Andrea’s Final: Can an author self-publish completely by himself or herself?

Even though the print and publication industry is experiencing impactful shifting trends (such as jobs being consolidated and full time positions becoming term of project jobs), the self-publishing world has become a thriving alternative for authors planning on getting their book on the market and into the hands of readers. Getting from a writer’s musings to the actual tangible product of a finished book or eBook, however, is a complicated process that involves a lot of time, effort, knowledgeable resources and skill-sets that many authors might not initially consider when deciding whether to self-publish their work or not. Therefore, a breakdown of these processes and tasks in need for a completed project ready to be distributed to the literate masses should properly outline the answer to the ever-pondered question: Can a self-publishing author really do it all by themselves? If not, how many people are needed, really, to publish a novel?

After (or while simultaneously) writing a completed book manuscript, begins the publication process. This process can be broken down into three stages: production, marketing and distribution. For the purpose of continuity, the focus of this hypothetical publishing scenario will be a fiction novel of 70,000 words. According to the Editorial Freelancers Association,  “the industry standard for a manuscript page is a firm 250 words,”(EFA)  making this hypothetical manuscript 280 pages in length.

The production of the book is what many aspiring authors might not initially consider but is a very important component to the publishing process and could be a highly costly experience for self-publishers. A developmental editor (someone who makes sure the manuscript is consistent and flows without plot-holes while offering critique and revisions) is an arguable necessity. Publishing a book without the insight from an experienced editor is as disastrous as “not testing a drug before it goes out into the marketplace” according to Miral Sattar founder and CEO of the award-winning author services marketplace BiblioCrunch. Hiring one of these may cost an author upwards of $2,500 (and that’s on the low end of pricing with the editor having $45 per hour paycheck).

Another editor required for a book to get published and taken seriously in the industry is a copy editor whose focus is to adjust grammar consistency mistakes, catch spelling errors and missed or misused words as well as correct punctuation. These can cost upwards of $800 (depending on the experience of the editor and the amount of reworking a manuscript may need with a $25 per hour paycheck).

A self-publishing author could potentially avoid these costs by taking advantage of individual resources (knowing someone in the industry who is willing to do pro bono work but requires a cut of book profits, utilizing unpaid interns or students working towards a degree in writing/editing/publishing to do these jobs, using resources such as their college writing labs or work-shoppers or seeking multiple beta readers) but each of these resources are either hard to come by (such as knowing someone in the industry who is willing to do anything without pay) or risk the finished quality of the novel. An article written for go-publish-yourself.com stresses the importance of an editor, articulately stating “Every dollar you spend promoting an error-prone book might as well be spent in Vegas.”As much as an author may think they could potentially do the job of a quality editor by him or herself, a fresh pair of eyes trained to look for inconsistencies is an invaluable asset to a writer and gives a sense of polished professionalism to their written work. The job of a copy editor and developmental editor could potentially be consolidated into a one person task, as long as the one person in question is highly skilled and sure to look over the manuscript with the different perspectives of both a developmental editor and copyeditor. With this in mind, the staff of a self-published book publishing team must ultimately increase from one sole member, the author, to to a team of two, the author and the editor so as to benefit from this vital asset.

Design and layout are another skillset that the author needs to have if they are looking to publish a book on their own. That, or they must at least have the time and dedication needed to learn the programs required for design jobs–unless they are willing to outsource to a graphic designer to complete the necessary formatting tasks. A lot of thought must go into a book’s look and feel such as font type and size, margins and spacing, page number location, and headings as well as any other design elements (will there be an imprinted logo on each page or chapter? Will the chapter titles be a different font than the rest of the novel?). Designers, if not paid a flat rate for book design, may charge design layout per page depending on the complexity of the source material. According to printing veteran Charles M. Ellertson, author of Glossary of Typesetting Terms and professional typesetter, $4.75-$5.00 per page tends to be the general rate at his company Tsengbooks. In consideration of the hypothetical manuscript of 280 pages in length, an author is looking upwards of $1,330(with a designer charging $4.75 per page) for layout fees. A set rate for “typical design fees for the interior [of a book] with a few illustrations range from $600 to $850 for a complicated text.”

In addition to book design formatting, the need for a graphic designer to commission the cover is arguably essential for a polished looking novel. Again, either having the skill-set to create a professional quality cover, utilizing graphic design college interns or using connections the author has already fostered (such as a friend who is a skilled photographer trained in InDesign) will lower the cost of these tasks but they are a necessity to the final product of the novel. “If you want to hire someone to make a custom cover design, you can expect to pay anywhere from $150 to $3,500.” (Sattir). Taking all this in consideration, the necessary skills and programs required for designing a complete book from a manuscript is a necessity, and as such, it is imperative that a designer is added to the self publishing team, making it a total of three members in addition to the author and editor.

After production (with editing and design elements considered), a very vital portion of the publishing process comes from the marketing and PR angle. Without an audience interested in an author’s work there would be no one to distribute the book to once published. Book promotion involves a whole slew of skills, creative ideas and time-dedicated projects and is an ongoing process from the start of the book’s creation to the months following it’s publication. Creating a website or landing page for the book to sell on with a book synopsis and author information is essential to inform curious readers as well as provide them with access to purchase the book in question. Being active on social media to boost a book and author’s web presence as well as getting press releases to appropriate publications and getting blurb reviews from credible sources all help to create a buzz for a novel that will soon be in publication (it is important for all these processes to be started while the book is still in the production stage so that once it is distribution ready there will be readers eager to get their hands on the book.)

Although the author can be capable of doing all of this, they may find themselves overwhelmed enough with all the creation and production tasks or are not particularly savvy in the online or offline promotional world that they may want to hire someone to be in charge solely of these marketing and PR who will not only implement promotional strategies but also come up with creative ways to get the novel on the radar of readers everywhere. In a scenario of hiring a marketer to set up and do these tasks with at the very least ten hours of marketing work paid from $10 an hour (a college intern’s rate)-$40 an hour (a marketing professional’s rate), the low end of paid pricing for marketing will be at $100 though can range upwards of $5,000 if hiring a professional book publicist (Sattir).

Since marketing doesn’t involve skills in particular digital and artistic programs (such as with book designing) or an equitable perspective separated from the source material (such as with editing), it does not absolutely require an additional member to the self-publishing team. A dedicated author already has the creative tendencies to write the initial manuscript and going forth with publishing supports a will for their book to be successful, therefore an author planning to self-publish can take on the role of book marketer themselves (though the benefits of a professional are favorable).

Distribution is the final stage of publishing a novel and with the multitude of print on demand options available as well as free or low cost online resources, it should be fairly simple for the author themselves to get their book ready for distribution through websites such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Apple iBooks. The use of free digital conversion programs such as Sigil or Calibre can help an author get their book converted to the right digital formats for their preferred distribution method and choosing the right self-publishing market or resource (depending on an author’s end goal) is important to this stage of publication. If a printed novel is the end goal of the author,  Lulu.com offers a print on demand option (i.e. only printing a book copy every time someone purchases the title) makes self-publish printing not only a sensible choice, but also a cost effective way for an author to get their physical book on the market. Lulu.com also offers options to distribute an eBook edition of the book in three different online and e-reader markets including the Apple iBookstore, the Barnes and Noble Nook online store and the Lulu eBook marketplace. For eBooks to be available on Amazon’s kindle, its required that publishers join their exclusive Amazon marketplace separate from Lulu.com or other unaffiliated websites for eBook distribution, but offers a free publisher’s membership. Both the Lulu and Amazon options take a cut of the book profits as distribution costs though do not require initial fee payments (though premium options and upgrades are available), and are user-friendly enough for a self-publish author to follow distribution instructions so another member of the publishing team is not necessary.

With all of these processes and tasks required to publish a book taken into consideration (production, marketing and distribution) it is safe to say that a self-publishing author will not only benefit from a small team consisting of at least an editor and designer, it is a necessity. Even if the author is a jack-of-all trades wonder writer who is a savvy promotional-ist, it’s nearly impossible to expect the writer to catch every single grammatical mistake or continuity error in their work as well as really critique their writing with the insightful candor an editor and another perspective could provide. Professional quality formatting and design work is also something that is highly recommended to be outsourced to someone artistically trained to do such, making the smallest recommended team for a self-published book is three people–the author, the editor and the designer. However, bringing in multiple perspectives and talents onto the project team for editing, designing, promotion and distribution (either paid upfront for their services, through contracts or voluntary positions) can really benefit the author’s work in the world of publication to create the best possible complete and refined novel of a self-publishing author’s aspirations and dreams.

Citations:
Doughty, Louise. “A Novel in a Year.” Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Limited, 2006. Web. Oct. 2013.

“EFA: Resources: Editorial Rates.” EFA: Resources: Editorial Rates. N.p., n.d. Web. Oct. 2013.

Hines, Jim C. “First Novel Survey Results.” Jim C Hines RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. Oct. 2013.

“It’s the Book Editing, Stupid. Why You Need a Good Book Editor.” Go Publish Yourself. Hillcrest Media Group,, 2011. Web. Dec. 2013.

Sattar, Miral. “The Real Costs of Self-Publishing a Book.” MediaShift. PBS, n.d. Web. Oct. 2013.

 

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