The Last Resort: Self-publish

If you’re a writer, you love to write; duh! Oh, and it would also be nice if people read your stuff. Double-oh, and it would be even nicer if people paid money to read your stuff. Finally — to bring it around — it’s nicest of all if someone did all the prep and sales work to get a book out and paid you to just focus on writing.

As much as that sounds like a job, it’s one that I think I’d enjoy. Me and a whole bunch of other writers, and that’s a problem.

Well, you know, not a proper problem like losing your favorite pen or simultaneously running out of Nutella and Maria cookies, but still a problem. It’s competition, you see. That’s OK; I like me competition.

But, while I send my stuff out there competing, there’s also stuff I’ve written that — for various reasons that have nothing to do with writing talent — is not publishable. Mind you, I’m not saying I gotz talent. I am saying there’s writing that appeared on my blog that no one will even consider for publication because six people read it on my blog.

This is where one — me — begins considering an alternative to traditional publishing. Yes, self-publishing. In a previous post, I bragged that it was easy, and it is. Anyone can upload something they wrote, slap a price on it, and offer it for sale.

But, say one — again, me — also wants to maximize their chances of success when they offer up their stuff; well, then it gets a wee bit more complicated.

Before I get to the details of what I’ve learned, let me stress that I’m firmly in the camp of having an agent sell your book to a publisher who will then sell it to your future loyal fans. As previously mentioned, that’s Plan A and Plan B is the plan for stuff that I can’t sell.

Note: if I can’t sell it to a publisher, there’s a likely chance what I got to sell will not actually sell well, if at all.

Right. Let’s look at Plan B.

Let’s start with this: everything I’m about to write is second-hand knowledge tainted with personal opinion and is only applicable to my particular situation and character. If you want the information directly from the source, all the links I found interesting are at the bottom of the post. You are welcome to skip what I’m about to write and go straight there.

OK, let’s begin with . . .

Know What You Want

There are two parts to this question. One relates to the format — physical book or e-book — and the other has to do with your emotional attachment to the idea of being a published author.

Some writers want to hold the physical manifestation of their dream. Because this raises the cost, this is something I’d only pursue if I get solid e-books sales. Until then, e-publishing is the path I will follow.

Putting out an e-book involves less initial cost — I’ll get to that later — fewer outside entities, and depending on your facility with computers and willingness to learn stuff, the potential for greater control over what you do.

Emotions are another matter. Some writers so desperately want the qualifier “published” that they are blind to the business aspect of the project. There is a whole industry that will prey upon . . . er . . . cater to their needs; it’s called Vanity Press.

I differentiate between writing and publishing. Writing is something I enjoy and do — and will continue to do — even if I never get paid. Publishing is something I consider strictly from a business standpoint. Meaning, I plan for an eventual monetary gain. It requires an honest assessment of one’s product and an understanding of both the financial and emotional risk and acceptance of same.

For some, the emotional risk is much greater than the financial risk — which is not insubstantial — and one they should carefully consider.

Most writers have never faced cold, uncaring criticism. Likely, encouraging words is all they’ve ever heard. But, once you send your work out into the public square, you will encounter brutal honesty from people who know nothing about you. Sometimes, you’ll encounter malicious criticism from people who’ll enjoy tearing your work apart without mercy and for no good reason.

You can recover from a failed monetary investment, but you better also steel yourself to the dreaded “one-star review.”

Me? I know I will put out the best I can, will accept honest criticism, and will accept the fact some people have no taste. I won’t lose a moment’s sleep.

OK, I decided on e-book, and I’m ready for the emotional toll of lackluster sales and negative reviews. Let’s move the process along.

Creating A Professional Book – Covers

While getting something publish has few barriers and is getting easier every day, you are still faced with a daunting task. As I mentioned before, the competition is staggering; the years 2015 saw 700,000 self-published e-books hitting the virtual shelves — roughly 1.3 books per second.

For the sake of argument, assume 99% are poorly written and executed (not a wild assumption), that still leaves about 7,000 good books competing with your offering, or roughly 19 books a day.

And that’s just the self-published books. I’ve wasted a fair amount of time trying to get recent numbers, so I’ll pull a conservative estimate out of some convenient orifice: say traditional publishers push out about 400,000 books a year and say only 1% are in the same genre as your book . . . that’s another 11 books a day competing with your efforts, and these are professionally produced.

You don’t need to beat the other 30 books, but you at least want to compete on an equal footing for the attention of potential readers.

Meaning, before anyone reads your fantastic story and marvels at the amazing editing and pleasing typesetting, your cover has to catch a reader’s eyes and do so while they are looking at a tiny icon. I had mentioned before I dabbled in Cover Makeovers specifically to learn what looks good. Here’s how my efforts look as small icons similar to what Amazon offers up when you do a search (I think they’re not too bad):

The cost for getting a graphic artist — one who does book covers for a living or is at least knowledgeable about what works — is anywhere from $100 to as much as $1,000. A reasonable price for an original cover is, by my estimation, around $150. There could be other charges for additional formats (audiobooks, print books, etc.) which you might want to consider buying as a package if you’re even thinking of eventually heading down that path.

Frankly, I see this as an interesting challenge and would use the opportunity to learn about cover design. Meaning that — at least for the first book — I would design my own cover. Hopefully, something with a hummingbird. Then again, if I could get decent work for $100, I might consider it.

Creating A Professional Book – Typesetting

This is something I can read about and find lots of advice online but that I might hire out because there are multiple platforms and reading devices, including phones. Also because it looks to cost around $100.

Having said that, I use Scrivener, and I’ve output books out for my Kindle readers and was happy with the results. Functionality and readability held in all three of my readers and both of our phones. I’d have to find someone with other devices, but for my first effort, this would probably be sufficient.

I know this sounds contrary to my professed desire to match professionally published books, but simplicity here is the key. I don’t plan to have graphics (although I could), fancy fonts (although I could), or other difficult formatting features. What I output was scalable, had a table of content, and let me navigate and read the books with ease (and what awesome books they are, if I say so myself).

Since this will be one of the last steps I take, I think I might first try it and then decide if I need professional help. Besides, Scrivener has quite the user community that seems eager to help and share technical expertise; I bet someone has this already worked out.

I’ll have the link at the bottom, but Terri Main has a series of books on self-publishing, and her first one is free. Want to know what it’s about? E-book formatting. Just saying, there be a lot of stuff out there.

Also saying, it’s a different matter if it’s typesetting for print, although I also found helpful stuff on that.

Creating A Professional Book – Editing: do you need it?

This is an interesting subject. I’ve heard and read a few opinionated authors, editors, agents, and publishers, and the advice I got is all over the place. Want to hear what I think?

Want to hear my opinion on whether you should hire an editor? Here it is . . . it depends.

Before I explain, let’s talk editing. Specifically, editing as it relates to me.

First question: what do I want an editor to do?

I want my editor to tell me mistakes in the narrative. For example:

“Melinda picked up the gun and looked at herself in the mirror. Gun in one hand, saber in the other, she raised the glass of red wine and toasted the dashing reflection staring back at her.”

Most people only have two hands. And sure, it might be possible to hold a glass of wine with the same hand that’s holding a gun or a saber, but the reader will be taken out of the reading experience as they ponder how one might look with three arms.

I also want my editor to tell me about holes in the plot. For example:

“Dear Disperser (weird name that),

I finished reading your amazing novel. I cannot tell you how much it moved me and how invested I got in the characters and amazing plot.

One problem, though . . . at the end, Detective Clyde arrests Dewy as the murderer, but Dewy could not possibly be guilty since you had him — at the time of the murder — eating a Nutella sandwich forty miles away. Also, Dewy’s color-blind and wouldn’t have known which was the baby blue button. Plus, he had lost his right leg in the war, and now walks with a peg leg, but both left and right footprints were found in the snow near the victim. By the way, those footprints are three sizes smaller than Dewy’s. Even if we ignore all that, you killed Dewy in chapter twelve.”

See, that would be really helpful. 

I alse wunt me editer let me known spieling and grimmar errors.

Second question: What don’t I want an editor to do?

I don’t want an editor to rewrite my book. They can tell me what’s wrong with structure, plot, pacing, and even suggest possible ways they could be fixed, but then it’s up to me to rewrite.

So, would I hire an editor? Let’s lay down a few definitions.

Based on that list, I’d be interested in a critique, copy editing, and proofreading. Notice, I omitted developmental and line editing.

That’s because I have a huge ego. No, wait. I mean, yes, I have a huge ego, but that’s not what has me wary about developmental and line edit. I fear that kind of editing might drive a substantial change in my writing. I also think that portion of the editing process is more susceptible to the particular biases of the editor.

Yes, yes, I know . . . plot inconsistencies — something I would like to know about — falls under developmental editing. Except it’s also implied in the critique.

Look, let me summarize like this . . . I want an editor to tell me about problems with the mechanics of writing (those things that have to get fixed), tell me about narrative issues (some negotiation here, but I would generally listen to an editor both about broad and specific issues), and finally give me an assessment with regards to the overall quality of the story; meaning, is it publishable?

I fully know hiring an editor does not ensure my work will do well. In fact, it won’t even increase the odds of it doing well. But, at the end of the process, I should have a measure of confidence that I have a publishable manuscript and a measure of confidence that I will not embarrass myself by sending my work into the wind.  

Let me remind the reader I’m talking about hiring an editor for something I would self-publish. I don’t know that I would hire an editor for novels I’m querying to agents. In fact, I haven’t.  Then again, agents I’ve queried either ignored or declined my query.

Now, I’ve heard conflicting opinions about this. Some say the industry expect near-publishable quality material from today’s writers. Others say agents don’t care about spelling and minor problems; they care more about the story itself and the style. Still, others say if agents respond to the query by asking for the full manuscript and then turn you down, you might think about hiring someone to see if there are any obvious problems with the work.

Here’s the thing as I understand it . . . the whole point of traditional publishing is for the agent to help sell your work and for the publisher to spit-shine it for publication. Assuming, of course, the writing is not a complete disaster. This is where that ego thing comes in . . . I think I’m as good as some of the not-so-good stuff I’ve read this past year. In some cases, I think I’m better. If I have to do all the prep, then I might as well try to sell it on my own.

Creating A Professional Book – Editing: how much should you pay?

This is a bit trickier because it involves reconciling cost with value, and value is a nebulous thing to pin down. I suppose it all depends on the results, but this is where my business sense takes over, shoving my artist side down the basement stairs and locking the door.

Looking at rates for independent editors and looking at rates for publishing houses that offer editing services, I see something like a base rate of $2,000 for an 80,000 words manuscript. Depending on what I pile on, the cost could rise to $7,000 or — if I want to go all out — to as much as $17,000.

This is where the question of value comes in. Looking at my requirements, I can’t justify that kind of money. First of all, the upper end is close to the average advance from a traditional publisher, and most new authors don’t earn out their advance. That means I’m not likely to recoup the cost of my self-publishing efforts. Or, if I do, it’ll be over a long span of time. A long, long span of time.

I could be wrong, but I also don’t see the value unless that cost includes a lot of ancillary schooling in the publishing industry and if that schooling directly increases my sales. Even so, if I’m using Amazon and if I’m pricing the book at $4.99, my cut would be $3.50 per book. If it costs me $7,000 to publish my book, I’d have to sell 2,000 copies to break even. If I price my book at $2.99 (recommended), I’d have to sell 3,500 copies.

That is a lot of copies. Most authors miss that number by a factor of ten.

So, how much would I pay for editing? Again, I have no concept of value when it comes to something I’ve never done. I can, however, do some math and assume a few things.

First, assume it’s not a one-off book. That means eventually I’ll have an ever-increasing library of offerings; offerings that might bolster each other’s sales.

Second, 200 and even 300 book sales is not an unreasonable target for something that is not totally crap. If I gain a small following, those numbers will grow a bit.

Looking at the various costs and being a bit optimistic (confident in the strength of my writing), I can come up with a per book publishing budget of between $750 and $1,000 depending on what I want to do myself and what I want to farm out.

That puts my editing budget around $600, plus or minus $100.

OK, I’m slightly dishonest here . . . I actually reached out to a couple of independent editors and asked for examples of rates, descriptions of what they offer, and some references. I’ll link their information at the bottom, but suffice it to say that around $600 seems a lot more palatable than $7,000 or even $2,000.

Note: at $1,000 per self-published book, there is a good chance I will not recoup my costs. This is independent of my writing skill, how great a cover I have, how fantastic a story, or how well the book is edited. Sometimes, you just don’t get the breaks. If on the same day that I release my book, North Korea launches a missile at Japan, few people will even notice the release of my book. By the time the world returns to normal, the release of my book will be distant history and buried by thousands of newer books. I’m willing to risk my initial investment, but minimizing the outflow of money is a prudent thing to do. That said, some investment is necessary, or you won’t be even in the same field as your competition.

Creating A Professional Book – Marketing

Being honest with myself, this is where I will fail miserably. It’s simply not in my nature to market myself.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to write a brilliant book, have an amazing cover, have it be editorially flawless, and priced well.

People have to know about it, and that means marketing. I have a few links at the bottom that deal with marketing, and I’ve heard a few good podcasts on the subject.

Current wisdom says network, network, network. Get to know people who will champion your book when it comes out. Solicit reviews, offer incentives, and don’t be afraid to approach established writers for blurbs. You can buy ads on writing podcasts, and create book trailers.

Some of that costs money, and that would add to the investment. The rest? Again, overt is not my forte. Asking people for stuff is not my nature. Making friends for ulterior motives is not my thing.

That said, I do have a plan of sorts. I hope to sell some short stories and leverage that into people looking at my self-published work. Of course, if I happen to sell a novel to a publisher, that would automatically bolster my self-published stuff. Why, your publisher might even want to buy stuff you’re already selling.

I plan to offer up a lot of my writing for free — something I already do — and hope that translates into sales of the stuff I charge for.

In other words, I hope for a break.

What if it doesn’t come my way?

It’s OK; I already have a nice life

Here are a bunch of links. I’ve tried to arrange them by topics but be aware that there’s some crossover.

Publishing Services
I came across some of these in the course of my research, and I have no direct experience with any of these but are culled from authors who used their services. Again, not a recommendation on my part, and there are many other businesses eager to help you put a book together.  In no particular order:

~ o ~ o ~
Formatting and Covers
Again, offered here for comparison and as examples of prices. I have no experience with any of these and make no recommendation as to their value or services.

These next links offer free advice (pretty good, in my opinion):

~ o ~ o ~
Self-Publishing How-To

These links will give you a general idea of what self-publishing entails. I found the first two as most helpful (first-hand experiences).

~ o ~ o ~
Self-Publishing general information and advice – worth reading:

~ o ~ o ~
Editing: Opinions
Some of the articles that came close to actually having an opinion with regards to hiring an editor. If trying to decide, read them all.

In no special order:

~ o ~ o ~
Editing: Definitions

~ o ~ o ~
Editing: Cost (Editorial Freelancers Association)

Examples (using the first line, “Editing, basic copyediting”):

Based on 250 words per page, an 80,000 words manuscript has 320 pages. The estimated pace is 5-10 pgs/hr and the cost is $30-40 /hr. The range of the cost is as follows:

  • 10 pgs/hr = 32 hrs x $30 /hr = $960
  • 5 pgs/hr = 64 hrs x $40 /hr = $2,560

Examples (using “Editing, developmental”):

Based on 250 words per page, an 80,000 words manuscript has 320 pages. The estimated pace is 1-5 pgs/hr and the cost is $45-55 /hr. The range of the cost is as follows:

  • 5 pgs/hr = 64 hrs x $45 /hr = $2,880
  • 1 pgs/hr =320 hrs x $55 /hr = $17,600 (!!!)

~ o ~ o ~
Editing Services
These are two editors I know from their blogs. By “know” I mean we’ve exchanged comments and conversed on things, from writing to social/political/religious issues to broccoli and beyond. We don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but I would be comfortable using either one for editing services. In no particular order:

Edited to add: Colonialist passed away in April of 2020. Because of failing health, it wasn’t a surprise, but until the ned the strenght and personality of the man made it seem possible he might beat the impossible. Here’s my post on a man I was glad to have known through his writing and exchanges of opinions in many comments.

Colonialist, I’ll miss you

From an e-mail exchange:
My modus operandi is to ask for a sample section of at least 1 000 words, plus the total word count.  Then I do a first edit on that section and based on how quickly I am able to do it will send a quote.  I also return the edited section with all proposed edits (shown by tracking in ‘Review’) plus some general comments, without commitment, so that the writer knows exactly what to expect.

My quote for a recent 80 000-word book from the USA was $600.00, and the author told me that all other quotes he received were over $2 000.00. 

If accepted, that quote is final no matter how many times I need to go over the manuscript, and how many times it goes back-and-forth, unless I am asked to copywrite a whole section because I have specialist knowledge (recent examples have been yachting, and flying small biplanes). Then I will charge at copywriting rate for the number of words entailed.”

His other blog is:

~ o ~ o ~

Edited to add: roughseasinthemed passed away suddenly last year. It was an emotional blow and I’m leaving these links here because they are still up as of this writing. Here’s my post on a lady I was glad to have known through her writing and exchanges of opinions in many comments.


roughseasinthemed’s rates and what’s included are in the above link (roughly comparable to Colonialist’s rates).

She’s a guest columnist on this site:

A review from a customer can be read here:

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A few links on marketing ideas. I can’t vouch for these, and a quick Google search will get you scores of links, but these are a few that I read. I’ll remind readers that my marketing plan differs significantly from what suggested in the following links and other articles discussing self-marketing.

~ o ~ o ~
Miscellaneous Articles
These are articles, places, and things I found interesting and of use. Give them a read.

(from 2014, so might be dated)

I put all this together for my own use but figured it might be of help to others.

Here’s the gallery of just the photos, and the originals can be seen in THIS SmugMug Gallery.

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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