Friday, February 10, 2012

Invest in Your Own E-Book

by L.J. Sellers

After self-publishing ten books, I've come to two conclusions:

1) Digital self-publishing is a straightforward process that isn’t particularly difficult or expensive.

2) There is nothing a small publisher can or will do for writers that they can’t do better for themselves. I don’t mean literally do everything yourself, but a writer can contract for production services as well as a publisher can.

Why? Small presses are often run by a few dedicated, but overworked individuals. They typically contract out most services, and they often pay bottom dollar. I know this because I’ve worked as freelance editor and turned down all of the work offered by small presses because they simply don’t pay enough. Small presses are trying to profit and survive like everyone else and they cut costs where they can.

A large publisher can offer distribution and promotional backing, but most small publishers don’t offer either, so what’s left for the author is the label of being traditionally published and the convenience of having someone else contract the production work. Giving up most of the profit for these small advantages is a hard bargain that I don’t recommend. As the author, you have to sell the book no matter who publishes it, so you might as well make the investment, publish it yourself, and reap the rewards. I know a lot of authors who remain loyal to their small publishers. I understand the sentiment. But those authors are hurting themselves and possibly their sales (if they have no say about price).

The three main elements to producing a quality e-book are editing, cover design, and formatting. Many authors are tempted to do all three themselves to save money. But unless you’re incredibility talented and have all the time in the world, it’s probably not a cost-effective decision.

Editing can be expensive, especially if you contract for content evaluation, but you can keep the cost down by sending your manuscript to beta readers or working with a critique group to fine tune the plot and structure. You should, of course, print and read the manuscript out loud before paying anyone else to proof it. After carefully reading it yourself, send it to a professional editor for line editing and proofreading. Many editors charge $1500 and up, but you don’t have to pay that much. You can find someone to proofread or edit your manuscript for $300–$800. depending on the length of the novel. If you pay less, your editor will be in a rush and probably won’t do a good job. If you pay more, it may take a long time to earn back your investment.

A good cover is also essential. Most cover artists charge a flat fee, and you can expect to pay between $150 and $500. Some charge a lot more than that, but why spend that much if you don’t have to? One way to save money is to find the right image yourself, so you’re not paying the artist for that time. One of the great things about self-publishing an e-book is that you can revise it as often as you want, including creating a new cover down the road or changing the title if it's not working. The best way to find a cover designer is to network with other writers, including joining listservs that focusing on marketing.

Formatting: I originally thought I would learn to format my own e-books to save money. Other authors make it sound easy. But I quickly decided that the time and frustration spent on the learning curve was not cost-effective. Time is money. For me, it made more sense to send my Word files and cover jpgs to a professional for formatting. The e-book I got back was gorgeous. In fact, I received two files: a mobi file to upload to Amazon and an epub to upload everywhere else. I recommend working with a formatter who produces these two types of files.

Readers’ biggest complaint about e-books is the formatting. Getting it right is essential. Rates may vary, but if you’re starting with a Word document, it shouldn’t cost more than around $150, depending on how clean your file is. For authors who have a backlist and novels that are in book form instead of Word documents, those books will need to be scanned, and the cost of e-book production will be more expensive. The number of errors from the optical character recognition is also much higher.

Taking the lowest rates I’ve mentioned ($300, $150, and $150), you can conclude that it will cost at least $600 to produce a quality e-book. I raided my very small retirement account to publish my first six books, and I considered it a small business loan to myself. I now treat my novel-writing career as a business instead of a hobby and it has paid off for me.

How long does it take to earn back a $600–$1000 investment? That depends on many things, including how many novels you have on the market. The more books you have, the more credibility you have, which is why I decided to do mine back to back in 2009. Assuming you’ve written a terrific story and produced a quality product, the biggest factor is how much time you’re willing to spend promoting. I spent at least two hours a day for six months, plus one exclusive two-week period during which I promoted eight hours a day (blogs, press releases, reader forums, etc.). I continue to spend at least an hour every day on promotional activities. For the record, I made my money back by the end of that year....if you don't count all the years I spent writing. :)


It’s your book and you’ve invested your time writing it, you might as well invest your money too and make it pay off.

21 comments:

  1. Great post L.J.! I just finished doing my taxes and realized that I spent much more on publishing my book than I previously thought (editor, cover, formatting, etc). Fortunately, I am just breaking even after 5 months! I hope that I'll see bigger returns after I release book 2.

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  2. Wow! What a treasure trove of essential information for aspiring authors and those thinking of foregoing the publisher route in favor of going it alone -- with the help of all the resources you mention, of course!

    And what a nice surprise to click on your "editor" link to find it led to my website! Thanks for that endorsement. I loved editing your last three novels, by the way!

    I'll be sending my writer clients here to learn from your hard-earned expertise on the subject of self-publishing and e-publishing. Very generous of you to share what you've learned for others to gain from.

    Thanks.

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  3. L.J., thanks for helping to blaze this trail. Your advice and guidance are invaluable. For every thank you that you receive, there are a hundred more people out there who think it.

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  4. Agreed, on all counts, L.J. Self-publishing has spoiled me. I love having complete creative control of my work as well as the hands-on process. However, as you've mentioned, not everything should be hands-on. Leave the covers, editing, and formatting to the pros--they'll help you put out a product of which you can be proud.

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  5. How I wish I'd read this before investing all that agony in the fruitless search for an agent and a publisher.

    Jodie edited my book and made it much better.You do need an experienced set of eyes. I'm going to try to have the patience to read the next mss aloud. I know it's a good idea but I get so itchy and impatient.

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  6. LJ, I shared your post on Facebook and Twitter. It's good, solid advice.

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  7. Interesting to hear the downside of working with a small publisher -- most people talk only about their advantages.

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  8. Agreed w/ Wendy's comment: eye-opening details about small press publishing. Of course I still value the work they do, but that's a strong argument for self-publishing if possible!

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  9. Excellent post & advice, LJ. Thank for the valuable information. Which reader forums did you find most welcoming & effective?

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  10. Re: small publishers - I have been approached by several over the years to edit books for them, but they offer to pay so little that I keep turning them down. Makes one wonder about the skill level of copy editors who are willing to work for so little...? Maybe some of them are very good at it and do it mainly for enjoyment - I really don't know.

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  11. Ruth: Kindle Boards, Goodreads, and Mobile Read were the most friendly and effective. Although Kindle Boards has become mostly authors at this point, but Goodreads is always great for connecting with readers.

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  12. Great post, really sums it up. You can't wear all the hats and be a master at all of them...thanks!

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  13. Sound advice and anyone considering self-publishing should read you, L.J.! I wish I had because I've made some mistakes on the way, thinking that I needed to farm out more than was strictly necessary.

    In particular, file conversions and book covers looked so daunting that I handed the job over to BookBaby, thinking they had the right expertise (they do) and that they give me the advantage over Smashwords of getting paid through a flat fee and not a percentage on royalty payments.

    Unquestionably BookBaby did a professional job of converting my files and preparing the book covers (btw using my own painting as illustration, I'm a painter too) but...there's always a but! They stood between me and Amazon and all the other e-platforms in the role of...my publisher!!

    They're not my publisher of course, they do nothing a publisher would, big or small. They just provided a file conversion and book cover service. But this standing in the way is aggravating because (1) I can't get a direct sales report from Amazon, (2) I can't manage my prices (they charge for any additional price change after the first one), (3) I can't correct anything - say the book description - without going through them and waiting a couple of weeks (the turnaround with them is slow - I guess they're a big corporation...)

    So yes, the strategy to self-publishing that you outline - going at it independently and farming out only what is strictly necessary - is by far the best, I can vouch for it, that's what I'm doing now!

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  14. Sound advice and anyone considering self-publishing should read you, L.J.! I wish I had because I've made some mistakes on the way, thinking that I needed to farm out more than was strictly necessary.

    In particular, file conversions and book covers looked so daunting that I handed the job over to BookBaby, thinking they had the right expertise (they do) and that they give me the advantage over Smashwords of getting paid through a flat fee and not a percentage on royalty payments.

    Unquestionably BookBaby did a professional job of converting my files and preparing the book covers (btw using my own painting as illustration, I'm a painter too) but...there's always a but! They stood between me and Amazon and all the other e-platforms in the role of...my publisher!!

    They're not my publisher of course, they do nothing a publisher would, big or small. They just provided a file conversion and book cover service. But this standing in the way is aggravating because (1) I can't get a direct sales report from Amazon, (2) I can't manage my prices (they charge for any additional price change after the first one), (3) I can't correct anything - say the book description - without going through them and waiting a couple of weeks (the turnaround with them is slow - I guess they're a big corporation...)

    So yes, the strategy to self-publishing that you outline - going at it independently and farming out only what is strictly necessary - is by far the best, I can vouch for it, that's what I'm doing now!

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  15. After carefully reading it yourself, send it to a professional editor for line editing and proofreading. Many editors charge $1500 and up, but you don’t have to pay that much. You can find someone to proofread or edit your manuscript for $300–$800. depending on the length of the novel.

    Do you have any copy editors you've used and can recommend?

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  16. I totally agree this is the best way to go for me, and that it is a decision every writer needs to make for themselves.

    After working with a critique group and beta readers, I had a copy edit done, and found a graphic designer to create the cover for me.

    I didn't find the conversion process difficult and so did that myself, but having the control for the cover and layout is great, as is being able to make the choice of eBook and print book using CreateSpace (or similar).

    I came across this post from a Twitter link and recognised your name from a book I purchased from Amazon. Keep up the great work.

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  17. Has anyone used LuLu.com? They do print on demand, but I am wondering if I would then have the freedom to put it on Kindle myself (which I've done with other people's books, so I know how to do it).

    Or, Amazon has a similar service. Has anyone tried Amazon?

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  18. Very Interesting post. As a book coach and small publisher from the UK, I would certainly agree with the central premise that most authors should turn happily self-publishing, particularly when writing fiction and publishing as an e-book. When looking to publish heavily illustrated books or publishing digitally as print on demand, I would recommend working with your own individually appointed designers, typesetters and printers, rather than going with the large on-line POD providers such as Lulu, Lightning Source or even Amazon, for the simple reason that you will have more flexibility and control over quality. The downside of self-publishing, even when publishing e-books, if that you almost always need to have a clear marketing strategy in place and to implement it intensively if you are going to sell beyond your own immediate circle. Individually appointed specialists can help with this as well, though. The great thing is that the publishing model has changed radically, and is continuing to do so, enabling many more people than ever before to write, publish and reach their audience.

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  19. I would really be interested in a blog post/article on all the ways you "market" your book(s). For instance, how exactly did you spend eight hours every day in those two weeks? Where did you concentrate on marketing for two hours per day for the six months? And finally, how/where do you currently promote them for an hour each day? Thanks.

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  20. Great article, L.J. You make some valid points, especially when you mention the need for solid editing of your manuscript. One of my short stories was recently included in an anthology published by Savage Tiki Digi Books. I must have read over that story at least four times before submitting it. But what do you know, I read it again after the book was released and I discovered I'd called one character by the wrong name halfway through the story. I didn't catch the error before submitting the story, and the anthology's editor didn't catch it either. Times like that, you just want to cry. Sure wish I'd had it privately edited before submitting it.

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  21. Excellent post LJ. And very helpful. I'm clicking over to look at your links.

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