Services Self Publishers Can Afford to Outsource

Relatively few self publishers can produce a book entirely by themselves. I've gotten to the point where I'll do the entire layout and cover design, but I always hire an editor and a number of proofreaders. There are some excellent writers who may be comfortable editing themselves, but most writers can't even proofread an e-mail, so proofreading your own book is just nuts. You can outsource a certain amount of market research, though I don't really recommend it, and hiring illustrators or a photographer is also common. Of all the self publishing services I've seen offered, marketing is the one I'm most skeptical of. Promoting your books is the main job of the self publisher. If you have to outsource that, you probably aren't going to make it.

How much a self publisher can afford to spend on outsourced publishing services depends entirely on the future sales of the book. The problem with this if you are a first time publisher is you can't possibly estimate how many copies you are going to sell. My rule of thumb for self publishing is that any book that sells over 2,500 copies a year is doing terrific. Titles selling between 1,000 copies and 2,500 copies are doing good, and those selling between 500 copies and 1000 copies aren't too shabby. The average self published book probably sells much less than 500 copies a year, which means it would be hard to justify a lot of outsourced expenses to get it into print. I'm sure everybody reading this assumes that their first book will be one of the ones to sell over 2,500 copies a year, even 25,000 copies a year, and while that may happen, it's like counting on winning a lottery ticket. The number of books any given title sells is simply much lower than most authors think.

Getting back to self publishing services, the most indispensable one is proofreading. Nobody publishes perfect books, many non-fiction trade books I've read average an error every ten pages or so, but that's hardly an ideal yardstick to measure yourself against. If you have friends and family willing to read your manuscript for free, take advantage, but it's critical to give them the book in its final typeset form. Last minute changes and edits are probably the main source of errors in professionally produced books, and the way to avoid this is not to rush to the proofreading phase until the book is truly finished. In addition to free proofreaders, I always hire local college students and pay $10 or $15 an hour to get some extra eyes on the job.

Competing for second in importance of the self publishing services you can outsource are editing and cover design. It's not that I believe cover design is more important than interior layout, to the contrary, but it's easier for most self publishers to learn how to do a passable job on layout than on cover design, and cover design is also cheaper. Cover designers who do a reasonable job abound on the Internet, prices range from around $99 to around $299, for which you may even be able to get your feedback incorporated into the design. Local designers are more likely to charge by the hour, and however low their basic rate, it will quickly add up to $500 or more if you start making changes. Editing, on the other hand, is always charged by the hour or based on the count of pages or words. I've paid anywhere from $15 to $25 an hour for editing, based on the editor's experience, which means anywhere from $500 to $1500 for paperbacks in the 40,000 to 80,000 word range.

Hiring an interior designer can be highly problematic, and I'd only recommend paying by the hour with tight limits or a low page rate, not much over a dollar a page a book consisting of text. Graphic artists who do book design as a sideline are happy to charge from $5 to $10 a page, which quickly gets you into the $1,000 range for something most readers will never notice as long as the job is moderately competent. It's also relatively easy to learn how to produce a book block directly out of your word processor, but it's definitely worth reading a book or two on the subject first to aid you with font selection and basic layout decisions.

Unfortunately, authors who rush into self publishing when they can't find a trade publisher for their first book typically pay for all of the publishing services above, and pay top dollar at that. Add the cost of an ISBN block and setting up the book with a print on demand printer like Lightning Source or Booksurge and you've invested around $5000 without selling your first book. That's cheap by trade publishing standards, but the average self published book will never earn that back. Self publishers whose books fail to sell often blame the cover designer, the book chains, lack of access to distribution, but there's only one reason for a well written book to fail in the marketplace and that's lack of marketing. Nobody knows your subject or your book as well as you do, and nobody can do a more effective job marketing it than you can, so if you want to succeed at self publishing, you have to commit yourself to becoming at least as good at promoting books as writing them. If you don't have it in you, save yourself a few thousand dollars and a lot of sleepless nights, sign up with a reasonable subsidy press like Booklocker, and be satisfied with seeing your book in print.

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