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You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat: Getting serious about self-publishing

Let’s get a few things straight here.

Self Publishing is not:
-easy
-cheap
-for people who can’t write

Self Publishing is:
-expensive
-time consuming
-for anyone who wants to run a small business

Okay but why the Jaws analogy?

Because self-publishing is a lot like fishing. Anyone can do the basics, but to be successful at it you need to have the right rod and tackle, dedication, and willingness to learn from your mistakes. Often times when first time writers give self-pub a go, they realize they’re in way over their heads. What was thought to be a “click and upload” quickly becomes a giant ravenous shark set to devour your bank account and your sanity all in one fell swoop.

So do what Peter Benchley would do – your homework. Self-publishing requires at least five people or skills to be successfully accomplished.

  1. The author
  2. The editor
  3. The cover artist
  4. The book formatter
  5. The PR pro

Either you are going to be doing all of that on your own, or you’re going to hire someone. I’m an author, an editor, and a book formatter – but I know my limits. I know how to market a website or an online business, but not an author. That requires additional knowledge and training that I will never be able to acquire on my own. I also can’t do cover art; I can barely make my handwriting legible. (You should all be so lucky that we’ve done away with hand-written edits. Your novels would come back looking like something your English professor graded.) Know your strengths and limits.

How do you hire the right people?

That’s entirely up to you. Different genres require different needs. You may want to go for a more modern model and background cover for a contemporary romance, or a traditional artist for a high fantasy. (Typography should be a deal breaker – if they can’t do it, walk.)

Your editor should be someone whose worked on books in your genre and charges fair rates. They should always have a list of previous clients/books worked, and be mindful of your unique needs. If you don’t like them, walk. There will always be more editors.

Book formatters should always mention ‘by hand’. Don’t hire a book formatter who offers less than one week turnaround and charges $50. You will get $50 worth of work, and it will show. The book format is how you package your product to sell, and packaging is everything.

Your PR pro is your marketing and your fairy godmother more or less rolled into one. They should be able to help you with everything from a marketing plan to setting up social media to getting you in places for book signings. (If not physical signings, then blog tours). Without great PR, the prettiest and most well-polished book will still be dead in the water.

(You can also think of this as a heist movie, if it helps.)

Your self-publishing tool box will need to include the following:

Additional skills include:

So, how much does it cost to publish an e-book? That depends on length, formatting, and you. What skills do you have or are willing to learn, and what do you need to hire-out for? If you’re paying for everything, here’s what you’re looking at:

Comprehensive editing packing for 80k novel: $1760
Cover art: $250
E-book format: $175
Print format: $29-500
ISBN: $125 for 1, or $295 for 10
(prices will be lower for writers outside of the US)
Promotional services: $50-800 (varies on services requested)
Total cost: $2389

And that’s just an approximate. You could need to spend more on a cover, or more on formatting, or your book may be longer or shorter. You may need to even hire someone to build you a website if you don’t have one already, which would cost $500 for a custom build by a professional graphic designer.

Self-publishing is not for the faint of heart. But that doesn’t make it impossible, far from it. The business of being an author is just like any other, do your research and have a set of plans and goals in mind. The only way to get serious about making money as a writer is to get serious about writing.

Don’t treat it like a hobby.

Treat it like the career you want it to be.

This article was last updated on 6/10/2019 to reflect changes in self-publishing services and the publishers market.
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