June 1, 2015

7 Decisions Facing the Indie Publisher

Independent (or self) publishers are responsible for absolutely every decision surrounding their books. In essence, they are their own business. So suddenly, if you decide to self publish, you are faced with a myriad of choices that have nothing to do with what your characters say or do in the text. These decisions happen in the real world, and can't be changed as easily as a scene that isn't quite working.

Having chosen to self publish, you've started down a path with many forks, each one demanding you make a decision. These include:
  1. Choosing an editor
    • Notice I didn't say whether to hire an editor. Editing and proofreading aren't optional if you want to produce a quality product.
    • Once your text has gone through your own revisions, and possibly been vetted by beta readers or a critique group, it's time to bring in a professional. Editing and writing (or revising) are different skills. A good editor will help you fix your story on every level, from big-picture plot and character development issues, to that awkward scene with stilted dialogue. 
    • Many freelance editors exist, and many more people exist who call themselves editors but who aren't in fact good at editing. This latter group usually charges less than qualified editors, but remember, you get what you pay for. And you need to respect the work and time of qualified editors. Skimping on the cost means sabotaging your project.
    • If you're looking for a fantastic editor, check out the awesome ladies at Touchstone Editing!
  2. Choosing a cover or designer
    • The cover is one of your most powerful tools for promoting your book and attracting readers. Because, let's face it, we do judge books by their covers.
    • Unless you also have design skills or are going for a very basic look, you will want to buy a cover from a professional. There are many sites with pre-made covers, ranging in cost of course, and I actually think it's important to spend some time looking through the many options. For one thing, you might find a cover you love, and save yourself money, time, and even risk working with a custom designer. Especially if the site offers the option to add a print layout (if necessary), this is a great option. For another, you'll get an idea of the range of options, and possibly an idea for your own cover.
    • If you can't find a pre-made cover that works well for your book, then you're once again back to researching freelancers. Look at their past designs, weigh prices against one another (I've seen some people asking for $600 for an e-book only cover design! At the same time, many talented designers' fees have fallen within the $100-$200 range, including a print layout.), and ask for referrals from friends. The designer, like any freelancer you work with, should be knowledgable and in your corner, aiming to help your book succeed.
    • UPDATE: I absolutely loved working with Christa from Paper & Sage. Talented, prompt, professional, friendly, and reasonably priced—I can't recommend her enough! She offers both pre-made and three tiers of custom covers.
  3. Whether to hire a professional formatter for your e-book
    • This is more optional than a professional editor and cover design, not because it's less important, but because it's significantly easier to get it right on your own.  If you're not comfortable with computers in general, and Microsoft Word specifically, you may want to hire someone else. Similarly, if you weigh the cost of your time against the cost of paying a professional, you may find that outsourcing this work is actually the more cost-effective option. 
    • If you choose to format your e-book yourself, there are plenty of guides to help. My favorite is Smashwords' Style Guide. I've found that formatting according to their specifications makes the file almost perfect for Amazon (though you may need to tweak some things after previewing in the Kindle viewer) and for Barnes & Noble.
      • Barnes & Noble's uploader is actually my favorite, because it allows you to edit the uploaded file right in their system, showing you precisely what the result will be without any guesswork.
  4. Whether to publish a print format
    • In today's world, e-books are a no-brainer. They don't have printing, storage, or shipping costs, and the lower price point helps make them attractive to readers. That being said, many people still prefer printed books, and seeing your book on a physical shelf is exhilarating. Your cover designer should be able to take your e-book version and offer a print layout for a minimal fee (I've usually seen it be ~$30). However, there are of course other costs associated with print copies of books.
    • If you do want a print format, you also have to decide:
      • Whether to offer a print format simultaneously or let your e-book test the waters, to gauge reader interest.
      • What trim size your book will be.
      • Whether to use a print-on-demand service (and which) or do a print run you'll store and distribute.
        • This is a complex topic that I'll be writing more about in the future.
      • Who will be doing the interior typesetting for your book.
        • This is much more complicated than e-book formatting, and at least when it comes to time, it's almost certainly going to be more cost-effective to hire a professional.
  5. Where you will buy ISBNs
    • There are some retailers (like Createspace) that sell ISBNs to self publishers at a cost of around $10-$20 each. These retailers buy the numbers in bulk and sell them at a markup, but the price per number is still much less for the author than buying one at a time from the official ISBN retailer, Bowker. However, if you buy an ISBN from someone other than Bowker, the entity you buy it from will be listed as the publisher of record.
    • If you buy ISBNs from Bowker, you also have to decide how many to buy. Purchasing one at a time is a bad idea unless you're literally only going to publish one format of one book, because one ISBN costs $125. If you buy ten at a time, the cost is $295; if 100, $575. Each format of each book (digital, mass market paperback, trade paperback, hardcover, audio) needs a unique ISBN, though of course you don't have to publish every book in all formats.
  6. Where you will publish your book
    • Smashwords, Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and more distributors exist for your e-book. 
    • Smashwords also distributes to the others, so if you want to upload to only one place and have it available in many, they are a good way to go, though of course they also take an additional percentage for these sales through other distributors. Amazon has certain opt-in programs available only if you don't publish your book on any other platform. Apple requires a Mac to upload your book, I believe, though you can distribute to Apple through Smashwords. And you can also sell directly through your own website.
  7. How to price your book
    • Both digital and print copies are available in a range of prices, so you have to decide where your book will fit on the scale. Will you give your e-book away for free? Will you stick with the standard $2.99 (defined mostly by the fact that Amazon offers a 70% royalty for books priced $2.99-$9.99)? What about your print book? In a world where a basic softcover book costs anywhere from $7.99 (usually mass market) to $17.99 or more, making the right decision means researching where similar books are priced, evaluating your own print costs, and partially making a somewhat arbitrary choice.
    • The benefit of e-books is that you can alter your price fairly easily, to see which is best for your book or to run a promotion. When it comes to print books, the price is often coded into the barcode (another decision to make) and is less flexible, especially if you decide later you charged too little. (Discounts are always well received.)
Each of these decisions is multifaceted and requires research, but each is also manageable, and there are many resources available in the digital world to help us make them. The above is by no means a full list (notice, I didn't mention anything relating to marketing, which is a whole separate topic). And each choice slightly alters our path, affecting the ultimate success of our book, which can be daunting. All we can do is make each choice as it comes, altering course when necessary, as we move toward that goal of publishing our book, one small step at a time.


  1. Oy, I think all the decisions are what has kept me away from self-publishing thus far. But having worked w/ two publishers and seeing how things work, I'm feeling better prepared to go it on my own---especially with all the fabulous resources & freelancers out there. Thanks for this helpful list!

    1. It's so much, and it's easy to be overwhelmed, but you're right—there are so many free and fantastic resources out there! So it's just one step at a time, and we'll see what happens!