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When You Self-Publish, You're Starting a Business

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Steerpike, Jan 28, 2014.

  1. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    This springs from a conversation I had on another forum, where a forum member was criticizing the advice that self-publishing authors who can't edit their own work should hire someone to do it. His view is that you'll never recoup the money and you're best off just doing the best you can yourself and getting the book out there. I think that is terrible advice, personally.

    In a traditional publishing relationship, you have at least two entities: 1) author; and 2) publisher. The publisher bears certain expenses, including the expense of editing. When you self-publish, you're taking on both roles. You are author and publisher. So it stands to reason you're going to take on the expenses of the second role - editing, cover art, and so on.

    I think it is best viewed as starting a business. Upwards of 80% of restaurants fail in their first year, but you wouldn't tell someone who is starting a restaurant not to invest anything, not to hire staff to do things she can't do, &c. So why would someone advise a self-publishing author not to invest in their business.

    Your competition isn't just people throwing up amateur work on Amazon. That's the least of your competition. Your competition consist of books from traditional publishing houses and those self-published works of like quality. If you're not willing to invest in your business and do it right, why are you doing it?
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2014
    Philip Overby, BWFoster78 and Ankari like this.
  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    When I started out I intended to do it all by myself.
    I've since come to realize and appreciate the value of feedback and I've come to the conclusion that having someone else go over my text before I publish it might not be such a bad idea. When commenting on the showcase here I also realized the time investment required for this.

    The way I feel about it now I'd be more than happy to pay someone to edit my work.


    Again, I'll make a parallel to music. When producing a track it's generally considered a bad idea to master it yourself. Instead, you send your track off to someone else who masters it for you. You'll have listened to the track so much and so many times you're deaf to it. It'll require a fresh ear to hear what needs adjusting. I'm sure it's the same with books. You've been over the words so many times you don't notice the issues anymore.
     
  3. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

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    I agree with your post. I think that many aspiring authors think of their book as a lottery ticket. It's a chance to win that one big jackpot for such a small investment.

    I'm not undermining the time spent in creating the story. I know the hours spent in front of the monitor and only producing two hundred words. But that isn't enough. This is a business. You have to invest into it. I've met many people who have the next big idea (story), but when I tell them to put their money where their mind is (investing in editors and artists), they shrug their shoulders and wish they had the money to do it. What?

    This may sound coarse. I've been at the poverty line and know how hard it is to come by money, but I also know that you can come by money. It's the old saying, work hard, spend with care, and always make sure you're thinking of the future.

    I don't think people of Gen Y (or Z) understand the true meaning of development and patience. I put words on a screen! Where's my money?

    I'll admit a few things. When I first started off my project(s), I thought that, at the time, I had already invested into my dream. I sacrificed many hours, put together a little money, and sat down in front of the computer with a vague plan of conquering the fantasy world.

    Then I got feedback. Thankfully, I'm blessed (cursed) with a pretty thick skin. I walked away from the first few harsh criticisms stronger, and with a more pragmatic vision of my rise to fame (I still feel that I'll conquer the fantasy world).

    Now, I've taken it to the next level of understanding this industry. As you say, I know I have to delegate many tasks to professional. It's not enough just to get (excellent) beta reader feedback. I have to send off my work to an editor. And for larger pieces of work, maybe a copy editor. And to catch the eye of readers, a good/great cover artist. And to get the word out.....

    You get the idea.
     
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  4. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I think opposition to this viewpoint rests on two issues:

    1. The author feels he absolutely cannot afford professional services.
    2. The author does not feel the service provided by the professional justifies the cost versus what a good beta reader provides.

    For me, the first of those issues is not a good argument. Let's compare starting your publishing business to opening a restaurant as Steerpike did. If you can't afford to buy a stove and hire a chef, then maybe you shouldn't be opening a restaurant. Sorry if that crushes your dream of owning one, but maybe you should wait until your financial circumstances change.

    The second, imo, seems harder to prove. I've seen the difference between an editor and some pretty darn good beta readers. The editor was worth the cost all day long. The problem is that some aspiring authors don't accept that there is such a thing as acceptable quality for a book.
     
  5. Graylorne

    Graylorne Archmage

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    I fully agree with Steerpike that selfpublishing is a business. Mine is, and the gods know it cost me a small fortune. I have my own publisher. It's a one-man business (me), but it is a real publisher according to Dutch law, with my own ISBN and of course, taxes.
    Up to now I used a first class editor, and a first class illustrator. Marketing is another cost: book tours, free review copies, etc. But I want the same quality in my selfpublished books as I have in my trade books.

    And I agree with Brian that you shouldn't selfpublish if you can't invest. Of course you can always submit your efforts to a regular publisher.
    A regular (freelance) editor is generally worth more than a beta reader to your book. In both cases it does depend on how they fit, but an editor with a long experience in publishing is preferable. Not all freelance editors have that experience, though, and then the difference could be a lot less.
     
  6. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    I'm definitely going to go with an editor but I have yet to figure out how to go about finding one. My husband and I make barely enough to get by right now because of his schooling and the investment we've made into my budding business. I see publishing the same way as my Ayurveda & Yoga practice: I offer the best quality in my services while continuing to educate myself so I can offer more to my students and patients. Getting an editor (already have an illustrator) is worth the investment.

    I used to think otherwise, but I really want to be successful at this. There's a lot I can miss editing my own work and I want to give my stories the best chance they can have to sell. I don't think I'm going to hit the jackpot. This is a life goal and all I have to do is continue to write stories. Its all exciting and the cost of investment doesn't scare me anymore. Yes, I'm a bit poor right now but agreed, situations with money change. And if I'm unable to afford the right editor for my work when the time comes, I can always ask my parents. :p
     
  7. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    I agree wholeheartedly that a self-publishing author should be willing to invest in their work to make it professional.

    However, one does not necessarily need to invest money. One can invest time by learning to do as many of the tasks involved in publication as you can. Learning, for instance, to format your ebooks and print books to professional quality. If you have a good eye for design it is not very difficult to obtain and learn to use the tools to make a good book cover. If you are good at editing but not comfortable with editing your own work (some writers can, but usually only after a lot of experience) then trade your editing services with someone for something else, like that book cover. Or vice versa.

    If you are willing and able to invest money then you don't need to engage the most expensive services. There is a growing amount of freelancers you can easily find on the internet for things like covers and editing that are professional and quite affordable. Be smart about it. Shop around.

    Of course, there are different types of editing and people who advocate getting editing and people who resist it are often unclear about what they mean. Every published book absolutely needs to be copy edited for errors and inconsistencies. A good copy edit should point out spelling and grammar mistakes as well as fact checking and ensuring clarity of prose. (Ms. Author, you refer to your main character as Ben for the first half of the book and then inexplicably start calling him Steve in the second half. Make up your mind. Or Ms. Author, I read this sentence 5 times and it still makes no sense, what did you mean to write here? Or Ms. Author, you really need to learn the difference between "there", "their" and "they're".)

    However, there is another type of editing often called "story editing" or "developmental editing" where the actual content of the story is critiqued for quality. (Ms. Author, your story would be so much better if your main character wasn't a complete idiot. Or Ms. Author, I think you should cut the 5 page soliloquy about the main character's unrequited love. Or Ms. Author, "it was a dark and stormy night", seriously?) Now, I would maintain that this type of edit is NOT necessary. I don't personally believe there's any special knowledge that putting the word "editor" next to your name gives you authority to judge the "quality" of stories and charge money for it. Most writers will already have beta readers and critique partners doing this sort of thing and so paying for a story editor feels redundant to me, an unnecessary expense. (If you don't have beta readers or critique partners, of course, you probably need this type of editing.) And of course experienced authors (10+ books or so) will be good enough and confident enough to tell a good story without needing developmental editing or critique partners.
     
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  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    If you can do it all yourself, you should. A good story development editor can be valuable, and plenty of writers need it. This is, after all, one of the things editors at traditional publishing houses do. If you find one who knows what they are doing, it will be more valuable than the average beta reader. Not everyone needs it but I wouldn't discount it. If you go the traditional route, you're going to have editors who do this and know what they are doing.
     
  9. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I thought I was pretty knowledgeable. I thought that my beta readers were pretty good. I really didn't think that my editor would be able to help me much with the "story" part of my story.

    I don't know about writers with a lot of experience, but, for the first timer, I would say that a content edit is absolutely needed.

    My only basis for this advice is my own experience. My book is so, so, so much better now than it was. Not only did my editor pointing out mistakes and making suggestions improve the book directly, but it led to me thinking even more about the plot and making more improvements.

    In fact, I'd suggest that, if you had to choose between engaging a content editor and a copy editor, that a new author would do much better to engage the former.

    It's not hard to get your copy to a point where it's readable. After that point, imo, you get diminishing returns with how good you make it. Is a reader going to enjoy your book that much more if a copy editor points out your mistakes instead of a good beta reader?

    Issues regarding tension and character and plot are much more important to the reader's overall enjoyment of the novel than a few awkward sentences (assuming, obviously, that your technique isn't so awful as to be unreadable).
     
  10. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    The problem is, if the author is like me, it's hard to tell that you need a content editor until you experience what a content editor adds. Truthfully, part of me thought I was wasting my $500. Part of me was doing it only because the advice is that, "You need an editor."

    Those parts of me were completely, totally, utterly wrong.
     
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  11. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I guess it's one of those learning experiences we come across now and then. I to was pretty convinced I knew what I was doing before I started here. Just meeting up with others and getting feedback on what I've written has improved my writing beyond what I could imagine.
    Now, yes, I don't think I'd mind shelling out that money to have an editor go over my book once I think I'm done with it.
     
  12. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    But those issues are highly subjective. Paying $500 for someone's opinion about my story? No way.
     
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  13. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    What you're paying for, if you have the right editor, is that person's experience with fiction and the market, and their assessment of what sells. It can be an important step for someone who wants to write commercial fiction. If you just want to write your story your way, and marketability be damned (which is a valid approach in my view), then I wouldn't bother with it.
     
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  14. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    We've had this discussion before about paying for an editor vs. not paying for an editor. That the money might be better spent on excellent cover art. That's fine I think. However, I do think critique partners and beta readers may not spot everything that needs fixing. From Brian's experience, investing in an editor was a good choice for him. Others may feel like it is wasted money for them.

    I'll make an analogy because, hell I like making analogies.

    When I was doing pro wrestling, I screwed up my shoulder one day trying to do a new move. My left arm went completely limp and I could only lift it up about half way. Instead of immediately going to a doctor to get it looked at, I tried to work feeling back into it. I went to the doctor who suggested I might have had a torn rotator cuff. Which meant I probably needed surgery. So in my mind, "Oh crap, lots of money." I didn't want to spend money at all, especially on an expensive surgery. She said try some exercises first to slowly get range back in my shoulder again first though and see if that worked. So I did. But I got impatient. I wanted my shoulder fixed then. So I got my wrestling buddy to essentially pop my shoulder back into socket. He wasn't a doctor. It temporarily fixed the problem, but now my left shoulder is higher than the other and I have nerve pain that shoots down into my arm and chest sometimes. Perhaps if I had waited and followed what the doctor said, I wouldn't to this day still have a messed up shoulder.

    Why am I telling this story?

    Because sometimes having your buddy fix a problem for free isn't enough. A professional can sometimes be the difference between a jacked-up shoulder (a poorly edited manuscript) and a healthy one (a well-edited manuscript.)
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2014
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  15. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    May I ask what type of editor would be best under these circumstances then? Thank you. :)
     
  16. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I'd say getting a good copy editor would be enough. Someone to clean up sentences and technical issues, but not touch the content.
     
  17. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    Publishing your work is a business, but a lot of writers don't see it that way. I'm not really sure that I do. Not completely. For many writing is a passion - as it should be - and so publishing what they've written is just the next logical step in that dream. And strangely - though it often produces poor overall results in terms of the final product - I think that's completely justifiable. Who am I to decide what other people should and should not be allowed to publish? Everyone has dreams and no one should be allowed to stand on other peoples dreams. Not even when their production of poor quality work tarnishes the reputation of self publishing in general.

    Publishing only becomes a business when people start doing it in order to make money. Not everyone does. And it's then when you need to start making business decisions. But the decisions you make will vary from writer to writer.

    It's very easy to say every book needs editing. It's not so easy to say every book needs professional editing. And even if you do it then becomes of what sort of editing and how much. But in businesses you have a lot of costs to consider. Yes there's editing. But there's also formating, cover design, marketing and the rest. If you spend three grand on editing do you forget the rest? Or do you get a cheap edit which may not be so good and then spend the rest on a really good cover? (By the way $3,000 was the average quote I got for editing my first book of 140k. I've never seen a professional editor look at $500.) And like it or not people do have budgets. For many people three grand is simply too much money to stump up. Do we sit back in judgement and say they shouldn't publish because they don't have the money?

    My thought is that as you begin your journey as an author you do the best you can. But you always look to improve. Andso a small business hopefully becomes a bigger one. And all these business decisions become realistic ones. Over time if your books sell you can start affording more and more professional services. And if they don't that's the time to start making the hard decisions. And they begin with the most important - is this really a business foryou? Or just a passion?

    For me it falls somewhere between the two. I do have an editor - actually two now. But when I first started out I didn't and there were some quality issues. However when my second book started selling in numbers I upped my game recognising that I needed to go for that quality. I have never yet bought a cover (though I am considering it for an upcoming book), but that's because I have slowly learned not only how to make a reasonable cover myself, but because I have started to enjoy the process. It has become part of the artistic endeavour and I would be reluctant to give it away. And as to marketing I simply don't do it. The thought of standing out there hawking my books is simply distasteful to me. (And I'm lazy!) And probably for that I've paid a price in terms of sales. But at the same time when I'm on some of the various writing fora and seeing the endless posts about marketing strategies, price changes, who to get to review, mail lists etc etc it not only leaves me cold, it leaves me with an obvious question. When do you write? Too many of these other business minded self publishers seem to spend hours and hours every day marketing their work. I just write. And that's where my passion lies.

    So is publishing a business? My thought is that the answer to that question will vary wildly with the publisher. For me it's somewhere between a business and a passion.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  18. Greg has a valid point.

    For some writers, publishing is a business. It's about getting quality work out there to readers. It's about giving readers something that they will find worthwhile, so that the reader will come back for more of your work, so that you can make some level of income from your profession. Ideally, maybe even make a decent living from your profession.

    For other writers, publishing is simply a logical extension of a passion for writing. The writer loves writing. The writer wants to see their work made available. So the writer puts her work out there, publishes it, because that fulfills the writer's need to be published. For that writer, it's not about income - and in most cases, income will indeed be low. But that's ok, because it's about the writer accomplishing the thing he was passionate about, not about the money.

    To me, the difference between the two paths is all about focus.

    The first writer is doing things for the readers: to give the reader the best experience possible.
    The second writer is publishing for him or herself: to achieve a personal goal or tick something off a bucket list.

    Don't misunderstand: NEITHER is wrong.

    But they're very different.
     
  19. Someone up above said that the poor quality books out there are the least of your competition. Fact is, they are NOT your competition. Poor quality books are out of the running, pretty much automatically. Yours included, if you produce crap.

    Readers don't buy crap. They have hundreds of thousands of good ebooks to choose from. Why would they ever read something boring or uninteresting?

    Bad books have never sold well. But bad books will continue doing WORSE as time goes on. So consider a professional level production the MINIMUM bar for entry to make decent sales from a book. Those midlist novels you see Big NYC publishers kicking out? That is the LOW end of the bar you must hit to have a decent chance.

    And the competition is heating up. People are getting better. More savvy. Faster. Stronger at production methods. In 2014, the writers who do well will be producing outstanding content, and lots of it.


    Ok, the other thing being talked about is editing. A lot has been said already. I'll add a couple of brief comments.

    1) The proofreading myth is a myth. The whole "you can't proofread your own work because you're too close to it" meme? Yeah. Totally false. If you can't proofread your own work, it's because you're a lousy proofreader (technically, copy editor), not because of some sort of innate failing among humans to actually spot basic grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors in things we write. If you're a lousy proofreader, hire a better one. Or get better at it yourself. Or both. But that stupid myth is annoying. ;)

    2) Your need for an editor is inversely proportional to your experience as a writer. That should be obvious. It somehow tends not to be... So a few examples. John Scalzi wrote s book a while back, blogging about his process. Took him two months to write the novel. On the last day, he gave the book a read over once, looking for any obvious errors to save his NYC big publisher editor some time. Then he sent it. His first draft, which he'd gone over for a little while looking for typos. He said on his blog he expected perhaps as many as a few dozen words to be changed before publication.

    That is John Scalzi. He has many *millions* of words of professional prose to his credit, in a wide variety of forms. You and I are not John Scalzi (unless he is lurking here reading this - hi, John!).

    The less experienced you are, the more developmental editing you are likely to need. It has been said that until you've written your first million words, you're still in your apprenticeship. Consider then: most trad pub authors have written a couple of novels before being published. And most don't publish more than a half dozen novels in a career before fading away. So most trad pub authors (not the big names, but most of the rest) are still in those first million words. They're still effectively apprentices at the craft.

    Of course they need editors.

    As you improve, your need for editing will diminish. Your ability to tell a good story without major flaws will improve. In fact, at some point, you will be better at writing new stories than most editors are at editing new stories. And perhaps the worst thing for any novel is a developmental editor who is less skilled than the writer.

    But in the beginning? The more editorial help you can get, from EXPERIENCED editors, the better. You will actually learn from everything they edit. You will improve your own writing ENORMOUSLY from each good editing experience. It's not just about improving that work, when you're a new writer (first million words). It's also about improving all your future works. And a good editor can help you do that.
     
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  20. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Sorry, I don't quite understand this. I get not hocking your books endlessly or anything, but no marketing? I mean marketing is basically telling people about your book existing. I don't really see how that's tasteless. There are ways to promote your book without coming off like a spam bot. But I don't understand just publishing something and letting it sit there. It's like Field of Dreams, if you write it, they will come.

    A lot of really good and not tasteless people do marketing for their books. Sure, limiting this aspect to focus more on the next book makes sense, but simply not doing it? I don't see how that works. Any insight into how you sell books otherwise would be interesting. I'm not being sarcastic by the way, I'm genuinely interested.
     
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