So you have a book in mind, or perhaps you have a book that’s completed its first draft and you think it’s ready for production. At this point your main options are three:
- Getting an agent or publisher to take up your work. This is similar to winning the lottery with your first ticket – not impossible but realistically it’s unlikely. They will pay for and do all the work from here on in: edit – proof-check – format – jacket – print – channel to distributors and buyers etc, and maybe a little marketing. You then get royalty payments, and if you’re very lucky – an advance.
- A vanity publisher. All vanity publishers tell you your book is great and will ask for a substantial fee to produce it. Some offer marketing options too.
- Self-Publish. Only a few years ago self-publishing was seen as a dirty word “oh, you couldn’t get a publisher then?” Nowadays that’s all changed, and even top authors are trying it out on new books.
The two main advantages of self-publishing are that you have control over your work, and you can get some very nice royalty percentages. The downside is you have to do all the work yourself, and unless you’re multi-talented with an array of differing skills in I.T., writing and publishing, you’re going to fall short of producing a quality book. And there’s the rub; self-published books are receiving a reputation for being poor quality in materials, formatting, story cohesion, jacket design and even basic grammar. The reason is that most of these require years of experience and training to do well.
So self-publishing your book needs a helping hand and you should be engaging others to bring your work to a professional standard. But what should you be subbing out and how much should you be paying?
YES, DO THIS
The experience that comes with a good copy-editing is invaluable to any story or piece, and essential for a new author. No serious writer or publisher would dream of putting out a book without the scrutiny of a trained independent eye. The odd thing is, very few new authors believe in the value of this. They feel they have written it, checked it, modified it, and now it’s as good as it needs to be. Some may even have engaged the services of a friend or spouse/partner to read it and feedback comments. Some of those may have English degrees or be English school teachers. The fact is, unless they are specifically trained and experienced as copy-editors, there is little chance of them doing the job well.
Typical copy-editors, based on around 100,000 words (that’s to make it easy, just apply percentages to the number of words in your book and it should be close), you should be looking at £600-£1000. The variance will depend on the track record of the editor, and the state of the writing submitted.
The number one gripe of readers is when they come across errors in your book. It always amazes me that the industry standard for errors is 99.99%; that’s one word in every ten-thousand. There are few sectors of manufacturing with such high standards, and yet, with a typical novel of 100,000 words, the standard allows ten errors! If you came across ten errors in a book, would you be happy? No, because it takes you ‘out of the moment’ and too many times it can really spoil a book. This skill is especially sought after as our brains love to fill in mistakes for us. Without proper proof-checking, even after you’ve carefully checked it yourself, your 100,000-word novel will have as many as 50+ mistakes.
Proof-checking comes in at around £400-650 for 100,000 words, and you can expect around six mistakes to remain, even then. That’s why main publishing houses know to use two or more. Having said that, most readers will miss several too, so eight mistakes will reduce to three or four in their eyes, so is perhaps liveable. I always recommend two independent proof-checks (yes, doubling the cost), which takes the overall error count down to two to four (but after two proof-checkers have gone through it, the errors remaining are likely to be ones most readers wouldn’t catch either).
You may be tempted into thinking you can do this yourself by taking a picture and placing some PowerPoint text over the top. This is always a terrible idea, as the jacket is one of the most important marketing tools you have. After all, if nobody knows you, a good jacket is what people will be clicking on or pulling from a shelf. And home-made jackets have a certain look, subconsciously implanting in the potential buyer the quality to be expected inside.
Top bespoke jacket designers are expensive and worth it. Expect to pay £400-800. They provide a uniqueness to your book that smacks of quality to the potential reader from the get-go. You can try pre-made stock from the web, and some of these are included in printing packages. Some are quite good and a lot cheaper, but I recommend getting the best bespoke design you can afford if possible.
Yes, this is under the YES DO IT category. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your book will fly off the shelves or be downloaded in the hundreds. It’s not going to happen, there are too many competitors out there and the market is currently saturated with choice (another reason why your jacket and writing quality has to be top-notch). Marketing is ‘as long as a piece of string’ and budgets vary from little to whatever. However, as a minimum you should have an online author platform consisting of website, blog, Facebook, twitter (and Instagram if it’s a picture book). Also ensure you’re on Goodreads, and fill out the Author Central page for you on Amazon (both for your country and the US sites). The website you can try yourself through such platforms as WordPress, which also includes a blog. They are very affordable although can be little tricky to get up and running for the less I.T. literate among us. If you can afford it, pay hundreds at least for a bespoke one by a proven designer, who will also ensure it’s Google-search friendly, and advise you on such things as landing pages so you can direct people there from your other online platform items and make sales. Again, it’s expensive, but worth it when designed well.
Other than that, spend money on Facebook ads (they’re reasonably priced at the moment), but learn how to do it well first, otherwise you’ll waste your money. There are plenty of free videos online to show you how.
With your text now nicely edited and errors to an acceptable level, the next job is formatting. This is where the words and images, currently in Word or another system, are organised to fit the target page size. It’s also where font styles and sizes are chosen, along with headers, footers, copyright pages etc. This is one of the areas you could have a stab yourself. It is getting easier nowadays to do this yourself, with a reasonable amount of searching on-line. However, it’s not normally that expensive, and the results a professional produces is worth the expenditure, especially for picture books and children’s books that often benefit from some experienced flair.
Formatting will typically cost you £150 for 100,000 words in standard b5-size paperbacks, although picture books you will have to work on individual estimates as the final product can vary so much.
Note: At the time of posting this article, Amazon’s upload system for Kindle (Word documents and some other formats) works very well. It’s free to do, and you’ll even get back a spell check report. There is an excellent preview tool too which you should always use, so you can see what it looks like. Make sure you follow their guidelines otherwise you’ll get unflattering formatting of some pages).
They’ll be plenty of debate whether this should be in the YES, DO IT section. It’s always worth it if you can find an editor in your genre that gels with you. These guys and gals will deal with story issues, weak characters, poor starts and finishes, and a host of other subtle and not-so-subtle phenomenon. Always use the best you can afford as their feedback strengthens your storytelling immensely.
Developmental Editor charges vary greatly depending on whether you chose a single report, or require the editor to work with you throughout the story. For a single report, you can expect to pay £400-£800 for 100,000 words. For working throughout the story – double that figure.
Having paper versions of your book is not only nice to have, but can open up a whole arena of marketing opportunities. Book-signings, talks, special appearances (yes, you’re an author now. It maybe only local, but people will love you and signed copies of your book. These are especially useful for well-written business books, as they act as great alternatives to business cards and establish you as an authority in your field).
Printing varies, depending on the quantities you want. Typically you can get a 100,000-word novel (no colour images inside) printed in paperback for as little as £3 a book if you order 150 at a time. Make sure you get a proof copy first, and rigorously check every page to ensure it’s formatted correctly, as well as checking the cover.
There is an alternative form of printing called lithographic that prints for around £1-£1.50 a book, but you have to run off 1000-2000 copies minimum.
In both cases it gets cheaper the more you print in one go.
So there it is…
Self-publishing has costs, and it’s not cheap for most of us. Writing is a long haul profession and you have to keep at it to get your returns.
So why do people do it?
Try it and see – then you’ll know…
Miles has run a self-publishing company since 2008, specialising in first-time authors, as well as being a successful self-published fantasy author.
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