Time equals money, especially for authors who become indie publishers. That equation becomes all too real when you hire an editor, designer, formatter or author assistant.
Sometimes you pay for time explicitly — for instance, you’ll pay an assistant to work ten hours a month to do everything from social media to dealing with distributors. Sometimes you pay a flat fee for a service based on word count or complexity. But when you go beyond the scope of that fee, your hired expert may charge you by the hour.
Efficiency and planning are the best ways to meet your budget. Here are five ways to keep costs from spiraling out of control.
1. Know what you want.
It’s easy to say “I just want to write” and give up every other task to an expert you hire, but that choice can also be expensive. If you are publishing as an indie, take a little time and read some of the many, many free sources of information online. Listen to relevant podcasts. Or buy a book, such David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital, and learn some of the basics for yourself. That way, you can speak intelligently with the person you hire to help you, and you’ll have an idea of what to ask for.
Just some of the questions you’ll want to answer before hiring someone: Do you want a paperback as well as an ebook? What genre is your book? What publishers/distributors do you want to use? Do you want to buy ISBNs or use free ones? (There are good posts online that can help you decide all of these things. Google is your friend.)
2. Be clear about the scope of the work.
Make sure you understand what you are getting from your expert help and that it is what you want. You may or may not have a written contract; an email can be the equivalent of a handshake.
Ask questions. Will this editor provide the editing that you need? Will your editor go back and edit your post-edit revisions, too? Is your formatter willing to do a handful of reasonable corrections at no charge after you’ve seen the formatted product? Either way, endless revisions are probably not going to be covered in the initial cost.
If you’re hiring an assistant, how much do you want them to do? Social media? Graphics? Metadata? Marketing? Quantify your expectations and make sure they can meet them in the time allotted.
Also think about what you can do yourself. While many of these tasks have a learning curve or require a level of expertise, some — like uploading your book to various distributor sites — are not as hard as you might think. Social media can benefit from a personal touch. You can retain control, look for opportunities and save money if you do some things yourself.
3. Don’t rush.
There’s a reasonable expectation of getting a book back from an editor or a formatter in a week or two, especially if you have scheduled those services in advance. But if you rush into any aspect of publishing, you are likely to forget things, change your mind, or otherwise require changes after they’ve done all the work. Changes mean more time. Time means more money.
Take your time and do each step well. For instance, if you ask for a cover design without knowing your final trim size (print book dimensions) or change the title or back-cover copy, the cover designer will have to redo the cover. Cover changes are rarely simple.
In the same vein, editing a book once it’s formatted can be especially time-consuming/expensive if you have a lot of graphical elements, photos, featured quotes, or anything that makes pagination more challenging. Just deleting one sentence can change the layout of a complex book. Changes aren’t as easy as they are in a word processor, so they may take more time than you think. Besides, every time you touch an edited manuscript, you run the risk of introducing more errors.
You may end up paying double or triple for these services because they have to be repeated. A formatter may be willing to do small corrections as part of the original fee, but your rewrites should be over at that stage.
4. Do things in order.
This point is a corollary to “Don’t rush.” You should not ask for a formatted copy of your book when you haven’t completed revisions or edits. You may have a front cover in the works during editing, but you should not have your print cover (i.e. with back and spine) created before you know all of the points listed below. Otherwise, your hired help will end up doing the same work over and over again and will charge you for that time.
In addition, your expert helpers are busy. They have other projects on their schedule and other clients who have booked their time. They may not have time to completely reedit or reformat your book with every change you want to make immediately. You will face unexpected delays as well as costs.
Here’s a reasonable sequence of events when you publish:
- Edit (a developmental edit, if you get one, should happen before a copy edit, and then a proofread should follow; I also recommend that you, the author, read the book one more time).
- Finalize copy before formatting!
- Buy ISBNs (if you aren’t using free ones) and have metadata filled out at Bowker for each edition (at myidentifiers.com). As part of this process, determine a preferably unique name for your publisher imprint, e.g. Jones Press, and create that in your account at Bowker. (Optionally, have a logo designed for your imprint; it can appear on your book spine and sometimes back cover, and on the title page.)
- Establish accounts on distributor sites (Kindle Direct Publishing, Draft2Digital, Smashwords, iTunes/iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, or whatever you choose) and fill out financial/tax information.
- Have your title, author name, book description, author bio, review quotes, potential categories (BISAC and Kindle, which are different), potential keywords, additional metadata (like series title and book number), imprint name and ISBNs (if relevant) gathered in one document, especially if you are asking someone else to format, upload and publish your work.
- Provide this information along with the final manuscript, high-resolution front cover, and interior graphics/imprint logo (if you have one) to your formatter to format your book for print and ebook.
- Upload files to distributors.
In parallel, you may have a designer working on a cover, but you should:
- Know your print trim size (cover dimensions) at minimum before commissioning a front cover, including an ebook cover, and let your designer know if you plan a print edition so they can allow for the bleed (where the design is trimmed at the edge of the cover). Kindle Direct Publishing has a list of standard sizes here.
- Make sure you’ve communicated what you want to your designer, including mood, genre and specific imagery, but also be open to taking her advice on what works. This is why you’ve hired her. Saying you want a “science fiction cover” will mean many iterations until you get what you want; saying you want “a cover with a spaceship, stars, planets and a battle” is a lot more specific and will save you time and heartache.
- When it’s time to complete the full print cover, know what interior color paper you want (for instance, white or cream on KDP), which affects spine width.
- Know how many pages your book interior has (after formatting). This number also will determine the width of the spine.
- Make a decision about your cover finish as well (glossy or matte).
- Finalize your title, subtitle and author name.
- Write your back-cover copy (or have an expert do it) and have it edited.
- Know your genre (primary BISAC category, which is often placed on the back cover). See the BISAC category list here. Note that Kindle has different categories.
- Provide all this information and your print ISBN (unless you are using one provided by the distributor) to your cover designer.
If your formatter is also your cover designer, then a lot of this communication will be easier. You may outsource some of these steps, but if you do, include deadlines in your plans so you have everything done in sequence.
5. Be patient and publish.
If you’ve planned well, you will have scheduled all of these steps and allowed a little time for the unexpected. Maybe you’ve put your book on preorder and you have to meet that deadline, so building in a little extra time for life, glitches and hurricanes isn’t a bad idea. Plus you’ll want to allow time to build buzz and market your book before publication. Publishing is not instantaneous; sometimes it takes a while for a book to hit stores even after you hit “publish.” Allow enough time and be patient.
You want your book to be perfect. I know the feeling. It’s important to be meticulous and publish a great product, but at some point, you have to let it go. You have to stop making revisions and publish the book, especially if you’ve done your due diligence and reached the formatting stage. Worst-case scenario: You make changes later. The beauty of indie publishing is you can go into a book and change a word or two — this is fairly easy with ebooks — and hit “publish” again if you must. (Perfection is still desirable; with print, more steps are involved in re-publishing, and if you are publishing with, say, IngramSpark, every change costs you money. Yes, more money.)
If you plan ahead and allow yourself enough time to complete each task properly, you can publish with confidence — and without breaking the bank.
Chris Kridler is a writer and editor who specialized in copy editing in journalism school and went on to have a career in newspapers. Now she writes books and works with other authors, when she’s not shooting photos and chasing storms. Learn more at SharpEditor.com.
Illustrations licensed from DepositPhotos.