by Megan Haskell
Confession: I hate the term “self-published author.”
Words matter. Connotations matter. Word-play can be used to clarify or deceive, to insinuate or taunt. So what does the “self-published author” say to the average reader or writer?
- Poor quality
Because if you’re doing everything yourself, you’re not treating the book as a business. You’re stretching yourself too thin, trying to take on tasks for which you’re unskilled. You’ve “skipped the gatekeepers” so you can’t possibly be any good.
Reality Check: Publishing is a team effort
No matter which path to publication you choose, a professional product requires a team effort. It takes financial investment and support from a broad range of service providers, including the author, freelancers, and yes, readers. When you go the traditional route, you’re either assigned a team of professionals responsible to bring your book to market, or if you’re lucky, you get to choose from a few select options. Greta can talk more about that some other time. But as an independent authorpreneur (Like that? It’s one of my favorites, I think coined by Joanna Penn.) you are the boss, and it’s your responsibility to hire or find your own team.
(To the tune of Ghostbusters…)
Who you gonna hire? Professionals!
The independent publishing path is not as straightforward as you might think. It requires self-assessment, financial planning, project management, and strategy. At times, you might even need to get creative with trade deals and collaboration. But the big service providers you’ll need to consider are:
- Editors (Developmental, Copy, and Proof)
- Beta Readers
- Cover Designer
- Print & Ebook Formatter
- Book Marketing Professionals
Let’s walk through each of these quickly.
Stop. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
The number one requirement for each and every book is editing. You cannot publish a high-quality book without extensive edits. And self-editing isn’t going to cut it, I don’t care who you are. You need an editor. Usually more than one.
With my first published novel, I used several editors, but not all were paid. I had a dedicated critique partner who edited chapter by chapter as I revised the novel. I did the same for her. We worked together on my book for nine months. That’s not an error, and we didn’t have downtime in the middle. It was a slow process, but it was free, and I learned an immense amount about the craft of writing.
Fast forward to books two and three. I now hire a developmental editor to critique story structure, character arcs, plot, and dialogue. I spent about $500 for her ten page report on book two. This was not a line-edit. That would have cost about $1,400, which I didn’t have to invest.
After that, it’s time for the copy and proof editor. I write pretty clean (few typos or errors) so I was able to combine these two kinds of editing into one person. If your manuscript is a mess, you’ll probably need two passes. The copy edit is a line-by-line examination of sentence structure, clarity, diction, etc. The proofreader gives the final pass on spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. You can expect to pay anywhere from $500 (very cheap) to $2,000 for a copy or proofreader pass, sometimes more, depending on the length of your manuscript.
Beta readers are individuals who will read your book with a critical eye, usually for free. Sometimes they’re super fans who love your work and want to be a part of the creation process. Sometimes they’re other writers, and you swap manuscripts for critique. Some authors bring in beta readers before hiring professional editors, others do it after the developmental editor or proofreader, still others do both.
I like to have my beta readers come in after my developmental editor but before my copy editor. Why? Because then I know the overall story structure is sound, but the beta readers—especially the super fans—will find the continuity errors that were missed: wrong eye color, this person wasn’t where they were supposed to be, or worse: this character is already dead!! Yes, that happened. Many beta readers are great proofreaders as well. When I send the manuscript to my proofer, it’s as close to done as it can be and just needs a last read-through—saves time and money.
How you find beta readers and best utilize them is a post for another day. But I do think they’re an integral part of the production process.
This is another service provider that 95% of authors should not skip. If you don’t have a background in cover design, or at least a mastery of photoshop, you should not be making your own covers. Unless you don’t care if you sell any books.
Reality Check: Readers judge a book by its cover
I have zero skill in visual design. I haven’t used photoshop since high school. So I chose to hire a designer. For my first attempt, I hired a woman who was relatively new to the business but made beautiful covers. She was relatively inexpensive ($150 for a custom cover with stock art) and I loved her work. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite hit the right genre expectations.
When I published book two, I had a little more money to spend (thanks to the reinvestment of revenue from book one) and found a new designer to create the covers for books one and two, plus the prequel short story. I think they hit the nail on the head, and I’m using them again for book 3 and a companion novella, to be released later this year.
Cover design costs range from $25 or $50 for a cheap pre-made cover with a basic title change, to $1,000+ for a custom cover with custom photography or illustrations.
Now we’re getting into gray area. Do you need a formatter? Maybe. Probably. But the learning curve isn’t quite as steep or long, and there are tools available to help you do it yourself.
I write in Scrivener, so to save some cash, I taught myself how to format both print and ebooks in the compile settings of the software. It took many iterations, but now I have set formats. I can more or less click “go” and out pops a fully formatted book. These are simple formats, however. There are no fancy filigrees or special illustrations. And since I write fiction, no tables or figures to worry about.
Vellum is another formatting program I’ve heard people rave about recently. I’m planning to give it a try for book 3, and if I like it better than what I produce from Scrivener, I’ll reformat the first two books as well. But, as of this writing, Vellum only produces ebooks. Supposedly, they’re working on print formats, but I don’t know when that will release.
If you have a technical non-fiction book, or want something truly exquisite, you’re probably going to have to hire a professional. An author friend of mine, Edward Antrobus, is also a book formatter. He tells me there’s a wide range of prices for formatting, from as low as $20 to a few hundred, and there’s a greater price range for print versus ebooks. There’s also a greater range of quality.
Higher prices will include subtle details that take your book to pro level, such as adjusting leading (line spacing) by fractions of a point to make all the pages even, adjusting hyphenation and kerning (character spacing) to avoid large gaps between words in justified text, getting rid of orphaned words on their own line, and reviewing each page to ensure it looks as good as it possibly can.
For ebooks, he charges $1/1000 words for first 25,000 words. $0.75/1000 words after. For print, he charges $2.50/1000 words for first 100,000 words and $1.50/1000 words after. However, if you’re looking for a book formatter and you mention this post, he’ll give you a 10% discount on your order.
Book Marketing Professionals
I’m going to group the book launch strategists, publicists, blog tours, book bloggers, and advertising options together as book marketing professionals. Some of these services are free, others charge an arm and a leg plus the soul of your first-born child. These costs (money and/or time) are entirely optional. However, hiring marketing professionals can be useful, especially to a new author with no experience in book marketing. Unfortunately, most authors who meet that description are also strapped for cash.
Book marketing is another post all its own, so I won’t go into detail here, but as an independent authorpreneur, you do need to plan how you’re going to get the word out about your book. Gone are the days when you could publish your book to Amazon, and it would rise to success without any additional investment. Nowadays you have to hustle to find readers and earn sales.
Now that you know where you need to spend your green, you have to do the research to find the best professionals within your budget and scheduling needs. But don’t worry, Greta and I are here to help!
In the next few months, we’ll launch another O.C. Writers challenge for those of you ready to take the plunge into the publishing pool. We’re calling this one ReCON.
Re: Research your options
C: Connect with your team
O: Overcome rejection and criticism
N: Nice guys finish first
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Legend has it, I was born with a book in my hands. Thirty-ish years later, I’m a stay-at-home-mom who prefers a good story over doing the dishes. Only now, I’m building my own fantasy worlds! I’m the author of the Amazon best selling series,The Sanyare Chronicles, and Program Director of O.C. Writers. You can find me on my website at www.meganhaskell.com, Facebook, and Twitter.
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