Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Do You Have to Be Rich to Self-Publish?

Okay, maybe not rich. But am I the only one that feels like, in order to successfully self-publish, you gotta have an extra couple-thousand-dollars lying around?
As I enviously watch many of my writer friends take the giant leap into self-publishing, I’ve seriously considered following their lead and publishing one of my books to amazon. It just seems like the next logical step for someone like me, even though I’m still determined to keep querying agents and get published traditionally someday as well.

However, it feels like all the successful self-published authors I meet agree on the absolute
necessity of a high quality product if you’re going to put something out there. I’m not just talking about the quality of your writing, which has taken years to hone- But of every aspect of your self-published book from formatting, to cover art, to copy-editing. As well we should, I suppose. The majority of readers won’t be drawn to shoddy book covers, weirdo spacing and grammatical errors galore and putting out a less-than-stellar product can diminish the view of self-publishing as a whole.

Now, I could try and do all the work on my own and not spend a dime. But it feels like most self-pubbing resources warn against it. While reading the do’s and don’t’s of self-pubbing, doubts and worries fill my mind. ‘You’ll never be able to successfully copy-edit your book and it will have a ton of errors.’ ‘Your book cover might appeal to you, but won’t appeal to a huge audience like a professional’s would.’ ‘Learning to format correctly and actually formatting your book will take forever and you’ll probably have to go back and fix it a million times, if you’re even successful at all.’ ‘In the end, it will be just so hard and time consuming and you’ll probably fail anyway so why try?’ *sigh*

Except, whenever I look into what kind of budget I’d need to hire someone to make a spectacular book cover (150$-400$), copy-edit my manuscript (450$-1000$), and format my book (100$-300$), I can’t help but feel like ‘the perfect product’ is far beyond my financial reach.

Am I the only one with the impression that in order to make money self-pubbing, you have to spend it? I wish there were some way to see how much money a mixed group of authors put into their first self-published title and if that effected the success of that book in the long run as opposed to someone who put in less money.

And, also, I can’t help but think that a pretty cover and perfect grammar can go a long way, but in the end- isn’t it the genre, concept and story that take center stage when it comes to the success of a title?

What do you guys think? Are ‘do-it-yourself’ SP books of a lesser quality and less popular than those that were invested in financially? Or does the amount of money put into the book not matter at all when it comes to success?


shelly said...

I hired out for my cover and I bartered my editing. However, my novel was written over a good 4 times to flesh out characters and fix the plot holes. And of course, it took forever to perfect the sentences.

Hope this helped.

Hugs and chocolate,

Laura Pauling said...

I borrowed my initial investment from my dad. Others took an on the side job.

But, there's nothing wrong with starting small. I can recommend an excellent cover artist for ebook only to you who charges 80 bucks for the ebook cover. You can learn to format yourself...if I did.

And I can recomment my editor to you who is def. on the lower end of that 400-1k range.

I've slowly added luxuries to my budget as I've earned more profit. Like my last book I did pay for a formatter.

But those basics are all you need and that's about 500-600 dollar investment. Put your book into print when you have the $, but that's only a jump to 140 from 80, so not too bad.

Use trusted beta readers instead of a dev. editor until you feel it's your best product, then hire the copy editor.

Along These Lines ... said...

No, but it helps!

Natalie Aguirre said...

I do think it's critical that a self-published book be as professionally done as possible. Unless you have CP's good enough to help with the editing, I think you need to hire the editor. And a good cover design is critical.

We all have to shell out money for getting published, no matter what route we go. For example, I'd save a chunk of any advance for marketing costs if I ever get traditionally published. It's more likely to be successful that way, which is what you want whatever route you go.

Matthew MacNish said...

This is the hardest part about deciding to SP. Even if you did have the skills to do everything yourself, it's still a huge time investment, and not only is time money, but it's also time not spent writing.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm not self-published, but I have heard it's essential to hire an editor and outsource the various aspects to professionals. I guess it's like any other business - you have to spend money to make money.

Anonymous said...

I format myself but my cover is professionally designed. I'm very fortunate in that I have industry professionals/qualified friends who will critique and edit for love.

But you have to make it professional and treat it as business, regardless of the return.

Stina said...

I'm self publishing my NA novel later this fall. I've already booked my cover designer (who is hot in demand so I have to wait until October to get mine). I've booked my editor (who will do more than just copy edits). And I will be hiring a group that organizes blog tours outside of my usually blogging circle. Fortunately I won free formatting.

I especially recommend the editor. I've read a number of books with great covers, but the errors in the writing missed by the authors were so bad, I won't read anymore of their books.

stu said...

Ultimately, self publishing means making all the decisions that a publisher woruld, which includes that initial decision as to whether what you'll get back from it is worth the investment.

Of course, you can minimise your outlay. There's no reason why you couldn't format it yourself, and as for the cover, that comes down to a question of your design and art skills. For the editing, it probably needs to be someone other than you who goes through it, because you will miss small things, but you might be able to arrange a swap with someone else if your own editing skills are good enough to go through theirs. You do need to be realistic about the costs involved though, and also about what you're going to get back. If your book is good and well promoted, it should make back a small initial investment.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

It's strange how the cover is still important even for an e-book, when the reader probably will never see the cover after buying the book. (I don't often click to the cover of books on my Kindle.) But that seems one place where it's important to invest money.

The editing could be bartered with someone, as suggested above. Formatting might be bartered as well. You could trade your critiquing skills for someone else's technical skills.

Karen Baldwin said...

I'm committed to do it myself if I have to and will *gulp* make the investment. I will hire help.

jabblog said...

With the help of my husband I published my novel for Kindle last November. I was pleased to have done it but have no idea how to publicise it. Consequently no-one has bought it - at least, to my knowledge - and I have just one review and I know who wrote that! (Not me!!) Somehow, telling everyone about it sounds like boasting - and yet, and yet . . . So, it's called 'The Sweets and the Bitters of Love' and some honest reviews would be helpful.

I hope you find the right way for you:-) . . . and congratulations on the birth of your baby. My seventh grandchild is 5 months old and my first great-grandchild is eight weeks old - it's lovely to see so much young life.

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Laura has made some great points and suggestions. Don't feel alone, Katie. I've often wondered if I should take this leap, and yes, the cost of it all was one reason I've held off. Now that I have an agent and a ...this... close to a pub deal, you'd think I would totally ax any self-pub idea. I haven't. I keep reading and learning about this ever-changing part of the industry. I've actually been thinking about trying self-pubbing with on of my short stories, just see how it goes.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Bartering is one way to go. Do you have a local university or college where you live? Getting a computer design student to format your book could be affordable. I wish you luck.

As Alex says, often in life you have to spend money to make it. :-)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Matt sent me here, and I'm so glad he did!

Laura Pauling is in the trenches - listen to her. She knows what she's talking about.

You can spend ridiculous amounts of money on SP - or almost none at all - and it's sometimes hard to tell what's essential and what's not.

My best advice: spend a lot of TIME on your cover, deciding how to best reach your audience, convey your genre, looking for good stock art, etc. Then hire a PRO to make the cover look good(Steven Novak is awesome and very affordable - he's doing my Debt Collector series).

I would say that's the only ESSENTIAL money you have to outlay. You can format yourself (REALLY - I have a blog series on this; you can do it), you already have a network of CPs who are essentially developmental editors - I would barter with someone to copyedit and read it over yourself three times (plus one or two friends) to catch typos.

Then just do it.

The key things to selling a book are: cover, concept/blurb, and genre.

You CAN spend money on things like paid ads ($50-$300) or blog tours ($30-$300) or NetGalley memberships ($300) or bookmarks ($50) or paper copy giveaways ($10 ea). Or you can stay low budget.

Don't let the money hold you back. While there are very few businesses that you can start up with only a thousand dollar outlay (which is what you are contemplating) and I don't think that's an unreasonable amount to spend, the beauty of indie publishing is that even that small outlay is mostly optional.

Go ahead and jump in the pond! You'll learn more by trying and doing than anything I'm going to tell you. :)

Annalisa Crawford said...

My self-publishing venture cost me nothing (although I owe someone a meal for helping me with my cover!), because I was gathering previously published short stories together, so I was pretty certain of their quality.

But if I was writing from and planing to self-pub then money might be a problem for me. I couldn't bring myself to put out poor quality work just because I couldn't afford to pay for help - I probably end up querying it.

Cherie Reich said...

Costs for self-pub projects can range from $0 to thousands of dollars.

For me, so far the only thing I've spent money on is print proofs as well as cover art. As for editing, I have great critique partners, including one who worked with a publisher as an editor, to edit my work. If you think it is well edited that way, then you could hire a proofreader or copyeditor for much cheaper. As for formatting, it's really not as hard as it seems. It just takes time to learn. And Sue's right that she has a great do-it-yourself formatting series!

Elizabeth Seckman said...

Suzy Turner has some of the best self-pubbed covers I have ever seen.

There is always small pubs too. My dad had cancer, so I dropped dreams of big six, knowing he'd never see it and went straight to small pub. I've been treated so well and it's so much like family, I am now in a quandary as to what to do in the future.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

You absolutely have got to spend money to self-publish unless you're (for lack of a better word) a bad person.

Allow me to explain: Sure you can use friends who are talented at writing to impose upon them to edit your manuscript. But let's be honest, they should be paid for their work and you're just being exceptionally cheap.

So yeah, if you're an honest person, pay people for their time and their work at a decent wage per hour and it's gonna cost you. That's just my opinion.

DL Hammons said...

There will be some who will say you can do it much cheaper...but everything I read says don't skimp on the quality (which costs) if you really want the book to be successful. Gotta have the coin! :)

Johanna Garth said...

I went with a small publisher for my first two books for exactly those reasons. I was too nervous and (worried about being incompetent) to go it alone.

Matthew MacNish said...

So glad I mentioned this to Susan (not that Laura and others don't also know what they're talking about).

I just wanted to drop by to add this:

If you invested $1000, you'd only have to sell 500 copies of your book to break even if you're were selling the ebook for $2.99 (it's actually slightly less copies, but a round number helps provide perspective). I've read Fossegrim, and I KNOW you could sell 500 copies.

If you sold your book for $0.99 you'd have to sell about 750 copies to break even.

Anyway, just wanted to drop back by, because I've been thinking about this a lot too, and of all my friends, you and I are in very similar situations (at it for a while, have the talent, have the drive, just haven't managed to break in).

So ... hugs.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I'm so proud of Matt with the numbers!

Also, in light of Michael's comment, I wanted to clarify: I don't believe you HAVE to spend money on things like editorial services, but you DO have to have editing, and you DO have to offer compensation. Some kind of in-kind swap for services is an entirely legit way to do business - and should be to the benefit of both parties. Often people don't have the cash but they have the skills, so it helps both parties to exchange.

Connie Keller said...

Self-pubbed my novels inexpensively. A friend who's a graphic designer did my covers (I babysat in exchange.) Some writer friends did editing. (I do it for them.) I proofread my own book. It was so hard and long, but I've done it professionally so I knew I could. And I learned how to do the formatting for Amazon, Smashwords, and Kobo--there are free, step-by-step guidelines. And believe me, I'm no good with technology, so if I could figure it out, anyone can. You just need a big chunk of quiet time and a lot of patience.

I hope that helps.

Botanist said...

Obviously it's possible to self-pub for free, but I've come to the conclusion that some outlay is advisable to lift your vital first impression out of the heap. I'm reckoning on cover art and book design, but planning on doing a ton of research first.

AiringMyLaundry said...

I put my novel on Amazon for free. Granted, I did pay someone to read it over and I also paid someone to do the cover. Currently it's only available for Kindle users so that definitely cuts out a lot of prospective audiences.

Obviously my main goal is to find an agent and get published that way. I hope that one day it happens. For now, there is Amazon.

Angela Ackerman said...

I think costs vary. People are pretty open about what it should cost, and so if you stay within it you should be fine. I know that isn't super comforting because there's still a price tag, but I guess the best way to look at it is that this is something with your name on it, something that is a part of you. Putting your best into it through editing and a professional cover and formatting is an investment. :)

D.G. Hudson said...

I've come to similar conclusions about self-publishing costs. It's not for me at this time.

I'm currently submitting one scifi the traditional way and revising another novel. I'll probably try small presses next, but cost will be a factor.

Good luck with your submissions!

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

I've felt the same, Katie. Eventually I want to self-publish some books while still working with my publisher for others, but it's going to take some time to save the capital needed to invest.

That said, I was speaking to Elizabeth Craig about the subject a couple of days ago, and she was able to advise me on some of the costs. It seems like the biggest single cost is initial editing, rather than copy edits. If you can find a way to get story edits taken care of on your own, you can save some money.

Here's a link to her blog:

msmariah said...

You definitely have to have some disposable income. I have a friend who is an artist and my husband is a former designer so I could possibly get the cover art for a decent price. But I've heard that copy editing is expensive.

And I don't want to cheap out on editing. 'Fifty Shades of Grey' is perhaps the worst edited book I've ever read. But then again, it still made millions...but I think that's unusual.

Unknown said...

I've SP a few books now, and I've come to the conclusion that you need about 1000.00 to do it well. That's for a decent cover, editing, marketing & promo. It's already been mentioned that you only need to sell 500 books at 2.99 to do that. Five hundred books might sound like a lot, but that's why you budget up front for promo/buzz creation.

Also, in my experience (and other SP authors I know,) it sometimes takes two books to sell one well. I put Clockwise free and sold more than enough of the sequel to pay for both of them and make nice profit.


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