In my last article, I mentioned how I wanted to dispel the myth I’ve seen bandied about on the Internet about the ease of self-publishing. In particular, I was responding to the following comment I saw on a writing forum.
“Self-publishing is easy. Anyone can do it.”
In that article, I discussed how some people just don’t want the added responsibility of writing AND producing the book. For these people, it’s worth giving up part of the book’s profit (even most of the profit) to transfer some of the responsibility to someone other than them.
Today, I want to turn my attention to people who DO have that entrepreneurial spark, and yet that might not be enough. Before I do that, however, let me take a step back to my definition of what it means to be “published.” In that first article I defined it as:
“…publishing (self or traditional) is releasing a book with the purpose of having people you don’t know read it.”
If you don’t care about anyone reading your book, then self-publishing can be easy…people do it ALL THE TIME. In fact, most people who self-publish hit this bar. They put a book out and few (if any people read it). We aren’t talking about this kind of self-publishing…to release a book that others will reach there’s a lot of things that must occur…and done well.
I’m a hybrid author, some of my work is released through self-publishing and other works through traditional publishing, but one thing doesn’t change–the professional production of the book. Which leads me to the real heart of today’s topic.
If you are going to successfully self-publish, you MUST release a book with every bit of quality traditional publishers have in their books. Doing THAT is NOT easy. In fact, it’s incredibly hard.
Let’s take a step back a moment and think about what’s involved in producing a book. I’m in the process of signing a contract for my new series, The First Empire, and as such I’m working on the marketing plan. Right at the front, I started to list the various people involved with the project so that I had all their contact information available. I’m not done yet, but here’s what I have so far: author, business manager, English rights agent, foreign rights agent, dramatic rights agent, English acquisitions editor, audio book publisher, audio acquisitions editor, studio manager, audio book narrator, marketing image artist, cover image artist, cover designer, map artist, layout designer, structural editor, copy editor, line editor, proof reader, publicist, marketing director, project manager.
As you can see, it takes a village to produce a book through traditional publishing. Now when going self, a lot of these positions can be eliminated, but not all. So, let’s take out the agents, managers, acquisition editors, and even set the audio people aside. I’m even going to temporarily eliminate the “marketing” people. It’s not that they’ll be gone, but they are needed for BOTH paths and I’ll cover them at a later date. After eliminating all of those positions, we are left with “production people” and at a minimum that means:
- Structural editor
- Copy editor
- Line editor
- Cover designer
- Cover artist
- Map artist (optional, for obvious reasons)
- Layout designer
- Project manager
Now, some of these posts may be handled by the same person, for instance, copy and line editing or cover artist and cover designer, but we are still talking about a lot of people. There’s a reason why publishers have multiple people filling these positions…it’s hard to find a “jack-of-all-trades” who can do a quality job for so many different tasks.
But being self-published doesn’t mean you can skip these people (and the tasks they perform), it means YOU are the publisher and YOU need to take responsibility to make sure these tasks get done. In my next post, I’m going to go through each of these roles in detail so you can see what is required, but for today’s post I want to focus on the fact these things have to be dealt with and the implications of those decisions.
Okay, so that’s a lot of people and a lot of skills needed. A publisher has individuals already working for them or a database full of contacts they’ve used in the past, but most authors don’t have similar resources. When self-published, finding, interviewing, and hiring these people requires a project manager.
Vetting the quality of people you hire is not an easy or quick task. My wife, who runs the business side of my self-published work, has spent hundreds of hours finding a stable of people she can pull from when we self-publish. This means contacting professional organizations like the American Copy Editors Society or combing thousands of images on sites like Deviant Art to find artists whose styles are appealing for the book you are writing. Once you find “candidates,” then you must determine the factors you are going to use to make the decision. This could mean reviewing writing samples and knowing how to acquire rights for artwork.
Even if you have that “entrepreneurial” spirit you may be completely lost as to how to find and negotiate with the all the people who will be required to bring your story from manuscript to a finished project. This is the first step in a hundred mile walk, and many people will simply be incapable of determining how to get from point A to point B. So our pool of “anyone” is going to be divided yet again. Having the “desire” to start your own company (which is what self-publishing is) and the “ability” to learn the tasks required and get from manuscript to a finished project are two very different things.
Now I know there will be some people reading this who say to themselves, “Well, maybe I don’t know how to find these people, but that’s okay. I was planning on doing it all myself anyway.” To that, I say, “Wrong answer.” Yes, there are a few remarkable people who have it within themselves to handle more than one task, but even for them the old adage of “jack of all trades master of none” comes to mind. I highly doubt that you are going to be able to pit your skills and stand toe-to-toe against those who have spent years (or decades) specializing on one particular task.
Now hopefully you can see that extra hands are needed and a project manager is needed to find, vet, and hire these people. With that determined, let’s consider some of the consequences. I’m fortunate; my wife’s job (before she quit when I started earning a full-time income) was as a product manager. Figuring out how to determine what skills were needed and surrounding herself with people to do the work is what HER “day job” was. Not only is that great for me but even more importantly it means that my writing time is not impacted with those tasks. As a “business person,” you have to weigh such pros and cons. If it takes me six-months to assemble the team, could I have written another novel during that time? Is forgoing that “extra book income” going to be offset by additional income not going to the publisher?
For those who plan on publishing more than one book through self-publishing, this task doesn’t necessarily have to be repeated with each book. If you find quality people, use them again in the future. Also, once you get into the “looking for talent mode” you are more likely to have your “radar” up when you run across people with particular talents. For instance, when my wife sees a cover she likes, she always reaches out to the author to see who the artist was, and adds them to her list. When I run across a writer raving about what a great job their editor did, they are added to my wife’s list of editors. Keep in mind that you need more than one person for each of these roles. There is no guarantee that come next project the people you used previously will have time in their schedule. Since doing the search is a difficult and time-consuming process, it’s best to determine back-ups or “close runner ups” so you can tap them for future projects.
As we continue through this series, we will see that the pool of “anyone” is going to get smaller and smaller. For now we have two requirements that are needed:
- You have to have an entrepreneurial spirit – be a risk taker who would rather set off on their own than “work for the man.”
- You need to have exceptional project management experience, to determine what skills are needed, and how to find, vet, and hire people with those skills.
These aren’t insurmountable tasks, but they do take a particular mindset and set of skills. It certainly is a pool that is smaller than “everyone.”
In the next post, I’ll do a bit of a deep dive into each of the positions above and some considerations that need to be accounted for. Stay tuned.