To Self-Publish or Not? That is the Question

Ever since I got back from Dragon*Con, I’ve been mulling over the possibility of getting into the self-published ebook game. Ebooks seem to be growing more popular by the hour, and more and more of my peers in the podcast writing arena are dipping their toes in the market. I know Abbie Hilton has had some success selling ebooks of the Guild of the Cowry Catchers series, and Mur Lafferty jumped in with both feet last summer by self-publishing all five parts of her Afterlife series, which was wildly popular on

Thing is, if I’m going to do this, I want to do it the right way. If I’m going to ask people to spend money on one of my books (even if the price is only $3.95 or something like that,) I have to deliver a quality product. That means hiring a professional editor to catch any remaining typos, inconsistencies, plot holes, etc. Because I recorded audio versions of both Acts of Desperation and Purgatory, I’ve caught a lot of the typos and missing words, but no way am I confident enough to say that I caught them all. Good editors do not come cheap, nor should they. I’m figuring between $1,000 and $1,500 to edit just one of the books.

Next comes the cover. Again, if I’m going to offer a book for sale, it needs a cover done by a professional illustrator. I happen to really like the covers I chose for the audio versions of my books, but the cover for Acts is a Creative Commons licensed photo that I found on Flickr. I gave the photographer attribution, but the license does not allow me to use it to make money. I did pay a license fee for J.R. Blackwell’s lovely photograph for the cover of Purgatory (worth every penny,) but using it on a book for sale is a different matter. I estimate a few hundred dollars for a cover illustration.

That brings the total bill to $1,500 to $2,000 even before I get into formatting, distribution fees, etc. That means, if my price point is $3.95, I have to sell around 500 electronic copies just to break even. Obviously, I want to sell way more than 500 copies, but if I’m the publisher as well as the author, then by definition I’m the marketing department. It will take a lot of time and effort to publicize the book enough to generate sales. I think I’m up for that challenge, but it will be a major commitment.

If I do this, I think I would start with Acts of Desperation, which has been rejected by a lot of agents and publishers but has also been downloaded a lot on Podiobooks. More than 5,000 people have downloaded the final episode, meaning they liked it enough to stick around to the end of the story. I have Purgatory on submission right now to a small press publisher, and I still have some hopes of publishing that the traditional way, so it will be some time before I choose to self-publish that one.

Publishing has changed tremendously just in the seven years since I first started tapping out novels on my keyboard. Self-publishing ebooks is becoming more viable every day, and it’s something every author should consider. Will it be right for me? Jury’s still out. I need to save up that upfront money, and I haven’t sold a freelance piece since July. Looking for new freelance gigs is occupying a fair amount of my time these days. But, if I can generate those funds and cover the cost before I sell anything, I very well may take the plunge.

Stay tuned.

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6 Responses to To Self-Publish or Not? That is the Question

  1. My man, you’re thinking about this way too deeply. Let’s take a different look at this.

    Editing. You don’t need the greatest editor in the world, you just need someone competent. You want someone you can talk to, who’ll show you the first few pages of edits, if there are any, so you can see the quality of work they do. You could find someone who’d do it for 1 or 2 dollars a page; heck, I’d do it for you for that. 🙂

    Book cover. I know both stories and you’re not going to look for someone to do full-on graphic novel cover art. With your connections you could probably find someone local who could put together something nice for $200 – $300 dollars, possibly less. Costs always increase depending on how fancy you’re trying to make your cover; how fancy would you be looking for?

    Third, price point. How much you’re going to sell your book for depends on where you’re planning on selling it from. Since I’ve read both stories I’m thinking your price point is too low because of how many pages each is. I’m betting that since you already kind of have a readership based on your podcasts that you could market it yourself at a higher price. Or you could go other ways such as through Amazon, Ebook Palace or many other places. You could even market it through your blog; that would be a very smart move to make.

    The thing is that you don’t need perfection; you just need very good. And you can get very good for way less than what you’re thinking. If a regular publisher decided they liked it later on, they would bring in their own editors at that point anyway.

    Just my thoughts on it all.

  2. Abbie says:

    Should you self-publish? Absolutely. Should you spend 1.5-2K on an untried product? Absolutely not!

    The thing you must have is good cover art. If you spend money on nothing else, spend money on that. If you look very carefully, you can find/commission something high quality for $100. If you’ve got a little more money than time, you can get something excellent for around $300. That is money worth spending.

    I would not spend money on editing. Take it from someone who has. It’s not worth it. Readers don’t care. If your writing is not riddled with basic errors, you’re not going to see a monetary return from costly editing. Nobody will buy your book who wouldn’t have bought it anyway. Also, with eBooks, you can always come back later (after the book has earned its editing fee) and produce an edited version. If you’re getting lots of reviews that say things like, “This was great, but it could have used an editor,” I’d do that. Otherwise, don’t worry about it. Get half a dozen friends (who have never read the book before) to read it for typos, and you’re done.

    Formatting costs nothing but time. I’m not sure what you mean by “distribution fees.” There are no listing fees for Amazon, BN, SW.

    I think your price point is about right, but you can always play with that over time.

    That’s my 2 cents. If you’re determined to drop two grand on your book right out of the gate, drop it on the cover. For that price, you could get someone who does covers for the big 6. But I recommend just spending $200-$300, not putting the book in serious debt from the outset.

  3. tdodge says:

    @Mitch and @Abbie,

    Did you two talk before you wrote your comments? 🙂 You both seem to be on the same page.

    You do have me re-thinking the editing expense. If readers really do not care about professional editing, then perhaps that’s something that can wait for another day. It would certainly drop the break-even point. I do agree that the cover art is important, as I heard two authors discuss on a podcast last week (thanks Abbie and Renee!). I actually have an artist in mind, someone who used to attend the writers’ group Mitch and I belong to.

    Thanks for your comments!

  4. Scott Roche says:

    I concur with the above commenters. Certainly have someone(s) else look at your manuscript, but as Nathan Lowell said, the cost of editing is prohibitive to a self published author. Skip it. Definitely get some pro-art. I spent $100 on mine. Money well spent.

    As far as the price you charge for a dead tree version I’d say charge whatever you need to cover the cost that create space says is the minimum and tack on 10%. Charge $2-4.99 for the e-book and there you go.

    If you need any help with ANYTHING, tag me. We’ve got a team at Flying Island Press and we’re looking to help authors get their product out.

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