Category Archives: Self-publishing

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

The Complete Writer
Part VI. Ethics and Legality: Rights, Obligations, and Risks

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”

Let’s Get Real…About Self-Publishing

Yes. Let’s get real. In self-publishing, a few people make a little money on their books. A very few make a lot of money on their books. But most self-publishers run in the red.

Tips to help make writing a priority when life is busy.

One of these days…

P&S Press makes a little money (very little) on its proprietor’s golden words. But most of the press’s revenues have come from helping others prepare their books for publication: that is to say, The Copyeditor’s Desk is the main driver of income for the entire incorporated enterprise.

In consideration of that reality, some time ago I stopped actively trying to sell Plain & Simple books. Revenues from Amazon have remained the same, whether I hustle as hard as I can or whether I just let the stuff sit there: about $15 to $19 a month.

Fifteen bucks a month…on over 40 titles. That’s combined Plain & Simple Press and Camptown Races output. And no, speaking of Camptown Races: soft-core “erotica” does not sell better than ordinary nonfiction or genre novels.

A couple new books of my own are in the works — but they get put aside whenever paying work comes in from a client.

That means, in effect, they’re always set aside. Every single time I sit down to format the boob book for print or finish off the guide to writing & publishing, someone shows up at the virtual door asking me to edit this magnum opus or to index that scholarly tome. So…I’m always busy, but rarely busy on my own stuff.

“My own stuff” is, de facto, no longer a business but a hobby.

Nor was it ever much other than a hobby, given that it ran the S-corporation deep into the red. If I land the indexing project presently under consideration, that fee will bring the bottom line back to where it was before I took to sailin’ the Amazon. But just barely. And it’s taken over a year to do it.

The plan now is to keep on writing, in idle hours, to publish the stuff on Amazon, to make it available in hard copy whenever there’s something to publish. But I’m not spending any more money on it. And it will always go on the back burner whenever a paying customer shows up.

My own writing will revert to hobby status, to be posted on Amazon much as one displays one’s quilts or needlework or pecan pies at the County Fair.

If I can get one or more of the local colleges to let me teach extension courses — the “lifelong learning” sort of thing — I may use the writing guide as a “suggested text” (we’re not allowed to require people to buy our own books). That will sell a few. But otherwise, that will be about it in the marketing department.

Marketing is what costs you money. And time.

Since time supposedly is money, you could say book marketing costs you money in spades. It’s a huge time suck, and unless you like marketing, have nothing else to do, and love diddling away your time on social media, it’s an ongoing annoyance.

If you enjoy sales and marketing, I’m sure it’s fun. I personally don’t: if I were good at marketing, as we scribble I’d be making a decent living selling cars or refrigerators or radio ad space. Writers don’t live in their garrets because they so love hustling wares, their own or anyone else’s.

 

Pen-Names, Pseudonyms: When, Where, Why, and How?

When and how to write under a pen name - useful stuffA friend, in the course of chatting about the Publishing Empire, asked how you go about using a pen-name, and by the way…when and where would you use a pseudonym, and why?

Well, the why can be pretty obvious: if you’re tattling on the President of the United States and the CIA, it’s probably wise to call yourself something like Deep Throat.

There are other reasons, of course. You might publish a memoir or a piece of autobiographical fiction that reflects dimly on a relative. Or maybe you write Edwardian-period romance novels and think a by-line that sounds aristocratically romantic will help sell books. Or maybe you’re doing a corporate project written by a number of people and, to avoid confusion, choose a single (real or fake) by-line.

TravelerCover-LORES-764x1024In our case, for example,Roberta Stuart” is actually five writers, all emanating pulp fiction for the Camptown Races Press imprint. Each has written several Roberta Stuart stories over time. The reason we decided to put them all out under the same pen-name was to build brand recognition: a Roberta Stuart story is short, often witty or outright hilarious, sometimes marked by magical realism, and always genially erotic. An incidental benefit is that our authors can choose to or not to reveal their role in creating the persona of the pseudonymous pornography queen. Some of their friends and relatives know nothing; other CR authors are fairly open about this aspect of their writing careers.

How do you go about it? Simply choose a name and put it on the title and the copyright page. When you apply for an ISBN at Bowker (this is an international cataloguing code — you need it to get your magnum opus into Books in Print), the form will ask you for the name of the author, which may be different from the name of the copyright holder. For all the Racy Books, I always list Roberta as the “author.”

You also can list a pseudonym at Amazon. There, it’s a little more problematic, because Amazon limits the number of pseudonyms you can use. If you publish a lot and you’ve published under more than one version of your own name, this can put a crimp on your style, because Amazon regards every version of your real name as a “pseudonym.”

This, of course, is incorrect. If your name is Robert Smith and you write as Bob Smith in some places and Rob Smith in others, none of those are “pseudo” (i.e., false) names: they’re all variants of your name.

But no amount of arguing with Amazon factotums will bring about a change in this inconvenient policy.

robert sidneyI find it particularly annoying because Amazon has glommed publications that I’ve emitted under three variants of my name. My first book, The Life of Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester, was published under my full, formal name: Millicent V. Hay. A scholarly biography, it came out at a time when I still hoped for a full-bore academic career, and so I wanted it to appear under the name that appears on my curriculum vitae.

But…I happen to hate that name. As a little girl, I was bullied so fiercely throughout grade school that I became suicidal. The sappy name was a ripe target for the little monsters who made my life so miserable that at the age of 10 or 12, I wanted to end it. To this day, the name “Millicent” elicits a physical cringe reflex.

When I escaped that school and that country and started attending schools in the US, I called myself “Vicky,” a familiar version of my middle name. This worked well because it was so plain vanilla it provided no ammunition and never did spur any significant meanness among my stateside classmates.

essential featureIn the fullness of time, I became a magazine journalist: a writer and editor for a variety of local and regional publications. My byline was the name that everyone knew: Vicky Hay. I never wrote a journalistic article under any other name, and my guide to newspaper and magazine writing, The Essential Feature, came out under that name.

With the vast encyclopedia of contacts I built — I knew or knew of every top-flight writer, editor, graphic artist, and photographer in the Southwest — I decided to start a kind of finder’s service. We would put publishing clients in touch with editorial and graphic talent and, if desired, package books and other publications for them. At this time I took on a business partner, a guy who had been a public relations professional for decades.

He felt that “Vicky” was way too informal. He asked me to start using my full middle name: “Victoria.”

MathMagicWe put a lot of stuff out under that name. In one book, where I didn’t want an essay inside the book to coincide with the publisher’s name, I used my mother’s maiden name, Julie DeLong, as a pen-name. Eventually, I cowrote Math Magic with a fellow named Scott Flansburg, and of course used the fancy middle name: Victoria Hay, Ph.D. That one turned into a best-seller, thanks to Scott’s high-level marketing skills.

Now I decide to experiment with self-publishing, pretty much for the Hell of it…and that’s when Amazon informs me that I can’t publish under the name Roberta Stuart because I already have three pseudonyms.

Which are NOT pseudonyms.

So how do you copyright material written under pen names? 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. You can publish it and copyright it under any pen name you please. The copyright will always belong to you, unless you choose to sell some or all of your rights in the work.

Plain & Simple Press and Camptown Races Press are both imprints (effectively DBAs) of an S-corporation, The Copyeditor’s Desk. Because receipts come in to the corporation and contractors’ fees are paid by the corporation, I register the copyrights in our works to the corporation. The corporation buys all rights to subcontracted works, and the corporation owns the copyright in everything it publishes.

This provides a corporate veil between the principals (me and a business partner) and the doings of the business. Sometimes this can come in handy. And it certainly simplifies the tax accounting.

If you’re just one little person publishing one little book or one series of books, there’s no reason for you to get elaborate, as long as you dutifully pay your income taxes. Just publish the thing under whatever name you please.

Speaking of Scams for Wannabe Authors…

ScamAlert Depositphotos_80149964_m-2015The ever-engaging New Zealand Muse draws our attention to this spot of light from Laura Jane Williams over at The Financial Diet. She shares some straight talk about the financial facts of life enjoyed by a #1 best-selling author — that would be one published through a real publisher (yea verily, a Big Four publisher) that pays a real advance. Without going into detail, let’s just note that she’s trying to support herself as a part-time nanny.

Now and again, I’ve held forth here about the multilfarious scams to which would-be writers are subject. One could argue that, for most authors, the whole publishing industry is a bit of a scam, at least for those who don’t understand their real occupation will not be “author” but “ad copy hack and self-employed marketer.” That’s most egregiously true for people who style themselves “indie authors” and self-publish on Amazon.

Very few writers ever make earn a living at their craft. Publisher’s Weekly, the sine qua non of trade journals for the publishing industry, reports that most authors’ earnings fall below the poverty line, and what is more, author income has been dropping since 2008.

Authorearnings.com reports optimistically that 1,340 writers earn over $100,000 a year, and half of those are indies. This revelation is extracted from a mind-numbing aggregation of data gleaned from Amazon. AE claims, probably correctly, that the share of the market for books sold on Amazon is increasingly going to independent (i.e., self-) publishers. This is no doubt true: “publishing” on Amazon is the hot new thing to do. But that you are in a market does not mean you’re making any money in the market.

1340 people: let’s think about that. It’s not very many, when you consider that Amazon has 14 million books online. If half of those six-figure writers are indies, then only 670 self-publishing writers in the whole world are making a credibly good living at their trade.

Amazon sold 22 million copies of Kindle books alone in 2010. How many authors are required to produce 22 million sales?

Amazon itself deems only 40 self-published authors “successful.”

Between Amazon’s price-fixing practices and the enormous saturation of the book market, independent publishers and authors face daunting challenges. Getting a self-published book on the shelves of a real, physical store is not easy. The other day I learned that the pre-eminent independent bookstore in Arizona charges indie authors $300 for shelf space — and I can assure you, your chance of selling $300 worth of books there is almost nil. The sources through which real-world bookstores order their stock do not carry self-published books. You can get access through IndieReader and Ingram Spark…assuming you can afford to pay for it. Additionally, attracting media coverage from recognized mainstream newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters is extremely difficult: indie authors just don’t get no respect.

I’m often told that instead of clinging to my pessimistic view of life — the one in which one is never disappointed — I should try to be an optimist.

The optimist, then, would say about those 40 “successful” authors, Why shouldn’t I be one of those?

But I can’t get past the realist’s challenge: Why should you?

Image: DepositPhoto: © Aleutie