Not long ago, I sat in a local writing group to hear the local self-publishing advocate tell the group “you can write a book today and have it published by the time you get home.” It’s a claim I’ve heard him make many times before. People nod enthusiastically, which is how I know they aren’t authors. Really, I’m going to write a book right now (it’s 7pm), and publish it before I get home? I know Denny’s is open 24 hours but how long can I stay here eating pancakes?
Now, I’m not writing this to tell you not to self-publish. I just want you to go into it with some sort of idea of what the process is like. Not gate keepers versus letting the audience decide but the actual process of going from story to published. I just used Smashwords and Kindle to self-publish my short M/M erotic story RED FLAGGED.First, let’s look at that claim “you can write a book today and have it published by the time you get home.” I’ve never seen anyone in the group actually do it. Why?
Because writing a book is the biggest challenge you’re going to face, especially if you have never written a start to finish draft before. It does get easier over time, but quality is more important than impressing someone with a fast turnaround. For the example below, I’m working with a short story. The first draft of the story didn’t take very long but that first draft is just the beginning.So, I had my story, but what I had was an unedited and unproofed manuscript. So I went through three self-editing runs where I fleshed out details and reworked bits and pieces of the story. Then I went through three proofing rounds focusing on small details like spelling, misplaced words and commas. At this point, I had the story at the stage where I’d normally submit to a publisher–where it would undergo more editing and proofing. Yes, a good editor will still find things, even if they’re small things.
I’ve seen writers debate this part of the process on Kindleboards and other sites. Here’s my take on it–I wouldn’t work with a publisher who failed to edit my book, so why would I skip that step when self-publishing? Yes, I wanted to save money. So I called in some friends–authors with multiple titles to their names–and asked them to proof. If you don’t have great proofing friends, you’re going to need to hire an editor. Prices: $50 – $2000 so shop around. Interestingly, even Mr. “Write and publish tonight” advises “having someone else look over the book first.” Oh, did I mention he’s a professional editor who charges on the high end. But hey, he’ll gladly look over the book, right?
Wait, I’m backing up a little. I needed cover art. I knew this part was coming so I started work on it before I sent the story out for proofing. There are many ways to do this, but not all authors are professional artists. I found a copyright free photo on a stock photo site. The price was right but it didn’t include design. I had a hot guy posing in front of a beige background and no text. I stared at Paint.Net (a free design program) and then called in Jenny. Jenny is a professional designer. She did my cover with a batch she was taking care of that week. Basic cover costs will run you $25-$500 (Mr. “Write and publish tonight” charges $500 and up.)
Wait, isn’t self-publishing free? Sure, if you skip the editing and do your own cover, but we’re not done yet. I had my cover and my edited manuscript. Next I had to go through Smashwords formatting process to prepare to upload the manuscript. Now, this part you can do by yourself if you feel comfortable with MS Word. Preparing the manuscript can be tedious work and you want to set aside some uninterrupted time for it. If you need help, Smashwords has people who will do the formatting for you for between $30 and $60.
Did I mention the ISBN? Smashwords includes a free ISBN for books listed as published by Smashwords. Kindle has its own free Kindle ISBN system. You can go the free route or you can purchase an ISBN and list yourself as the publisher. I went for the free option.
Story written, check. Edited and proofed, check. Cover art, check. Formatting done, check. I’m ready to upload to Smashwords. And at this point, things actually are free, sort of. Smashwords, Kindle, other sites–they all take a service fee. Yes, it leaves me with more money per book than a small press does. But all those things I paid for above–I pay for none of it with a small press.
Oops, money. I have to decide how much to charge. I’ve decided to go for a minimal 99 cent price and see how things go. Now, this is a difference I like since with a publisher, I have no choice on pricing. However, I’m also not getting the exposure I get with my publishers. Which is why I’m testing this out with a short story.
So, my story is uploaded but the work isn’t done. And no, I’m not talking about marketing, not yet. First, I had to check through the various published versions to make sure everything went well. And Smashwords vetting system checks for other mistakes and can have you reformatting and uploading the whole thing again. But I hadn’t rushed the formatting process, so everything was fine.
I know the above isn’t about the allure and excitement of self-publishing. It’s not about claiming you’ll make more money or that you can do it real fast and make even more money. It’s also not about warnings and forebodings of doom if you self-publish. This means it’s less exciting than the debates I usually see taking place. This is simply a post to point out that self-publishing does take work, and it can cost you money despite all the free claims. For a longer work, I’d probably set aside a couple hundred dollars to compensate friends for editing and cover art. If that sounds high, I know a guy who thinks you can write a write a book and publish it tonight. Someone asked him once about helping with her novel. He offered her a $5,000 self-publishing package. Of course he wants you to self-publish your book. This blog was free.
Red Flagged is now available on Smashwords for 99 cents. Check it out. (I get a little thrill everytime the dashboard tells me someone downloaded the sample.) I’ve submitted it to Kindle where it is undergoing review. Apparently the self-publishing expert doesn’t know that Kindle now reviews new submissions and can take 12 hours to make your book available, so no, it isn’t instant any more. But then, a good book doesn’t require instant publishing.
Click to see Red Flagged on SmashWords
Click to see Red Flagged on Amazon Kindle