Author and self-publishing guru Courtney Milan was our guest speaker at my local RWA chapter meeting, and her topic was Indie Publishing. She brought her own experiences and insights to her talk, and with the rapidly changing face of the industry, there’s always something new to learn.
First and foremost is that each person had to choose the path that makes the most sense, be in indie, traditional, or hybrid.
Ask yourself: What do you want out of publishing? A book on the shelf? Something friends & family will buy? Pay your mortgage? Be the next Nora Roberts?
Once you’ve decided, set your goal and ask yourself how you will achieve it. To start, look at who’s done what you want to do, and look at how they got there. Often, there is more than one path.
Milan spoke briefly about what self-publishing is. Thanks to technology, it’s no longer restricted to vanity publishing. Digital publishing changed things, as did POD technology, which allows production of a quality trade paperback. In the world of Indie publishing, you have authors like Bella Andre and Barbara Freethy, who are making millions. However, a more realistic look shows that in 2011, the median revenue from Indie publishing was $500. (This means half the people made more, half made less, if you don’t remember your statistics classes.) The average revenue in 2011 was $10,000. Again, this is because those people at the top raise the curve. In this business, 10% of the people make 90% of the money.
Milan gave us a few things that correlate with success in self-publishing:
Being female – women made 35% more than males.
On average, romance authors & mystery authors made more than other genres.
Romance authors make about 50% more than other genres. (Bookstores were “snobby” and didn’t carry enough romance—most indie stores are for other genres, so romance readers turned to digital outlets to find books.)
Where can you get good information on self-publishing? It’s not from the self-help guides, or listening to the experts. Most authors found their answers by talking to other authors willing to share how they got where they are.
Is Indie publishing right for you?
Milan gave us a list of tasks that need to be done, and choices about accomplishing them. You can do, buy, beg, trade, or ignore these (other than writing the book—that’s one you can’t farm out), based on your own skills or resources. Ask yourself: Am I any good at it? If not, find someone who is.
Your major expense will and should be editing. She broke editing down into four categories:
Substantive Edits—finding things that aren’t working in your book: plot, characterization, pacing, etc. (critique partners can help)
Line edits—making sure manuscript flows as well as it can.
Copy edits—looking for errors, especially continuity—character’s names, eye colors, switching cars, dates match, spelling consistency.
Proofreading—last chance to catch errors in spelling, punctuation, etc. Every time you change something based on editorial suggestions, you’re introducing another place for errors.
The above are where the biggest expenses are—but don’t skip them. More eyes are better; two people looking at your manuscript once is better than one person looking at it twice.
She went on to the next most important tasks:
Cover – you can get a cover designed for anywhere from $30 on up, and a lot of the cost depends on the genre you’re writing. Some kinds of stock images are easy to find, others have fewer choices and might cost more.
Formatting – be aware of file size; Amazon has a delivery charge based on file size, and slopping/extra formatting adds a lot of file size.
Cover copy – think of key words that people would use to search for that type of book. Your 1st two sentences are critical.
ISBNs – they’re not needed, but it’s easier to hit a list if you have one.
Copyright registration: It costs $35 to register on line. The benefit is that you can sue if it’s registered, should someone steal your book.
Other things you’ll have to deal with:
Advertising, having a mailing list, and getting reviews.
Milan said the average cost for first book (most in editing) is $600-$1500. The time it takes to make that money back will vary. Ask yourself the worst-case scenario before you invest money you need to pay your mortgage or buy food.
Another interesting fact she shared. No matter what your contract says, according to law, a publisher has to give you rights back after 35 years.
She ran a few numbers for us. If you sell 25 copies of a $3.99book a month for that 35 years a publisher could hold it, you’d have earned $15,000. That’s more than most people get in an advance. Of course, it’s spread out over time in small increments.
When you publish a book it’s a chance to advance your career, a chance to find a new fan. Everyone who reads it should want to read the next one. She suggests that at the end of your book, you give them ways to find out about your next release. Give them live links to sign up for your newsletter, like you on FB, follow you on Twitter. Ask them to leave a review, because the more you have, the more the Amazon algorithms bump your book in the rankings. Doesn’t matter what the ratings are, only how many. Also, someone who takes the time to write a good review is more likely to pass the word. They feel connected to you and the book. And, if the platform permits (Amazon and B&N do), ask them to lend the book to a friend. That keeps word of mouth going.
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society