Some facts about self-publishing in 2011

Elsewhere on this site, I’ve mentioned my intention to self-publish (re-publish?) the Essalieyan short stories that have appeared in various anthologies. When I said this, I knew very little about the entire process, but assumed that the text would be the most time-consuming part of it. As it turns out, this was not entirely accurate. Everything else is also time-consuming.

A reader of this blog offered to deal with one of the things I most dreaded: comparing text to the print book for differences, and catching those errors in the text he himself inputed, line by line. When the text comes back to me, I have two proof-readers (not including myself) who will then read it in printed form, to catch anything that he missed.

It’s impossible for one person to catch everything, no matter how careful or competent they are.

The incredibly impressive Courtney Milan has a post on her blog which describes the process of text handling from manuscript to finished product (in this case, ebook, but the steps are derived from the process of shepherding a book from author’s hands to printing press). She is not making this up, and her point – that no single person can catch all errors, is absolutely true in my opinion, and in my experience.

Sometimes readers will assume that because I have the electronic files of the manuscripts for any given work I’ve written on hand, the conversion into ebook should be simple and effortless. I believe there are some authors who do, in fact, do this.

But what can (and in my opinion is likely to) happen in that case is described here, at Dear Author, a romance review site run by a woman who is also, in my opinion, incredibly smart. The part that’s relevant (although the Harlequin news is relevant to me on a different front) is near the end of the column, in which Jane posts two paragraphs of text which contain four errors.

While the text I have on hand doesn’t have that many, it’s entirely possible that some other work of mine could. Most of my mistakes, on the other hand, are touch-typist mistakes; if I’m typing, I can just as easily type “talked” instead of “talking”, which by the way really really really irritates me, as a reader. It looks like a tense change — in the best case. These are the mistakes that a spell check won’t catch; a spell check also won’t catch the wrong name, missed words, or its vs. it’s.

If you do read the Milan blog, you’ll know that the substantive editorial work has already been done. The manuscripts I have have all gone through editorially requested revisions. But the manuscripts I have have gone through none of the other stages. In order to get them into shape, I have to consider the rest of the editing process. It’s difficult when dealing with short fiction, because Amanda Hocking aside, collections or short stories are not likely to sell in huge numbers. Paying for cover art work, paying for copy-editing, paying for formatting, and paying a proof-reader can quickly make short fiction a money losing proposition. Jim C. Hines, on his blog, has posted his numbers for the two books he’s released on his own (one is a mainstream novel, and one is a short story collection of stories associated with his Goblin Books.) Although his collection is shorter (mine is about 100k words – everyone act surprised), I’m realistically assuming similar numbers for what is a similarly themed work.

I can check the manuscript I have on hand against the printed book; I can change what needs to be changed to reflect it. A line-by-line comparison can be done, by me, at the cost of only my time. (At the moment, it is being done by a reader, at the cost of his time, my gratitude, and my attempt not to feel enormously guilty). It’s one way of dealing with copy-editing, because the text on the page has already been through a copy-edit. But the resulting text still has to be proofed, preferably by someone who is not me, because someone else will have natural sensitivities to errors that I don’t have. I print out the stories in a font and format that is very close to a printed book page, because changing the format changes the text and the way I read it.

Garfield Reeves-Stevens said to me, after my first book was published, that it’s inevitable: the book will arrive, you will open it with excitement and joy, and the first thing you will see will be the typo that everyone missed in every pass of the book. (He was right, and I am actually good at proofing the galleys of my own books; one of the several people who missed that mistake was me).

But the alternative – publish what I have – produces something that’s not as close to a book’s reading experience as I can possibly make it, and that gives me ulcers. I have some of the best readers in the world; they are certainly some of the most forgiving about my various delays. But I think they deserve the best effort I can make (which is often the cause of some of the delays). Forgiving me for making the book better* is not the same as forgiving me for being cavalier.

However… it’s not just the text. Once the text is as perfect as it can be made (and I’m absolutely certain something will escape uncorrected into the wild), there’s more.

What I have discovered so far:

1. Covers are necessary. Even for a short story. No one uploads a book without a cover, these days; at least one service will not offer the book for sale without one.

2. I have no visual acumen whatsoever. I spent twelve hours of time I could have spent in revisions (I wrote first, before I started) looking at stock images and at deviant art. What I discovered is that I know when I like a piece of art or a photograph – but that I have no ability to gauge whether or not an unadorned image will work as a cover. In the sink or swim world of the self-starter, I had an anvil tied to my ankles. So: covers clearly are never, ever to be done by me.

3. Formatting is not entirely trivial, and at the moment, for only ebooks, three different formats are required: an epub (which as far as I can tell is mostly html/css), a mobi file (for the Kindle), and an MS Word .doc file for Smashwords. The latter is the only way I can make the book available for the Nook. If I had a business address in the US, I could upload directly, and that would make this a lot less painful because I can upload an *epub* directly. At the moment, however, I get to play with MS Word style sheets in order to format the book.

4. A print book – even a print-on-demand book – requires an entirely different format, and print-ready typesetting, or as print-ready as someone who has no native DTP experience can make it. There is no automatic generation of, for instance, a table of contents, among other things.

5. The last round of proofing. Some of this can’t easily be done by me, some can. The last round involves downloading the finished books, or sections of them, to see what the formatting glitches are for each venue in which they are available. I assume, because I haven’t done this on anything but my own computer yet, that the glitches are format only, and not in the text.

Having said all this, I do intend to bring out the Essalieyan short stories. I intend, at the moment, to re-release all of my short fiction as individual short pieces over time. But because I’m still working out what has to be done, and because I’m in the process of doing it and the learning curve is highest, and because the bulk of the writing day has to be given over to writing (War and Cast in Peril), it’s not going to be as fast as I would have liked.

* better, of course, being a subjective term

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Alex
    Jun 27, 2011 @ 00:32:50

    Fortunately I have a web background so the formatting ebooks is something I can do without much problem. I haven’t gotten into the POD yet, but likely will hire someone for that when the time comes.

    I also will always hire a copyeditor because I HATE proofing and like you I have no visual acumen (as you put it) so will always hire a cover artist. That means each ebook costs me about $500US to publish electronically, which isn’t bad at all I figure in the grand scheme of things.


  2. Michelle Sagara
    Jun 27, 2011 @ 00:51:37

    I also will always hire a copyeditor because I HATE proofing and like you I have no visual acumen (as you put it) so will always hire a cover artist. That means each ebook costs me about $500US to publish electronically, which isn’t bad at all I figure in the grand scheme of things.

    Copy-editing is not the same as proofing, though. At best guess, and low-end pay, a four hundred page manuscript will cost between 800.00 and 1,000.00. In my entire writing life, I have written only one novel that was that short. I have written novels that were 1648 pages. I’m not sure what proof-readers are paid, because my proof-readers have always been in-house; the copy-editor I’m considering should I do original work actually charges 35.00 an hour, rather than the 2.00-2.50 per page that used to be more common when there was one Standard Manuscript format.

    I do know that’s high, and 19.00 an hour is a figure I heard when asking a managing editor what her company paid. This would be for copy-editing.

    For a novel – say, a new CAST novel – it would be well worth it; the cover for a new CAST novel would also be in the 2k range, and I could expect to cover all costs fairly handily — substantive editing, copy-editing, proof-reading, covers. Hiring someone for .pdf typsetting for PoD is between 2 and 5 dollars per printed book page if you elect to hire a typesetter.

    But for a short story, if I look at Jim Hines’ experience as a guideline, paying for each stage of the process would eat more than I could make. I’m doing the formatting for the various ebooks on my own, because I can, which saves 200-250.00 for conversion (at novel length; I’m sure the shorts are less; I think one place is offering 85.00 for conversion of shorts).

    $500.00 for a novel, yes – although I don’t think it would be anywhere near as inexpensive as that. As I’m not writing novels for self-publication yet, it’s a bridge I don’t have to cross. I understand that there are a lot of authors who have chosen to self-publish, and I understand all the reasons why – but for a variety of reasons, it’s not a route I’m considering in the near future.

    Some of those reasons would be: I would be able to write far fewer new words if I did.


    • Michael
      Jun 27, 2011 @ 06:44:49

      I will gladly offer my services as a proof-reader (almost) completely free of charge. (Maybe an ARC or something, once all is said and done.) For me, the thrill of reading your books before they come out (and thus shaving whole MONTHS off my wait time) is worth a little detail-minding work to me.


  3. technomom
    Jun 27, 2011 @ 01:52:42

    You don’t know me from Adam’s housecat, but I’ve been a fan for – well, a really, really long time. I have past experience as a technical writer and such, but that’s irrelevant to you.

    I switched over to reading ebooks almost entirely almost two years ago, but quickly found that the formatting in many of them was just terrible. For someone like me, who admittedly has OCD, the problems made some books that I really wanted to read completely inaccessible. I found it necessary to learn how to open and edit them.

    Honestly, I rather enjoyed the challenge. I haven’t been able to work in a while due to health issues, and my daughter (who I homeschooled) has just left for college, so I find myself with too many hours on my hands. So far, I’ve stuck to epubs, because I have a Nook and can convert anything else to that format easily. It would be quite simple to learn about the Kindle format, though, and I already know MS Word.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve yet to find any stylesheet that does a truly elegant job of creating an epub. They’re a good start, but there’s always tweaking, at the very least, that needs to be done. And if you already have a Word file that’s good enough for Smashwords, honestly, somebody else could be doing that work for you while you could be doing things nobody else could do – like more writing :-)

    I’d be more than happy to do the ebook creation for you, and consider it a labor of love. You’ve provided so many hours of pleasure over the years that it would hardly begin to ever approach being thanks enough!

    Please feel free to email me (I’m sure that you can see my email address) if you’d like to discuss this somewhere other than in blog comments.


  4. Alex
    Jun 27, 2011 @ 02:03:58

    Michelle: You’re right. Commenting first thing in the morning never is a good thing. I meant proofing, not copyediting… The copyediting part will come later (after I pay for a wedding) and according to the research I’ve done will increase the book costs by about $500 to $1000 depending on the length of the book. It’s well worth the investment to make the books as professional as possible.

    And yes, for an established writer the better part is to publish the backlist and continue with the traditional publishing. If only I’d gotten off my butt as I’d planned to do as a teenager and started publishing in my early 30s instead of now in my early 40s. ;)


  5. RK Charron
    Jun 27, 2011 @ 08:47:34

    Hi Michelle :)

    I just wanted to let you know that Mandy M. Roth does covers professionally as well as being a writer, publisher, etc., etc. Her email is & her Twitter is

    With love to you & yours,

    PS- Don’t regret the 12 hours looking at pictures & art. Looking at art is never wasted time.


  6. Leanne Powner
    Jun 27, 2011 @ 12:12:30

    Michelle – I too am more than willing to volunteer my services as a copy-editor/proofreader. I do both for students publishing dissertations (along with checking formatting like margins, consistency of headers, etc.) on a regular basis, normally for $20/hr, but for you I’m more than happy to do it for free (and to offer a US-based mailing address/post office box, if that’s helpful too). As another commenter said, I’ve gotten so many hours of enjoyment out of your books that getting to spend more time with them, even in fanatic-precision-mode, will be more fun than work. :-) I also have all (I think) of the short stories in their published form, so comparisons to printed text are also possible. Please do feel free to drop a line and let me know how I can help.


  7. Lyssabits
    Jun 27, 2011 @ 12:13:19

    Someone with an established fanbase like you have can probably crowd-source a lot of these hassles these days. ;) I can understand perhaps not feeling right about accepting work from fans for which you’d normally pay, but I’m sure after this post you’ll get plenty of offers. If I had an artistic bone in my body, I’d happily offer to do covers. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are fans of yours who’ve already done some fanart that could be used. I’m good at proofing but I imagine you have plenty of people who can do that already.


  8. Estara
    Jun 27, 2011 @ 13:14:43

    I have no idea if they still are open to newcomers, but have you thought of joinging one of the author collectives who are making old and new books available drm-free on their sites – and who help each other with all of this? Of course that would mean reciprocating with some expertise of yours…

    I would have thought you’d fit perfectly with the Book View Cafè crowd. Also – if you read up on Sharon Lee’s blog and LJ you can see what sort of hassle she’s being going through re-releasing the Liaden Universe chapbooks herself in the various formats.

    And finally one self-publishing author who does impeccable formatting for others, if her own books are anything to go buy, is Moriah Jovan – however I hear she has a lot of work on her plate and you’ll know best if you can afford that financially.

    And third – You could have a fan artist – or at least a semi-professional at deviantart design a logo for the Essalieyan short stories which is striking and easily resizable (eventually you could have buttons or t-shirts for fans ^^ – see where my imagination takes me) and adapt that with a well-chosen font to whatever short story you want to sell singly (or have a space of the cover that could change with some sort of symbolic thing for the particular short story in question – I’m reminded of the Liaden Universe Dragon and the Tree symbol). Or if you can afford it have them create various covers for you – if it is digital use ONLY it should be cheaper than if you buy printing rights…

    And there are several graphic designers that offer to create fairly good looking stock covers for books – a big anthology might work with that investment. – for example


  9. Genna Warner
    Jun 28, 2011 @ 12:21:56

    I just discovered that Women of War which contains The Black Ospreys is available on Kindle and I just purchased it. :) I still want the rest of the short stories on eBook format though. Just thought I would let everyone know.

    And I wish there was something I could do to help with getting the rest of the stories as eBooks.


  10. Aaron
    Jun 28, 2011 @ 20:41:45

    How is that possible if Michelle owns the ebook rights to her short stories? Is there an exemption if the anthology is released as a whole? Something doesn’t seem right here…


  11. Hugh S. Myers
    Jun 28, 2011 @ 21:07:12

    I suspect that you will find that DAW owns the necessary rights for the collection, not necessarily the short story.


  12. izzy
    Sep 13, 2011 @ 13:46:09

    Right, proof reading and editing are very tedious tasks. However, as mentioned, you can just hire a professional who will do these tasks for you.


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