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.

Determine Your Writing Goals

Schedule your writing. Do I mean select a specific time of day to write? Yes and no. Yes, but only in the case that you can write that way, but no, in case you prefer more flexibility regarding your writing. So what do I mean? There are twelve months in a year. January is almost complete, but what would you like to see yourself accomplish regarding your writing goals in the month of February? What about March? How long does it take you to complete writing the first draft of your novel?

Most people just write. Sure, they have a goal in mind—finish this story and publish it…someday. Then Writer’s Block hits, and it really delays the writing process. However, if you lay your goals out for the year, you’ll have more of an incentive to press on and meet your deadlines. You’ll know if you don’t finish this story by this specific month, then you won’t be able to start on revising and editing it, and if you don’t get through that by this other date, you won’t be able to send out query letters or self-publish your work at the appointed time.

But how do you know when you’ll be finished writing the book? Well, everyone is different. Some people write daily while others don’t. You will have to determine the best way for you to write. The important thing is to set realistic goals and keep them. One way you can do this is by knowing how much you write in certain increments such as the following:

  • How much can you write in 15 minutes?
  • How much can you write in an hour?
  • How long does it take you to complete the first draft of a novel?
  • How long does it take you to revise a draft?
  • How long does it take you to edit a draft?
  • How long does it take you to proofread a draft?
  • How many revisions must you complete before being satisfied with your novel? (This question will likely not have a fixed number because each novel will be different. However, it is still something you should keep in mind.)
  • If you’re seeking traditional publishing or an agent, what is the common waiting time to get a response?
  • If you’re self-publishing and formatting your own work, how long does it take you to format a book?
  • If you’re having other people beta read, proof, or edit your novel, how long does it take them to get back to you?

Now, the answer to every question listed above is subject to change due to numerous circumstances (what you’re working on, who you’re working with, and just plain Real Life getting in the way). Nevertheless, if you can list a tentative answer, it will give you a general idea of how long it’ll take you to reach your goal. With that in mind, you can set your goals.

For example, here are my answers to some of the questions:

How much can you write in 15 minutes? 500 words.

How much can you write in an hour? 2,000 words.

How long does it take you to complete the first draft of a novel? 3-6 months.

How long does it take you to revise a draft? 1 week/1 month.

How long does it take you to edit a draft? 1 week/1 month.

How long does it take you to proofread a draft? 1 week/1 month.

How many revisions must you complete before being satisfied with your novel? (This question will likely not have a fixed number because each novel will be different. However, it is still something you should keep in mind.) At least 5 revisions.

If you’re having other people beta read, proof, or edit your novel, how long does it take them to get back to you? At least two weeks but maybe month.

Knowing this information, I can plot my approach to the writing year. I’m the kind of person who must write daily, and in my mind revision, editing, proofreading, and researching the market doesn’t qualify as ‘writing’. Revision might be the only exception especially if there are major revisions necessary where I have to add an entirely new chapter or section to a chapter. In that case, I am writing. However, with that aside, I like to write in addition to all my other work. Why? So I can constantly have something to publish. In my mind, it looks something like this:

Write Book 1

Write Book 2, revise/edit/proof Book 1

Write Book 3, revise/edit/proof Book 2, publish Book 1

And so forth.

Is this a perfect system? No, because you can’t predict the exact timing of everything, and Real Life just happens, but this is how I work.

In other words, if you really want to become a published author, you have to plan for it. Not only do you have to set the goals, but you also have to determine the necessary steps to reach that goal. Anyone can say, “I want to publish a book one day!” Yet it takes a disciplined writer to say, “I’m going to publish my book at this date, and this is how I’m going to do it…and here’s Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D if Plan A doesn’t work.” So try to plan your writing year.

Also, if you feel as if you’re nowhere near being ready to be published because you’re not confident in your skills handling different elements of writing, it might be a good idea to schedule your year by month and what elements you want to master. For instance, you could say, “In February, I really want to focus on writing good descriptions.” And in March you could say, “I want to focus on dialogue.” Or it could be plot, strong characterization, pacing of a story—whatever you want. Now, not every element requires a month to master it. It may take less than a month or more than a month. You would have to measure the time according to your own pace.

Sometimes a writing mentor can help keep you lay out your goals and keep you on track. If you’re interested in such a mentor, feel free to join my Facebook group and let me know: https://www.facebook.com/groups/AuthorKellyBlanchard/ I mentor writers beyond blog posts and would love to interact with more of my readers and help you reach your writing goals.

The Etiquette of Readers Part 2: Beta Readers

Last week we identified and discussed the role of Casual Readers. Now we’re going to focus on the more popular role of a Beta Readers.

While Casual Readers tend not to be writers, Beta Readers are usually on the path to becoming editors and are writers themselves. First thing to recognize about Beta Readers is there is not a one size fits all. You may not agree with someone’s method of critiquing because they’re looking at it all wrong, and they’re always negative, and you just can’t seem to do anything right. If this is the case, try getting another Beta Reader, but always do a trial run with them first. Send a sample of your writing, see how they critique. If you two seem to get along, then work from there.

With Beta Readers, it is up to them whether or not you send your work as a complete manuscript at one time or chapter by chapter. This is something the two of you must discuss. Simply be aware, the more you send, the longer it will take to get anything back to you. It is also important to remember that you should have revised and edited your work at least once before sending it to a Beta Reader.

With a Beta Reader, it is important to understand one thing: their job is to tear your work to shreds. Yes, this is difficult. It’s hard. It’s painful. However, it is important. This is also preparing you for when your work must go before an editor. It’s helping you understand your work better and develop thick skin.

Now, on this topic, there is something very important to realize. If you have people read your work, and they stop at a certain point and can’t read further, you must investigate—not only where they stopped but from the beginning all the to that specific point. Look at description, dialogue, character development, scene setting, plot development, writing style. Are the characters cliché? Are they too perfect? Are they relatable? Is there a moral issue in the story that’s causing the problem?

Most people won’t tell you why they didn’t like the story because they don’t know. Some might know, but if you’re stubborn and stuck in your way when it comes to writing, they’re not going to be very honest with you because it takes a lot of time and energy to explain to you the problem.

I don’t volunteer to read anyone’s writing anymore. If I can’t finish a story, I find out exactly why that is, and it’s usually more than one issue, but this one issue brings up this other issue which breeds another one and so on and so forth, and the writer is left thinking, “I can’t write!” And I’m respond, “No, you can! You’re very good at it, and you wrote an entire story which is an awesome accomplishment!” but then I’m lost at how to encourage them to step back, have faith, and tackle things one at a time.

If you’re confident in your writing ability and believe the story you wrote is important for the world to know, then nothing can tear you down. Yes, there are people out there who want nothing more than to completely rip writers to shreds. It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into something or the importance of certain elements and specific scenes, they don’t care. I don’t understand those people, but when I encounter those people, I don’t bother to justify my writing or explain myself. They have a right to their own opinion, and no matter how many times I revise my work, it won’t make them happy, so I just nod and tell them, “Thank you. I will take it into consideration,” but then I’ll go back to my story and set the criticism before the characters and listen to them protest loudly, “Why would I do that?! What would my motives be? That makes absolutely no sense. No, no, and no!” And they cross their arms, threatening me with Writer’s Block if I even attempt to revise in the suggested manner.

This is why you must know why you wrote everything in the story, why it’s important to see how the pieces connect.

However, there are some unofficial guidelines we can all use.

WRITERS, if you give your work to a Beta Reader to critique, expect them to do several things:

  1. They will read your story from beginning to end in a timely manner.

  2. They will make notes on everything that jumps out at them.

  3. They will ask questions.

  4. They will point out errors.

  5. They will not correct or change anything for you.

  6. They are not your brainstorming buddies (unless agreed upon otherwise).

  7. If a Beta Reader cannot complete your novel for lack of time or simply disinterest in the story, you should not be offended but find another Beta Reader.

  8. You must remain professional.

  9. Honesty is key.

BETA READERS, if you volunteer to read someone’s work to critique it, there are a few things you must recognize:

  1. You are obligated to read their entire work and critique it in a timely fashion.

  2. If you cannot complete their work, you must inform the writer of this and explain why.

  3. Do not volunteer to read someone’s work out of pity especially when you’re disinterested in their story.

  4. Look for positive aspects of the story as well as the negative.

  5. You must remain professional.

  6. Honesty is key.

Now notice, I said Writer and Beta Reader should ‘remain professional’ and that ‘honesty is key’. WRITERS, your story may be your baby, but when you’ve reached this stage of your story, you must distance yourself from it and become professional about it. This makes any negativity toward your writing easier to accept and to view objectively rather than subjectively. BETA READERS, being professional while you work allows you to do your work properly without fear of the author lashing out at you and blaming you for your criticism. Even if that were to happen, you can take everything in stride and carry on.

Honesty is the most important element in this process. Writers must be straightforward and honest with their Beta Readers of what they expect from them and when they need the story’s critique completed and returned to them—set a deadline. Beta Readers need to be able to say ‘no’ when they have too much on their plate or when they feel their style of critiquing will not work well with a specific author. Beta Readers should be able to express their opinion without too much concern of how the writer will react since the writer should react responsibly.

Are these hard and fast rules? No. They’re completely unofficial, but they could help to eliminate stress and frustration on everyone’s part. You may approach this subject any way you want.

To summarize: while you are writing or in the middle of revising and editing but need encouragement, find a Casual Reader (or several) to be your cheerleader. Once you’ve revised several times and are now ready for the next step, find a Beta Reader and understand everything is about to get serious, so be professional, and keep honesty between the two of you. This will help you face the harsh realities of publishing.

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