Category Archives: Self-publishing

How to Prepare Your MS for Publishing: E-books

How to Prepare Your Manuscript for Publishing:
E-books

The Complete Writer
Section VII: Publishers and Self-Publishers

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. You also can find links to the chapters that have appeared so far at our special page for The Complete Writer. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

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How to Prepare Your MS for Self-Publishing: E-books

This chapter is not for the technically proficient. If you know HTML and CSS—and know them well—format your document in ePub and be done with it. You can submit an ePub file to any of the major e-book distributors. Freeware that will simplify your life is Calibre. Its documentation is written in techese and difficult for the untechnical to learn.

For the rest of us, there’s hope: it’s not difficult to format a Word document for Kindle if—and only if—it consists mostly of plain narrative, with no graphics. That means no pictures, no diagrams, no graphs, no maps, no boxed pull-outs: nothing but plain sentences, paragraphs, chapter titles, and basic subheads.

Anything more complex—such as the book you have in your hands—requires a format conversion program such as InDesign, Apple Pages, or Calibre. Unless you’re familiar with such software, you’ll find a professional e-book formatter’s services well worth the very reasonable cost.

Formatting basics

In either event, your entire document must be formatted using Word’s “Styles” function. This includes titles, subtitles, paragraphs, captions, footnotes, and the like.

Do this whether you intend to attempt a DIY project or whether you will hire a professional formatter to do it right. Do not fail to set the formatting with your word processor’s “styles.”

Instruction on how to use Word is beyond this book’s scope, but you can find how-to’s by clicking on “Help” or by searching for the desired function in Google.

The font you select is irrelevant to e-book formatting. In Kindle, the reader can select fonts and sizes according to need or whim. So you can simply use Word’s default or, if you prefer a less unsightly font, select Times or Times New Roman.

Margin settings are similarly irrelevant in e-book formatting. In Word, then, use the default margins (1 inch top and bottom; 1 inch left and right).

So, using “Styles,” go through the manuscript and apply the chapter title style to each chapter title, the level 1 subhead to each main subhead, the level 2 subhead to each sub-subhead, the paragraph style to each paragraph, the bulleted list style to each bulleted list, and so on. Do not use the Format… command to accomplish this task. You need to have all the formatting set up with “Styles.”

This includes italic, boldface, and small caps as well.

The easiest way to accomplish this is by using an e-book format template. A number of these are available. These come with preformatted styles for all elements in your manuscript.

Remember: in any word processing program (Word, Pages, GoogleDocs, Open Office, etc.), what you see on the page is NOT what you get. An e-book displays “flowable” text. That means it changes to suit the reader’s preferences and to adapt to the device on which it is viewed.

Page numbers go away. So do your pretty running headers. Knowing this, remove pagination and running headers from your document.

Formatting for heads and subheads may be arbitrary. Do set the heads and subheads using your word processor’s “styles.” Their format will come out looking distinct, if you set them consistently. However, they may look different from what you expect.

The live table of contents needs to be formatted on a PC, not a Mac. You will need a ToC with live links; if you don’t know how to create one of these (in Word, go to Format > Document Elements > Table of Contents), you should hire someone who does or, preferably, hire a professional e-book designer to do the entire job.

Graphics of any kind (this includes photographs, drawings, tables, graphs, maps, lists, and anything else along those lines) are very tricky to install in an e-book. It’s possible to do so using a word processing program, but it’s difficult and requires real technical proficiency.

For this reason, a book that contains any complexity at all beyond A- and B-level subheads is best consigned to an experienced, technologically proficient e-book designer.

Drop caps installed in a word processor do not compute on Kindle readers. Do not use drop caps in an e-book. Doing so will create a mess.

This is an example of a drop cap.

If you want to fancify your first paragraphs, try setting the first few words in all caps, like this:

IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT in outer Richistan, the wind howling through the mountain passes and…

Small caps would look much more professional. But not all versions of Kindle can read your DIY small caps. If you set your first view words in small caps….

…you may get IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT in your published e-book, depending on how it’s viewed.

The best candidate for DIY e-book formatting is a work of fiction with plain-vanilla formatting: one that contains nothing more complicated than chapter titles and an occasional subhead. If it contains a map, a diagram, dingbats formatted as jpegs, or anything even faintly out of the ordinary, hire an e-book formatter.

Before you upload your book to kindle . . .

First, write the keywords, category and the description. These are not things you want to scribble on the fly, as they’re presented to you in Kindle’s online form.

The keywords and categories will guide your readers to your book. Think, from a reader’s point of view, what category or keyword a person might search for that would bring up your book. You get two browsing categories (often they do not fit: this book will probably be classified under “self-help” and “crafts and hobbies” ), and seven keywords.

Converting and posting your book to kindle

It is possible to convert a Word document directly to Kindle (i.e., .mobi format) from your “Bookshelf” page. I strongly urge you to rethink this scheme if your book has any level of complexity at all. The book you are reading, for example, will be formatted by a professional.

You will need a correctly designed and sized “cover” image in JPEG format. Please see the previous chapter for discussion of this issue.

I have used Amazon’s online Kindle conversion software for Camptown Races books, which are short, very simple, and contain no formatting other than the book title, the chapter titles, and the paragraphs. For this purpose, it has worked satisfactorily—but bear in mind, readers do not pick up light erotica for its elegant design. Converting any layout more sophisticated than a very plain novel will give you a migraine.

Review your document line by line to be sure you have formatted everything, including single words set in italic or boldface, using the “Styles” function.

In a separate reading, proofread carefully. You may want to get a friend or employee to proofread the copy, since your eye will fill in what your mind knows to be correct, and even with Word’s spell-checker running, you will miss some typos.

Set up a book-seller’s account with Amazon’s Author Central. The instructions are posted online;[5] it’s not as complicated as it looks. Select Kindle Direct Publishing.

You can go through CreateSpace, which has many services and tools for self-publishers. Personally, I use Kindle Direct because I have heard so many horror stories from people who have tried CreateSpace: bad design, second-rate products, poor customer service, various incomprehensible hassles—in my opinion, it’s better to have more direct control over production. You do not need CreateSpace to build an e-book file and publish it to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.

Once you’re registered with Author Central, follow the steps to publish your book from your “Bookshelf” page. This is rote and very simple.

All you have to do is upload your Word file, and Amazon’s software will automatically convert it to Kindle format.

Three things you should know about this process:

  1. Your book cover needs to be prepared as a high quality JPEG—at least 300 dpi—and sized at about 1200 x 1800 pixels. You can’t upload a PDF here.
  2. Amazon has a spellchecker. Even though you think your manuscript is perfect after the ten proofreadings you’ve gone through, and even though the spellchecker flags exotic place names or unusual proper names, it will catch typos that you missed! Every time. Be sure to look at the spellchecker’s results and go through each item.
  3. Amazon gives you two choices for reviewing the completed .mobi file:
  4. You can read it online in Amazon’s online Kindle reader; or
  5. You can download a Kindle reader to your computer, download the .mobi file, and read the thing in your terminal.

Your best choice, hands-down, is to download the Kindle reader, then download the .mobi file and read it in your resident Kindle reader.

While no two Kindle devices necessarily show a given .mobi file the same way, the online Kindle reader at Author Central is a disaster, particularly if you have even slightly complex formatting, or if you have changed the formatting within a document before uploading it.

The first book I published on Amazon contained a lot of lists and several levels of heads and subheads. It looked fine in the online Kindle reader, so I clicked “publish.”

Forthwith, up came an angry review from a reader who complained about a mishmash of weird formatting.

I downloaded the book to my iPad and opened it in the iPad’s Kindle reader and saw she was right: the whole thing was a mess!

I had to remove the book from Amazon, rename it, get a new ISBN, produce all new marketing materials, and hire an e-book formatter to completely reformat the 350-page book from beginning to end.

Back at Author Central, I downloaded the Kindle reader offered there and used that to open the delinquent .mobi file. It, like my unhappy reader’s device, revealed a formatting jumble. So, the message there is don’t, under any circumstances, use Amazon’s online Kindle Reviewer as a quick way to review your book during the upload process.

After you’ve downloaded Author Central’s kindle reader, you can also download the .mobi file to your computer. This allows you to save it to disk. Back up the book in every format you create and store it to an external hard drive: this includes your word-processed version, PDF, .mobi, ePub, and anything else you encounter.

Follow the steps through the online form. Set your price, click on the “agree” box, and click done. Your book will go online within a couple of days.

KDP Direct vs. KDP Select

Amazon will pressure you, at the time you upload your book and in various communications, to join its KDP Select program. Supposedly this step up from the entry-level KDP Direct will supercharge your sales.

Personally, I find KDP Select to be somewhat problematic. Primary reason: when you enroll in KDP Select, you agree to embargo your book. You can’t sell it anywhere but on Amazon: not at Barnes & Noble, not down at the local grocery store, not through Smashwords, not even from your own website.

If you have published the work as a series and also as a “boxed set” or complete book and you have put even one of the serials in KDP Select, the complete book containing the embargoed work is also embargoed!

Additionally, KDP Select limits your pricing to no more than $9.99. If you consider how many hours it takes to write and format a book and how much you could have earned during those hours on a freelance or employee basis, you’ll soon realize that you would have to sell a boatload of books at $9.99 to earn even minimum wage, to say nothing of covering your costs and making the book turn a profit.

KDP Select automatically enrolls your book in Amazon’s “lending” program, which essentially gives your book away for free. The theory here is that people who join the lending program will pay to do so. A pool of money is set aside from these fees, to be paid to authors whose books are “borrowed” in this way.

But Amazon spies on its book users. Those who “borrow” your book must open it and look at a certain number of pages. You are paid—if you’re paid—according to the percentage of the book the reader has eyeballed.

Let me put it this way: you can supercharge a snail. You’ll still have a snail.

To my mind, it’s just not worth giving Amazon full control over where you sell your book and who reads it. Some authors have reported good results from KDP Select; others have seen no change in sales. My guess is that those who are happy with it have strong marketing programs elsewhere and would have seen decent sales had they maintained their independence and stayed with KDP Direct.

I recently ran a one-week KDP Select “countdown” sale of six titles—a cookbook and five erotic romances. I hyped the bargains from one end of the social media to the other. During the entire month of that sale, I sold eighteen books. Revenues were $18.97: about the same as I earn month by month without slashing the prices to 99 cents.

Working with a professional e-book formatter

Let me say it one more time: you are best served by hiring an e-book formatter to convert your book to electronic format. Unless you love spending hour after hour after hour trudging up and down Himalayan learning curves, unless you like wasting your time, and unless frustration is a gratifying emotion for you, please do consider farming out your manuscript to an expert formatter.

E-book formatters not only can save you a great deal of time (and time is money if you write or edit on a contract basis), they also know how to get images to work in electronic files, how to optimize the files for viewing on a wide variety of readers, and how to set them up so that browsing buyers will see the most tempting part of your book first.

Here’s what the person will need:

  • The manuscript, carefully proofread and thoroughly, accurately formatted in your word processor’s “Styles” function.
  • Images in high-quality JPEG format. Each image should be sharp, clear, and at least 300 dpi.
  • Your completed cover, also as a high-quality JPEG.

Be sure your manuscript is as edited as it’s going to get, so as to spare the formatter unnecessary extra work.

 

How to Prepare Your MS for Publishing: Parts of a Book

How to Prepare Your Manuscript for Publishing:
The Parts of a Book

The Complete Writer
Section VII: Publishers and Self-Publishers

 This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays.  You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. You also can find links to the chapters that have appeared so far at our special page for The Complete Writer. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

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Preparing Your Manuscript for Publishing I:
The Parts of a Book

Every book that follows the Chicago Manual of Style—the standard of the book publishing industry—contains certain set parts. These are broadly known as the front matter (half-title or bastard title, title page, copyright page, dedication, epigraph, table of contents, foreword or preface); text (author’s introduction and book’s the main content); and back matter (appendixes, index, author’s bio). Running headers and footers, including pagination, are also part of the book, as are various graphics. The cover, too, is a book part.

Let’s take a brief look at each of these.

Front matter

The half title, sometimes called a bastard title, is the first page of the book. This page displays the main title only, without the subtitle or any other details. It appears on the right-hand side (“recto” page); the back of this sheet (the “verso” page) is left blank, unless the book is part of a series. In that case, the title and volume number of the series, the general editor’s name, and sometimes the titles of previous volumes in the series may appear on the verso side of the half-title.

Often, a paperback does not include a half-title. As you can see, this book has no half-title. Neither do e-books.

The title page starts with the book’s main title. On the next line, the subtitle (if any) should appear, followed by the author’s name and the name and city of the publishing house.

In this book, which was created with a commercial template, the book’s title appears in 36-point Big Caslon small caps; the subtitle is in the same font in 12-point caps and lower-case (cc/lc), and the author’s byline is in 18-point cc/lc. The publisher’s name and city are set in 14-point cc/lc.

No law governs the choice of fonts, the size, or the position. The lines may be centered or flush left, as desired. But the design of the title page should match or be compatible with the design for the content of the book.

The copyright page appears on the back side (verso) of the title page. The copyright statement looks like this:

Copyright YYYY Copyright Holder

or

Copyright © YYYY Copyright Holder

Thus:

Copyright 2016 Oliver Q. Boxankle

If you wish to include a reminder that you will sue the bedoodles out of anyone who infringes on your rights, this is the place to do it:

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

This gassy statement is redundant. The fact that you have a copyright in the material and you have neither sold it nor released it to the public domain means the same thing as the verbiage above. Anything you create in a reproducible medium—including writing—is automatically copyrighted as you create it. You own the copyright on it by virtue of your having made it. Copyright will always belong to you, unless you choose to sell some or all of your rights in the work.

If there’s some other copyright information that should be included, such as acknowledgement of previously published material, include it here.

Some parts of this book originally appeared in The Essential Feature, by Victoria Hay (Columbia University Press, 1990).

Include the name of the publisher and contact information. Some sources suggest you include an address. If you’re self-publishing and working out of your home, obviously this is ill-advised. Instead, include a contact page at your website, or else rent a mailbox through the postal service or a private mailboxes shop. Although you need to include the publisher’s city, do not include an address where anyone can find you in person and do not include a telephone number that rings directly to you personally or to a home office.

Plain & Simple Press
Phoenix, Arizona

Next, credit special contributors, such as graphic artists (cover design, interior design and layout, photographer(s), editor, and the like).

Book Layout ©2013 BookDesignTemplates.com

This credits the designer of the template used to lay out the book’s interior; the template itself is copyrighted. If a graphic designer laid out the interior, credit that artist here; similarly credit the artist who designed your cover, and the photographer (if any) who provided the image.

Don’t neglect to include the edition number and your ISBN on the copyright page.

Book Title/ Victoria Hay. —1st ed.
SBN 978-0-0000000-0-0

You’ll need to get a new ISBN for each new edition, and also for every format in which the book appears. That is, the ePub version has its own ISBN, as does the Kindle version, as does the paperback version, as does the hardback version.

Traditional publishers also include the Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication (CIP) data.[1] Unless you are selling your book through brick-and-mortar bookstores, it’s not necessary. If you hope to get your book into libraries, you’ll need a Library of Congress Preassigned Control Number (PCN) so you can get a CIP, which is required by libraries. CIP is not readily available to self-published authors, and so to navigate these shoals you will need to do some research.[2]

You may include a brief biographical note of the author or other contributors. If this information is given on the copyright page, it appears at the top of the page and the name or names must be consistent with their appearance on the title page. Often, as in this book, the author’s bio appears at the end of the book.

What is an ISBN and why do you need it? Or do you need it?

“ISBN” stands for International Standard Book Number. A special ISBN is set up for each book in a system provided by Bowker.[3] It is a universal, unique identifier that enables publishers and booksellers to manage fulfillment and inventory. Each format for a book must have a separate ISBN.

To get into Books in Print your book must have an ISBN. Libraries will not carry books unless they’re in Books in Print. So, you need an ISBN if you are going to ask your local library to carry your self-published book.

Similarly, brick-and-mortar bookstores require an ISBN. Many barriers to selling in real bookstores confront self-publishers; this is one of them. If you think you want to jump those hurdles, start right away by registering an ISBN with Bowker for your print book.

Contrary to what a certain large retailer would like you to believe, an ASIN is not the same as an ISBN. “ASIN” stands for Amazon Standard Identification Number. It’s just an inventory number for Amazon; it has no meaning in any other context. The ISBN is universally recognized and used by retailers, libraries, distributors, and fulfillers.

You do not need to an ASIN at Amazon because amazon will assign one. An ISBN is needed to sell through most other retailers and for lending libraries.

With the ISBN, you can acquire a bar code for your hard-copy book. All retailers, including Amazon, require a bar code for paperback and hardback books. Once you have the ISBN, you can get a bar code from Bowker, for a fee. However, free bar codes are available on the Internet.[4] A bar code includes your ISBN (providing a tracking number for the retailer and for you) and the book’s retail price.

A dedication or epigraph (or both) may appear after the copyright page. Each of these occupies the recto side (odd-numbered) of its own page, with a blank verso side.

The table of contents appears next, also starting on the recto side of the page. You can generate a table of contents in Word. For electronic publication, this is required (an e-book formatter will create it in HTML ). You should know that at this time Amazon cannot recognize the code used to generate a table of contents on any Apple device or program. Thus if you write in Word for the Mac or in Pages, your TofC will have to be updated in Word, Scrivener, or InDesign for a PC. Be prepared for this frustrating and potentially time-consuming complication.

The foreword, preface. acknowledgments, and introduction follow the table of contents. A preface is written by the author and often signed or initialed. A foreword is written by someone other than the author. It may appear as a selling point: “With a Foreword by [Famous Personage]!”

The introduction may appear as part of the front matter if it is written by someone other than the author. In that case, it should follow the foreword and be paginated in lower-case roman numerals. An introduction written by the author usually is presented as part of the text and paginated in Arabic numerals.

Text

The text is the main body of the book. It consists of the author’s introduction (if any) and the book’s contents. It is divided into chapters that may be organized into parts (as the present book is). Chapters are often subdivided with subheads.

Chapters should be approximately of similar length. Chapter titles should be short and to the point; avoid whimsy and cuteness. Each chapter starts on a recto (odd-numbered) page; no running header appears on a chapter’s first page, although a page number may appear at the bottom of the page. You can move the running header (including the page number) into a running footer on each chapter’s first page. This is tricky to accomplish in Word; you’ll need to Google or otherwise find the instructions for how to do this in your version of Word.

Technically, a chapter title is a level B head (the book title being the level A head). However, layout artists and editors commonly call the chapter title level A, subheads level B, and sub-subheads level C. This is true of most templates designed for use in Word.

Set each section title, chapter title, and subhead in a recognizable, distinct typeface and position. In this book, for example, section titles are set in 20-point Big Caslon, four single spaces below the top margin, [setting these two details in WordPress is beyond my skills!] centered, roman (not boldface, not italic) and numbered with a centered Roman numeral. Thus:

VIII

The Writing Life

The template used to lay out this book includes a special format for the chapter number: gray, roman indented .5 inch, with 48 points before and 12 points after (there are 72 points in an inch—in theory).

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The chapter title itself is set in 24-point Cambria, roman, flush left, 20 points before and 0 points after:

Chapter Title

Subheads are set in Big Caslon 11.5 points, small caps, flush left, with 12 points leading before and 6 points after, and sub-subheads, which generally should be avoided for nonacademic books, also need their own distinctive formatting. Because of the limitations of WordPress, I’m unable to illustrate these here. Many nonfiction books will show examples of subheads.

They may stand alone, like this:

Here Is a Subhead (a B-level head)
A sub-subhead might look like
this…
Or It Might Look Like This

In any event, B-level heads should all be formatted the same.

Subheads at a lower level may be presented in run-in format, like this:

A run-in subhead. In this case the subhead is set, sentence-style, as part of the paragraph. It’s distinguished with bold-face type.

The first paragraph below a chapter head or subhead should be set flush left, no indent, as you will see in the format throughout The Complete Writer.

Back matter

Back matter includes glossaries, lists of place names or proper names, appendixes, endnotes (headed Notes in Chicago style), a bibliography or reference list as needed, a list contributors, the index, and possibly a biography of the author.

The cover

Much has been said among the DIY set about book covers. Although it’s possible to trick one out in Amazon’s cover-building software, in PowerPoint, in Acrobat, in InDesign, or in a freeware program called Gimp, I strongly recommend that you hire a graphic designer to create your cover.

All the programs that allow you to build a DIY cover amount to GIGO: garbage in, garbage out. To create an effective cover that will help sell your book, you need to understand the principles of artistic design, typesetting, cover lines, and configuration for commercial marketability. Designing a cover for an e-book requires a different set of skills and knowledge than designing one for print.

An e-book cover consists only of the “front” cover. Because it is presented in thumbnail size, it must be designed so that its picture, its title, and the author’s byline jump out of a very tiny image.

A cover for a paperback book is designed as a wrap-around: it includes, on the left-hand side, the copy and images for the back cover, set in two or three blocks; then, in the center, the correctly sized spine with the title and author’s name running vertically; and finally, on the right-hand side, the image and cover lines for the front cover. The spine’s width must be calculated and accommodated correctly in the design, with the front and back covers adjusted accordingly. The entire production must be fitted accurately to your book’s trim size: the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the final printed product.

Learning to do these things, learning the software, and doing the job over and over and over until you get it right is about as unfun as unfun can get. Do yourself a favor and hire a designer.

A tidy new “publishing” scheme

As you know if you follow “News & Chat,” the P&S Press blog, I’ve been amusing myself (and possibly you, with any luck!) by posting chapters here from three self-publishable books: The Complete Writer, Ella’s Story, and If You’d Asked Me… (the latter being the world’s finest collection of bathroom reading).

This self-imposed task got to be a little much, when I insensately decided that a chapter of each should go up each week. That is, each week would see publication of not one, not two, but three bookoid chapters here at P&S Press.

So I decided to put the brakes on that.

The inchoate result didn’t seem especially well organized, to my mind. And since Ella is a work in (very slow) progress, it still didn’t leave enough time to draft a full chapter between deadlines.

So I’ve come up with a new schedule: One chapter a week of just one book, which will go up whenever I get around to it, but no later than Friday of a given week. Bookoids will rotate: first Writer, then Asked, then Ella.

In theory, this shouldn’t be difficult…and wouldn’t be, if WordPress hadn’t kindly deleted all the formatting I installed in months’ worth of The Complete Writer. Thought I was getting away with something, but nooooo…. To prepare that thing (and, it develops, all of the things), I had to create separate posts for the remaining un”published” chapters and “schedule” them in WordPress.

And that, as you can imagine, was a royally time-consuming task.

Now I’d like to do the same for Asked, all of whose content is tucked away in a manuscript that I’ve had neither time nor inclination to upload to Kindle. This also will take many hours…just not this hour.

Ella is, of course, still under way. What you see is all I’ve got! 😀 And the next chapter may or may not get written by the next deadline. Pray for the best.

Part of the plan, too, is to publish links to the published chapters at this site’s pages for The Complete Writer, If You’d Asked Me, and Ella’s Story in table-of-contents type lists. I managed to get this done for Complete Writer, but the other two remain. Once the existing posts are linked to entries on those pages, all that will appear there will be a TofC with live entries, rather than the aggregated content of the book in question.

This will make life a lot simpler for me! And since I usually have my links open in a new tab, a reader could in theory toggle back and forth between a bookoid’s TofC and its contents, easily and smoothly.

So it all sounds great, eh? Alas, though, these time-sucking projects have been much complicated by Life, the Universe, and All That: one crisis after another, to say nothing of the distraction that is paying work. My little dog has hovered near death for the past six or eight weeks (amazingly, she finally seems to be recovering). Friends have died. I crashed my car. The veterinary and house-maintenance adventures are running me out of money…

All that and more (if you like to follow real-life soap opera, you can do it at Funny about Money by entering the category “dispatches from hell” in the search bar at the upper right)…yes, all that and more have tended to work against the project to write Ella’s Story. When I have time to think about it, I’m so exhausted I can barely move, much less dream up new copy. So…I may not be able to keep up even with the new, attenuated schedule.

We shall see.

Meanwhile, watch this space. Whenever I get the energy to write it, I’ll publish a rough schedule for future posts.

Speaking of exhaustion, I cannot type another word. And so, to bed…

 

Self-Publishing: REALLY? The Complete Writer *Free Reads*

The Complete Writer

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays.  You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

Section VII: Publishing and Self-Publishing

32

Self-Publishing: Really?

Know how to get a small fortune?

Start with a large fortune and publish a book.

(Cue laugh track)

 That old chestnut wouldn’t be so funny if it weren’t so true. As a practical matter, most people make nothing on self-published books. They soon find their magnum opus interests no one but themselves, and the whole project turns into an expensive hobby.

At this writing, I have a pricey Facebook Ads campaign plus several other efforts under way, by way of peddling one of the forty-eight books and bookoids my two imprints have put online at Amazon. It’s been going on for several months. So far we’ve sold a few copies of the cookbook in Kindle—and far more of them in hard-copy through face-to-face marketing—three copies of Slave Labor, an occasional copy here or there of the erotic shorties. And we have sold a few copies of the beloved novel. Not for lack of trying: serial versions of the thing have earned five-star reviews.

The books that do sell with a little regularity—the “racy books” published through Camptown Races Press—do not even come within shouting distance of breaking even on ad investment.

The cookbook sold smartly to a group of friends but in the wide world is barely noticeable on Amazon.

Yesterday as I took a break from hour after hour after crushing, unpaid hour of recovering a 325-page book our software had corrupted for reasons unknown, I reflected on the causes for this.

Books have never been easy to sell.

Unless you have a platform from which to market them—a business with a broad reputation or one that does something relevant to the book’s subject matter—you will have to hustle madly to bring your book to anyone’s attention. That has ever been so, yea verily since long before the Amazon disruption.

Digital publishing amplifies that difficulty

Amazon has made the marketing challenge infinitely more difficult. Without literary agents and publishing houses as gatekeepers, the market is now flooded with dreck and chaff. Not just flooded: we’re talkin’ tsunami here.

Readers know that about 80 to 90 percent of books offered on Amazon and waypoints are junk or self-serving marketing tools. They also know, if they’re at all savvy, that they can acquire most of the stuff—and even some readable books—for free. So of course they’re not about to pay you enough to cover your time and skills. Not when they think they shouldn’t have to pay you anything at all.

So, the nature of the market has changed: not for the better, where people who write for a living are concerned.

A fly-by-night enterprise from the git-go

Then we have the issues inherent to self-publishing that have always worked against independent writers: publishing a book or periodical and getting people to buy it requires a full staff of workers. It’s not something one little person working alone is likely to succeed with.

Every time I’ve published a book through a mainline publishing house—and I’ve published three of them, not counting the ones I’ve worked on for my employers or the ones my business has packaged for other publishers—I’ve worked with an acquisitions editor, a copyeditor, a layout artist, a proofreader, a marketer, and various secretaries and admins.

The first magazine I worked for, which published the occasional easy-to-market book, had five editors, three graphic designers, four or five ad space sales staff, and a publisher whose job was to market the publication. The next magazine had three high-powered editors, a fact-checker, a photo editor, four graphic artists, a production director, and a marketing department. It also had a book division with its own editor and designers.

To make a self-published book fly, you need to do the work of all those specialists.

And you’re not a specialist. If you are, it’s as a writer, not as an artist, a marketer, a sales rep, an acquisitions editor, a production manager, a copyeditor, or a proofreader.

The likely upshot

Because you’re an amateur at seven in eight of the jobs that need to be done to write, produce, and sell a book, your chances of success are almost nil. But even if you were expert in all those lines of work, you’re only one person: there’s no way you can do the work of eight people and do it well.

That’s why you’re better off trying to sell your book idea or manuscript to a mainstream publisher. And it’s why, if you have a lot of money to start with and are willing to subsidize your book by hiring the talent needed to put it together and sell it, self-publishing means you’re likely to end up with a lot less money.

All is not irredeemable gloom and doom, though. In fact, there are some good reasons to self-publish. In some circumstances, self-publishing can be the most reasonable, most economical, and most successful way to reach a targeted, interested audience. Stay tuned for chapter 33 to learn when and why to publish your own book.

FREE READS, Amazon, and the Price of Beans

For SEO purposes, what is our subject? The rip-off that is Amazon Kindle Unlimited. There. Now that we have the keywords in the first graf, let us move on.

So…here’s the thing: You can come here to my site and read my golden words, FREE, any time you please. Not one, not two, but three of my bookoids are serialized here, for your delectation, as *FREE READS* — oh, hallelujah brothers and sisters. But if I’m going to give my stuff away for free, I am going to give it away for free. That would be I and only I. No one else is going to profit on it, except maybe you. And that would be in the sense that maybe you will be able to derive some mild pleasure from these scribblings, in an idle moment, without having to pay for it.

Amazon, however — that fine disruptor of the publishing industry — tries to arrogate that privilege to itself. It offers several plans through which you, the “author,” can make your literary properties available to the public. One of them is “Kindle Unlimited,” a sort of lending library, whereby customers pay a small flat rate to access as many books as they please. In theory, these subscription payments are aggregated into a pool, a part of which is to be divided up among the writers who agree to offer their books through the plan. Writers are to be paid, we’re told, according to the number of pages readers read in the books they download onto their devices.

Now, we won’t even get into the matter of how fuckin’ outrageous it IS that Amazon peers over its customers’ shoulders, spying not only on what they read but on how much of it they read and when they read it. To my mind, that is unacceptable, and it is one of several reasons I do not read books in Kindle or any other electronic format.

But that is a different outrage from the outrage at hand. The outrage at hand, delivered today in the form of a report of the amount of “royalties” Amazon direct-deposited to my bank account, looks like this:

You may have to click on this image to see the details. Or not: WordPress really does not want to reproduce it in a reasonable size. But here’s what the graph above shows in spreadsheet format:

The book that I posted to Amazon using this “lending library” scheme is a cookbook and diet guide called 30 Pounds/4 Months. Somebody, somewhere, elected to download it and look at it. (To my mind one does not exactly “read” a cookbook, although it does contain chapters on dieting and healthy eating that an enthusiast might sit through from beginning to end.)

On March 31, Amazon registered that someone (or ones) read 334 print pages. The book  contains 281 pages. Explanation? a) Amazon is counting the front and back matter as “pages”‘; or b) Amazon weirdly defines a “page” as something much shorter than the standard 220-250 words; or c) more than one person read the book during an arbitrary period measured by Amazon’s software and reported on arbitrary dates. Probably, I think, the second, but who knows? Certainly not the peons who write the content Amazon peddles.

On April 3, person or persons unknown read 61 pages.

On or by April 14, someone read another 346 pages.

That adds up to 742 pages. Since the book is only 281 pages long, it means the equivalent of 2.65 copies of the book was accessed and read on Amazon.

And how much did I earn on the rental of three books?

Nothing.

That’s right: $0.00.

Not that a tiny fraction of $9.99 would matter. But it would at least not be effin’ insulting.

To add injury to that insult, Amazon embargoes any book you post on Kindle Unlimited. Give it away for free at Amazon, and you are not allowed to sell or give it away anywhere else.

No. Not even on your own website.

So if I wanted to add 30 Pounds/4 Months to the *FREE READS* here at Plain & Simple Press, Amazon could (and very well might) sic its lawyers on me.

Why, you ask, did I choose to avail myself of this self-defeating merchandising plan?

Mostly out of curiosity: I wanted to see if it actually would move books.

And yeah. It does. But interestingly, that is beside the point.

Basically what it does is force me to give away my work for free, or next to it.

Well, folks, here’s how I see this:

If you’re going to give your books away for free, you might as well give them away for free yourself, on your own site or to your favorite charities or to your friends and relatives or to your business customers or to your local libraries.

Forking them over to a vast monopolistic corporation that has set its sights on pushing all its competition out of business, homogenizing retail in the US and around the world, and dictating what manufacturers, writers, publishers, and retailers will be allowed to earn on their products is, in  a word, self-defeating.

Working for free is nothing more than slave labor. You’d do better to teach college courses on an adjunct basis — bringing up another whole generation of sheeple to work for vast monopolies for free.

You can look at it through another lens: as a hobby. And that is how I do regard the three works I’m making available to you just now, here at P&S Press. I write as I breathe…it’s what I do. I can, in the same way that I can knit a sweater or cook up a pan of lasagne, make the product of that hobby activity available to one and all for free.

That’s pretty much the definition of a hobby.

Amazon is working to redefine publishing as a hobby. If that’s what you want to do — make a hobby of your writing skills — fine and good. But don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s anything else.

 

Reamed, Steamed, and Dry-Cleaned

Welp, it’s only quarter to eight in the evening, but I’m simply too whipped to build the page and post the first chapter for the third book in progress — which unlike the other two, really is a work in progress — that I plan to publish here at Plain & Simple Press.

Not that I’ve done that much today. Here’s the thing: I finally gave in to CardioDoc’s entreaties that I try the mildest blood-pressure drug he can think of, even though I question that it’s necessary at all. It’s a long story, but shall we say it was recently punctuated by a PA at the Mayo opining that she would not prescribe any meds for an average blood pressure in the 120s/80s.

I’ve resisted: the reason being that I’m hypersensitive to prescripton and nonprescription drugs. As a child, I almost died from a reaction to a popular antibiotic of the time, administered for a cat scratch — the doctor told my mother I would not live through the night. Oddly enough, he was wrong…hence a world plagued by my presence. I’m even allergic to aspirin. And acetaminophen. And ibuprofen. And iodine. Who knows? Maybe I’m even allergic to allergy pills.

If one in ten thousand people has some weird, rare, exotic reaction to a drug, I am invariably that person. But a few spikes — one of them a breathtaking 165/105 — have been alarming. Yes. Alarmed, I decided to capitulate and have been swallowing pills for the past couple weeks.

So since this supposedly benign med has kicked in and indeed has depressed my blood pressure into the subterranean range, I have felt so tired, so weary, and so foggy that I can barely function. Getting through an ordinary day’s to-do list leaves me falling-down exhausted.

Today there wasn’t that much to do:

  • Take the dogs for a mile-long walk
    • Didn’t get far with that. There was so much traffic on the ‘hood’s main feeder street, I couldn’t get across it, so we had to take another route that only walked up about 3/4 of a mile
  • Download data from bank and credit-card accounts, figure out the accountant’s new spreadsheet system, and install the data in the spreadsheets she sent.
    • I truly hate Quickbooks. I truly hate Excel. I truly hate crunching numbers. This tooth-grinding, three-pronged chore absorbed about three tedious hours from Hell.
  • Check pool chemicals and adjust.
    • Done: almost out of chlorine
  • Change out pool pump pot basket. Clean.
    • Done. Notice filter’s pressure is rising; automatic cleaner is slowing down. Mental  note: cope with that. Later.
  • Post to writer’s group at Facebook.
    • Done. Just barely.
  • Post to Funny about Money
  • Haul six wicker chairs back outside, the rain having stopped and the chance of more estimated at nil.
    • Done. Dinged a newly painted wall in the process and so had to…
    • …clean and repair damage inflicted by that exploit.
  • Inspect K-1 for an investment made, years ago, by my ex- and me in a land fraud bank. Package it up and haul it over to Wonder-Accountant’s place.
    • Done.
  • Post a chapter of Ella’s Story here at P&S Press
    • Sooo…NOT done.
      • Discover that Wyrd has lost data in what appears to be the latest version of the Ella’s Story file. Search, search, search, and frigging SEARCH SOME MORE trying to find it.
      • Eventually I do recover what I believe to be the latest file (though have not searched Time Machine’s back-up of DropBox, because that’s more techno-frenzy than I care to take on.
      • Am reminded, though, that I drafted recent parts of the partially lost chapter in ink, on paper, by hand. Could it be?
        • YES! Find the lost copy scrawled across the pages of an artist’s sketchpad.

Decide to post chapter tomorrow, thankyouverymuch.

One of the other interesting effects of this fine antihypertensive drug is that every time I fly into a hummingbird-like rage, along come a hot flash and a screaming headache. Apparently it drops the blood pressure so much (under 110/75) that my system can no longer handle a true, elegant, and fully realized flying rage.

Lord, spare us.

A new route to self-publishing? An inchoate idea

Okay, so we know that self-publishing on Amazon and waypoints is no big money-maker, at least not for most folks. We also know that some of us “publish” our squibs not because we want to get rich or become famous writers, but because we’d like to share our creative extrusions with the few people in the world who might care to read them. In thinking about this state of affairs, an inchoate idea comes to mind..

If you’re going to publish for free, why pretend that you’re publishing for a profit? Why not just…yes…publish for free?

Self-publishing begins to make sense when you think of it not as a potential money-maker but simply as a way to get stuff that is written for the fun of writing to people who read for the fun of reading. 

In a word, it’s not a business; it is a hobby.

With that thought in mind — particularly where a novel-in-progress is concerned — how would this work? How would you get your scribblings to the greatest number of interested readers at the least cost?

Here’s a strategy that comes to mind. I would love to know what readers think of this scheme and what you would add, subtract, multiply, or divide.

§

• First, write the magnum opus. You could either write and polish the entire novel, or you could write a few chapters and publish them serially as you go, much as, say, Charles Dickens wrote his novels. Serial publication was popular in the 19th century and even all the way through the middle of the 20th century. I can remember following stories in The Saturday Evening Post…and for heaven’s sake, the digital publishing universe invites serialization. It’s surprising that we don’t see serialization again. Not in the sense of a series of genre novels, but as publication of a single work in regularly appearing segments.

Post teasers on Facebook. These would be scenes or descriptive passages or bits of dialogue that leave the reader wanting (you hope!) to read more. Link from there to your website, where an entire serial might be posted.

• Post teasers at Amazon, for free, inviting people to come to the website for more. Here is how you would do this:

Take one or more of your serials (enough to make some sense and to intrigue the reader), put them together into one manuscript, and format the thing as a short e-book. This might be, say, 5,000 to 10,000 words. Make it clear in there that this is part of a larger work, and if they want to read the rest of the story, they should come to your website where they can follow it, for free, or download a free copy of the whole noveloid.

Publish this squib — with the plug for other parts of it included in the bookoid — through Amazon’s KDB program and set the price as $0.00. That is, publish it for free. Doing so will cause a few readers at Amazon to notice and read the book, and they will notice that you are publishing more serials at your website: free.

Back at your website, serialize the story, for free, in the form of blog posts. (A good WordPress template will allow you to create website a with a static front page, pages to advertise your products, and a blog — that is what you are reading now, at this P&S Press site.

You don’t have to buy a domain name if you make the blog name a subdomain. So this would allow you to have a single website, in your name or in your business’s name, with a series of subdomains bearing your separate novels’ names. This is very easy.

When you finally complete a seralized book, offer it — in digital format only — for sale at Amazon and/or on the site. You can do this easily, for free, if the book does not have a lot of graphic content. Any novel will upload handsomely to Amazon’s Kindle format.

This is the only part of the process that should cost you anything: you might want to have it copyedited or at least proofread. If you’re an accomplished, literate writer with experience in publishing, you may find that unnecessary, though most people are helped by another set of eyes to read the copy.

If you want to ask money for it, when it goes on Amazon, offer it for what you’re charging at the website…or maybe even more. At your Website, you can offer it in ePub format, which can be read on practically any device, or in PDF. Either of these formats can be prepared for free. You can make an ePub book in Scrivener, and any Mac or PC will make a very fine PDF, which you can “lock” to keep it from being copied.

But if you felt you just must make some money on it, once you built a decent readership, you could sell advertising within the book, in the same way magazines, newspapers, and websites sell ad space. Indeed, nineteenth-century fictional works did carry advertising. Writing a genre novel? Suggest to other scribblers in your genre that they buy ad space in your book or on your website. Doesn’t cost you anything, so even a few pennies is pure profit for you.

Electronic publishing is essentially free. The only part of the process of bringing finished copy to the reader that should cost you any money is preparing printed, hard-copy books. Otherwise, plain-vanilla text without a lot of jpegs, tables, and graphs is so simple to convert to digital format you need not pay anyone to do it for you.

So. Publishing is free. What that means is that if you don’t care whether you make any money on your golden words — if you write and distribute your content as a kind of hobby — there is  no reason at all to pay to have it published. No reason to produce it as a bound book in hard copy. No reason to distribute it in any other way than as a freebie give-away.

Why not?

Self-Publishing: The Tsunami

Y’know… I’ve self-published a number of my own (lesser…) efforts. I do not make any pretenses as to their superiority or lack thereof. And I think it’s delightful that an independent, unknown author can take her beloved magnum opus to its audience of two (if she’s lucky) and tell herself that she’s “published.”

But… My god, there should be a limit!

Problem No. 1 is the same problem we’ve always had with this route to the public: in the absence of a gatekeeper, any kind of schlock can go to print and distribution. And believe me, it does.

Problem No. 2: Amazon et alii have made the self-publishing process so easy that we now have an indiscriminate flood of schlock. It saturates the book market.

It saturates Amazon to the extent that you can’t tell whether you’re ordering a decent book or not. People put up their friends and hire hacks to post glowing reviews, and so if you sort an Amazon search by customer reviews, a slew of apparently stellar volumes will pop to the head of the list.

They’re stellar, all right. In the sense that a red dwarf star is stellar. Dull and glowing by the light of spent radiation.

An example of this struck the other day, here at The Copyeditor’s Desk. We would like to offer proposal writing services through our little business. As a faculty member at Arizona State University, I wrote a few proposals, and in an earlier incarnation, my little business picked up a number of jobs by answering federal RFPs. And I spent several terms — nigh unto a decade — on the Arizona Humanities Council’s board of directors. All we did there was read, assess, and decide whether to reject or approve proposals.

So I do know how a proposal works.

However, it’s been awhile. Given that times do change, I figured I’d better cobble together a DIY refresher course to bring my skills up to date before offering us up on the open market as proposal writers.

First off, I spotted a course offered through a national association of grant writers. It was pricey, but I could add people to it, so I subscribed for myself and my associate editor.

Result: middling. Apparently there’s not enough to say on the subject to fill several hours of video time — certainly not enough time to justify charging what that outfit charges — and so the instructor bloviates. On and on and eye-glazingly on. The content ranges from saccharine pep talk to entire segments dedicated to telling viewers what she’s going to say next.

I do not have time to waste like that (nor, truth to tell, did I have the money to waste on the thing…).

Insight: I need a book: a guide to proposal writing.

So I go to Amazon and see there’s really not much out there. Well: there is, but there isn’t. Most of the hits on searches for “grant writing” and “proposal writing” receive mediocre reviews. The ones that show near the top — one, for example, in the “Dummies” series — appear to have arrived there grâce à self-promotion of the most vigorous type.

I go back to the online course, waste some more time listening to hot air. Lose patience. Give up.

Drive down to the only surviving general bookstore in the city. They have exactly NOTHING on the subject, and the place is so over-run with Christmas shoppers I have to prize my way into a harassed clerk’s attention. She directs me to a) the business section (nooo…) and b) the wanna-be writer’s section (noooo to the power of ten).

Damn!  Back to Amazon. This time I filter the search in order of customer reviews. Several how-to books on grant writing appear, festooned with five-star decoration.

Order one that looks like it might be OK.

First warning sign: it takes for-freaking ever for the thing to be shipped: ten days or two weeks.

Now it finally arrives. I tear open the package to find this thing printed on the cheapest of all possible paper with one of those cheesy covers that curls up the first time you open the book and then stays curled for all eternity. Evidently self-published, despite bearing the name of a prominent East-Coast publisher.

Well, yes. Look closely at the copyright page and you learn that said venerable publisher has added self-publishing to its wares.

This outfit’s name on your copyright page looks grand, but evidently the author got no more publishing services than I would get running my copy through the PoD press I use. In fact, my guys produce a much better-looking book.

Oh well.

Now I start to read the thing.

First thing I come to is the advice that you must L-O-O-O-O-V-E your cause and your work to be a successful grant writer.

Oh.

Effing.

BARF!!!!!

I’ve just sat through hours of the same kind of bloviation, transparently intended to fill space in the expensive video for which customers are charged a L-O-O-O-O-V-E-ly pretty penny.

When you’re trying to learn a professional skill, you do not need a pep talk. You need a road map.

Where was this woman’s editor?

Absent, apparently, along with her common sense.

Herein lies the problem: It’s too easy to churn this stuff out. It’s too easy to get it published on Amazon. It’s too easy to hire a printer to make a fake book out of it. It’s w-a-a-a-y too easy to put people up to posting bushels of ecstatic reviews at Amazon.

The result is, we have an ocean of trash out there, much of it deceptively packaged. I would not have purchased this book if I had realized it was self-published blather. Which, my dears, is exactly what it is.

Therein lies the problem with self-publishing. The tripartite problem, really: it acts on authors and publishing houses as it acts on readers. Videlicet: in the absence of a discerning gatekeeper’s eye — without an editor, a marketer, and a publisher who knows what quality work looks like and who has a decent sense what will sell and what will not sell — we are all awash in a sea of mediocrity.

For authors: we don’t know whether what we’re emitting is worth the hot air we expend on it…or not. We always think our stuff is wonderful. So does our mother. Our friends…maybe not so much, but you can be sure that they want to stay our friends and so they tell us that yes, yes, we’re so right: our stuff is wonderful.

This will happen even if what our stuff deserves is a one-sentence form letter reading “This is something that we cannot publish.”

It’s damn hard to blossom when you’re standing in a field overgrown with weeds. And how do you compete with someone who hires people or puts friends and acquaintances and customers up to blitzing Amazon with five-star reviews? Most writers hang out in the garret writing because they prefer their own company. We’re not  marketers. We’re not social butterflies. We’re writers. And that would be why we need publishers (real ones, that is), complete with marketing apparatus.

For publishers: they can bust their buns to put out the best books imaginable by the most gifted writers in creation. Good luck bringing them to a public drowning in schlock. Who wants even to be bothered to look for a decent book, at this point? Why, when I can find what I want online? No, it’s not all in one place, and it’s not all in a convenient form that I can pull off the six-foot shelf when I need a reference. But hey: it’s free, and I do know that something from the National Institutes of Health or PBS is likely not to be schlock.

And as for the public? One word. Schlock.

What Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book?

Gutenberg rocks!

A friend who’s active in a lively writer’s group sends along an infographic showing what Reedsy, an ambitious outfit providing services to self-publishing authors, estimates to be the cost of self-publishing, based on its own internal data

It’s pretty interesting. After many little pictures and much self-promotion, the authors conclude that the cost of a self-published book runs from $2,500 to $4,000.

I’m not going to argue with their figures, except to say that if they’re charging less than two cents a word for their contract editors, then their editors, who presumably split the fee with the referring company, are not earning market rates. Not by a long shot. This would mean many or most of them are in Third World countries — India, for example, does a brisk business in providing editorial and design services at less than US minimum wage. Reedsy’s site features editors living in the UK, but without signing up for their service, you can’t see more than two or three bios.

What I will argue with, though, is the assertion that the costs they’ve included add up to “how much it costs to self-publish a book.”

The figures they offer do not include marketing, distribution, or fulfillment. And truth to tell: if no one knows about your book, no one is gonna buy it.

Marketing is and should be a major line item in your self-publishing business plan budget.

And once you’ve sold the book to a customer or two, getting it to them isn’t free, either. Although some people will tell you that CreateSpace will print and distribute your hard-copy book for free, that is not true.

Amazon itself takes a cut of 20% to 40% of sale price. CreateSpace then takes its cut: a fixed charge and a per-page charge. These depend on the length and design of the book:

Fixed Charges

Fixed charges vary depending on your book’s page count and whether your book’s interior is black and white or full-color.

Amazon.com, CreateSpace eStore, and Expanded Distribution
Black and white books with 24-108 pages $2.15 per book
Black and white books with 110-828 pages $0.85 per book
Full-color books with 24-40 pages $3.65 per book
Full-color books with 42-500 pages $0.85 per book
Amazon Europe
Books printed in Great Britain £0.70 per book
Books printed in continental Europe €0.60 per book

Per-Page Charge

Books with higher page counts may also have a per-page charge.

Amazon.com, CreateSpace eStore, and Expanded Distribution
Black and white books with 24-108 pages None
Black and white books with 110-828 pages $0.012 per page
Full-color books with 24-40 pages None
Full-color books with 42-500 pages $0.07 per page
Amazon Europe
Black and white books printed in Great Britain £0.01 per page
Full-color books printed in Great Britain £0.045 per page
Black and white books printed in continental Europe €0.012 per page
Full-color books printed in continental Europe €0.06 per page

That is not free, especially when Amazon (of which CreateSpace is a creature) constantly exerts downward pressure on pricing.

Let’s take a look at what some other folks say about the cost of a self-published book.

Over at The Creative Penn, a pretty credible and dependable site, proprietor Joanna Penn ticks off a list of standard services:

Editing: $300 to $2,000
Cover design: $50 to $300
Formatting: $50 to $200

That gives a range of $400 to $2,500…again not counting marketing, printing (for hard copy), and fulfillment. (“Fulfillment” in publishing means the process of delivering a book, magazine, or newspaper.)

The Write Life got four writers to report costs for editing; cover design; interior layout, formatting, and ebook conversion (odd, because these are three different things); printing; sales and distribution costs (most of the writers mistakenly believed these were free through Amazon or Smashwords), and launch and marketing costs.

The results here, I’m afraid, reflect the respondents’ naiveté. Sales and distribution, as explained above, are not free services: you pay a cut of the sales price to Amazon and (for print books) to CreateSpace. The so-called “royalty” you receive (more properly termed “net revenue”) reflects these cuts.

Additionally, some of the respondents did one or more of the publishing tasks themselves. This is fine if you’re an editor and a trained designer; otherwise…well, you’re in “where angels fear to tread” territory.

The four authors self-report their costs:

Hope: $250 for cover design; all other aspects DIY
Catherine: $1,250 for ebook conversion, cover design, and editing
Joanna: $1,650 for “editing and print formatting, bartering for cover design, plus BookBub ad fees”
Dana: $150 for editing and illustration, and “$5 per month for distribution”

That’s a far cry from $2,500 to $4,000. On the other hand, with that much amateur editing and design, you can be sure the low-end books looked like their authors spent next to nothing on them. Nothing but their time, that is.

Let’s visit one more site: MediaShift. There we find a different set of estimates for what is described as “a high-quality book” of about 70,000 words.

Developmental editing: $2,520 to $18,200
Copyediting: $840 to $7,000
Cover design: $150 to $3,500
Formatting for print and digital conversion: free to $2,500
ISBN: $125 for one (if you buy in bulk the per-item price is much lower)
Distribution: free (again, this is questionable)
Printing: depends on length and design (I pay $6 to $8 per book, give or take)
Pre-publication reviews: Kirkus, $425; BlueInk Reviews, $396; PW Select, $149
Marketing and PR: $100 to $5,000

Since the other websites neglect to mention the cost of marketing, selling, and distribution, by way of comparing apples and oranges let’s pull out the editing, design and e-book conversion, then add up the cost of peddling the thing, and then tote up all the costs.

  • Editing, copyediting, cover design, and formatting: $3,510 to $31,200
    ISBN, distribution, printing (for, let us say, 100 books), reviews (low end: one review on PW Select, high end, all three outlets), and marketing and PR: $974 to $6,895
  • Total: $4484 to $38,095

Holy sh!t.

Welp, I’d advise that you are screaming crazy if you pony up $39,000 to self-publish your book.

On the other hand, you’re not much less crazy if you try to do most or all of the job yourself —  unless, of course, you’re an expert in writing, editing, design, layout, book marketing, and fulfillment.

The problem is, some of us may indeed be expert in some of these areas. If you know how to do page layout or cover design, you can save some dollars in book production. If you’re a really good writer (in reality, not in your own mind) and you have some copyediting skills, maybe you can cut some costs there, though you should at least have a proofreader go over the manuscript before taking the thing to press. But most of us are not expert in all the areas.

In my experience — which is now considerable, for I have self-published five books and published three others through real, mainline presses — the Creative Penn’s estimates for editing, cover design, and formatting are about right. Though I think MediaShift’s low-end guess for all the rest of the necessary services is too low, as a start-up cost for printing, distribution, and marketing, $975 is about right. Seven grand for those services seems a little high, unless you’re making money on the book; probably a realistic figure is $2,000 to $5,000. If you’re not turning a profit by the time you’ve spent that much, it’s time to cut your losses.

So, what does it cost to self-publish a book? You can do it on the cheap, if you don’t care how the product looks or how many copies you sell: maybe $150 to around $1,250. If you’re serious about selling it, probably something upward of $4,000.

AH HAH! Moment: A new use for indexes

So here I am, dragging through the index for 420 pages of the new book, The Complete Writer.

On the side, I index books for a living. I’ve gotten pretty good at it over the past several years. But must admit: indexing makes my eyes glaze over.

After I’d compiled this index, a previously unnoticed pagination error surfaced in the content. This dork-up required me to rewrite the whole damn index — that would be SEVEN single-spaced pages in 10-point type and double columns.

Then as I was contemplating the result, it occurred to me that the example I’d used for the chapter on how to write sex scenes was so tame that…well..it wasn’t really a sex scene. I’d tried to be nicey-nice, not wanting to offend anyone’s dainty sensibilities. Bad idea: offend no one, accomplish nothing. So I lifted a livelier scene from one of the Roberta Stuart books, a romp concocted by one of Camptown Races’ best writers. That changed the pagination again, from page 235 forward.

{sigh}

So now I had to rewrite the effing index again. It’s finally done, all the way from A for abstraction ladder to Z for Zinsser.

For writers: How to jump-start your creative engine when you're stuck

W… “How to Beat Writer’s Block”

As I got about into the R’s, it occurred to me an index to a book would serve nicely as an index to public speaking topics.

Yeah…

One of the plans for marketing this book entails doing presentations for groups of writers, students, and the like, at which I will offer folks a marvelous opportunity to buy the thing.

R…
….Revision
……..six-step strategy, 57-66

Et voilà! There’s a dog-&-pony show: “Six Steps to Revising Your Book”!

S…
….Scams, 343-49

S...Six Scams to Avoid

S…”Six Scams to Avoid”

Yeah! “Avoid these Five Scams for Writers”!

Too, too good, isn’t it? Nowhere near as good as

S…
….Sex scenes, writing, 343-49

Woo hoo! “How to Write Sizzling Sex Scenes!”

It gets better and better.

Well, come Thursday I have to give a presentation to a business group I belong to. Now’s my chance to start practicing these things! 😀 I think probably “Scams for Writers” would be better for this august bunch than, say, “Sizzling Sex Scenes.” Not that they wouldn’t enjoy contemplating that particular aspect of the writer’s art. Just that…well…I’d never hear the end of it from that bunch. 😀

So there you go, fellow scribblers. If you have a nonfiction book that’s substantial enough for an index, use the index as a source for public speaking topics. The index entries work a lot better for the purpose than does the table of contents, because they’re much more specific: better focused. And if your index is complete, it’ll point you right to the material you need to create a presentation.

S...How to Write Sizzling Sex Scenes

S…”How to Write Sizzling Sex Scenes”