It ain’t easy, darlin’…

With all the New Adult research and reading I’ve been doing lately, I’ve been thinking a lot more about self-publishing and how to make it a viable option. And maybe it’s just me and my particular outlook, but whenever I start to seriously consider it, the cost gets in the way.

That’s right. The cost. As in money. As in money I don’t have.

The BF and I are in the process of closing on our first home (this has been a very long and drama filled process, and the end result is we have a great little house, but we’re fucking exhausted and never want to do it again. Ever.) Between mortgage payments, a few trips in the next few years we know we want to take, plus our usual expenses of credit card debt and student loan debt, extra funds are going to be hard to come by.

There’s this newfangled term people are bandying about these days called hybrid authors. Chuck Wendig wrote a fabulous post explaining what it is and why you should do it, and personally, I would love to at some point. Basically, a hybrid author is one who has books that are both published by a traditional publisher (and though he doesn’t say this, I’m going to lump digital-first and small press in with traditional publishing, because I feel that’s how that term will be defined in the months and years to come) and self-published. A number of authors use their trad pubbed fan base to help push the release of a self-pubbed work, others will self-pub first and then go the traditional route. Some, like Wendig himself, will do it simultaneously.

A word of caution about self-pubbing and then trying to go the traditional route: Your numbers matter. Your numbers really matter. I can’t tell you how many editors and agents I see or hear talking about how if your self-pub numbers are low you may not look like a good risk for a traditionally published book, because let’s face it. Your marketing budget will be small to nonexistent, most likely, and if you can’t sell something you put out yourself, what makes you think something put out by someone else will sell? So if you’re going self-pub first, put in the work to grow your fan base and make those sales.

Anyway.

I’ve mentioned several times the importance of having an editor if you’re going to go the self-publish route, so I’m not going to cover it again. For me, it’s my hurdle. It’s the most expensive part of the process – the few editing services I’ve looked at run around $1,000 for the length of the work I’d consider self publishing, and that’s just for developmental (or content) edits. There’s also line edits (checking for sentence structure, spelling and grammar mistakes, etc.) and proofreading.

I hadn’t even considered the cost of cover art. Or formatting. And then there’s advertising.

My favorite example, The Hack Novelist (who took his website down, boo) put out his first novel (which is no longer available, double boo) for $8,000. He’d already hired one editor, and honestly, I can’t remember if he hired a second or if he found someone willing to do it for free. But he had to pay the formatter, the cover designer, and because he decided on a limited print run, he had to pay the other formatter, select the paper stock, and the printer. While your average self-pub book likely won’t cost as much as his did (I’m fairly certain his is an extreme example) you are still looking at a decent investment.

While it is possible to do the formatting yourself, I haven’t the faintest fucking clue how to go about designing a book cover. Do I have to find free images? Would I be better off paying for them? Where do cover designers find the images they work with? Can I contact Hedi Slimane and buy one of his photos and use it? Could I even afford to? (Probably not.) Funny thing: if you look at the cover for Jessica Clare’s Wicked Games and the cover for Jennifer Armentrout’s Obsidian, I’m pretty sure they’re the same couple. In fact, the poses are so similar they could very well be the same images.

By the way, you should read both those books. Just sayin’.

Janice Hardy went to a number of the self-publishing workshops at RWA and wrote this handy post about the business of self-publishing. If you’re a member of RWA (which, if you’re a romance writer, I recommend joining for at least one year, just so you can see what you get out of it) you can download the audio recordings of each of these workshops, or you can purchase them as a bundle at a discounted rate.

I had this vague idea of trying to save up half the cost to hire an editor and withdraw the remaining amount from my 401k until I remembered not only do I have to pay for a cover and figure out how to format it and shit, I don’t have an audience.

Yeah. That’s the other thing. No audience.

You can’t just write a book, slap a cover on it, and stick it up on Amazon or Smashwords or wherever and expect it to sell. You need to market that baby, and marketing means begging book bloggers and other reviewers to read your book and write a review, talk about it on social media but don’t talk about it too much because otherwise you’ll lose followers faster than you can drop a hot potato, and possibly even pay for advertising space, aka those flashy ads you see in the sidebars of Dear Author, Smart Bitches Trashy Books, and the like. You may want to also consider doing an ad in Romantic Times or RWR (Romance Writers Report) though I’m not sure what the effectiveness of those would be, since those are fairly targeted toward other writers and industry professionals.

Basically, what you really want is someone like Jane Litte (of Dear Author) or Angela James (Editorial Director for Carina Press) to champion your books (see Kit Rocha). And if you’re thinking of doing New Adult, as I am with this particular possible self-publish project, you need to get to know who the movers and shakers are in that niche. I don’t know who they are. Don’t ask. I know about NA Alley. That’s it. If you know, please tell me, because I’d love to stalk, er, talk to them.

Building an audience takes time. I don’t doubt that a lot of my blog followers and Twitter followers wouldn’t be interested in reading one of my books, and that’s perfectly fine. Which is why I think that doing a traditionally published title or four first might be a safer way to go. Yeah, yeah, safe can be boring, but the thing is, this book has to be good. To me, it has to be as good as anything I could hope to have published by Entangled, or Carina, or, hell, even Berkley (hi, Penguin, can you hear me? I’d love to send you one of my manuscripts *bats lashes furiously*) I need to be able to put it up against any traditionally published title and have people not be able to tell the difference. It’s one thing if people hate the story or think the writing is bad; you find that on both sides of the publishing fence. It’s another thing entirely to put up a book that looks cheap and expect it to sell.

Janice Hardy, in her post, says that if you’re going to go the self-publish route, you want to look at it like a business, and I think she’s right. With all the effort and cost and strategy involved, it’s definitely a business, and like all businesses, you need time (I’ve got that), money (don’t have that), and a way to spread the word about your business, and quickly, so you can start recouping your investment (don’t have that, don’t really have a good idea of how to do that).

Have you thought of self-publishing? Or are you sticking with the age old “find an agent, let them land you a book deal” route? What do you think about the new “hybrid author”?

5 thoughts on “It ain’t easy, darlin’…

  1. I’m doing self-publishing, but my route to it was a little different… people on the website I wrote for started asking me to make stuff available on Kindle, so I decided to go ahead and do it. Since it’s not my mainline job, I figured hey a little extra money is nice, and doing it for Kindle is free and easy. Amazon has a nice little free download that goes over how to format your books for Kindle.

    I think since I came into publishing with a fan base from the website, it was a little easier for me to get my legs off the ground, especially since I’m not trying to make it a real job for me. I mostly do it for the enjoyment and because maybe eventually it would be really cool if it could become the real deal.

    I edit myself as much as possible and, otherwise, use volunteers for help, although I’d love to eventually be able to afford to pay them. I use bigshots.com for my covers, although I have a friend that’s mentioned he’d be willing to do some cover art for me at some point as he’s trying to get his feet off the ground as a comic book artist and could use some promoting.

    A lot of it is really just connections. You’ve got this awesome blog that you use and connections that are there for marketing so if you wanted to go the self-publish route for a little extra side money, rather than as a main source of income, I think you totally could. =)

    1. Good point. And there are parts of the whole process that I think would be fun…I kind of like the idea of hunting down source pictures and creating my own covers…I’m sooo picky about cover art. This particular project isn’t even ready to be submitted to editors, so getting it published is still a ways off.

  2. Hello there! Just stumbled on your blog. This was an extremely informative post for me. I am an amateur author myself and recently embarked on a new creative project – basically a WordPress-published fairy tale (you can check it out here: http://www.aknightadrift.com). Apart from updating regularly, I’ve been struggling to find out more about going down the self-publishing route. I’m just not sure how viable a project like this is in terms of marketability. Though it’s aimed mostly at teens, I think it could have a wider appeal once it really gets moving. Do you have any experience with publishing work online for free and then moving onto some kind of for-profit scenario? And if it’s not too much to ask, how do you think one should even begin gaining visibility and traction for such a thing? I’m really at a loss. In any case, great blog. Take care.

    1. Hum…other than what you’re already doing, you might want to check out Wattpad. I’m not familiar with it beyond I know it’s a site where you can post your stories for free, to be read for free.

      The other thing is just to make yourself visible via social media (I used to be anti-Twitter, but now it’s my crack, I can’t get enough of it) but use it to interact with other people: writers/authors, editors, agents, potential readers like bloggers and reviewers and just readers in general. The more buzz you build about yourself, the more people will check out your stories and your blog. Or at least, that’s the idea. Writing is as much about the art as it is about networking, if you want to distribute it to the masses (for what it’s worth, I suck at networking and it makes me uncomfortable, extremely so at times).

      I’m not an expert by any means, but checking out other sources like the blog posts I linked here is a good place to start. Publishing in general is an ongoing learning process since it likes to change every two seconds 🙂 Hope that helps!

      1. I finally had a moment to sit down and thank you for your response. Since you posted it I’ve been in the process of coming up with a “plan” for building buzz about my work. It feels like an insurmountable task, but then I think about everyone who has made it before and it gives me a little more hope. The only thing to do is to MAKE IT HAPPEN. Anyway, thanks again for the advice and a great resource in your blog. Take it easy.

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