by Brenda W. Clough
Writing your novel was hard. Then you tried to get it published. And all the traditional publishers you submitted it to ignored you. None of the agents you wrote to even replied to your email. You’re desperate. Kindle is starting to look really good. So let’s take a quick tour of self-publishing.
Problem: I myself have never gone it alone. But when you don’t know something, you find a source that does. I have a sterling source to consult. I asked an author I’m going to call Juliette Railroad Tolkien about how self-publishing her novel The Epic Fantasy was going.
Juliette’s story shows you that self-publishing can be a major commitment in time, energy and money. She began writing her fantasy novel in the early 1990s. After some creative dry spells it stands today at well over 200,000 words. This comes to more than 500 manuscript pages, and would make a huge fat published tome. “TEF would be too long for a first book,” Juliette told me. “And it’s not a work you can split in two. No publisher would want it.” And this is why she has made the decision in advance to bypass the traditional publishing route, and go straight to self-pub.
I would argue with this. In my opinion it’s always worth running a manuscript up the flagpole, and seeing if Harper & Row or Random House will salute. Harry Potter has made the thousand-page fantasy novel a viable marketing proposition. But self-publishing now is a genuine alternative that we couldn’t dream of twenty years ago. A plethora of online tools and marketing outlets — Amazon, Kindle, Paypal — mean that you really can do everything, all by yourself. And the grand thing about self-publishing is that you and you alone get to call the shots.
And that’s what Juliette did. After she had gotten her novel through nine drafts and into what she thought was good shape, she began hiring editors. “My line editor was $2000,” she says. “After her I had three not-so-established editors/proofreaders. The combined expense I think from them (two of which I paid by the chapter) cost me another $2000, at least. None of those editors called me out on the big problems with my writing. Then the manuscript went to a copy editor, for $3600. But it’s worth it, because from her I am learning to write better and I won’t make those errors again.”
She also went to CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing platform. There she was able to upload the file of TEF and get a hard copy proof in book form. “Reading my work like a book helped me see SOOOO many flaws I never noticed before. It helped me spot where hidden characters were. And just seeing my creation as a book and holding it in my hands was a tremendous motivator. It made me want to get the work done and finally finish it.” This cost less than $10, quite reasonable.
And she needed a cover for the book. “A mere $95 for my cover art from the artist I found on Fiverr,” Juliette says. “I am happy with the cover despite the fact it was not expensive or by a well known cover artist. Since I wanted interior art I also paid another $200 or so for him to do black and white pics for the interior, some of which I have decided not to use because of how long the book is.”
At this point Juliette estimates that she’s spent more than $6000 to get The Epic Fantasy to where she wants it. I think we can agree that this is a lot of money. She may not be done, either. If she wants it available in different e-formats she may have to hire someone to turn the work into those forms (or, of course, learn to format the text herself). And this is before any PR or marketing has begun, another huge sump for expenses. She is targeting later in 2018 for release of the finished novel on Amazon Kindle and possibly a paper edition via CreateSpace.
Be aware that how Juliette has done it may not be the way others should do it. She has wandered around a lot, which is why she’s agreed to let me tell her story pseudonymously here — so that we can learn from her experience. For instance, remember how I advised you, in the first part of this series, to get your book to a diamond-like perfection before anything else? Doing that could save you money on editors — maybe you would not need to hire four. But spend some time and some money you must. Because you are indeed the boss. A traditional publisher has editors, proofreaders, copy editors, an art department and a PR arm. When you self-publish you are taking on all those jobs yourself, or choosing the subcontractors and paying them out of your own pocket. If you don’t know the jobs, you’re going to have to learn them. If the tasks are done badly or not at all, it’s all on you.
It takes an epic dedication to sink 25 years and the down payment on a Mercedes Benz into your novel. It is totally okay if you decide you cannot do that. Because, you know? I don’t have that kind of strength of character either. I’ll tell you my own story, in the next and final blog post of this series.