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.
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.
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”?