The Truth About Self-Publishing

The truth about self-publishing is simple: it’s hard work, and it can cost a lot of money. What’s the advantage? You, the author, maintains absolute control over every element of your story, book, and marketing. If you know what you’re doing, this is a good thing. If you don’t know what you’re doing, this can be overwhelming but not impossible. Let’s break it down.

  1. Write the novel
  2. Revise the book
  3. Self-edit
  4. Beta readers
  5. Revise
  6. Edit/proofread
  7. Format
  8. Bookcover
  9. Publish
  10. Promote

The first two parts you do on your own, and #2 you might do multiple times. Once you’ve done that, then do #3 on your own, and again you might do this multiple times before moving on to #4 where you allow other people to read it and give you feedback. Once you get that feedback, you go back into the story, revise and self-edit accordingly, and then you send it on to an editor who checks for any errors. Once you’ve fixed your manuscript based on what they found, you send it to a proofreader, who looks for anything out of place.

When that is done and you have once more edited your novel, you can begin the formatting process or you can send it to someone to format for you. Around the same time, you’d want to contact your graphic artist to begin a cover for your book.

Once the book is formatted and the cover is completed, you are ready to send it to whichever self-publishing venue you wish. And then the promotional stage really kicks off although even before this, you should have already begun building your fanbase through Author Facebook Page and any other social media means you wish to use. You can find more of that topic in the post discussing ‘The Etiquette to Self-Promotion’.

Now though, let’s discuss costs, breaking it down in the steps above:

  • Write the novel: free
  • Revise the book: free
  • Self-edit: free
  • Beta readers: free
  • Revise: free
  • Edit/proofread: $100-$700, depending on the length of your novel
  • Format: $50-$100 (sometimes more)
  • Bookcover: $80-$400, depending on the artist
  • Publish: free-$$$$, depending on the publisher you use. Kindle Direct is free. Draft2Digital is free, CreateSpace is free although it is about $10 for a proof of your book, which you look over for any errors before publication. WARNING: avoid any publisher that requires you pay a few hundred or a few thousand dollars for them to publish it. You will not have absolute control over your book. They may offer to help you promote it, but usually it’s not worth it.
  • Promote: free-$$$$, depending on what you use. Word-of-mouth is free. Posting on Facebook and Twitter and on your blog and website is all free. Using Thunderclap and HeadTalker campaigns are free. Paying for ads on Facebook or Twitter costs. Some sites will promote your book (especially if it’s at a discounted price lis $0.99 or free) for anything from $5 to $15 all the way up to $200—depending on which site you use and which package you use. Other sites can cost up to $3,000 or so because they take promotions to a much bigger level. I wouldn’t recommend those unless your budget can handle that expense.
  • Reviewers: free—$$. First, let’s note that you should never pay someone to leave a review. Never buy reviews! Why does it cost at all then? It’s simple really, but let me explain why it could be free first. If friends or family agree to review the book for you, you can send them a free copy of your ebook. This is entirely free but with the understanding that they will leave a review. If you have to send them a copy of your book, there is the cost of shipping to take into consideration, which can be about $3-$20, depending on where you’re sending it. Now, some sites offer review services, and they charge about $15-$40 depending on the package you get. However, with this, you must understand, you are not paying the reviewers for their reviews. You are paying the business, which has bought together and organized all these reviewers and will send your book to them instead of you having to do it all yourself, for the service. There is a difference. Please keep that in mind. You want honest reviews. If you pay for reviews and the person doesn’t even read the book, Amazon can crack down on that, and that will have dire consequences for you.
  • Copies of Your Book: $10-$$$ This depends on how many pages your book is and how many books you purchase in a bulk. You will get an author discount, but then there is shipping as well. All of this are expenses to keep in mind.
  • Author Swag/Merchandise: $5-$$$ Bookmarks, business cards, magnets, keychains, charms, gift cards, pens, notebooks—basically anything you sell or give away in order to draw more interest to your book. The big secret is, as a self-published author, if you want any swag made, you need to put in the time and money to have it made. You can use sites such as Vistaprint for bookmarks, business cards, and a few other stuff, but then you can check out Fiverr or Etsy for unique ideas. All of this is more money out of pocket.

Of course none of this mentions the expense of travel should you decide to do a book tour or attend conventions in order to sell your book. Publishing and selling a book can become quite expensive, but this is why it is important to budget. If you have a good handle on the finances, you will come to see what works for you and what doesn’t, and when it’s time to promote again, you can put into action only what you have determined benefited you.

An Approach to Proofreading

All right, with this process of polishing our work, we’ve smoothed out any plot holes or cases of vanishing characters and fixed awkwardly worded sentences. We’ve determined whether every chapter, every scene, every paragraph, every sentence, and every word are absolutely necessary to the story. We’ve also considered grammar, punctuation, and looked for redundancy. So what’s next? Is it finally time to send it on to someone else to read?

Nope—not yet.

And yes, I heard you groan, but there’s one more thing you need to do—proofread. You can count on spellcheck for only so far, but you could have spelt the wrong word correctly. Say you wrote ‘strip’ when you meant ‘stripe’ or ‘strap’. Technically ‘strip’ is spelled correctly, so spellcheck can’t bring it to your attention because it doesn’t know it wasn’t the word you intended.

“Shouldn’t I have caught this when I went back to make sure every word was important to the story?” Yes, but there’s a chance you didn’t catch it because you weren’t looking for it, so that is why you must be patient and go back through it. It shouldn’t take nearly as long the revision and editing progresses did because you’re already done most of the heavy lifting.

Proofreading is also another opportunity to go back and look for any redundancy. You should have done this during the editing process, but it’s always a good idea to keep an eye out for it as you’re reviewing your work once more.

One thing you must understand when polishing your work. Most of the mistakes you make will likely take place during the polishing process. For instance, let’s say you have the following sentence: “John went to the store.” But during the editing process, you realized you used John’s name too much in that paragraph, so you decided to just say ‘he’ instead of ‘John’, so you write what you think is, “He went to the store.” However, you didn’t realize it, but you never took out the word ‘John’, so what it really reads is, “John he went to the store.”

Once while polishing up my historical fiction novel, I had the phrase, ‘Saladin’s army’, and I decided to change it to ‘his army’ instead. However, I backspaced only enough to erase the ‘s from ‘Saladin’ and ended up with ‘Saladin his army’, and nobody caught this small error until after the book was published! If you’re wondering why there are reprints of books, this is one of the reasons. How did that happen? Why didn’t I completely erase Saladin’s name while I was working on the sentence? To be honest, I don’t know. I have no idea how it happened, but it makes me want to do a palmface whenever I catch such a mistake in my own writing. So this happens to everyone, and you need to recognize that and look for it in your own work.

Another thing that needs to be examined is the punctuation. When you’re editing, you might change a statement to a question, but both punctuation marks are present, “It rained last night.?” Or you had omitted a word from the end of the sentence and never brought in the punctuation, “It rained last night .” Or punctuation might be completely missing.

It’s amazing how when you’re trying to fix something, you can actually cause more problems. It’s not that your writing is terrible or that you’re a horrible writer. This is reality, so you just need to expect it and take it one step at a time.

Now throughout all this, I kept saying not to show anyone your work, but let me define something for you. It’s one thing to let someone read in order to get confirmation that your story is interesting and even worth the headache of revision, editing, and proofreading, and it’s another thing to let someone read your work in order to be critiqued. If along the way while polishing your work, you just need that extra encouragement, find a friend who loves to read but won’t overwhelm you with criticism, and let him or her read it. Try sending the person a chapter at a time, allowing the person to give you feedback on that specific chapter before moving on to the next one. This way you’re motivated to keep working, and you won’t overwhelm your reader with a 200-600 page novel in their email.

Hopefully these last few posts have solidified the concept of revision, editing, and proofreading. Of course, others may have developed their own system of doing these, and they’re not wrong. If it works for them, that’s good. I have simply discovered most people aren’t sure where to begin the refining process, so I decided to present a few guidelines. Modify it to what works best for you, but understand the importance of delivering a sharp, clean, and polished manuscript to editor, agents, and publishers. They will love you if you make their work easier by doing most of the hard work yourself, and I hope you the very best in that regard!

Next week we’ll discuss the etiquette of beta reading and more on getting feedback from others.

Steps to Editing

Last week we discussed revision, so today’s blog post is covering editing. Revise first then edit because in revision you may add entire scenes or completely delete some, and if you edit first, you’ll be wasting your time and have to do it over again.

By now you should have already revised a few times, and you’ve reread your manuscript multiple times. You’re likely tired of looking at it and can’t find anything wrong with it, but you know it’s not perfect. Now you think fresh eyes should look at it, so you call for a beta reader or ask someone you trust to be honest and has a good grasp on English to read it for you and give you feed back. However, there’s something you need to do before sending it to anyone.

One of the last things I said about revision was making sure every scene and chapter is absolutely necessary for the story and advances the plot. Now, this is where revision and editing almost seem to be one and the same. Once you’ve determined that every chapter you have in your story is necessary, it’s time to break it down even further. Is every paragraph necessary? Is every sentence essential? Is every word crucial? You should know why each word is included in the story. If you can take it out and the story still makes sense, then it’s insignificant to the overall story and likely redundant.

Determining this prior to allowing anyone to see the story means you have a firm grasp as to why this happened and not that. Once I let someone read a story of mine, and she came to a part when Lorrek revealed how he knew Mordora’s secret. My beta reader said the reader should see Mordora’s surprise in that moment, and it would have been an easy fix, but I explained the pace of the story and how that moment was focused on Lorrek—not Mordora. Lorrek already knew she would be surprised, so he didn’t have to see it, and he was giving her a chance to recover before turning around to face her. The reader catches all this by his attitude but can tell by Mordora’s guarded responses that she was unnerved but tried to pretend otherwise. This is how I wanted the scene to unfold, and my beta reader backed down when I explained to her the fundamentals of that moment. I have found most people will back down when they realize you have thoroughly thought through everything. Does this mean you don’t ever need to consider what they say? No. Always consider what anyone says because it might be a better idea, but if you disagree with the idea, then at least you know where you can stand. Some people might insist you change it to their preference, but be wary of those people.

So before you let anyone read it, you need to know why you wrote everything you did—everything. Why is this editing and not revision? Because revision works more on a larger scale whereas editing is more like looking at your story through a microscope. However, as I said, this is where the two stages collide. Some may call it revision, others might say it’s editing, but it’s the transition process to stricter editing.

Now, one more thing you should do prior to letting new eyes see your story. Go back through it and view the sentence structure with critical eyes. Are you using proper grammar and punctuation? If there are grammar and punctuation rules you don’t fully grasp, now is a good time to master those by either looking it up online or contacting those who know the rules and explain them well enough. This could be a family member, a friend, or online writing friend, or writing group. There is no shame in asking for clarification. We live in the era of the Internet, and that is a wonderful tool. Writers should be supportive of one another and helpful, so if you encounter unpleasant responses and are discouraged and intimidated, I’m sorry for experience. Just know no all writers are like that.

So go back through your story and look at grammar and punctuation and any form of redundancy you might find. You want your writing to be tight. For instance, writing ‘young boy’ is redundant because boys are always young. Or even ‘looked up at the sky’ is repetitive because the sky is always ‘up’—unless you’re upside down in which case it’s good to clarify. Or ‘black darkness’—darkness is always black. To write more concisely, consider purchasing the book ‘Write Tight’ by William Brohaugh, which you can purchase on Amazon here. It’s an easy read and a short book, and at the end of the book it contains a list of redundant phrases that will make you laugh because it’s common sense if you really think about it.

With editing, remember, regard each paragraph, sentence, and word, and make sure they are absolutely necessary to the story. Then dig deeper to consider your use of grammar, punctuation, as well as locating any redundancy in your story. And yes, you may go back and forth between editing and revising because you might have realized during the editing process that you have a massive plot hole you need to fix, so you shift gears and revise. That is all right.

Also, every time you are changing the draft drastically, create a new document, and copy and paste your manuscript, and move everything to that new document. This way you don’t lose anything you might like in the original as you’re redoing things.

NOTE: As you’re going through all of this so very carefully, keep in mind the dialogue is an entirely separate creature. Punctuation might be different there, and word usage might be repetitive or grammatically wrong because that is how the character might speak. Am I justifying people speaking wrong? No—I hate it when I hear it, but unless you have a character who can correct the verbally erring character, if that’s how the character speaks, then you might have to let it go. Simply make sure it’s because the speech pattern of that character rather than an error on your part.

Also, you might absolutely love what you’ve written and think it’s perfect, and therefore you can justify everything you’ve written, but keep an open mind. In another post I will go into more detail of the etiquette of beta reading and receiving feedback and how to apply it to your work, but for now I wanted to make clear that I am not promoting hardheadedness and absolute stubbornness when multiple people tell the same writer there is something wrong with their story. If that many people say the same thing (howbeit vaguely at times), you should seriously consider what they’re saying—not because everyone’s ganging up on you, but because there is something wrong that even they might not be able to put their finger on but can sense. It is your job to knuckle down and be objective as you try to determine the source of the problem.

Next week we’ll discuss an approach to proofreading.

A Method of Revision

Last Saturday I hosted a Facebook event discussing approaches to revision, editing, and proofreading. If you were unable to attend, I will dedicate the next few posts to discuss those three different topics. Before you send your work to any editor, agent, or publisher, it is important to go through the steps of revision, editing, and proofreading. “But that’s what editors are for!” Yes and no. Editors edit to the standard of the market, but if you do everything in your ability to make their work easier, they will love you. Besides, it is the responsibility of a writer to improve their own work and not depend on others until absolutely necessary.

First up is revision.

When I decided to attend university, I did so with one reason in mind: learn how to revise and properly edit. Several of my classes were workshops where I had to evaluate others’ work and have my own work assessed. Although the class itself didn’t teach a method on critiquing, I learned my style of critiquing. By learning how to assist others, I discovered how to see the faults in my own writing and to address them.

With revision, it’s about gut feeling. First thing you need to do is reread what you wrote. Don’t try to fix anything during the initial reread. However, if something doesn’t feel right, highlight it, and make a note of what you think your initial gut feeling on the matter. I’m currently rereading the fourth book in my historical fiction series, and notes look something like this:

…In the council hall Baldwin conversed (NOTE: suddenly Baldwin is in the council hall when he was just on the wall?) with his war council over the finer points of the plan when a trumpet sounded.

It’s as simple fix that requires adding a few lines to clarify the transition of the scene without making Baldwin appear to be a teleporter in the medieval times, but I’m not focusing on fixing the problem right now. I am trying to get an overarching view of the story.

When rereading, ask yourself questions. When you come across a part that makes you think, “Wait—what?” Then record your puzzlement. Example taken from my book:

Even Countess Agnes (NOTE: was Agnes here all this time? Insert her presence earlier) gave her son a strange look along with all the other war council members, and she wasn’t in the discussion.

Now, when you reread everything and took notes, open a new document. Title it something so you can differentiate between the two drafts. Since I tend to write book series, each series gets it own folder, and within the folder, each book gets its own folder, so I title my drafts something like, 3Draft4thBook. That way when I go to that book’s folder, I can just look at the number of documents I have saved there and the numbers and immediately tell how many drafts I have and pick the latest one instead of hunting down the most current one in a file containing 25 different drafts of the same book.

Once you have the new document open and ready to go, select from the beginning all the way down to your first note. Copy that then paste it into the new doc. Then tackle the problem that you had noted. Doing it in chucks like this helps you not feel so overwhelmed when your story is 100-600 pages long, and you also don’t have to worry about messing up or losing any sentences you liked because you always have the original document elsewhere.

What happens if the note I made tells me I need to insert a scene earlier on?” Skim through your draft and determine where would be the best place to insert such a scene if you haven’t determined it already. This can be difficult especially if your scenes are tightly knit together, but it’s worth loosening a few knots to make the story better. However, instead of trying to untangle that mess and make it work immediately, open yet another document. Here, just write that scene out unrestricted as you imagine it. Once it’s written, take it back to where it should go in the novel and smooth out the transitions If the new scene isn’t working but is causing even more problems, consider removing it. This is when revising feels a lot like being a surgeon—opening parts up to arrange, insert, or remove different parts.

During revising, organization is key. If your story is over a hundred pages, you are dealing with a leviathan, so you need to keep track of what you’re doing and take a methodical approach. Otherwise, you can get overwhelmed, and you don’t know if you’re making any progress at all because it feels like nothing has changed. It’s better to take smaller steps and make definite progress rather than take everything in running strides while making little or no absolute progress.

Is revision the time I should work on improving the quality of my writing?” No—actually, it’s not. Okay, yes you can, but that is what the Playground Experience is for. If you aren’t confident in your own writing ability by the time you have a story you want to publish, then you should go back and study it closely and ask yourself, “Why am I not happy with it?” You might be naturally insecure and require a lot of outside approval on your work before you’re confident in your writing ability, but it does need to come from within. You need to have written the best you could at that time as I said in my previous post, and you need to know that you did your best instead of just skimming over the description, dodging the dialogue, brushing over the character development, and not really diving into the heart and soul of the plot of the story. If you know you gave it your all, and you know you didn’t try to take the easy way out, then be confident. Your writing (and mine!) will always need improvement. The writing style of every single writer in the world must continue to improve, morph, and develop. Otherwise, it becomes old, dull, and boring, and you always want life in your writing, and the only way to live is to continue exploring and learning.

So should you focus on the quality of your writing during revision? If you’re unhappy with a scene and think you can write it better, then rewrite it. If you’re uncertain about a scene and think you can write it better, then rewrite it. If you’re uncertain about a scene but don’t know if you can write it better, try rewriting it but don’t lose the original version of the scene. All these rewrites should be in an altogether different document than the actual draft.

One final note because this links with editing, which we will discuss in more detail next week. As you’re revising, determine if each chapter is important. Does each scene or chapter advance the plot? What is the reason for each one? If you were to take out one chapter, would the story be crippled and limp along, or would it run smoothly even in the absence of that chapter? Every chapter and every scene must serve a distinct purpose for the story and not merely ‘character development’. This is why developing character throughout the story is better than devoting a single chapter just for character development. It’s like this, if Hancock hadn’t asked Katerina to look into the situation about Armistead, Katerina wouldn’t have gone to Zizka. If she didn’t go to Zizka, Zizka wouldn’t have told Draven to fix the situation, and if Draven didn’t send people to fix it, the reader wouldn’t have found out what was really happening, and so on and so forth. Every scene builds upon the last, and the story is constantly moving forward. If you have this, the story structure will be very tight and concise, and that is what you want.

So with revision, always reread your work first, take notes, then tackle it one section at a time. You may have to remove parts of the story, insert new parts, or arrange parts altogether. Be patient with yourself, and make sure each chapter and each scene moves the story forward.

Now, there are different ways to approach revision, but this is one way. Perhaps you will find it helpful. Next week we’ll discuss editing.