Most authors I'm familiar with who publish their own work do so via print-on-demand platforms such as CreateSpace or Kindle Direct Publishing, which I wrote about in Using KDP To Self Publish A Paperback.
If you choose to publish a paperback that way, the biggest plus is that you don't need to pay for a large quantity of books and hope to sell them later, or to pay for any books in advance at all. Each book is printed when it's ordered. The author is paid a royalty based on the purchase price.
But there are some downsides for the author, ones I wasn't aware of when I started out with my Awakening series.
First, the cost to produce each book is generally higher, which means the author either earns a fairly low royalty or prices the book higher than most traditionally-published books.
Because I prefer to keep my prices in a range that's similar to traditionally-published books, on trade paperback sales outside of Amazon, I typically make less than $.25 per book. (Sold through Amazon or in person, I earn a few dollars per book.)
Second, bookstores usually won't carry print-on-demand (POD) books. The main reason is that the books typically aren't returnable. If the bookstore orders five of them and only one sells, the store can't send the other four back.
Another reason I heard from one bookstore owner is that Amazon is the competition and the stores don't want to promote Amazon products. Because many authors use Amazon platforms CreateSpace and KDP for POD books, that rules them out. (If you want to try a different company, check out Ingram Spark.)
For similar reasons, some bookstores won't carry a book that refers to Amazon anywhere on its cover, back blurb, or inside. I had no idea about that when I published Book 1 in my Awakening Series, though I probably ought to have figured as much. By the time I published the paperback, the Kindle edition had spent many weeks in the Top 50 of Amazon's occult bestseller list (the highest rank was No. 1) and its horror list. I was excited about that, so I thought listing Amazon Best Seller on the cover was a great idea.
When I reissue the book with the updated cover (shown above), I'll leave that off. It's a bit of a tough call, though. When I sell at in-person events, that Best Seller reference tips some buyers over the edge to purchasing.
Finally, there are distribution outlets, such as libraries, that are unlikely to purchase books from CreateSpace.
Because for now I believe my time and effort are better spent focusing on ebook and audiobook sales rather than print despite the above downsides, I plan to continue using CreateSpace and KDP. If I explore other options later, though, I'll be sure to let you know.
Lately I’ve been writing about what tasks authors might need or prefer to do themselves. While proofreading is a good task to outsource because it’s so hard to see errors in your own work, it remains a skill every writer needs, which is why I'm sharing proofreading tips below.
Even if you send your novel to a proofreader, it's important to proofread your novel yourself at least once. Doing so will help you to ensure all errors are caught and to spot quirks in your writing, such as overuse of certain words. (For a while, I added the word “up” all over the place—stand up, start up, fix up—and never noticed how distracting it was.)
So here are my seven tips:
Take Time Off
After you call your novel finished—truly finished as in ready to hit publish or submit to an agent or publisher—set it aside for a week. If that’s not possible, take at least a day to do anything but write. Take a vacation day, focus on your other job or profession, binge watch a series on Netflix.
Whatever it takes, clear your mind. After that, it’ll be easier to spot errors.
Read Three Words At A Time
Grouping words in three is one of the best ways to spot grammar errors, misused homonyms, and spelling. (Homonyms, which are words that sound the same but are spelled differently, such as “where” and “wear,” are the main reason you can’t rely on your word processor’s spell checker alone for proofreading.)
As you read, pause after each third word and at the end of each line. With this technique, the first sentence of this article would read like this:
Lately I’ve been writing about what tasks authors might
need or prefer to do themselves.
Alter How The Manuscript Looks
If you normally rewrite on screen, change the format. Making the words look different makes it less likely you’ll read through errors.
A few ways to achieve that:
Print your manuscript and review it on paper
If you’re in Microsoft Word, use the Print Preview or View function to make it look more like a page in a book
Enlarge or shrink the page
Change the font or font size
If you’re proofreading a Vellum file, switch from iBook to the Kindle view and back every few pages
It takes a long time to read a novel out loud, so while it’s ideal, it’s unrealistic. But you can shift from reading to yourself to reading aloud every few pages. It’ll help you get a fresh look and spot mistakes.
If you’ve made changes or updates, read out loud the paragraph where you made the edit and the ones before and after it. That will ensure you spot any errors you accidentally introduced.
Use A Ruler
If you proofread on paper, place a ruler under each line as you read. This will help you focus on each line on its own and will make it less likely you’ll get lost in the story. You can also run your fingers under the line as you read, but that’s not quite as effective.
If you’re proofing on screen, you can get a similar effect by proofing each line at the bottom of the page as you scroll up.
Rather than starting on page one of your novel, start with the last page. Read it top to bottom, then read the second-to-last page, then the third-to-last page.
This requires a bit of double reading when you reach the end of a page, as you’ll need to glance at the following one to be sure the transition makes sense. But overall it doesn't take much longer than reading through from beginning to end, and it will keep you from getting lost in the story and missing errors.
Aim For Perfection
Make it your goal to publish or submit a novel that’s free from all errors. Is that realistic? Maybe not, especially if your manuscript is 70,000 or 80,000 words or more.
But if you aim for perfection, the odds are, at worst, you will catch most typos. If you mentally shrug your shoulders and decide that typing “where” instead of “wear” or “therefore” instead of “therefor” really doesn’t matter, it’s likely you’ll produce work with many errors.
I hope that’s helpful. If there are typos in the above, I’ll be really embarrassed.
P.S. If you'd like a second set of eyes, the proofreader I use for my novels is great at spotting typos, missing words, and unintentional grammar errors (yes, there are intentional ones in my fiction, which she understands!). You can find more information at SMR Proofreading & Editing.
There are a couple ways to self-publish your novel in paperback. I just tried a new option from Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) platform. Until recently, you could only publish a Kindle edition through KDP.
For my Awakening supernatural thriller series, I used a different Amazon company, CreateSpace, for the print editions. Because I was short on time, rather than try the do-it-yourself options, I paid CreateSpace to format the manuscript and create a paperback cover. The explanations on CreateSpace for how to do those tasks myself struck me as too daunting and technical.
KDP seemed like a simpler and clearer process, so I decided to try it.
Here’s my view on using KDP to publish a paperback, feature-by-feature:
Verdict: Thumbs Up
It was easy to create the cover once I got the hang of using the features. I uploaded the JPEG file I already had for the e-book. KDP automatically created several paperback options with a spine and back cover based on the front cover design and colors.
I choose the option that made the front cover an exact match for the e-book cover and extended the background across the spine and the back cover.
By clicking on the text boxes KDP provided, I pasted in my author biography and book description from a Word file onto the back cover. My title and author name were automatically included on the spine, minus the subtitle because the text is too long.
Overall, an easy process.
Verdict: A Qualified Thumbs Up
I’d been hoping that KDP would magically convert my e-book file (a MOBI file I created in Vellum) into a paperback, but no such luck. Instead, I needed to upload a Word file.
Uploading was easy. Formatting the Word file before uploading was more challenging.
KDP provides templates for whatever paperback size you want to use, but the template I downloaded included only the correct margin and sizing. I chose a font in Word that I thought would look good (Book Antiqua 12 pt.).
I struggled with page numbering. After consulting a lot of Help screens and experimenting, I learned how to break the manuscript into sections, which in theory allows different pagination for each, but I never could get it exactly how I wanted it. I settled for small Roman numerals that start with page 2 on the copyright page (I’d wanted them to start on page 2 of the Preface) and ordinary numbers from Chapter 1 on.
After the page number challenge, I opted not to try to create headers with the title on the left-hand pages and my name on the right, though I would have liked to do that.
Now that I’ve done formatting once, I suspect I’ll have an easier time in the future. But when I was doing it, I concluded I’d rather pay someone else to deal with it.
Book Description For Amazon
Verdict: Thumbs Up
The book description from the Kindle version appeared in that section for the paperback automatically, so that was easy.
Verdict: Not Enough Data
Because this book is very short, I wanted to keep the price low so readers would not be disappointed or expect a full-length book. The lowest price I could choose that ended in .99 was $3.99. That resulted in a royalty under $.30.
I suspect I couldn’t go lower because there’s a basic set up cost Amazon wants to recover before its worth allowing an author to publish. Because this was an experiment, I was okay with this price structure.
Based on my experience with CreateSpace, the numbers should work out better for a longer book. I plan to try it for my standalone supernatural suspense novel, When Darkness Falls, which is over 80,000 words. I’ll update this post once I do that.
Verdict: Thumbs Up (plus a gold star)
With CreateSpace, I always request a print copy to proof before approving the final version. I do that because I like seeing how the cover and page layout look on paper. I also find it helpful to proof the book on paper one last time.
KDP Publishing does not offer print proofs. I assume that’s part of what keeps the upfront cost to the author at zero. The only way to do a last check of the book is via the online preview function. That was pretty easy to use, and I was able to eyeball the entire book to make sure it looked OK.
It made me a little nervous to hit publish without actually holding the paperback in my hands. But I was happily surprised that the paperback looks great.
Verdict: Thumbs Down
Every year I share a table under the Chicago Writers Association tent at the Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago. I also have live book events for new releases in my Awakening series.
Through CreateSpace, I’m able to buy print copies of my books at cost and sell them for whatever price I choose at live events. (The shipping charges add to my cost, so I don’t earn a lot, but it is generally $1-$3 a book.) CreateSpace also usually sends a small number of free copies to the author.
KDP publishing does not offer author copies or the ability to buy at cost for authors. The only way to get copies of the book is to order them off Amazon. The author does still get the royalty for that, so you’re getting the book at the cost. But it means paying more money initially.
For that reason, I doubt I’ll use KDP for books that I envision selling at events.
On the other hand, this feature matters not at all for the other reasons authors make paperbacks available. Those include (1) offering a paperback for readers who don’t have ereaders; (2) highlighting the lower Kindle price through comparison to the paperback price; and (3) validation (many readers feel better trying out a new author whose books are also offered in print).
To that last point, though, oddly, Amazon so far has not automatically linked the paperback and Kindle versions, which I would have thought it would do given that I published them from the same platform. If that doesn’t happen soon, I’ll email KDP Help and ask them to do it.
Unlike CreateSpace, KDP does not offer distribution to non-Amazon sites. So my small book on the Supreme Court will not be available through Barnes and Noble’s website, though the books in The Awakening series are.
I’ve heard the country distribution is more limited on KDP than CreateSpace, though the KDP help screen says KDP distributes to Japan and CreateSpace does not, so that may work both ways.
The proportion of paperbacks I sell compared to ebook and audiobook editions is small, and I mainly publish them for the three reasons listed above, not as a money generator. For those reasons, the distribution doesn’t matter that much to me.
If you are focused on selling paperbacks, you may want to look further into the distribution question.
In summary, I had a good experience with KDP for creating a paperback. I give it a Thumbs Down solely for the lack of author copies, a neutral/not enough data rating on pricing and distribution, and a Thumbs Up for cover, manuscript formatting, book description, and print quality.
I hope that’s helpful. If you’ve tried KDP or another platform for your paperbacks, please share you experience in the Comments.
In the 1990s, a friend told me he'd read an article that said in the future no one would buy books. Instead, people would have this amazing device that could turn into any book just by asking for it. That sounded impossible to me, and I didn't connect it with the computer on my desk with its giant monitor, bulky processing unit, and dial up Internet connection that made odd pinging noises.
Yet here we are in 2017, and I both read books on Kindle and publish my novels in numerous ebook editions. (I still read paper books, too, as do many people, so that part hasn't completely come true.)
Publishing seems to change by the minute, and advances like cars with built-in capacity for streaming audiobooks and virtual and augmented reality technology will no doubt will cause further evolution. So this Friday, my recommendation is the podcast/video episode from The Creative Penn on the future of publishing.
Writing and self-publishing involve a lot of tasks that you might be able to outsource to someone else. As I talked about in On Not Doing It All Yourselflast Sunday, it doesn’t make sense to do all of them yourself if you are able to pay someone to do at least some.
But there are good reasons to take a do-it-yourself approach to some tasks. Figuring out which ones is the key to a less stressful and more productive writing life.
Money and time are the threshold questions in terms of whether to outsource. If you have no money to spare, you’ll need to start by doing tasks yourself. Later, if you earn more at your current work or at writing, you can shift to paying professionals for tasks like editing and cover design.
On the flipside, if you have almost no time to write because you work a lot, and you’re earning good money, outsourcing everything you possibly can will make sense.
Most of us are somewhere in the middle on the money/time continuum, though. If that's true for you, the easiest tasks to outsource are the ones you absolutely don’t know how to do and have no good way of learning quickly or inexpensively.
When I published my first thriller, The Awakening, there were few easy-to-use online resources for creating your own cover, and I lacked any experience at manipulating photos or text. It never crossed my mind to design a cover myself, nor did I want to struggle with formatting a word processing file for Kindle, Nook, or any other ereader.
These days, though, almost any task relating to self-publishing can be done by the author. Sites like Canva.com make it possible to create social media posts and covers without much graphic design experience. With Vellum, you can convert Word files to ebook files without any coding or programming expertise. So there are fewer tasks that clearly must be outsourced.
So how to choose which to do yourself? Once you get past the easy questions, in my experience, what it’s best to do yourself depends on three things:
(1) What you’re good at
(2) Whether performing the task helps you in other ways
(3) What you enjoy
My general rule is if the end result will look as good as it will if I outsource it to an expert, and I’m good enough at it that outsourcing won’t save me significant time, I’ll probably do the task myself.
For example, for several years after college I temped as a word processor, moving from company to company and picking up skills as I went. I became very good at figuring out new software and exploring ways to make it do cool things. While the software to convert Microsoft Word to ebook formats is totally different from the word processing programs I used decades ago, I still am comfortable experimenting, and Vellum is easy enough to use, that my final product looks good.
Also, while outsourcing saves time in preparing the ebook files, the quality control/final correction phase is quicker when I do it myself. When I outsource and review the file I get back, I have to copy and past each error and the corresponding corrections into an email or Word file to send to the conversion service, wait a couple days for a new version, and review that. When I do it myself, I see the error, correct it, review it, then move on.
Think about your skills. Are you good at software, copywriting, or graphic design?
If so, choose a project that is low stress—a novella or short story versus a novel—and experiment. You might find it’s worth doing some tasks yourself.
And if not, at least you’ve found one task you definitely want to outsource.
Does Doing This Task Help You In Other Ways?
So far, I’ve never tried designing a cover for a novel (and I don’t plan to for the reasons listed in Your Book Will Be Judged By Its Cover), but recently I experimented with creating covers on Canva.com for non-fiction. There are a couple ways that helped me beyond learning how to do a basic cover, a skill I might or might not ever use again.
First, as I designed one cover, I refined my title. My first title for Super Simple Story Structure, was Five Steps to Story Structure. As I laid it out on the cover, though, that initial title looked out of balance.
No doubt a good graphic designer could have made it work. If I’d been in love with the title, I would have chucked my attempts and hired someone. But I wasn’t. So I tried using “5” instead of “Five” and played around with fonts and capitalization.
Finally, I experimented with other titles and settled on Super Simple Story Structure. The row of words starting with S makes the title look good aligned on the left. The alliteration makes the title easier to remember. And the “Super Simple” part does a much better job of conveying the point of the book, which is to make plotting a novel simple and clear.
Second, when I was designing the cover for How The Virgin Mary Influenced The United States Supreme Court, I was still writing the ebook. It started as an academic paper, but I wanted it to be easy to read and interesting to any reader who wanted to know whether the justices’ religious backgrounds played a role in their decision about religious objections to health insurance that covered contraceptives.
Pulling together background photos of the Supreme Court and a statute of the Virgin Mary helped me figure out how to focus the book. I changed an abstract discussion of Catholic doctrine into a conversation about how the Virgin Mary represents the “pure” and “perfect” woman, and how that view of women influences our culture and courts.
Had I not done the cover myself, though, I might never have found a good approach to the book.
What’s Fun For You?
I really like using Vellum to create my final ebook files. The display lets me see the book as the reader sees it and gives me a different perspective on how it appears. (For one thing, it’s caused me to write shorter paragraphs.) It’s also fun for me to play with the different styles for chapter headings and the symbols in between scenes. Finally, it kind of feels like magic to me the way I drop in a Word file and get an ebook file that looks pretty.
In short, it’s fun.
On the other hand, because I get neck and shoulder pain when I type too much, I hate making extensive revisions in Word, and I need to minimize my typing time. So when I’ve got a very solid first draft, I print it, handwrite changes, and send it to a virtual assistant to do the heavy lifting.
You, on the other hand, might like revising using your screen and keyboard and might hate spending time with a formatting program.
Which tasks you find fun matters.
Most of us already do enough work we don't love at our day-to-day jobs or careers because it comes with the job title. Also, many people who write make more money at their regular jobs. So if writing and the tasks related to it aren’t fun, it’ll be hard to keep devoting time to them.
Finally, and most important, at least to me, is that the point is to live a happy life, not to write novels—or achieve other goals—at any cost.
So rather than push yourself to do writing-related tasks you don’t like, if you’re able, send those to someone else and save the fun things for yourself.
This Friday I recommend a 6-minute episode of my favorite podcast on writing, The Journeyman Writer. In Nobody Says Flying Disc, host Alastair Stephens talks about when you should and shouldn’t use brand names in your fiction.
Whether you self publish your writing or plan to seek a traditional publishing contract, there are related tasks you can pay someone else to do. Often the people you could hire have more experience and can produce a better result than you, such as when you pay a graphic designer to create a book cover or a professional developmental editor to review your plot.
Yet most of us struggle with the idea of paying for services we can, at least in theory, do ourselves.
Here are three reasons that come to mind:
Your time is “free”
It’s too hard to train someone
You’re not earning enough
Let’s talk about each one.
Why Pay Someone When I Can Do The Task For Free?
The problem with this question is that it contains an assumption: that your time is free. It's not, even if you are earning zero right now at your writing.
At the very least, if you have another job or profession, your time is worth what you currently earn calculated by the hour. So if your annual salary is $70,000, you earn about $35 an hour if you work 40 hours a week. If someone else can do a writing-related task for less than that, you're coming out ahead, assuming you have the resources to pay.
Even if you pay someone the exact hourly amount you take home, odds are you’ll come out ahead.
First, an expert can work faster and produce better results. For example, as I wrote about in Your Book Will Be Judged By Its Cover, I recently designed two covers myself for nonfiction books. My guess is that each one took me at least 10 hours, while I bet a professional could have created them in 1-2 hours. So even if the hourly rate were equal, I overpaid for those covers.
Second, if you are earning at least some money at your writing, whatever you pay someone else generally is tax deductible, but the time you devote is not. So for simplicity’s sake, let’s say I earn $1,000 in royalties on those two books and earn the salary in the example above at my other work. I spent $700 (20 hours X $35) to design the covers, but I can’t deduct that as an expense because my time was “free.” So I’ll still pay taxes on $1,000.
If I had instead paid a cover designer $200, I not only would have freed up 20 hours of my time, my profit would be $800 ($1,000-$200), and that’s what I’m paying tax on, not the whole $1,000. (Obviously, this is a general example. I’m not a tax attorney or accountant, and if you need specific tax advice, you should talk to a professional.)
Third, by spending your time on something that’s not your area of expertise, you incur what businesses call “opportunity costs.” If instead of spending 20 hours on covers I’d spent it finishing the second non-fiction book, that would be out there potentially earning royalties right now. Instead, I’m still making last revisions.
Okay, I better move on soon, because I’ve convinced myself that designing those two covers really wasn’t the best move and I’ve lost 20 hours.
If you find yourself in the same position, though, and you no doubt will at some point, don’t worry too much about it. With any endeavor there will be missteps and money or time you wish you had spent differently. I think of it as “tuition”—money or time that's required to learn a new area, a concept I borrowed from Robert Kiyosaki of Rich Dad Poor Dad fame.
It Takes Too Long To Train Someone.
This is the objection that applied most often in my solo law practice because there was a steep learning curve with a lot of the work I needed help with. In the beginning, training a new lawyer or an assistant would have taken more of my time than it saved. But I was being shortsighted. Even if it had taken me four or five or ten times as long to train someone, once they were trained, my time would have been freed to do tasks that only I could do, or that I could do best.
The many hours I spent learning all my clients’ different billing programs, for instance, could have been devoted to legal work that paid me by the hour or to finishing my novels more quickly. In other words, it would have been well worth it over the long haul to spend some time training.
In writing, the case for outsourcing is even stronger. if you self-publish, it's almost certain you could be paying someone to do something that you aren't that skilled at. Most writers are not also graphic designers, they don't know how to convert word processing files to Kindle files, they don’t have web design experience, and they aren't usually terrific editors of their own work.
Also, when you outsource work, you get the benefit of an outsider's perspective. The graphic designer may propose a wonderful concept that never crossed your mind because you are so immersed in your story. Recently, my virtual assistant typed in some edits for me that I’d handwritten on a manuscript. She spotted a few awkward sentences I’d read right past because I knew what I meant. When she flagged them, though, I realized she was right.
I'm Not Making Enough At Writing To Justify Paying Someone.
Even if you are earning money at your first profession or job, it can be hard to justify to yourself paying someone to help with your novel if your fiction writing isn’t generating a lot of income.
But no matter how little or how much your fiction earns right now, time and money can always be exchanged for one another. As I talked about in Tips For Writing Novels While Working More Than Full-Time, by paying someone to do anything that you could do yourself, you are literally buying time.
Also, when it comes to financial goals such as paying your bills, saving for retirement, or paying down debt, the overall dollars matter, not where they come from. So if I can pay someone $200 to do a writing-related task and that allows me to spend time doing something that earns me $300, hiring someone makes financial sense regardless whether I earned that $300 through royalties, practicing law, or selling vintage Barbies on eBay.
Another way to think of this is that lots of people spend money on hobbies and leisure activities, most of which don’t have the potential to earn them any money. Supplies and equipment are needed for activities as diverse as building model airplanes, kayaking, and playing golf. Even birdwatching requires purchasing binoculars. In contrast, whether or not your writing earns you money now, it has the potential to do so.
Finally, think about why you’re writing and how long you’re willing to devote to the business side of it. If you want to sell books, it will take time to find your market (whether you intend to do that on your own or through a publisher).
Also, to establish yourself, you will need more than one book. In fact you'll probably need at least four or five. The faster you can write those books, the better for your career, assuming your quality remains good. So paying someone else to do things so that you can write more in the long run will almost certainly earn you more and help you get your career off the ground.
I hope these points persuaded you at least to consider some tasks you could pay someone else to handle, assuming you have even a small amount of funds to do so. Next week I'll talk about how to decide which tasks make the most sense to outsource. (There’s no one-size-fits all answer. What’s best for you to do yourself will vary from writer-to-writer.)