Wednesday, August 9, 2017

PPWs Historical Blog: The Ins and Outs of Self-Publishing

By: Jason Henry Evans

Welcome back to my blog about historical fiction. Today we will discuss the ins and outs of
self-publishing. So, go to the refrigerator and get something cold. While you’re at it, go grab something to write with and something to write on. I’ll wait.

Ready? OK?

We live in an amazing world. I grew up in the 1980s, when a professional author was akin to being a professional athlete and a rock star. There were so many gatekeepers and so many, byzantine steps to go through that writing professionally seemed like a fantasy.
No more. Today you can avoid the industry business model entirely and self-publish your book. (Besides, that business model isn’t working anyways.)

There is one problem though. It’s all on you.

You have no industry professionals who tell you what covers are selling right now for your
genre. There are no business connections who can get your book into Indy bookstores, let alone Barnes & Nobles, or Walmart. The lay-out, the editing, the font choices, the cover art, and a thousand different choices—they’re all on you.

Some people will find these many choices terrifying. Others will be stimulated by all the control they’ll have over the final product. Either way you should seriously consider self-publishing for a couple of reasons.

·       You get more money.

I’ve talked to several traditionally published authors and they tell me they split the profits with their publisher after the expenses of publishing. That could mean anywhere from 10% to 30% of the profits from each sale. If you go with Amazon KDP, you can get up to 70%.

·       You like being in control

Author Jennifer Rose has just self-published her middle grade book, Twins of Orion. Ms. Rose conducted painstaking research on cover artists, color schemes, and font styles. She went through several edits & editors, as well. I could not see her giving—letting someone else make these choices. Her book is a testament to her attention to detail. If you like obsessing over such things, Indy publishing is for you.

·       The old publishing model is withering

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think traditional publishing is dying. It is changing in ways nobody can predict. Independent publishing has grown, by some estimates, to control up to 30% of the market. You would be foolish if you didn’t at least explore the opportunities of Indy publishing.

Let’s make a list of all the things you’ll have to do in order to independently publish your book.

Line editing
Copy editing
Proof readers
Cover design
Cost of physical copies

Editing, in all its forms, is key to writing a good novel. But why do you need three of them? A line edit will go over the story as a whole. The plot, the subplots and the character arcs. Are there plot holes? Are the themes you’ve written about too obvious or too subtle? Is it an enjoyable read?

A copy edit looks at language. Do your sentences or paragraphs all start the same way? Do you use crutch words? (Mine is however.) Is your dialogue stilted? These are the questions a copy editor looks at. A copy edit will help the style of your novel.

A proofreader will look at typos, misspelled words, improper punctuation, style errors and formatting issues missed by your formatter.

If you don’t think you need an editor, you are lying to yourself. Everyone needs editing. Your cousin Larry who used to be an English major before dropping out of community college won’t help. Searching the web for advice on how to self-edit won’t help. You need a pro. Someone who is not close to your story. Someone who isn’t afraid to ask hard questions and tell you hard truths.

The one thing you might get away with is using beta readers as proofreaders. But you’ll need a lot of beta readers – as many as a dozen or more – to make sure you get as many errors corrected as possible.

Cover art and book formatting are things better left up to the professionals. I have heard of cover artists asking for as much as $700-$1,000 for cover art. While I’m sure these artists are worth every penny, you can find a better price if you ask your fellow authors in the community. Please remember that cover art can be very personal. You need to be clear with your artist before you sign a contract what your expectations are going to be. (We’ll talk about this later).

The same is true with your formatter. While you can format your book yourself on Amazon KDP, it will be worth your time and effort to do the tedious work of formatting your book — at least the first time you self-publish.

Self-publishing a book is a lot like being your own general contractor when renovating your house. If you’re not an expert in plumbing, landscaping, electrical work, and carpentry you can find yourself over your head rather quickly. Fortunately, there are people who can help.

Popping up all over the country are companies like Rune Wright Press and Spine Press & Post. Companies like these offer competitive formatting and marketing services to get your book in publishing shape. These businesses also have contacts within the Indy world and can make introductions to cover artists and editors, too. Use them to find quality professionals to work on your book.

Remember who the Boss is! (psst, that’s you!)
Again, like a contractor remodeling your home, these professionals you are going to hire will have access to a part of you that is deeply personal —your book. They’re going to be there for a while, too. Just like a contractor, you’re going to develop a relationship with these people. Hell, when completed, you may treat some of them like family.

And this is where the trap lies.
Because your book is so important to you, and these people will come in and share in your story, you’ll forget that this is a business. You’ll trust these people implicitly with your novel. Most will sincerely try to help you with —some won’t.

For every great Indy publishing experience there are two horror stories. This is why you need to be in control. Be clear about your expectations about everything. From communications, to art designs, to editing. Be specific about what you want for your book. Don’t let anybody hound or harass you on anything. You are the boss!

Everything is Negotiable
If you’re uncomfortable with a quoted price ask them — in a respectful way — to come down.

Formatter: “My price for formatting is $250. I can’t wait to get started. Your book looks amazing!”

You: “Wow. Thank You. I really want to work with you, too. However, I wasn’t prepared to pay that much money. I’d love for you to work on my book, but I don’t think I can afford that much. Is there any way we can talk about price? Can you come down some?”
We Americans have gotten out of the habit of negotiating for things. But this is business and everything is negotiable. Author and financial guru Dave Ramsey’s book, Entreleadership, can help you learn how to ask for a lower price without hurting people’s feelings or getting into an argument.

Have a Budget  
It is very easy to get overwhelmed and start pouring money down a pit called your novel. So make sure you have a hard and fast budget you’ve thought about and agreed upon. A budget will clarify what you’re willing to spend at each step of the process. You can always fiddle with numbers if you can justify an added expense later. What you don’t want to do is look back and realize  you’ve spent $5,000+ dollars on self-publishing a book.

Finally – and I cannot stress this enough – never pay your vendors up front and in total. The best thing to negotiate is for your vendors – the cover artist, the formatter, the editors, to be paid in full when work is completed. Now, many won’t agree to this because there are deadbeat artists who refuse to pay for legitimate work done. If you can, always pay after work is completed.

If the professional you work with is adamant they will not wait to get paid, then negotiate several smaller payments. I like paying in thirds. A third up front when we begin business. A third when half the work is done (“half the work,” is a benchmark negotiated between both parties,) and a third when all the work is done. (Again, “work done,” is defined by both parties).

I have a friend who paid a professional author $1,000 to edit her manuscript and paid up front. He claimed some sort of hardship and never did the work. Nor did he return her money. You can protect yourself by never paying all up front. There are enough quality professionals looking to help authors that you don’t have to do this.

Talk to Your Friends in the Writing Community.
Your fellow writers and authors will have great recommendations for you. Ask around. Get feedback. When you find an editor or artist, ask for references. If they can’t give them to you that may be a red flag.

This blog just touches the iceberg of self-publishing. It can be a daunting experience. But if you must self-publish, if you enjoy the control, then all the experiences will be worth it.

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About the Author:  Jason Evans always wanted to be a writer, he just didn't know it. He grew up in Pasadena, California, in the 1980s where he watched way too much television, but was introduced to literature by his grandfather and his favorite middle school and high school teachers. He wasted his youth working at the So Cal Renaissance Faire (a dangerous place because it’s the gateway drug to other historical costumes,). In his leisure time he’s an educator, a writer, and a bon vivant. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara, with degrees in History & Renaissance Studies, a teaching credentials from CSU Los Angeles, as well as a graduate degree from the University of Colorado, Denver. He currently resides in Denver with his wife, the fetching Mrs. Evans, their three dogs and a mischievous cat who calls him his thrall. 


  1. Interesting take. Thank you for covering the bones and adding flesh to the self-publishing skeleton.
    The shortcuts we can't take are all in the words. But our work doesn't end there.

  2. Thank You, R.A. And, you are absolutely right! The work doesn't end there. In fact, it is on going!


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