Posts Tagged self-publishing
I’ve had an interesting question from Tom. A lot of authors that are self-published avoid the question of cost. How much does it cost you to self publish? I would think that a lot of writers that aren’t financially well off want to know this info.
What a good question. To answer, I’d like to reframe it.
A lot of the basic aspects of self-publishing are low cost, or even free. Publishing on Amazon, Smashwords and Kobo, three of the major platforms, is free. Making Word documents and PDFs is free. Formatting ebooks and print books can be free if you’re careful and meticulous, and there are low-cost options to make it easier. Covers can be made free – or for very little money – in applications like Canva and Bookbrush.
So why do authors pay a lot more for publishing services?
The answer is: they’re paying for a professional edge. In editing, book production, cover design, copywriting. Marketing knowhow. Advertising. Access to curated audiences.
And how much does that cost? It’s honestly a difficult question to answer.
I realise this might sound evasive, but it’s like asking how much it costs to have a wedding.
It depends what kind of wedding you want. You can make your own dress from fabric bought for a tenner on eBay, you can pick a bouquet from your garden, you can use the local registry office and hold the reception in your house. Or not even bother with the reception. Or you can have a dress handmade by an amazing designer, invite hundreds of people, hire a manor house with caterers… you get the picture.
How much does it cost to self-publish? It depends on the result you want. You could do a lot yourself, for very little money, and it would still be a published book. Or you could involve professionals.
Here’s an important caveat. There are good and bad operators. Bad operators are usually taking advantage of your inexperience by offering a service of little proven value, or charging a vastly inflated price. So if you’re considering paying for a publishing service, check these two sources: Victoria Strauss’s site Writer Beware, and the Alliance of Independent Authors’ watchdog desk.
Anyway, we were saying…
Why involve professionals?
They will add value. They will give you an advantage – help you catch the attention of customers or build a reputation with good reviews in the grown-up world of books.
What if that does not matter to you? That is fine. We all write and publish for different reasons. Here’s a parallel from my own life. I have a horse. Many horse owners I know are keen to compete in jumping or dressage or eventing. They want their horses to have careers. I couldn’t give two hoots about competing. I want to ride and train my horse for our own joy. Success, to me, is personal satisfaction.
If you have the ‘career’ approach, you have to think like a competitor. You can’t do it without professionals. You won’t be able to do a polished job – and you won’t even know what details will make the difference. A cover designer will do more than create a nice piece of art. They will create art that will shout ‘buy me!’ to the right people. An editor will know how to make your book work best for your ideal audience. Professionals will help you raise your game, fulfil your potential. Using them is an investment, which should lead to higher sales, a good reputation, maybe awards etc.
But that might not matter to you. And that’s fine. Do whatever gives you satisfaction.
How much does it cost to self-publish?
The question is slightly wrong, I feel. It shouldn’t be ‘what does it cost’, but ‘what value would you get from hiring a professional or using a service’? To compare it with weddings, you spend as much as you need to feel you’ve done it properly, for your own personal goals. But here’s a departure from the weddings comparison – if you spend your budget wisely, it should pay you back in more tangible ways too.
And not everything has to be expensive. Here’s a piece on how to get useful writing tuition if you can’t afford an editor.
PS I’m teaching a course in self-publishing at the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Book here
PPS If you’d like help with your writing, my Nail Your Novel books are here. If you’re curious about my own creative writing, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s been going on at my own writing desk (and with my little horse), here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.
Getting editors, spotting mistakes, publishing across many genres and author control! 4 questions from a self-publishing conference
Yesterday I gave a mini-course in self-publishing at the Jericho Writers Summer Festival. These are some of the most interesting questions that came up in the Q&A.
Should I hire a developmental editor before giving my manuscript to beta readers?
I wouldn’t. I’d polish the book as much as possible before you bring in the professionals. Show the book to your beta readers, get their feedback, work on it again yourself. When you can’t find anything more you want to change, or you don’t know what to do next, that’s when you’ll get the best value from a developmental editor.
Your beta readers might bring up issues that you can’t solve or don’t agree with, so you can then take those to a developmental editor. Often a beta reader has half the picture – they feel something isn’t working, but can’t tell you why or what to do instead. That’s where a developmental editor is gold.
So the more polishing you do with your own resources, the better value you’ll get out of the professionals. And the more you’ll grow as a writer. Here’s more on how to find the editor who’s right for you.
But what about spelling and grammar problems? I’m worried these errors might distract my beta readers…
Great point. Spelling and grammar glitches are infuriating for any reader. So are factual mistakes. I always say you want a book to be so perfect that it looks as though it came out of a machine, not a fallible mind. This lets the reader trust in your prose. With a really good book, the reader forgets they’re looking at words. They fall into the spell.
As far as possible, you want your beta readers to concentrate on the book’s content. If the manuscript is littered with literals, they’ll probably correct those instead, even if you tell them to ignore them. That’s a waste of their contribution. So if grammar and spelling are your weaknesses, find one beta reader who’s willing to clean it up for you, then give a sparkling manuscript to the others.
You mentioned that self-publishing allows us to publish whatever we like, across a variety of genres if we want. How do we do that without confusing readers?
This is where your platform comes into its own. Explain it in all the places you talk to readers – your website, your blog, your newsletter, Facebook. Make a virtue of this variety, make it part of your evolving artistic identity. If you develop a new direction, include them in the big adventure. A few years ago, I found myself writing a travel memoir. At first, this seemed ridiculous – who’d read a memoir by me? Here’s how I introduced it, collywobbles and all ‘A book I didn’t expect to write’.
A month later, I was more confident that it wouldn’t be an embarrassing mess, so I felt able to share details. ‘That book…’
Because you have this direct contact with readers, you can take them with you as your interests evolve.
When you update the back matter of your existing books, explain that you have a varied catalogue. For instance: ‘As well as contemporary fiction I also write light-hearted travel memoir and books on writing.’ Or: ‘I have an alter ego as a grief counsellor…
You could make a distinction by using a pseudonym or a variation of your name with initials. There’s more about this in this post. In that post I considered the extra burden of running multiple names or variations, but David Gaughran adds another consideration in his book Amazon Decoded. He says the ‘also boughts’ list on Amazon can be confused if you use the same name for different kinds of book, and that this might mean Amazon recommends your work to the wrong kind of readers, and then notices the conversion rates aren’t good and stops recommending your book at all. But a simple change to your name, such as an initial, can make you look like two different people to the algorithm.
How much difference is too much? That depends. Not everyone will be interested in all your work, especially if you write strictly within fiction genres. You might want to separate your newsletter list, for instance, because your lighthearted contemporary romances might not appeal to readers of your Transylvanian historical sagas. But if you’re less easily categorised, your work is more about you, your outlook, your curiosities and your voice, so a reader of one of your books might well enjoy all the rest.
You talked a lot in the course about how self-publishing allows you a lot more control than traditional publishing… Where do you most like having control?
Everyone’s different! Some indies like being in control of the marketing and presentation. For me, I relish the detailed process of making the book and passing it for press. I’m lucky that this is also my job in non-writing life – I’m a magazine sub. So I don’t like someone else to have my text files or make changes to them. I want to make the corrections myself so I know they’ve been done – and that they haven’t spawned any unintended consequences, which often happens. That’s my favourite part, aside from the writing.
(Thanks for the manuscript pic, Muckster)
Your turn! I’m taking more questions about self-publishing… and anything else you’d like to contribute on the questions I’ve answered here. If you’ve self-published, what’s your favourite part? What parts of the process do you not enjoy?
And how is my latest book shaping up? More here in my newsletter
A report of the Frankfurt Book Fair in The Hot Sheet caught my eye this week, and I have to admit it’s got me a trifle narked. See what you think.
‘The acceptance and progress of self-publishing (or, rather, the sluggish acceptance and progress) in most countries (the US, the UK, and Germany are the exceptions) was probably best represented by Guillaume Dervieux, vice president and CEO of France’s Albin Michel publishing house. He said that self-publishing is all but anathema to “what we are doing” in the trade. In self-publishing, he said, every manuscript “is accepted and each title is invested with the minimum amount of means. We do exactly the contrary. We reject a lot of manuscripts, and we concentrate all our means and effort only on the ones we choose with passion.” ‘
Oof. (Before we go any further, let me state that I find The Hot Sheet to be a useful, worthwhile round-up of news for authors. I’ve found several important opportunities because of it. They are reporting attitudes they have observed, not their own attitude to self-publishing. That’s why I included the paragraph in full.)
Back to Mr Dervieux. Here’s the point that worried me. In self-publishing, every manuscript “is accepted and each title is invested with the minimum amount of means”.
Here are some sows, with ears.
There are many authors (indie and otherwise) who’ve sought my editorial input on a book and been sent back to the drawing board – kindly, with constructive directions. That’s what they hire me for. Some of them come back with a greatly improved script.
Anyone who’s hung around this blog will know that I frequently post about the long process of getting a manuscript right. The time taken to edit for nuance. You’ve also heard me plead for writers not to rush because we can set our own deadlines, and that is our great artistic advantage, if we want it. A book will be out for ever, and although we can nip into the back channels and edit the snarlies, we can’t edit a reader’s memory of a bad experience.
But here’s something I’ve never talked about – the care that then goes into the editorial and production process – which I think is one of Mr Dervieux’s contentions.
So, by way of example, let me take you through the editorial process for my latest book, Not Quite Lost.
For reference, Not Quite Lost is about 38,000 words.
- Rewriting/developmental editing December 2016 to April 2017
- First beta reader April 2017
- More drafting, second beta reading, start of June 2017
- More drafting, third reading, end of June 2017
- Final drafting
- Copy editing, proofing and formatting to August 2017
In parallel with this, the cover was being developed. Work on that began in January 2017. Three full designs were considered and discussed with close advisers. The final design emerged in July 2017.
And no publishing job has been done properly unless there is marketing and publicity. Preliminary work on that began in May, with 3 weeks of campaigning in August, and work is still ongoing as leads arise.
To recap, the production calendar looked like this:
- Conceptual and developmental editing from first draft to final manuscript 7 months
- Proofing & formatting 2 months
- Cover development 7 months
- Marketing/publicity 4 weeks concentrated work, then as needed
Of course, these months weren’t exclusively spent on the one task. I was doing other work in between, just as a traditional publisher would. And the breaks allowed time for new ideas to present, minds to be refreshed and new possibilities to be considered.
This is not the schedule of a book that was ‘invested with the minimum amount’, either financially or in terms of time. Indeed, I’ll wager my book had more care than it would get in a traditional publishing house. How do I know this? Because I’ve worked for them as well. Here’s a post that discusses some of the quality compromises I’ve seen in traditional publishers.
I’m heartened that Mr Dervieux chooses his projects carefully and invests each one with utmost effort. I would hope for nothing less. I hope it’s clear that I, a self-publisher, take just as much care.
Here are those pigs again.
What of Mr Dervieux’s first point, that plenty of self-publishers put sows’ ears in the sewing machine? Bien. Before I decided Not Quite Lost was fit to publish, I tried to find people to talk me out of it. Like a publisher with their editorial board. The story of that is here. And were they right to let me go ahead? The reviews can do the talking.
I realise this post has become a little ratty.
Apols, people, but Mr Dervieux’s generalisation is wildly unfair. It’s as bad as dismissing all of traditional publishing as ghostwritten celeb books or Dan Brown trudge with copycat covers and slapdash editing. Yes, of course, everyone’s mileage varies, and anyone and everyone can self-publish. Yes, self-publishing is done by amateurs. It’s also done by responsible, professional authors who nurture a book properly and take care in its production to create a book that’s worth a reader’s time.
Some of us would say that’s what it’s all about.
Thanks for the ratty, Mrs Airwolfhound on Flickr