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Self (Publishing) Help: Show Me The Money!!!

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Just because J.A. Konrath is standing up there on the rafters, shrieking down at all of us about the insane pile of cash he’s making as a “self-published” author does not mean that the gravy train is just waiting for you to step on board.

I would ask Mr. Konrath why the heck he’s still using a blogger site for his author platform if self-pubbing is making him so filthy stinking rich?

Like every other creative pursuit, if you are looking at it strictly as a way to get money, you should probably stop.  You should stop–not because you are not allowed to write, or because there’s 0% chance of success for you–because there are about a thousand easier ways to get money than by writing.

Take a sales job.  Car dealerships like newbies.  I would have made $70K my second year if I didn’t have this damn fool compulsion to write, write, write.  And of the sales jobs I’ve had (there’ve been four proper, career-type sales positions), selling cars was far and away the least invasive of my regular life.

Self Publishing Is Not Free

Self Publishing is more than just writing a book, putting it in a PDF, and posting it on Amazon for sale.

You need people to sell your book to.  You need a platform.  Building a platform is a full time job.  Writing a blog or tweeting or being consistent on any social media while writing, and doing whatever it is you’re currently doing to get money, equals two full time jobs.

Here is a short list of the main costs of self-publishing (if you want to be successful):

1.  Your Time: I spend at least 3 hours a day with my blog.  Writing a post, editing it, finding a public domain picture that works with it,  reading comments, replying to comments, and monitoring it on Facebook and Twitter and (less frequently) on LinkedIn and Google +, making notes about ideas for future posts, taking pictures of noteworthy life moments, etc.  I could spend more time because I love my blog, but I can’t because I have other stuff to do.

Self published authors must blog.  It is not optional.  They must also provide all the other marketing muscle: scheduling blog tours, soliciting reviews, scoring public speaking opportunities and preparing for these, researching and attending industry conferences (RWA for  Romance, SFWA for Sci Fi & Fantasy, AWP for literary authors, and many more) getting their writing and names in front of tons of people, plus all the numbers and stats grunt work of self-publishing (and self-employment in general).

Hazarding a guess, building enough of a platform to make the kind of bread J.A. Konrath likes to shriek about would take about a decade’s worth of full time work, and you couldn’t let up and coast.  Ask Konrath about that, would you?  Tell me what he says.

This is besides the hours upon weeks upon months upon years of toil that go into the writing and editing of a book.

2.  Your Ego: Ok, so you’ve written a book, and your lover, family, and handful of friends who like you enough to invest the time to read it have told you you’re brilliant, and you must get your book out there.  I’m willing to bet it’s not.  I’m sorry.  It’s just probably true.  The first draft of everything I’ve ever written has sucked, and my friends and family have told me what a damn genius I am.

You can’t believe what people who love you say about your writing.  How devastating would it be to write the book, put it up on Amazon, and after the first 20 copies your nearests and dearests buy, it just sits there, collecting proverbial dust?   This is why you have to get editors to look at your work before you take it public.

3.  Your Cash Money: Writer’s Market has a handy-dandy table called, “What Should I Charge?”  It amasses data from thousands of freelance respondents around North America.  Here’s a little run down on the minimum/maximum costs of the services you need to self publish:

Content (developmental) editing: High: $125/hour, Low: $54/hour

Copy Editing: 6 pages/hour x $46-100/hour OR: $1.00-$6.00/page (page is firm at 250 words, that’s double spaced, 1″ margins)

Proofreading:  $31-$75/hour, or $2-5/page (this normally happens in a single-spaced, publish-ready document).

Book Production: $67-100/hour, or $10-17.50/page (this could be a touch lower if you are not printing any copies, but it’s a safe estimate for all the steps between having a polished manuscript and having a book or eBook to send out into the world.  Print runs would cost separate money, and are widely available both online and probably in your town somewhere, and would probably start at $3,000 for 1,000 copies.)

Cover Design:  I’ve seen quotes as low a $300 for a digital cover design.  I’m sure you could pay as much above that as you wanted to.

Dues: All of the professional organizations and their conferences mentioned above cost money to join, and more money to attend the conference.  Self-published authors spend their own cash going to these events (I believe that most traditionally published authors do, too), and they are–again–not optional for self-published authors who want to be successful.  It would be easy to spend $3,000 a year paying dues and in the costs associated with attending conferences.

4.  Your Sanity:  You think I’m being melodramatic?  Penelope writes a lot about the startup life, the 100-hour work weeks, the blood, sweat, tears; the way your family will suffer.  Being a successful self-published author is like running a startup.  Buckle in and get busy.  It’s not a casual consideration.  I hear people say all the time, “I’m thinking of self publishing.”  Like they’re deliberating over the choices on a menu.  Yes, it’s true that the publishing world is changing, and this is a unique time for Authors.  But if Authors really want to take their successes into their own hands, they must realize that they are going to be holding a mountain of work.

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16 comments on “Self (Publishing) Help: Show Me The Money!!!

  1. Very good post. You speak the truth, and a lot of people don’t want to hear it; they’d rather entertain idealistic fantasies.

  2. Another really, really good one! I’ll be tweeting it on… :)

  3. Ohmigod. Penelope Trunk used my contact form to send this:

    Comment or Question: Hi, April. I loved your post about how self-publishing is like a startup. I tried to leave a comment, but I couldn’t get the form to take the comment. So I’m leaving it here. You can post it if you want:

    Hi, April. I’m obsessed with self-publishing right now, so it was great to read this post. I have never heard anyone say that successful self-publishing is like running a startup, but I really like that. It’s true, I just wasn’t thinking of it that way. I keep thinking that it’s time for me to do another startup (I just exited my third one) but I keep reading about the self-publising world instead. Now I see that self-publishing will be my next startup. You changed how I think.

    Thanks,
    Penelope
    Name: Penelope Trunk
    Email: penelope@penelopetrunk.com

  4. I sent Penelope an email, thanking her for her comment. Here is that text:

    Penelope,

    Thanks so much for a) reading my blog and b) commenting–even though my comments went rebel on you. I just finished hyperventilating for the honor that is having you both read and comment on my blog & liking what I have to say.

    I’m glad I changed your thinking. You change mine all the time.

    Cheers!
    -April

    Now off to figure the heck out why my comments form isn’t working properly!

  5. Wait, you mean my comment could have been next to Penelope’s??

  6. Great post!

    I try to think about this stuff all the time (mostly because I toy with the idea of self publishing, because nobody else seems to want to do it very much). I think about all the things you list, and how hard it is to keep up with social media, and play nicey nice with strangers that you’re begging favors from….and then I forget as soon as I start writing again, or I’m at work, and daydreaming about people reading my book.

    I might be in trouble!

  7. Thank you so much, April, for breaking this down! What a practical post for writers who think they might want to self-publish!

  8. [...] So the short answer is, yes.  You should get yourself a beta reader.  At least one.  More than one would be good.  And, as I mentioned before, you should not be related to or having sex with your beta readers. [...]

  9. [...] Writing on your A-game means writing a lot of stuff that doesn’t get into the book.  It means recognizing that it takes a villiage, and the village ain’t cheap. [...]

  10. [...] reliable and want to take my word for it, here are some other Self-publishing Help posts.  Here, Here, Here, and [...]

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