How Free is Self-Publishing?

It costs absolutely nothing to publish a book. Nothing.

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There are free word processing programs like Google Docs. You can use a library’s internet and computer. Platforms like Draft2Digital and Amazon’s KDP will provide you with some kind of book identification number so you don’t have to buy ISBNs for your books.

All you need to do is write, make a cover in Canva using their free website, use a free for commercial use picture from Pixabay, Pexels, or Unsplash, and you are a published author. All for free.

But when isn’t that a good idea?

Do you know Amazon has over 7 billion books in their Kindle store? And writers publish more every day.

So not only are you competing with everyone you know on Writer Twitter, you are competing with writers who are not on Twitter, big time indies who don’t have much time for social media. You’re competing with traditionally published authors, and those authors range from anywhere between The Big Five to tiny university presses.

You’re competing with writers from the US, Canada, (do you know how many writers I know who live in London, Ontario? A lot!) the UK, Australia, and many other countries.

Over 7 billion books.

Okay. What what is this blog post really about now that I’ve made you feel like crap?

Spending money.

Self-publishing is free.

Until it isn’t.

I do everything myself. For my trilogy, and Wherever He Goes, I wrote them, edited them. I formatted them and did the covers. The orangy hue on the third is my fault. I didn’t have the skill to fix it. It doesn’t look bad on screen, but the paperback could look better. That’s just the way it is, and I accept that.

What can you pay for when you self-publish?

  • Editing
  • Formatting
  • Cover

Those are the three big ones. But we can go further:

  • Beta Readers/Critique Partners/Book Coaches/Book Doulas
  • Blurb writing
  • Reviews/Arc review services like NetGalley
  • Advertising, ie, Facebook ads, Amazon ads, Promotions
  • ISBNs
  • Paperbacks for giveaways
  • Giveaway fees like on Goodreads

No one is saying you have to pay for all of that–or any of it.

It’s up to your discretion how much money you want to pump into your books.

See, this is the problem. No one wants to admit that they publish their books to sell them. Which leads an author not spending one dime on their books.

They are publishing for themselves. I repeat this over and over again like a broken record:

If you only publish for yourself you have no right to complain if your books do not sell.

But if you can admit you want people to pay to read your work then you have to take a hard look at your book.

Is the cover you made yourself doing the job?

Is your blurb up to snuff or is it confusing and off-putting?

Are there typos in the first few pages of the Look Inside?

If you can’t put out quality work yourself, then you’re going to need help.

It’s that simple.

And that difficult because saying you need help is a lot easier than being able to afford said help.

That being said, you can teach yourself how to do these things.

If you just shut down on me, it’s because you don’t want to take the time to learn. That’s okay. I wear clothes every day. That doesn’t mean I want to learn how to sew.

But what I’m trying to tell you is that you must find a happy medium between doing things for yourself and hiring out the help you need to make your book desirable to readers.

Because remember, readers have 7 billion choices.

Listen, my books aren’t pretty. Use the look Inside Feature for any of my books and you’ll see basic formatting. The embellishments are non-existent.

That’s fine. I taught myself enough to get by, and that’s good enough for me.

Readers aren’t going to care if you have fancy chapter headings if your story sucks.

So, being I’ve published a few things, I can suggest where you should put your money–if you have any, or where you should ask for favors from friends–if you have any. Just kidding!

  1. Editing. If you’re a newbie writer, this means a developmental edit as well as a line edit and proofing. Plot holes, flat characters. Developmental editing can be more of a job for a critique partner or someone from your writing group. Ask someone who reads your genre so they have a handle on the tropes and feel for the type of genre your book is in. Once you have a stellar story and a solid look inside sample, you need a good cover.
  2. Cover. Canva.com offers design classes. You need to train your eye and learn what makes a good cover. It can make or break your book. Plus, if you push your book in any way, ads, promos, giveaways, your cover will be the selling point. Look at your genre on Amazon. Look at templates. Try to duplicate them yourself in Canva. You may need to spring for a photo, but that’s not as expensive as you might think. I buy mine on canstockphoto.com for seven dollars apiece. Photos are even cheaper if you buy a credit package.

    A word of warning though. I write romance, and slapping some text onto a smiling couple is a lot different than making a cover for an Urban Fantasy novel. Fantasy, of any kind, requires a certain kind of cover. Negotiating a price with someone on Fiverr is a lot better than publishing a book that does not have an appropriate cover. Your sales will stop before they even start. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is.

    Sometimes you can find a pre-made template that’s cheap.

    Sometimes you can even find a photo on a photo site that is already doctored to how you need/want it to be. Set aside hours, days, if not weeks, to click through pictures. I’m barely 20,000 words into my next book and I’m already looking at photos.

  3. Formatting. Formatting for Kindle takes five minutes. All you need to do is set the options in Word so when you upload it into KDP it converts correctly. If you go wide and you use Draft2Digital, you don’t even have to do that. (Smashwords is a different story, and your Word file has to be formatted correctly or it won’t convert through their “meatgrinder” and they won’t publish your book.) Draft2Digital seems easier to work with, but I’m in KDP Select and haven’t used either of those services.

 

What is the cost of self-publishing? It can cost as much or as little as you want to put into it.

Someone opening a business always needs to invest. Paying for services is investing in your book business.

I used to think that I didn’t want to invest in my books because I may never get that money back. But that was incorrect thinking.

If my books are well-written, have a nice cover, and are formatted as to not turn anyone off from reading it, eventually, I will see that money returned to me by way of sales.

My books will be sold for years and years.  As I slowly make a name for myself, my sales will increase. It will take time, but I’m in it for the long haul, and I have patience.

I’ve put money toward my books by way of taking the time to learn how to do things for myself. I read lots of editing books. I read tons of blog posts about what makes a good cover. I’ve practiced making covers. I’ve learned to format my files. It took time. But time is money. I’ll eventually see dividends on the time I invested in my books.

time is money

It’s a personal choice.


This blog post begins a self-publishing series about how you can do most of these things by yourself if you want, and where to look if you don’t. I’ll give you the resources I used to learn and you can decide for yourself if it’s easier for you to hire out, or if you can’t afford it, where you can spend time learning things on your own.

Look for my next blog post about editing resources.

Thanks for reading!

 

The Top 7 Indie News Items from 2017 (that I can remember).

Indie Publishing News of 2017

December is almost over, which means we’ll be welcoming in 2018 in a few days. Maybe you won’t see it happen because you’ll be in a pumpkin pie/eggnog-induced coma, or maybe you’ll be hungover, which is the best way to bring in any New Year. But nonetheless, 2017 will be just a distant memory. Here’s a recap of the top things that happened in 2017!

Amazon came up with Amazon Charts. Some people didn’t like this, some people did. Some people said it was a nice thing for Amazon to do since The New York Times cut back on some of their bestseller lists. Some people said it was a biased list; Amazon would only promote their bestselling imprint books. Whatever you think, there’s another list you can aim for, because just hoping for someone to buy your book and like it isn’t enough.

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Pronoun closed. This caused a mad dash for indie authors as they were a third-party distributor like Draft2Digital or Smashwords. I don’t think anyone received a definitive answer as to why Macmillian closed Pronoun, but there was some discussion of money (isn’t there always) because they didn’t take a cut for distributing.

Speaking of Draft2Digital, it was big news in 2017 when they partnered with Findaway voices, giving indie authors a different way to produce audiobooks rather than relying on ACX through Amazon. Audio is on the rise, and while I hear it’s expensive and time-consuming to do an audio option for a book, more people than ever before are “reading” their books by listening. As an indie struggling with writing, editing, formatting, cover design, and marketing, audio is probably the last thing on your mind. But you don’t want to miss the boat–in the long run, you never know how many sales you’ll miss.

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Two other big news items that happened in 2017 concerning audio books are 1) Kobo is now selling audiobooks. This is important because it gives indies another sales channel besides depending on Amazon/iTunes through ACX. But if you like Amazon and are “all in” with them, and you write romance, when 2) Audible added the Romance package to their subscription, this gave indie romance writers another venue for getting their audiobooks out there. It may be more difficult to get your book into the Romance Package in Audible than it is to enroll your ebook into KU through KDP, but it’s still an option if you write excellent quality books.

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Amazon/KDP rolled out KDP Print. That little tidbit of information goes alongside the news that CreateSpace is closing their online store. At first, this caused a stir that maybe CreateSpace was going to close its doors completely, and we’d be left with only IngramSpark (for distribution purposes you should be using them with CS anyway) but this is not the case. CreateSpace may fold, but in its place there will be KDP Print. I’ve looked into this service a little bit, and how you submit your interior files and cover files is the same. It actually makes sense–you have your paperback sales and Kindle sales all on one dashboard. So, in light of that news, I would suggest that if you’re close to publishing your next book, try KDP Print, figure things out before you’re forced to.

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Another thing that popped into 2017 was if you’re looking for another way to have your romances published, the Hallmark Channel is accepting queries through Hallmark Publishing. Because, you know, there aren’t enough ways to have your writing rejected. No, seriously, if you write clean romance that you could easily see as a Hallmark Channel Movie, give it a go! You never know what can happen.

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Luckily, I’m not writing in order of importance, because surely the change in how GoodReads handles their giveaways is more important than pitching to Hallmark. This was a huge step back for indies when they decided to stop their free giveaway program for all 2018 giveaways and start charging for giveaway packages. Before, for free, an indie could giveaway paperback books and only pay for the printing and shipping for the giveaway. Now, GoodReads offers two tiers of giveaways, one for $119.00 and one for $599.00. Yes, you read the second one correctly. I haven’t looked into this too carefully, as I haven’t used the free program, and it will be a while, if ever, when I use the paid option. There was a lot of speculation as to why GoodReads did this, and in my very humble opinion, it was because they needed to assert some kind of quality control. It may not be true, but I’m guessing if an indie has the resources to pay for editing, book cover design, formatting, possibly ISBN, then they also have the resources to fork over another $120.00 for a giveaway. On the flip side, if you do everything yourself to save money, then you are less likely to shell out the cash. I’ve had people disagree with me, saying that poor writers still can put out quality work, and I agree. But in terms of GoodReads now charging for giveaways, it thins the herd, no matter what the reasoning is behind it.

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Well, for me, I guess that wraps up my year in review for big publishing news. I can do a personal, What I Did in 2017 post, maybe later. I hope you found this blog post interesting–maybe you’ll need to make some changes to what your marketing plans are for the coming year.

If you want to keep your ear to the ground, a good place to start is to listen to the podcast by Jim Kukral and Bryan Cohen, the Sell More Books Show. In their weekly podcast, they talk about indie news on a weekly basis, keeping you informed of what’s going on in the self-publishing industry. Also, follow Jane Friedman on Twitter (@JaneFriedman). She tweets interesting news articles about the publishing industry, and if you can afford it, sign up for her Hot Sheet. If you like to stay on top of trad-publishing news, listen to the PrintRun Podcast hosted by literary agents Laura Zats and Erik Hane. They work at Red Sofa Literary Agency in my home state of Minnesota. Also, follow them on Twitter (@printrunpodcast)! 

If I’ve forgotten anything, give me a shout. I like staying on top of things. You never know when it will come in handy.

Have a great 2018 in the world of publishing! Get your books out there! Good luck!

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Thank you to the respective websites for the pictures that I stole borrowed for this post. Also, thank you to http://www.pixabay.com and Canva for the other photos.