Recently, I read an article about “how to self-publish” that has me thinking. If this person is right, then I’ve been wrong for my entire career. According to this person, you don’t need fancy editors or proof readers. You don’t need cover artists. Hell, no. All you need is grit and determination. That other stuff is a waste of money.
This is a dangerous thing to tell an aspiring writer. It sets them up for bitter disappointment. And being a novelist is already tough enough without crippling yourself out of the gate. So I’m going to answer some basic questions posed by many new authors.
Do I need and editor and proof reading? YES! Well…. if it’s for a writer’s group or simply something to share with friends and family, no. But if you intend to ask people to pay for your work, you do. It’s not just about putting out a professional product. It’s also about respecting the fact that you are asking a reader to spend their time and money on you. To release a book that has never been edited or proof read not only shows a lack of respect for the work, but it disrespects the reader. Their time is as valuable as yours. And when you offer a book for public consumption, people expect value. They expect professionalism.
I can hear it now: “Yes, but I don’t have the money for an editor.” Neither did I when I started. But I saved my nickels and dimes; I did without until I had enough. It took time. A lot of time. But I believed in the work and I wanted to give it the best chance I could.
It’s also important to understand that this is a business. For those who disagree - You are offering the fruits of your skills and talents to the public. In return, they pay you. Sounds like a business to me. And in what business can you get away with zero investment and expect a return? Does it happen? Sure. And some people win the lottery, too. I hear all the time about the few out there who have made a career without editing, proof reading, etc. But for every one of them, there are a hundred who will tell you exactly what I am telling you.
I realize producing a book can be expensive. I also realize that not everyone has the money. Even saving, it might not be enough. But there are ways to get it done. Trading services, local writer’s groups, and networking online can help you attain valuable resources. But it takes time and effort. You are trading money spent for time spent. Either way, you are spending something.
Do I need a cover artist? YES! Well…. You might already be a good artist or brilliant with photoshop. I’ve seen it. Not often. But it happens. I wish I could draw, paint, or do more with my computer than type. But I can’t. Therefore, I employ a cover artist.
Here is where I find there to be no excuses. Back in 2010-2012, cover art was hard to come by and exceedingly expensive. These days you can pick up a nice cover for a very reasonable price. The web is filled with sites selling pre-made covers that look absolutely spectacular. I’ve seen them for as little as $100.
Your cover is the first thing a reader sees. It conveys to them the tone of the work and builds anticipation for the story. It also tells them that you care enough to present it properly. If you put out some homemade cover you threw together on your laptop, why would the reader believe you took the time to make what the cover contains worth reading?
How much does this all cost? That varies. I spend quite a bit. But I do this full-time and my readers have certain expectations of me. Although I can’t tell you exactly how much, I can tell you it’s not cheap. Whether your currency is time or cash, if you want success in self-publishing, get ready to spend it.
They say that “time is money”. In this case it is the literal truth. If you have no chance at hiring an editor, proof readers, cover artists, etc., then you must network until you have the resources to get it done. That means getting to know people – both online and in person. It means becoming a part of a community. It means when you ask for someone to use their skills on your behalf, you must be ready to give something of value in return. The fact is, you should be networking regardless. But here, you have specific goals regarding the quality of your book.
If I spend all this time/money, what’s the guarantee? None. Just like anything else in life, you might fail. There are hundreds of reasons why this could happen. Far too many to mention. And trying again might not work either. Yeah, I know. That sucks. But being a professional novelist is not an easy goal to achieve. There are only about 10,000 of us out there doing it for a living (these numbers are an estimate based on multiple sources, but are nonetheless debatable). That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. If you want to be a writer, be one. But go into it with your eyes open. Write your books because you enjoy it, not for fame or riches.
You don’t know everything. You might be wrong. Sure. I make no claims of being an all-knowing, indie Yoda. Everything I am saying is based on a very short career. My first novel was released in 2011. Since then, I’ve written and published fourteen books, which have sold roughly 750,000 copies. One of my books was a top five finalist in 2015 for Fantasy Book of the Year on Audible ( I lost). And I was the first indie in history to get a six-figure audio deal. Those are my qualifications, such as they are. Wow! Sounds awesome, right? But believe me when I tell you that I’m a minor player in the indie world. A virtual nobody. So it is important for me to tell you that what I have said is also supported by the opinions of dozens of colleagues who make me look like a complete novice. Their sales are in the millions and their experience far greater than my own. So, I rely heavily on their opinions.
I am not advocating that people should spend their life-savings or neglect their family. Nor am I saying success is base solely on the money you have in your bank account. But to think you can start a business without investment is laughable. And when you self-publish, that is what you are doing – starting a business.
There is some amazing talent in the indie world that tragically goes unnoticed. And there are some who still think indie is the poor cousin to traditional publishing, rife with inadequacy and talentless hacks. I, along with many others, are trying to change this perception. We’ve come far since the initial indie explosion. We still have a long way to go. But with enough effort, I think we’ll get there.