Tag: Self Publish

How NOT to Market Your Book

How NOT to Market Your Book

How many times have you been scrolling through Twitter and seen one of those people on your feed who tags a bunch of people individually, replies to tweets, and copy/pastes a poorly-written advertisement that’s more hashtag than text? Well, this week we’re talking about how not to market your book. And that? That’s definitely one way not to market your book.

A tweet repeated three times from the same author in the same minute shilling their book with poor grammar.
Don’t do this.

Marketing is a challenge for authors. We are, at heart, writers and artists, and most of us bristle at the notion of having to talk to people. Introverts unite… separately… at home. However, as per my previous blog, we aren’t able to ignore it and be successful. This, however, doesn’t mean that all marketing is equal. Bad marketing is, in some ways, almost worse than no marketing because bad marketing will let people know your book exists, but it sure as heck won’t engender goodwill toward you or your work!

With no further ado, let’s talk about what not to do.

  1. Spam links with no explanations.
    Sharing links to where your book is sold is part and parcel to marketing yourself, however, if you are flooding your various social media outlets with links to your book without further content, it’s just going to irritate people. Make sure if you’re sharing the link to your book, you at least say a little something about it. Also, I’d only share to certain hashtags or outlets once or twice a day. While I’m not a Twitter algorithem expert, I can tell you that as a Twitter user, scrolling through the same advertisement thirty times in an hour makes me want to scream. I always mute that person, and I am not alone in that.
  2. Try and hard-sell people your book.
    If you’re approaching strangers on social media (or other places) and trying to force your book on them, it’s not going to get you anywhere good. Cold sales aren’t really an effective sales strategy, and it won’t do much to get people interested in you or in your work. Nobody likes the social media equivilent of a telemarketer.
  3. Spam groups or hashtags.
    In writing groups, it’s an extremely common occurance to have somoene join, drop links to their book with some marketing pitch either once or repeatedly, and leave. They don’t engage in the community, they don’t talk to people, they don’t offer any value. They just drop and jet because they have fifty other writing groups on their list to do the same thing to. This isn’t the venue, they’re not your audience, and if you aren’t engaging with people, all you’re doing is looking like a jerk.
  4. Start petty fights on your author social media accounts.
    This is a delicate line to walk. I’m not talking about politics or big issues here where speaking out can get you in trouble, I’m talking about being mean or childish and being unkind to people who don’t deserve it.
  5. Develop a massive ego.
    Publishing a book is a huge success, and you have every right to be proud of yourself. Truly. A healthy amount of the “good feels” is necessary when selling your book because you have to fend off trolls and jerks and lettheir nonsense slide. However, this healthy amount of self-esteem sometimes turns into authors thinking they are, in fact, the next Tolkein. You aren’t probably. Does that mean you can’t be darn good? Absolutely not. But remember that you aren’t going to get more book sales by stepping on others.

How to market your book is a huge discussion for which I always feel under-qualified despite reading a lot of marketing books over the years and watching countless videos and so on. I never feel like I know what I’m doing, but from my understanding most folks feel like they have no idea what they’re doing behind closed doors. So I’m not that far behind the curve, I guess.

Regardless of that, ultimately, the things to avoid when marketing are things that add no value to the person encountering the post or marketing method. Give people value. give them something more, something to enjoy. If you’re just screaming into the void without targeting it appropriately or acting like that MLM friend who invites you to dinner but then tries to hard-sell you into joining their scheme, it’s not going to earn you favors.

Editing Rates and Updates

Editing Rates and Updates

I recently made a post up on my editing website regarding editing rates and talking about why editors charge what we do. That version’s extremely clinical since that blog is meant to be seriously nuts and bolts. This one’s more conversational, so rather than re-hash all the details of the other blog, I’m going to talk a little more personally here.

Editing rates has been a hard topic for me since I am constantly fraught with imposter syndrome. If you didn’t know that about me, now you do. While I am an expert, and I know it if I lay all my accolades out in front of me like a deck of cards, I a lot of the time live in the constant fear of “what if someone finds out I’m just a nerd!” and end up under my desk after sending out a big quote. A lot of editors do that.

I’m also part of a number of editors-only groups on various platforms (shout out to Editors Lair), which gives me a chance to let my guard down and talk shop with other editors. It turns out that this issue I have with imposter syndrome is endemic amongst editors. We are always wrestling with ourselves over whether we charged enough, too much, too little, or just right. Or railing against being gaslit by people who think our rates aren’t worth it, which then triggers the imposter syndrome spiral.

At least once or twice a week I see posts from editors of various skill levels expressing stress and fear over how much we charge. And I won’t lie, a good editor charges a pretty significant chunk of change for an edit. That said, when I zoom back and look at the value a good editor can bring to a manuscript, I can’t bring myself to say other editors don’t deserve what they charge. I am no different.

“At least once or twice a week I see posts from editors of various skill levels expressing stress and fear over how much we charge.”

Knowing that about us, recognize that our editing rates are created out of a careful mix of factors that include things like how much overhead we have in running our business (website, utilities, subscriptions to software or things like the CMOS, professional memberships, etc), paying for our health insurance, covering our take-home, and more. We are, after all, small business owners, so we have to make ends meet. Some editors do editing on the side for fun or to supplement other enterprises. Others edit as a hobby. There are so many reasons we do what we do, but it’s usually with an undercurrent of being really, deeply passionate about working with authors and loving books.

I love books.

I have always loved books and loved reading. I can still remember my mother reading me The Hobbit and Dragonsong and Uncle Wiggly as a child. She read me The Lupine Lady and Love You Forever. And all the Berenstain Bears books. I could list my favorite books until you chucked me face-first at a Barnes and Noble and told me to shut up. I spent most of my high school years huddled in the library at every opportunity.

I’ve also been a writer as long as I can remember. My first full novel is due out this year, though I’ve had a number of short stories published in various collections over the years. I wrote my first “novel” in high school (all forty pages of it in Word) and have savored writing ever since I first learned how.

Beyond my love for reading and writing, I’ve been in the industry a decade. Ten years of learning, studying, discussion with other editors (we’re a chatty bunch), learning from expert writers, devouring books on the craft. I have read multiple style guides, discussed the merits and drawbacks of them with my peers. I say discussed, but if you’ve ever been to a debate forum at a nerd convention, you’ll know the kind of discussion I mean. (I say that tongue in cheek.)

Furthermore, I bring more than a love of just the written word to the table. I am an ecclectic mix of experiences and knowledge. Everything from European fencing to modern firearms, from police procedure to a solid understanding of Medieval history. There are plenty of things I don’t know, of course, but I joke that while I got my BA in history, I should probably just tell people I have a degree in research. I’ve spared clients from embarassing mistakes more than once (I had a client who tried to rack the slide of a revolver in a manuscript at one point) and have given medieval fantasy writers insight into the fact that their characters wouldn’t probably be drinking from glass tankards.

“I am an ecclectic mix of experiences and knowledge. Everything from European fencing to modern firearms, from police procedure to a solid understanding of Medieval history.”

Spreading all these things out in front of me, I don’t feel bad about my rates. Or at least I don’t while I’m writing this. There’s a good chance I’ll lie awake all night, staring at the ceiling worrying about them, despite that they’re on the low end of the EFA’s rate scale and, in some places, under it.

Recently, I have made the jump to charging by the word rather than by the hour. While people I have worked with in the past may worry at seeing the change, know that I’m willing to work with you on the rate change, so don’t throw up your hands. We will make it work. The reason I went to a per-word rate was multiple-fold. First, I was undercutting myself because I work faster than the average per-word listed in the EFA’s rate scale by a significant margin if the work is on the cleaner side. And even if it isn’t, I still tend to edit quickly. (I read–not edit, just read–at the rate of about 11-12k words per hour). As a result, I’ve been hurting myself and not charging what I’m worth.

Those of you who have been here awhile and are friends may know I’ve been agonizing over this for awhile, and after a decade in the business and being capable of delivering the kind of feedback I do, I really needed to start bringing myself more into line with the EFA’s guidance since I am EFA-quality at what I do, even if I haven’t managed to scrape my pennies together for a membership just yet.

Ultimately, just remember that editors are working hard. There’s usually sticker shock involved with our quotes, but a good editor works extremely hard for their clients and are doing far more than spell check.

On a more personal level, COVID has thrown me for a loop. I didn’t get it, thank God, but rearranging my life to deal with the situation of the world has been a challenge. I am, as I write this, recovering from my second dose of the vaccine and looking forward to being able to do things like go to the grocery store without fear. I also have some time scheduled with a therapist to help me work through the anxiety I’ve developed about being around crowds again.

Yes, indeed, I have a therapist. It’s worth it, and I am not ashamed to discuss that fact. I may, in fact, talk a little more about mental health in another blog since it’s a subject writers often wrestle with both in prose and in life.

I’ve been trying to use the time in 2021 to try and rebuild myself some and re-evaluate what I want in life and out of my work. I also took some personal time to write, which I hadn’t really made for myself in years. As a result, I’ve got that novel I mentioned earlier in the blog coming out toward the end of this year. We don’t have a release date yet (it’s still in editing), but as soon as I have one, I’ll be shouting it from the rooftops.

The last year has, for me, been a time of deep reflection, consideration of what I want out of my life and my future, and setting up steps and plans to try and get me there. While, being disabled, there are things I cannot and will never do, I am more than I have been. And I am looking forward to sharing that with the world.

I have been bad about being active on this medium of late, but if you are looking to reach me and have a chat, I am over on Twitter at @EHPrybylski, running a writing server on Discord, uploading pictures of my cats on Instagram as @EHPrybylski and on Facebook under the same name.

If you’re still here after this long ramble, thank you for reading.

Being Patient

Being Patient

Being passionate people, writers are impatient. We want the manuscript written. We want the editing done. We want the book on shelves around the world. We want the movie made. We want, we want, we want! And all this wanting is a good thing. It’s important, and it’s healthy. I’m not going to say otherwise, but I will say this: step back and take a breath.

The process of writing and publishing takes time. As excited as we are for publishing, we need to make sure every step is right. Much like any work of art, books take awhile to put together properly. Our instincts want us to rush ahead and get it all done sooner rather than later. Our hopes and dreams for big sales and, maybe, fame drive us to think unrealistically about our publishing timeline.

Writing your first draft can, as NaNoWriMo has proven, take a month or less, depending on how many words you write per day and how long your manuscript is. However, editing takes a bit longer. It’ll be several rounds of self-editing and maybe at least one run-through with a professional editor. And that takes time. As much as our hearts don’t like to take the slow road, in this case it really is slow and steady who wins the race.

Our first draft is a caffeine-induced roller-coaster ride of adrenaline and inspiration. Most of the time. We sometimes get stuck or have times where we throw up our hands, but it is (at least to me) the easiest part of the process. After we hit the end, the wind leaves us. We ride the high—the thrill—of completion for awhile, but editing is a long, arduous, painful process by nature. Much crying and screaming and gnashing of teeth. That does not mean, however, we can shirk it. It must be done because the first draft of anything is complete crap—to paraphrase Hemmingway.

After your own work it’s another hurry-up-and-wait experience for authors. Keep in mind most publishers usually take at least a year of lead time before publishing a book. That means they have time to edit the manuscript to their satisfaction (a rush job means mistakes), typeset it well, have a solid cover-design and do pre-release marketing. All of that takes time, and even if you’re self-publishing you should be taking those steps at a similar pace. It may even take you longer because you’re going to have to find and select your team rather than work with a team of in-house folks the publisher has already vetted.

Either way you go about it, don’t despair that things will take awhile. Take a breath and enjoy the ride if you can. Don’t be in such a rush that you lose sight of the end goal: the best work you can create.

Five Big mistakes self-published authors make

Five Big mistakes self-published authors make

I’ve spent a lot of time with self-published authors—the good and the bad—and I’ve noticed a lot of trends over the last five years. Some of these trends are good and are marks of successful authors, others… not so good. Today I want to address those “not so good” trends I’ve seen in self-published authors.

1) Not paying for professional services.
You have no idea how many authors make this mistake. They think they can do everything on their own without paying for services and that their books won’t suffer for it because as self-publishers they can do everything alone. As I’ve said in other blogs, the real difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing is, primarily, who foots the bill to have the book produced.

Writers, on the whole, aren’t rich folks. Most of us are “starving artists” who write because we need to but have a job we hate in order to survive. Why? Because that’s just how the world works. Paying for a professional service is often measured in the thousands of dollars. A single run through on a novel by a substantive editor can easily hit $1,200 or more. Paying for that when we aren’t confident our book will break even? It requires a significant amount of faith in your writing as well as faith in your bank account.

In Dan Poynter’s book, “Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual”, he quoted that publishing a book costs something in the vicinity of $6,000 to $10,000 to produce.

For a book like the one described here, you should budget about $10,000 to get started (cover and page production, printing, and initial marketing and promotion). If you print 500 according to the New Book Model, you should budget $6,000 for production, printing, and initial marketing.

Page 106. Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, Sixteenth Edition

2) Publishing their first draft.
Yes, this is something that happens more often than I’d like to say. Many newbie writers make the mistake of thinking that the writing process ends after the first time you write—literally or metaphorically—“The End”. Finishing the first draft is just the beginning of the process that takes you from manuscript to book. Chances are you’ll rewrite your book two to three times before you start having beta readers and critique. Then editing!

Your first draft isn’t something anyone but you should see. First drafts always suck for everyone. That includes masters like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. Don’t feel bad that I’m saying your first draft of your baby is terrible; all of us go through that. The good news is everyone has this experience. Don’t be in such a rush to share your work with the world that you neglect to make sure it’s properly treated before release.

3) Spamming their social media with their offers.
How many authors do you know who do drive-through spamming to every writing groups to drop an advertisement for their book or flood all their social media with their cover image and hashtagged posts about how you should purchase their book. That kind of so-called “marketing” doesn’t work. Don’t do it.

Marketing your book is a difficult, complicated process. We all struggle to be seen, but spamming people isn’t the way you get attention. People will roll their eyes and move on with their life. It also damages your credibility and capacity to reach people who want to buy your book. Marketing is a big mess that I’m not qualified to give you huge detail on, but I suggest following Kristin Lamb’s blog—she’s fantastic at what she does.

4) Responding to critique or criticism with hostility.
So someone writes a review or comment about your book that points out errors. Or maybe they just plain didn’t like it. What do you do? Do you jump on your account and write a scathing response to them to tell them just how wrong they are about your masterpiece? Or do you grit your teeth, pour yourself a glass of wine, and have some chocolate?

Reviews, good or bad, are important to authors because they’re exposure. Also, these critiques or comments sometimes contain valuable information. If one person says you have an issue with something it’s probably opinion. If five say it? Well, you might have an issue. The best way to respond to criticism is… don’t. At all. If you have to reply, just thank them for their thoughts and opinions. That’s all you’re going to say.

5) Developing an ego and assuming they know everything about publishing.
You’ve published your first book! I’ll be the first to congratulate you. You’ve published your second or third? Awesome! If you did it right you probably know something by then. If you did it right. If you didn’t you probably know about the same amount you knew when you uploaded your first book to Amazon.

The best way you can learn about writing and about publishing is accepting that you don’t know everything. There are a lot of moving pieces to the publishing industry. One of the first things we learn when we enter this world is we can’t go it alone, and we don’t know everything. We learn from those who are better than us, and we move forward in concert with other authors who are also learning. We all work together.

These five mistakes aren’t the end of the world. You can fix all of them with time, energy, and effort. So they aren’t a death knell to your writing career. Just make sure you learn from these errors. Move forward. Get better. That’s all we can do.

Defining "Professional"

We hear this word thrown around a lot, but many people seem to miss the mark on what it means. While the literal definition of a professional is just someone who gets paid, being “professional” encompasses more than that. In that case, let’s dig into what the publishing world considers to be a professional:

  • Dressing properly when required.
    I’ll edit in my fuzzy bunny slippers and PJ pants because there’s no one around to judge me, but I wouldn’t wear jeans to a black tie affair. Also, when meeting clients or engaging in business deals I dress up, shower, do my hair, etc. It’s important.
  • Punctuality.
    If you say you’re going to be somewhere or do something in a specific time frame, then you should probably do it. It marks you as someone trustworthy and dependable. If, for some reason, you can’t do it, communicate as soon as possible.
  • Politeness
    This is a tough one sometimes. We’re conditioned to bleed on the page, but we need to know when to keep our mouths shut and smile. It’s never easy to do that when you’re dealing with a situation you can’t stand, but it’s important. Being polite also carries over into any public interactions, including social media. People really DO judge you on that.
  • Business Acumen
    While you may not have a degree in it, understanding when business is business and personal is personal is big. I’ll talk more on this later.
  • Having quality marketing materials, covers, websites, etc.
    This isn’t unique to writers, either. Having good-looking business cards, websites, fliers, and other such communication materials is a defining mark of a professional in the world beyond just writing. This means that just because you “can” design your own website you maybe should rely on someone with professional credentials. These things are your face to the world.
  • Literacy
    No joke, the fewer typos, the fewer mistakes, and the more attention you pay to your writing and communication, the better you look.
  • Email Etiquette
    Do you know how to write a proper email? What’s your email signature like? Are you using frilly colors in order to “get attention”? Is your font easy to read and clean? All of these are important.

Knowing these qualities and seeing what is expected can be a sobering experience for some of us when we realize we don’t quite measure up. The thing is, behaving professionally (even if you aren’t making money yet) is important. This also includes how we treat our professional colleagues (editors, publishers, etc.) as well as our readers. If you see a poor review of your book, do you jump on the thread and make a bunch of unfriendly comments? Or do you thank the person for their critique and move on with your life? There are many ways to address things, but if we want to be taken seriously and regarded with positive esteem, we need to realize that epitomizing (or at least aspiring to) the qualities I listed above is a major part of it.

Professionalism is one of the defining factors in whether or not you’ll get anywhere as a writer. I know we all wish it were just about whether or not we can put together a good story, but that’s just not the case, unfortunately. We have a lot of things to consider when we are looking at our success, and many of those factors have nothing to do with what we put on the page.

Giving Up Rights

I have been seeing a lot of misconceptions about contracts in the writing community lately, and I thought I might take a stab at pulling back the veil. One of the things I keep seeing is writers upset that contracts favor the publishing company and not the author. While the publishing company shouldn’t be predatory, the contract should favor the publisher. Before you close this blog in a fit of rage, let me explain why.

Writers are protective of their work, and that’s understandable, commendable, and a good thing. However, when you approach a traditional publisher you need to realize a few things. The first is that when you are traditionally publishing you must understand that you will be giving up some things. This is a reality – a contract must involve both sides giving something up and gaining something, and that is something many writers appear to forget. You give up certain rights to the work in exchange for the support of a traditional publisher. Assuming you are working with a good publisher you are going to be gaining more than you are losing.

Also it seems to be a trend that writers think that publishers should be a service to authors. That’s not how the business works. A publisher is in business to make money and benefit themselves. That’s the crux of the matter – they aren’t in it for you. While they may be altruistic and work to the good of the author they are looking to pay their people, make a profit, and continue working. That means they are going to write contracts to their advantage. That, however, is also because in this deal they are assuming the most financial risk.

Despite the fact that writing the book is an integral part of the process, the writer does not need to pay the overhead involved in publishing it. That’s squarely on the shoulders of the publisher. They pay for editing, typesetting, marketing, distribution, printing, ISBN numbers, cover art, and a hundred other things besides. They are investing a lot of money into this book, and they would like a return on their investment. They don’t want to break even, they want to make a profit. Does that sound mean? In some ways, but if they have half a dozen employees involved in the project they need to pay them, they need to pay the author their royalty, they need to pay for their location, their website, and all the other pieces of doing business. Unlike the author, they have overhead to cover that isn’t even directly related to the book. If they are big enough they have to pay for employee health insurance, retirement packages, taxes, and all sorts of other fees that writers never encounter.

Many writers hate the idea of giving up rights to their book. They argue that publishers don’t deserve subsidiary rights, that they shouldn’t get a penny more than they “deserve”. Unfortunately those people don’t take into account that the publisher, if they are doing their job right, is going to be both the launch pad for their book as well as their partner. The work of writing may be on the author, but the publisher is at least a 50% partner, if not more, in the actual work of publishing.

I don’t mean to make this sound like authors shouldn’t be cautious about giving away their rights. You should, and you should really consider everything you are giving up. But you can’t expect the publisher to foot the bill for everything and then eat scraps from the table of the sales. That’s not really how things work  nor would it be fair.

Assuming your book does amazingly in sales and you skyrocket up to fame don’t they deserve a part of that? If you get a movie deal or people want to translate it internationally, your publisher has been an intimate part of that experience and is the reason you have gotten where you are. Without that help you would either have had to learn how to do all of that yourself or paid others to do it. If you have approached a traditional publisher I assume that’s not what you wanted to do, so you have already made that decision. In that case, doesn’t the person, or group of people, who worked so hard to get you where you are deserve some form of remuneration? I would say it’s only fair.

Of course, all of this is assuming you have a reputable and legitimate publisher who isn’t taking you for all you’re worth and treating you like nonsense. I can’t account for that.

How To Market Without Losing Your Mind

First I want to say happy New Year to all of you! I hope you’ve had a great holiday season. I’ll be glad to say goodbye to 2014, myself. It’s been a rollercoaster of a year with ups and downs all over the place. I think many people have had a stressful year, so let’s all take a big breath and hope next year is a little less hectic.

Now – in regards to marketing! I encountered someone from one of the many writing groups I’m part of who was talking about how trying to market their book on all the various platforms and trying to keep up with social media was destroying their writing time. Many people were telling the author to “just write and ignore the rest; it’ll fall into place”. Others were saying to automate their marketing using platforms like Hootsuite. They also suggested using cross-platform posts to just post the same thing on all their social media networks.

Unfortunately, none of those suggestions are going to work for a writer who wants to sell books.

I have said it before, and I will say it again: do not automate your marketing strategy. While, yes, this blog will automatically post to my Facebook page I do more than just that. You should not pre-write tweets and posts on social media because that robs it of the interactive feel which is what social media is about: interaction. While you don’t have to have long conversations on social media every day you should keep your commentary and interaction conversational. You aren’t writing advertisements there – you’re providing people with interesting, interactive things that they can enjoy.

That said, you don’t need to spend every minute of every day marketing and playing on social media.

Instead of stressing and drowning in social media to the detriment of your writing dedicate about twenty minutes a day to social media to make sure everything is caught up, and choose which platforms you really want to focus on. There are so many that you can’t possibly keep up with everything. You also want to make sure that your social media presence reflects you. Do you do a lot of photography? Then hang out on Instagram rather than Twitter, perhaps. Are you writing books that are more professional than fiction? Maybe LinkedIn is more your speed than Facebook. There are so many options out there that you need to evaluate which you think are most important.

To me I tend to focus on Facebook and Twitter. While I have an Instagram and post to it regularly I don’t view that as a large part of my platform. I also have LinkedIn which I use on a semi-regular basis for networking, but it isn’t my primary marketing channel. Of course, the change in Facebook’s policy regarding business may change how I use Facebook to some extent, but you will want to really consider what your plans and needs are and then use the channels that will best suit you.

Outside of social media marketing you have blogging which is something I strongly recommend for every author. Don’t tell me you don’t know what to write about – you are a writer. Find something. My blog is about writing and the craft (as you obviously know). Yours can be about whatever you want. Are you passionate about fantasy football? Write blogs about that. Are you passionate about gardening? Write about that! You aren’t limited to just writing about your writing. In fact you should talk more about other topics that will interest people than just your writing because you’re marketing to readers, not writers.

If you have your blog, author website, and social media squared away that will be a huge step in the right direction toward marketing your book. From there you can start talking to local radio stations, newspapers, bookstores, and arrange interviews and signings. You could even try to get on local access television (or bigger TV if you can!) to let people know about your book and what you do. That kind of thing, however, is another blog entirely.

These techniques should give you a strong basis to start marketing your book without losing your hair because your writing time is sacrosanct. But you can’t just use a ‘set it and forget it’ method of authorship if you want to make sales. You can do this, I promise. It’s not as hard or as scary as you think even if you’re an introvert like me.

Well? What are you waiting for? Share this post with folks, start writing posts of your own, and enjoy your New Year’s Eve!

Typesetting Programs

This is mostly for the self-pub crowd, so if you are planning on trad. publishing then this will maybe be interesting, but it won’t be as important to you as it is to folks who are doing this on their own.

Typesetting is one of the most overlooked bits to putting a book together. Everyone knows about cover art and editing and marketing and… but they forget typesetting.


Typesetting is different from interior design which are the doodads that make your book pretty, like artwork. Instead, it’s the long slog through the text making sure widows and orphans don’t exist, preventing words from hyphenating onto the next line, and making sure, overall, the book is prepared for print.

I’m writing this coming off the heels of typesetting my first book, so I shall share with you my tale of woe. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s 5:30am and I haven’t been to bed yet. I also started this project at around 11pm. I’m insane that way.

Anyway, the first thing I will tell you is DO NOT TYPESET IN WORD. A lot of self-published folks try and do this, and it’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Word doesn’t output clean enough documents and doesn’t have the tools to make typesetting easy or smooth. Sure, you can theoretically do it just like you can theoretically tapdance on a chocolate cake. But the results are… lamentable.

From there you will be looking at design programs. The first I will mention is Scribus. I dabbled with it, but couldn’t figure it out well – however, since it’s open source it’s a great idea for authors who want to do typesetting on the cheap. And I am sure there are tutorials out there, so if you want to take the time to learn it I am certain that it can work for you. I know many people who swear by it, so I have nothing bad to say regarding the program.

Second is Microsoft Publisher. I started my project in Publisher and by about 12:30am I was screaming for mercy. The auto-flow wasn’t auto-flowing, and I was about to scream and punch my monitors. Both of them. However, I restrained myself because they are kind of important to my job. It is more user-friendly on the surface that Scribus or the next program I’m going to mention, but it definitely lacks in the arena of ease of use once you get into the crunchy bits, and the auto-flow function is… well I have nothing to say about it that won’t come out in furious cussing.

Finally is the program I learned at about midnight after watching this tutorial. After that I have, other than finishing a few minor notes, finished typesetting the whole book. So, all in all, it was maybe four hours in InDesign to typeset a nearly 400 page book. It looks intimidating on the surface, but once you begin using it the powerful features become indispensable and you will find yourself able to accomplish a lot of work with very little effort and time. No joke. The downside is that InDesign is expensive since it’s put out by Adobe. I am lucky enough to have the CS3 package from back when I was in college, and it works just fine for everything I need.

While I could talk your ear off about the details of typesetting all I have the brain for right now is telling you that it is important, and that you can do it yourself pretty easily if you have the correct tools and tutorials.

Perils and Pitfalls: Self Publishing Edition

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...
A Picture of an eBook(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Authors have a lot of people hawking services to them from the minute they start to the minute they finish. There are people out there that will do everything from sitting with you step by step, to marketing your book, to rewriting the damn thing for you. And probably wiping your nose while they do it.

The cause of this, in my estimation, is the dramatic turnover in the publishing industry. Whereas before in order to be published authors almost had to go the traditional publishing route in order to be considered a “real” book these days the DIY trend is pervasive. This, of course, means that there is a huge influx of writers looking for professional help while they engage in the various stages and flavors of publishing.

In this market there are many people looking to prey on authors that are new, inexperienced, or ignorant of what goes on. There are “editors” that can’t edit, “reviewers” that charge an arm and a leg for reviews, “self publishing” companies that are no better than Publish America, and “cover artists” that steal copyrighted material to make covers with.

How can an author protect themselves in this environment? The best way is to educate yourself. Read, watch, and think about everything you encounter. There are certain things that an author (specifically a self publishing author) needs, but there are a lot of “services” that you can forego. And even more that you may be getting scalped on.

1) Editing

Many writers reference the Freelance Editing Association as the paragon of freelance editing. I don’t know how good their skills are, but I can tell you that their prices are outrageous. If you want to pay that much money to receive editing I won’t stop you, but I can say that there are a lot of very good editors out there that won’t scalp you. I’m one. Also, just because they are in the FEA doesn’t mean that they’re good – anyone can pay the membership fee and join. Unless you have worked with an editor before or have been referred to them by happy clients don’t trust anyone’s abilities until you see them in action. Also, don’t judge us by their blog posts – we write these at midnight while furious at injustice and having drunk too much caffeine.

Another thing I’ve seen with editors is that there are a lot of sub-par editors that charge a lot because they think those are the going rates. These editors miss important and large issues with works, and I don’t mean missing the occasional typo or something; I mean big, sweeping problems. Make sure you see if you can find any reviews of the editor or company before you decide to have them pick up your book, and see if they offer a sample edit. Remember, an editor is like any other service: you are paying them to perform a service. Don’t be cowed by their expertise (whether real or imagined).

2) Cover Design

Cover design can be a HUGE money pit for authors doing freelance work. There are a lot of people out there offering photomanipulated covers for prices in the hundreds, and the work isn’t… bad, but it isn’t amazing. Unfortunately, many of these people are using brushes, photos, fonts, and resources from stock that they didn’t pay for, aren’t crediting properly, or aren’t permitted to use. It’s a common problem. They then sell these covers without licenses to do so, and the author using the cover becomes culpable for the copyright infringement.

Save yourself the trouble and make SURE that the cover artist doing your work (or you, if you’re doing it) have the proper licensing to use everything you are using on your cover.

I won’t comment on the cost of handpainted covers because they are a huge amount of work, and the artist has to speak for themselves since you will have seen their art before commissioning them to design a cover for you.

3) Ebook Conversions

This one I just heard of. Apparently people are charging hundreds of dollars to have their finished manuscripts converted into ebooks. And I don’t mean typesetting – that’s worth hundreds of dollars or more. I just mean strict conversion to ebook format without the typesetting. That made my jaw hit the floor.

The best method I was given was to export your manuscript as an unfiltered HTML document, load it into Calibre (a free, open source program) and format it that way. There is a learning curve, but it won’t cost you anything other than some cursing and effort.

4) Reviews

ALL reputable review sources (magazines, newspapers, etc.) make their money off of sales of their product and advertising, not off of selling reviews. They do not charge authors for them. Unfortunately, some of the larger venues only accept requests for reviews by reputable publishers, and are thus inaccessible to self published authors. However with that being the case you should never, ever, under any circumstances pay for a review. Anyone who is charging you is scalping you. Just don’t do it.

Also, Amazon will remove reviews they discover are paid for, and Amazon doesn’t typically remove reviews for many reasons. I can’t underscore this enough – you are being scammed. You will not make back that money, and the people doing it are not providing you with a serious service.

5) Self Publishing Companies

These aren’t all bad. Some of them can be a huge resource to authors. Others are nightmares waiting to happen a la Publish America. Again, as with all others (except reviewers) read the reviews seriously. Look for people that have used their services, and examine the books that they have helped put out. If they’re full of errors, have ugly covers, and the typesetting looks like a fifth grade paper you have your answer.

Since I offer self publishing services I won’t tell you that we’re all crooks and highwaymen, but just be cautious, and stick with reputable people where you can.

Overall, you just want to pay attention. Look for reviews on the people and services that you think you might be interested in, ask for samples, and don’t part with your money readily just because someone says, “Oh, yeah, you need this for your book!”

The reality is that there are a few things you need. Most of them you don’t have to pay for. As in my previous blog, self publishing comes with unavoidable costs that traditional publishing doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean that all costs associated with self publishing are unavoidable. Or need to be egregious.

Self Publishing Thoughts

I’ve been noticing a huge trend amonst authors these days: an interest and desire to self publish. It’s a double edged sword and the decision to self publish shouldn’t be made without some serious considerations. I think it’s a very valid way of doing things and would encourage it, but only if you have the time and money to do it properly.

Both traditional publishing and self publishing have merits; they also both have pitfalls. We’ll start by enumerating some of those benefits and drawbacks here so you can see them side by side. The pros and cons of traditional publishing assume a good, valid publisher that can effectively work for the author not a back alley publisher that wants your kidneys to sell on the black market.

Traditional Publishing Pros:

  • Should not cost the author money to edit, market, design, or print the book.
  • Should provide a large range of marketing possibilities for your book to get them into the hands of readers effectively.
  • Should be able to be trusted to provide high quality editorial feedback to make your book the best it possibly can be.
  • Should be able to access larger booksellers (depending on the publishing company).

Traditional Publishing Cons

  • The author makes drastically less money than they do when self publishing.
  • The author loses (usually) some or all rights to the book for the contracted amount of time.
  • The publisher has a fair amount of control in the editorial process which means you may have things you don’t want changed changed in order to meet their publication requirements.
  • Sometimes you just plain won’t get picked up by anyone. Sad, but true.

Self Publishing Pros

  • The author receives the full profits of producing their book.
  • The author has complete control over the contents, design, and marketing strategies used for their book.
  • The author does not need to wait for an agent or publisher to pick them up in order to publish their work.

Self Publishing Cons

  • Self publishing can be costly unless you learn to do the required typesetting, cover design, etc. yourself.
  • Self publishing authors frequently do not have access or understanding of some marketing strategies used to market books.
  • Self publishing authors who do NOT pay for the aforementioned services predominantly have books that do not appear professional which can seriously hurt sales.
  • Major bookstores will not typically pick up your book (you won’t see it in Barnes and Noble).
  • Unless you wish to pay a fair amount up front for printing costs from a printer (like Createspace) you will not be able to produce physical copies of the book for local bookstores (you can do PoD for sales, however).

Now, I know it looks like the self publishing cons are heavy (and they are) that doesn’t mean you should give up on the idea if it’s something that’s really stuck in your head. However, going into it with eyes open is extremely important. The reality is if an author is dedicated to making their self published book a success they are going to need to invest money into it. Receiving professional editing is almost a must. I don’t say that because I am one; I say that because a professional editor gives your work the opportunity to be viewed in the most professional way possible.

With self publishing becoming a far more prevalent thing these days it’s extremely important to view the pros and cons before making a final decision. It’s not as simple as “the heck with Penguin books! Down with the man!” It has to be something you approach with an awareness that if you don’t invest appropriately in your work (whether financially or time to learn the skills so you can avoid spending the money) you will absolutely not see a return. Traditional publishing takes some of your freedoms and profit away in exchange for providing you the services that could easily cost you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars free of charge. They eat the costs of these services because they will be making a profit off of your work (theoretically).

Both sides of this coin are both valuable and important. However, it’s very much up to the author to make a choice about their work’s future. I can tell you this, though: you get what you pay for (or should, more on that in another blog). If you skimp and refuse to pay for necessary services (and don’t take the time to learn them properly yourself) you will wind up with your book making profits matching what you put into it: nothing.