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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast about writing that I started in 2017 and that ran, more or less weekly, until April 2022. This is a republication of issue #11, offering a self-publishing primer. The post first ran on March 30/17.
Welcome to The Write Question, the video-podcast designed to answer your questions about writing. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant.
Today I have a question from Kate Hebiert, who is talented 10-year old based in Cloverdale, British Columbia and who has already written several books! In fact, she wrote her first book when she was five, but she couldn’t type so she had to dictate it to her mom. Her genre is fantasy fiction and she sent me the manuscript of several of her books, which left me amazed. So did the way she asked her question: “What are the steps to self-publishing?” [sung]
Thanks, Kate. I work with many adult writers who want to know exactly the same thing so let me tell you what I tell them.
If you were as old as I am you might have a slightly negative association with self-publishing. It used to be called “the vanity press” because you were a writer who wasn’t good enough to be accepted by a traditional publisher. That’s no longer true.
Many writers now do both kinds of publishing and beginning writers can break into the business with a good self-published book. I just learned that one of my favourite books of the last three years, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg was originally self-published. Then, it was picked up by a traditional publisher and became a New York Times best-seller.
Self-publishing will cost you a little bit of money, but not nearly the amount it cost 30 years ago.
Some of the things you’ll need to pay for are:
A copy editor. Every writer needs a professional editor. Don’t think that a volunteer can do this. You really want an expert. In the description below I’m including a link to a blog post I wrote about the cost of copy editing.
Next, a proofreader. Proofreaders do more than catch typos. They ensure that your book looks really professional. This is not something you should compromise on. But if you want to save money, get your copy editor to be the proofreader.
After that, a cover designer. Having a good cover is important for any book. You don’t want your work to look cheap. The cost of designers varies greatly but I’ve included a link to a site that might allow you to get one less expensively.
Next, you need someone to lay out the pages. Despite the seeming simplicity of text on the page, laying out words is actually quite complicated. A professional designer will start at $600 just for the words inside the book. I do know a very good layout artist who is very fast and is less expensive than most. I’ve put a link to his site below.
Printing. It used to be that turning on the printing presses was the most expensive part of the job. Now there’s something called print on demand, which makes it more affordable to print very small press-runs. I have a very good printer here in Canada and I’ve included their link below. The cost of shipping the books to you is included in the quote.
But the biggest challenge with self-publishing, of course, is selling your book. Some authors may be happy to give the book away to friends and family but for anyone hoping to make a business of it, it’s important to know how you’re going to sell.
Most people will need to forget bookstores. It’s very hard to negotiate an agreement with individual stores unless you’re a publisher. And bookstores also take 50 to 60% of the cover price. As well, they’re able to return any unsold books to you for up to a year later and they expect a full refund for that.
For all these reasons, I suggest that self-publishers look instead at distributing through an online site like Amazon. Assuming you meet their pricing requirements, they will take 30% of your cover price — leaving 70% for you — and they will take care of shipping the book for you as well.
Amazon has a self-publishing arm called Create Space. And you can also buy a package from them that will cover ALL of the costs I’ve outlined above.
For my first book, I self published it and handled all of the costs myself. I’m probably going to do the same thing for my next book but that’s because I have the ability to sell books through my own website.
For you, Kate, I suggest you might want to look at a complete Amazon package. For any adults looking at self-publishing, I’d suggest they stop short of letting Amazon do the copy editing. For me, the relationship between a writer and a copy editor is extremely important and I would only hire someone I knew and trusted. But take a look at the packages Create Space offers. I’ve included a link below.
Finally, remember the words of American author and former Apple employee Guy Kawasaki: “Self-publishing isn’t easy, but it’s fun and sometimes even lucrative. Plus, your book could change the world.”
Thanks for your question, Kate. Good luck with changing the world.
Thanks so much for watching. If YOU have a question, you can email, tweet, or skype me. You can find the details in the description below along with any resources I’ve mentioned. And don’t forget to like and subscribe to the video.
The cost of copy editing: my blogpost
Book cover design: 99 designs
Book layout: Melodie Corbett (after Sept. 15/22 – email Daphne for contact info)
Printing: Island blue printing
Amazon’s self-publishing arm: Create Space: