The Reapers Trilogy is my first novel-based self-publishing project, and I have learned a lot while on this journey. I’m going to write a few tidbits about my experiences in an as-the-thought-comes-to-me form, so the structure of this post might seem somewhat random. In any case, I hope these tidbits will help other authors who are thinking about the self-publishing option.
Many self-publishing authors pay a company to take care of all the details, such as obtaining an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), getting a Library of Congress number, editing the text, designing the cover, and printing the book. Such companies, like Xulon, Lulu, AuthorHouse, Amazon (CreateSpace) or Xlibris, usually use print-on-demand (POD) technology to produce their books.
(Warning: I have heard that some of these companies have contract issues that are harmful to authors. Two in particular I would stay away from are Tate Publishing and PublishAmerica.)
The major advantage of hiring a POD company like this is a smaller cash investment, because the author pays zero printing costs up front, though they pay a fee (sometimes a hefty fee, depending on the chosen services) to the self-publishing company. The disadvantage is a significantly higher cost per book, which forces the buyer to pay more. A higher price often decreases sales.
With Amazon, an author can choose a stock cover and pay nothing at all up front. The cost is zero, but the drawbacks can be harmful to an author’s career, an issue I will cover in a moment.
I decided to take care of all the details myself and become my own publisher. I came up with a company name (Scrub Jay Journeys) and hired an artist to create a logo. This adds a professional feel to the books I publish.
In the United States, an ISBN is issued by Bowker. A single ISBN is quite expensive (currently $125), but they are much cheaper per ISBN in bulk (currently $295 for ten or $575 for 100). I bought ten, knowing I would publish a trilogy. Also, each version of a book–printed, digital MOBI (Amazon Kindle), EPUB (Nook), etc–requires a separate ISBN. If you purchase the numbers in bulk, you are free to decide which number goes with which book. Once you assign one, you can enter the book’s information on the Bowker website.
In order to get a Library of Congress number, I had to register as a publisher with the Library of Congress (this is for U.S. publication). Registration and getting a number from them is free, and they respond quickly, usually in less than a day. Once your book is printed, you are required to send a copy to the Library of Congress.
I also went with offset printing, which results in a much higher cash investment since I had to pay for printing thousands of copies, but the quantity greatly reduces the cost per copy (often lower than $2). That allowed me to set the retail price at an attractive level, which usually means higher sales numbers.
During my years of observing the self-publishing industry, I noticed that it’s easy to identify a self-published book. The most obvious giveaway is a bad cover design. I can usually spot them at a great distance. Designs often run off the edges, there is no sense of symmetry, font choices seem arbitrary, text placement appears to be random, and poor quality artwork makes me wonder “what were you thinking?” This is especially true with books created for free using Amazon’s services, though I have also seen really bad covers produced by major self-publishing companies.
Another factor is paper stock. POD books often use white paper that strains the eyes. It also feels heavy. Carrying a self-published book is frequently like lugging around a concrete block.
Editing is often the biggest problem, though not as easy for me to spot because I have to read part of the book. It is rare to find a self-published novel that doesn’t need an extensive edit, even those that are edited through paid services at a self-publishing company. I can almost always find a serious writing error on the first page. This is a black eye, not only for the author, but also for the self-publishing industry.
Authors, you need a high-quality editor. You are too close to your work to be able to see the flaws in your own writing. But don’t rely on friends or other authors. I would also stay away from editors at self-publishing companies. From what I have seen, they don’t do high-quality work. I’m not sure why that’s true. Maybe they have too many books to edit, or maybe they simply don’t know what they’re doing.
You need an editor who understands story structure, dialogue rules, narrative flow, style conventions, grammar, and a host of other issues. In other words, you should hire an experienced, professional editor who isn’t overloaded with a hundred books to edit at a station in a self-publishing assembly line.
The main reason these self-publishing negatives exist is simple – Money. A good editor costs a lot. So does an expert cover designer. Lightweight cream-colored paper is more expensive than standard POD white. Offset printing of multiple thousands of copies requires an investment of several thousand dollars. The bottom line? Publishing a high-quality book isn’t cheap.
Regarding cover design, I highly recommend Damonza. They do great work at a reasonable price. They have been efficient, and they have always responded to my questions and comments quickly. (Updated October 24, 2015: During the last couple of weeks, their responses have been much slower.)
My printer for Reapers was Cushing Malloy. I have been pleased with them at every stage of the printing process, and I plan to use them for Beyond the Gateway.
My editor is my wife. She is a certified editor, skilled in every aspect of the craft. It’s fun to watch her edit with a dictionary open on one side and the Chicago Manual of Style on the other. Her attention to detail is extraordinary. Sorry, she no longer accepts outside work. 🙂
I don’t have personal experience with many editors, but one editor I can recommend is Rebecca LuElla Miller. She is especially well-versed in speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, etc).
Many authors might find these expenses to be daunting. I understand. Many of us are pinching pennies to make ends meet. Sometimes it’s possible to cut a few expense corners and still produce a good book, but my experience is that such cutting usually harms quality too much. Putting out a low-quality book might not hurt your wallet, but it will almost certainly hurt your writing career. It will also add to the stigma that self-published books are not worth buying, and that will harm every self-published author in the world.
For more of my thoughts on self-publishing, see this post.
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If you have any questions or comments, please post them.
Categories: Writing Tips