There’s been a great deal of discussion in the authorly corners of the web that I frequent of late about how much it can cost to publish a book version how much it has to cost. Even in traditional publishing, you may choose to spend money on things like getting an editor or buying advertising or paying a publicist. But let’s start from the ground up:
- developmental (story) editing
- copy editing
- Uploading to various sites
- Marketing (this includes anything you pay for and distribute like ads, dropcards, freebies, etc.)
- Publicity (if you hire a PR firm to get placement in newspapers, magazines, blogs, to advise you on career moves, etc. This includes blog tours.)
Frankly, the first item on this list is where the vast majority of your money should go. A couple of years ago, I wrote a long rant about paying too much for publicity. All that stuff is still valid, but I wanted to update my thoughts and add a few now that I’ve dealt with a great deal more of this myself.
So, yes. Editing. That’s the single most important thing. If you’re with a small press that doesn’t edit well enough, pay for it yourself. If you’re self-publishing, pay for it. But more than just the money aspect, you must RESEARCH editors. Seriously. Anyone can hang out a shingle as an editor. These are people you are hiring and your reputation will be tied to their abilities. Some questions to ask a prospective editor:
- who have you worked for? (Have they worked at publishing houses? What are the names of some of their clients? Do they have references?)
- what genres are of particular interest to you? (If an editor doesn’t read your genre, it doesn’t matter how smart or talented they are, they cannot help you make your work a better fit for its audience)
- will you test edit a couple of pages of my manuscript so we can see whether we can work well together?
So now your work is edited. If you’re with a publishing house, they’ll provide a cover. If you’re self-pubbing, you’ll need to do something about that yourself. Again, research is key. You can buy some really nice pre-made covers for ebooks for $50. Or you can go all the way up to getting a custom photo shoot ($500+) and then paying a designer to incorporate it into a new cover. Here again, your reputation will be tied to this person’s work, so take some time and look around.
Now, if you’re self-pubbing, there are a number of services that will format your work for you. Be sure to ask them whether the price includes updating the formatted book every time you write another book. Because you’ll want to include links in the back of one book to your other books, and they’ll have to be updated at least once a year, if not more often. Some places/people will also upload to various sites to you. But if they do, find out if you’ll have to pay them when you want to change the price, etc. Both of these (formatting and uploading) are technical skills
, not talent. You can learn to do them yourself, but they will take time. It’s entirely up to you how you balance the time/money seesaw!
And then, once the book is out (well, no, really long before the book is out, but you get the idea), you need to make some decisions about marketing and publicity. Remember what I said about editors? That goes for publicity folk, too. And the first question you need to ask is of yourself: What do you expect this person to do for you, exactly? And no, “make my book a bestseller” is not a suitable answer.
I have had immense frustrations with publicists, and I have had great experiences with publicists. In the case of a publisher-assigned publicist, you have no choice. But you should never pay for someone you can’t work with! As with an editor, a publicist should work in your field. And if you look at a prospective publicist’s client list (on their website) and don’t recognize any of the names, that might be a problem. Because if you read widely in a field (which you should be doing in the genre you’re writing in), and you’ve never heard of any of a publicist’s clients, how widely is she publicizing them?
I am a long-term thinker. I like everyone who works with me to be long-term thinkers, too. I have six-month, two-year, and five-year plans (they aren’t set in stone or anything, but they exist). Am I obsessive? Probably. When I spoke to a publicist in January and she said we should talk in February about my November release, I knew I had met a like mind. And that’s important. You need to click with your agent, your editor, your publicist if at all possible. These are people you have to feel comfortable talking to.
So take your time, do your research, and find the right person for each job on your list.