The Economics of Indie Publishing- Chris Nuttall
I was on a panel with Chris Kennedy and a couple of others discussing the economics of indie publishing. These are my conclusions.
There’s a general rule in traditional publishing that the money should always flow downhill to the writer. If you’re being asked to pay for anything, once you get picked up by a publisher or agent, you’re being conned. Editing? Cover design? Formatting? Promotional material? The publisher should pay for all of those – and if he doesn’t, something is very badly wrong.
However, this isn’t actually true of independent publishing. Certainly, as before, the writing is the author’s work, but there’s no publisher to pay for all the other items (or, for that matter, to find them.) The author has to meet those costs himself, unless he can do the tasks for himself. (I know authors who can do cover designs, but I haven’t met a single author who could edit himself successfully.)
In these cases, the author needs to budget – and pay for these items as a lump sum.
Before you start hiring anyone to do anything, sort out the terms. You will need:
-Cost. How much is it going to cost you? I’ll try to give a set of basic figures in the more specific sections, but everyone has different figures.
-How. How are they going to do it?
-Payment method. How do you pay? I normally use PayPal; check this first, because it is quite embarrassing not to be able to pay. Do they want to be paid in a lump sum or in instalments?
-Time. How long will it take? What happens if they can’t produce the service/item in a given space of time?
-Rights. What rights to use the material do you get?
-Credit. How much credit do they want?
There are, in my opinion, two different categories of editing.
First, you have the conceptual edit, which covers everything from plot holes (just why do you have magically binding contracts enforced in your universe when someone didn’t actually agree to the contract?) to how the plotline shapes out (that’s a Deus Ex Machina) and continuity notes (you killed this character in the last book). Having someone read your book with a fresh eye is perhaps the only way you’ll catch these errors before the reviewers do.
Second, you have the line-edit. This basically covers spelling, grammar and everything else.
Editors vary wildly, both in cost and performance. Any editor who’s been in the field for a while should have a handful of authors willing to give a reference. (Ask for names or samples of their work.) A basic conceptual edit should cost between $100-$200, although costs can rise steeply if the editor has to read a handful of prequel books first. (If you don’t have the money, try finding another author and trading reads.) A line-edit can cost between $300 and $900. (Editors, in my experience, tend to raise their prices if the manuscript is riddles with errors.)
You’re paying, in a sense, for a private review of your work. The conceptual editor should not pull any punches – and you don’t want to encourage him to go lightly on you. Listen to the editor, then decide for yourself if their suggestions are valid or not. Even if you think the editor is wrong, it’s good to take another look at a weak section.
Editors, in my experience, don’t normally want to be credited in any way.
A book should not be judged by its cover – but the plain truth is that most books are judged by their covers. Getting a cover, unless you’re an artist yourself, can be daunting or expensive. However, there are some reasonable shortcuts.
-Stock Photos. Sites like ISTOCKPHOTO offer thousands of images, ranging from very basic drawings to outright space battles. Purchase a copy, place your title, name and tagline on the front, then upload it to kindle. (Hint; make sure your image fits the kindle requirements.) Prices, again, can vary; I’ve purchased images at prices from $30 to $100.
However, there can be two problems. First, you may not find anything suited to your needs and, second, someone else may use the same cover. (This has happened to me).
-Artists. If you don’t mind spending a bit more money and waiting longer, you can hire an artist to design the cover for you. Prices can, of course, vary sharply; I’ve had artists charge minimal prices in exchange for the exposure and artists who wanted full price ($500-$1000). For this, you need a contract (or at least a stated agreement); you want permanent, exclusive and comprehensive rights to the artwork.
(By comprehensive rights, I mean you want to be able to use it as a book cover, CD cover, promotional artwork and anything else, without either referring to the artist or having to pay royalties over the long term.)
If you’re strapped for cash, try browsing an artist website and looking for someone willing to draw a basic cover for relatively little money.
The artists I’ve worked with have asked for cover concepts, then drawn sketches for me to approve before they started the serious work. Feel free to make the concepts as detailed as possible; remember, the artist has to work from what you tell him. Also, make sure the author understands requirements for kindle and other self-publishing platforms. It’s no good getting a spectacular piece of artwork when it can’t be uploaded onto the web.
DO NOT be afraid to raise objections or ask for alterations. You’re the one putting the book online.
Artists generally want to be credited as the artist and to have the right to host copies of the artwork as samples of their work. You should agree to this – free advertising <grin>.
Now you’ve got your book online, you want to promote it – and, being an author, you will get emails advertising various services that promise to promote books.
Unfortunately, my general observation is that such services aren’t really worth the money you spend on them. I’ve tried a couple and I didn’t notice any real jump in sales. My strong advice would be to refrain from using any paid service.
Facebook does offer a paid promotional service, but again – I haven’t noticed any improvement in sales coming from using it.
Generally, it’s better to build up a presence on the net using free spaces – Facebook, a blog, twitter, etc – but be careful not to let yourself be sucked into spending all your time on the net! However, it’s worth investing in a domain name and a website; prices for these, of course, are very variable.
Paid Book Reviews
No. Don’t even think about it.
Yes, there are sites out there that promise thousands of 5-star reviews for an author willing to shell out. Some of them even actually do it. But …
It’s dishonest, it’s easy to spot, it will undermine the review system and it will utterly destroy your reputation. Trust me on this; don’t do it.
Ideally, you want to get more money out of indie publishing than you’re putting in. Keep decent accounts, work out what’s costing you time and money (and don’t forget to put money aside for taxes, as this is generally taxable income.) See what works, see what doesn’t work and …