What is the single best piece of advice you’ve ever received about the publishing process and/or what advice would you offer to a first-time author?
The best advice I’ve received is never to proofread your own work. This advice is something I haven’t always followed, always to my regret, finding silly typos or other errors only after the final printing. Even with short stories, which look perfectly fine even after the umpteenth reading, only show their flaws after submission, when they dance and scream and hoot and holler off the page; the haunting of the self-proof reader.
This is advice I give in turn, not only to first time authors, but to anyone serous about getting the best possible version of their work published. This advice goes hand in hand with never copy edit your own work, unless you have qualifications and experience in this area, as there are a multitude of pitfalls for the unsuspecting beyond syntax and grammar. Issues around copyright, plagiarism, libel and defamation etc. are all lurking between the pages of the unsuspecting. It may be something as simple as referencing the title of a well-known song without permission of the copyright holder, or using a quote without permission or attribution of the source.
When I suggest having work proofread, this doesn’t always mean shelling out big dollars. If you belong to a good writing group whose members have current knowledge of spelling and punctuation, and who have a good understanding of the difference between proofreading and copy editing, then recruiting these as final proof readers (as a reciprocal arrangement) can be a good start. Also use anyone you know who is a prolific reader as their reader eye will pick up an error in no time. It literally jumps off the page at them, halting the reading.
Money saved on proofreading can be spent on a good copy or structural editor who will work with you to ensure the book is true to your intent and gives you the best chance of having an agent or publisher read the submission, or if an Indie publisher, to ensure a quality product.