Thursday 14 August 2014

Your Start-Up Capital is 20p

Signs of a problem: empty pockets.

The symptoms: quote from editor causes hives.

Many websites will tell you never to publish a book without an editor. Some authors will tell you that professional cover design did wonders for their sales. If you’ve got a few hundred pounds lying around, perfecting your book’s interior and cover will certainly improve its value. If, however, you are struggling to make ends meet, then it is very bad advice because you may not be able to recoup those costs with your first novel. Editing is important; feeding your children is vital.

You will find that many readers expect you to stump up the cost of editing yet are not prepared to pay more than 6p for a book. Don’t be bullied into going without food so that a bunch of opinionated, greedy bastards can pay less than the price of a condom for many more hours of entertainment.

You have to believe that you’re capable of writing a bestseller, but you must also be realistic about the likelihood of your first book taking off right away. Most self-published authors sell fewer than one hundred copies of their first book. My debut novel sold only eighteen copies in its first year. Unknown self-published authors often find they have to price a novel at less than a pound to attract any sales at all. This means that, unless you can guarantee a great deal of exposure, it is not cost-effective to hire a proofreader, a line editor and a cover designer.

Cost is not the only consideration, of course. Many authors would be horrified to think that a sloppy version of their work could be found on eighteen eReaders, and would be happy to take the financial hit in the interests of getting it right.

Indeed, I regret not getting my first books professionally edited. After they were proofread my ratings improved by as much as one star. If I’d known I would eventually make enough money to cover editing costs, I would have done things differently. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

If you can’t afford to pay a professional editor, there are other ways to help polish your book. Firstly, re-draft, re-draft, re-draft. My books aren’t usually ready for my editor until draft five or six. Once you’ve finished redrafting, get somebody, anybody, to read your novel and point out mistakes before you publish. Now’s the time to respect that pedantic friend who always interrupts your anecdotes to correct your grammar. Another method is to pair up with another author and proofread for each other. Local writers’ groups are a great way to improve your work and iron out problems.

You can make a surprisingly effective cover using basic photo editing software. Something as simple as text on a textured background can look professional if done well.

Another way to save money is to visit an online skills marketplace such as those that list services people will provide, in exchange for a fiver. However, be careful what you pay for. If you’ve written a serious non-fiction title about becoming an Olympic trampolinist, don’t be surprised if a cover designer charging £5 delivers a photoshopped monstrosity of a barefooted man in a kangaroo suit.

If you do decide to hire freelancers, make sure that you pay a reasonable wage. Whilst you might love your novel so much that you’ll work at a loss, you can’t expect others to share your commitment. If a trainee editor gives you an introductory discount and you’re happy with the results, stay loyal. You’re likely to get better results if you work with editors who are familiar with your writing style. Also you don’t want to get a reputation as a discount sponge.

The eBook publishing process itself usually costs nothing. Online stores take a cut of sales. So, if you don’t sell, you don’t pay. Some organisations will offer to publish your eBook for a fee; treat these with scepticism as the process is very simple.

Do not be tempted to use a Print-on-Demand (POD) service with a budget of 20p. POD is a type of paperback that is literally printed whenever it is ordered. Although in theory POD can be free to set up, in practice it is not. Some services charge extra to enable distributors to sell books through a shop (usually known as an extended distribution package).

If you publish an eBook with typos in it, you can easily upload a corrected version. If you publish a paperback containing errors then many services charge to upload a new edition. Readers who have already bought your book can usually get an updated version of an eBook for free; the typos in a print edition are permanent.

Some people have experienced success using crowd-funding websites to cover costs. The added bonus is that attracting benefactors also advertises your book. However, crowd-funding costs time and money. You need to provide incentives, create an appealing video and pay listing fees. In some cases, you do not get paid a penny unless you reach your target.

In summary, if you want to sell a professional-quality book and/or progress to print, pay for a line edit and at least one separate proofread (preferably two or three). If you have a shoe-string budget and want to dip your toes in the water, publishing an eBook proofread by a pedantic friend is an ideal baby step.

Many publishing experts would chastise me for encouraging you to publish without an editor, but everybody has to start somewhere. If every poor person was denied the chance to get a foot in the door, a lot of excellent books would have never seen the light of day.

Do not take out a high interest loan. Do not rob a bank. Do not kidnap an editor and demand a proofread at gunpoint. Sarcastic remarks from reviewers are hurtful but so is being jailed.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By M T McGuire

Going on my own experience, you’re not going to feed your family on your earnings from writing for the first few years ... er hem ... if at all.

People advise spending money on editors because it is hard to edit your own book. However, you can improve your editing abilities if you wait a couple of months and then read your book again. You’ll pick up on lots of things you missed. Suddenly it will be glaringly obvious that Character A cannot be snogging Character B if she is supposed to be at the other end of town at the same moment, killing Character C with a magic fireball. The more honed you can get the book, yourself, the less the editor will have to do and therefore the cheaper editing will be, if and when you can finally afford it.

Understood, you are young and eager and you find it impossible to watch the eBook revolution exploding from the side-lines while you sit on your offering (phnark). You may feel that the world is passing you by and you want to get it out NOW! Hold back, my Padawan learner. Quality is a big factor if you’re writing to earn money.

To avoid wasting money, learn everything you can about anything remotely related to book production. Research the market and take note of what is selling like hot cakes in your genre of choice. Try to find the next big thing while it’s still obscure or cutting edge. If you are trying to get cash back you’re going to have to write something that sells. Otherwise, no matter how low the price, you’ll have trouble covering the cost of ... well... anything. If you’re starting with twenty pence, knowledge is your superpower.

Networking is cheaper than advertising and arguably more effective. Cultivate contacts and gather all the expertise you can. There are hundreds of authors out there online and most of them will be happy to help you out. Offline, try to find a writers’ group that works for you. You will find that you make many friends.

You will be amazed how much feedback and advice friends can give. The more feedback you can get the more of an idea you’ll have of what you want when you come to spec a professional cover. Your forum friends – readers and authors alike – may offer to help you with beta reading, give you marketing ideas or even point you in the direction of a cheap editor or cover artist.

Value your cyber-buddies, Grasshopper. Don’t be a leech. Share, my youngling, do not endlessly blag stuff off your friends, let your friends blag stuff from you in return. Do not go round announcing your book on every forum in existence. This will undo all your good work. If forum rules allow it, you can start an author thread for yourself. If your network is big enough by this time just telling your mates can make for a fair amount of publicity.

Patience Grasshopper: remember that behind every apparent overnight success is at least five years’ hard work.

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