elizabeth, for the reality check! Too many marketers out there convincing people they just need to jot down a few thoughts and sell books. Good writing is always appreciated!

  6. I meant to get over here before now … This is a great checklist by Elizabeth. So many books – fiction and non-fiction, e- and print – are dashed out without thought to many of the points she makes above. I am working on numerous collections. I see many of my friends and associates being published, and I get a little anxious. But I realize my books will come when they are ready, properly edited, and proofread.

  7. Elizabeth, great “food for thought”, when considering whether to publish our books in digital format. In reading between the lines one can glean valuable information as to the power, well-written, pertinent content, can help others while allowing the author to gain credibility.

  8. Hi Elizabeth – Such a great post. Great checklist, it’s so important to have a strategy in place when you’re publishing digitally. If you don’t have one in place you can run the risk of damaging your reputation and your brand. Thanks for sharing your tips and advice Elizabeth – Deb

    • Thank you, Deb! I know it helps me tremendously to have a system in place. I almost always regret it when I’m in a hurry and try to take shortcuts. I hope my list will help others ensure they’re publishing their best content.

  9. It’s SO valuable to have a “beginner’s checklist” before each piece of content one sets out to publish. Thanks for sharing your own ideas and expertise.

    • I really appreciate your comment, Sue. I do hope my post will be especially helpful to beginners who haven’t had a chance to develop their system and routine. Having a checklist, especially at first, can really help minimize unnecessary errors and maximize the chances of a quality product.

  10. This is very helpful advice and is appreciated.

    Years ago I decided at the last minute to proofread a pretty strong letter I was sending to a high ranking state official…instead of “morale”, my secretary typed “morals” in this critical letter…needless to say, I became an instant believer in proofreading! 🙂

    All the best,


  11. Elizabeth- I am applauding you for adding this important point to our discussion on digital publishing. Creating an ebook or print book that actually builds your business requires great editing and proofing.

    After all, we want our readers to view us as professionals with valuable wisdom to share. If that wisdom is not written clearly, the formatting is distracting, or there are many typographical errors, the book cannot represent us well in the marketplace.

    Investing in professional editing and proofing is essential to an author’s success.

    The good news is that there is an abundance of great editors ready and willing to help!

    • Lynne, your comment is so greatly appreciated in light of the significant contributions you’ve already made to the industry.

      I became a believer in having a good editor when I hired Karen S. Elliott (www.thewordshark.com) to proofread what I thought was a well-written article. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t have any silly errors. When it came back to me with a page full of “red marks,” I was at first horrified, but as I worked through them one by one and realized how small changes could make my piece so much stronger, I was thrilled to have discovered such a valuable resource. She always makes me look better than I would otherwise!