By Pavarti K Tyler/
Editors, Book Covers, Blog Tours, eBook Formatting, Advertising, Free Giveaways, Attending Conferences, Marketing, Marketing Marketing, Marketing! Sometimes it feels like all I do is SPEND money in the attempt to make a little off the books I’m writing!
All the things I could do
If I had a little money
It’s a rich man’s world
Having a budget as an Indie Author is essential, but more than that, having a realistic budget is an absolute must. Don’t forget to feed the dog and pay your mortgage in the interest of getting some more ad space on one of those big sites! As much as you have to spend money to make money, take care of yourself, your interests, and do it with a responsible and forward focused approach.
Since marketing never stops, neither can your budget. When I started planning to launch Shadow on the Wall I had a nice little budget and even an account I used to keep the money separate from my bills. I use paypal for this and in general it works great since most online marketing resources accept and prefer a paypal direct transfer to a credit card payment. I built in advertising and lots of other great opportunities. What I forgot? An ongoing expense line. I forgot that after the launch in May, I was still going to need to market! And I’m a marketing consultant! I tell my clients this all the time, but when it came down to spending my own money, I blanked. I don’t have any, I can’t spend any!
The first thing you need is to determine what you consider a reasonable price for the services you need. Understand, you need to pay a livable wage to professionals if you expect a level of expertise. This is especially true for editors. If you are going to skip anything do NOT let it be editing. Bad editing can destroy the best books. If you do nothing else, find the money to pay a professional editor. Or two! I use BETA readers, a critique partner, a professional editor and a different line editor for every project. It adds up, yes, but in the end it’s the best dollar you’ll spend.
Cutting corners is something I understand. While I use a professional artist for many of my covers, I also do some covers myself. Same thing for marketing. I pay for blog tours like everyone else, even though I run them for other people but I also do a lot of the marketing for my books myself. I have a list of great blog tour companies I work with and am always looking for new ones to try out. But cutting corners needs to be a calculated move.
For your first book, I recommend ponying up the money and have everything done for you. Either with a pre-publishing consultant who will user you through the process (like me!) or by hiring out for each service separately. You don’t know what you don’t know and for your first baby steps you need to take the time to learn. The best way to do this is walk in the footsteps of a pro. Once you’ve been through it once, you’ll have a better sense of what you can do yourself. Are you a wiz with GIMP? Play around with making your own cover art and get honest feedback from your peers, but when they tell you it sucks, have the humility to take a step back and do what’s right for your book.
The best cautionary tale I can tell you about this is from friend and client Lenore Skomal. Her brilliant book Bluff was ready to rumble when she uploaded to KDP. Unfortunately, the file she uploaded was corrupted and an incorrect format. This cost her in reviews, stars and probably more than a few missed heartbeats. She talks about what happened in her post 17,500 readers with a corrupted ebook file–learn from what I did wrong but the moral of her story is, in her words:
“I am silently kicking myself. I should have listened to the pros, especially because I am a babe in the woods in this self publishing game. I should have spent the money to have my novel professionally converted into the proper ebook formats. What was I thinking? … I have learned something truly priceless. When trying to navigate your ship in this whole new world, trust those who have the maps.”
Below I’ve put together a list of questions for you to consider before trying to do something yourself. If you answer yes, go for it! If you answer maybe, consider hiring a pro or do it yourself and hire a pro to check your work. If you answer no, recognize your limitations and do what you need to (even if it means delaying your release) to do right by your book. You took the time to write it and love it, you’ve invested your heart and soul. Don’t skimp now.
- Book covers: Do you understand how to use layers in Image Manipulation Programs?
(A custom cover can range from $150-$800, or you can find some great pre-made ones to purchase for much less)
- Can you self edit? 99.99% of the time the answer is no. Hire an editor. Fees vary depending on experience and the level of help you need. For a 50-75k book expect to spend between $800-$5000.
- Formatting for eBooks: Can you handcode raw html? I can, but I don’t. When I do, I invariably screw it up. eBook formatting spans from $100-$700. The upper end I’ve seen I balk at. If you’re going for straight text to ebook conversion with a minimal number of images there’s no reason to pay more than $250/$300. If you want an enhanced eBook with things like interactive maps, embedded music, etc you may pay more.
- Formatting for print books: I’m cheap. I don’t die my hair and I don’t get my eyebrows waxed. If it needs to be done, I do it myself. Initially, this is how I felt about print formatting. I mean, really, how hard can it be? You just throw your text up in the template you download from your printing service and your’re done right? Wrong. I can spot a self-published book from 1000 feet away based on the interior formatting alone. I did my own formatting for ARCs and comparing that to the impeccable product Mallory Rock with Novel Publicity created for the paper printing of Shadow on the Wall is kind of like comparing me doing a quick superglue band-air patch up while hiking to a neurosurgeon. Interior formatting isn’t something many people seem to pay for or offer, but again, I think it’s worth every cent. Especially if your goal is to be in a book store or held in the same regard as a Big 6 book.
- Attending conferences: Do this. Give away copies of your books. Make friends. It will pay off. Some people get booths to sell their books at various events and while I haven’t done this yet myself I do see real value in it. Just be cautious of the price point. If you’re paying $5000 for a booth, you want to make sure the exposure warrants the expense.
- Giveaways: People LOVE free stuff. Reward your blog followers with giveaways. Thank your readers with little presents. You don’t have to break the bank to do this either. Sites like Vista Print can print of reasonable quality wares very inexpensively. If you can afford it, Gift Card giveaways and Kindle Fires are always awesome and bring a lot of attention to events, but do they sell books? We’ve consistently seen that yes, big giveaways do sell books. Take your time, plan it out and make sure you include this in your budget.
- Advertising and branding: For help creating a logo (recommended) or designing various swag for your brand you can do it yourself or hire someone to help. Mallory Rock does any graphic work I need and she’s awesome.
- Blog tours: There are a ton of companies, ranging from some dink with an email address trying to scam you out of cash to the uber professional tours the traditional publishers are now starting to book. The price range is vast, next to editing, it’s the most extreme variable, but if you want to sell books you have to tell people about it. I wrote a post about running my own blog tour when Two Moons of Sera Vol 1 was released. This is something you can do on your own, but be aware, the output of effort, time, and planning is huge.
- Marketing, marketing marketing, marketing – Oh hey, did I mention you need to do some marketing? Publicity is the gift that just keeps on giving. Or the expense that just keeps taking. I guess it depends on how you look at it. There isn’t a moment when you can sit back and think there, I’ve marketed my book, I can relax now. It doesn’t exist. Look at the book ads for traditionally published hits. J.K. Rowling is actively marketing her most recent release, but her older, world renowned series is still being plugged regularly in various outlets. While big authors like her have a marketing machine working for them, we don’t. Even the midlist authors with big publishers have to do all their own marketing. Don’t think this is an Indie thing and that if only you had a publisher you’d be able to forget all this marketing stuff and focus on writing. Keeping a steady stream of marketing going for your projects is essential. Set aside some money each month for small things, a $25 twitter blast here, a $100 ad there, but also try to keep track of what works and what doesn’t so you aren’t throwing money down a hole.This is where hiring a marketing consultant (like me!) comes in handy. We have tricks that work, we have relationships with bloggers and ad sites, we have the experience of watching our own work as well as our clients, and it’s our job to research and track market trends. Getting professional advice can make the difference between throwing sand into the wind and hoping someone notices and making a targeting sales plan which will produce exposure and hopefully concrete sales.
My advice? Take a little time to look over what I’ve outlined above, be honest with yourself about your budget and your skill set, and get help when you need it. The stakes are high. This is your career! Your reputation! Why are you bothering to publish at all if you aren’t going to take it seriously? I know the readers of the Orangeberry Blog aren’t hacks. I know you aren’t the folks who whip out a first draft, have a buddy read it, and pop it on KDP without another thought. You are the authors who are changing the face of the literary culture. Don’t give the big guys any more ammunition against us.
Together we’re going to change the world.
Pavarti K. Tyler is an artist, wife, mother and number cruncher. She lives in the Washington D.C. area with her husband, two daughters and two terrible dogs. When not busy working as the director of marketing at Novel Publicity she spends her time penning her next novel.