Suppose that in spite of everything (like life and stuff), you wrote a book. Suppose that in spite of everything, you decided to publish it anyway. Increasingly here in the 21st century we hear about the benefits of self publishing, and occasionally phrases come through that seem to imply how simple this is. Anyone can do it.
And so anyone can. We are, at any rate, all free to make the choice to self publish. Naturally, we cannot all make that choice with traditional publishing (they might publish you, or they might shoot you on sight—I try to stay out of range). Regarding simplicity, however, complexity, like beauty, may be in the eye of the beholder. In my own peasant-naive eyes, water is simple, horses are simple, DNA transcription is simple.
Self publishing, though—let’s consider a small illustration. A very popular publisher of ebooks is Smashwords, who I intend to use. They kindly provide a free guide on how to format a book for them, to turn it into an ebook. Within that document (of 117 pages) is a recommendation to configure the Normal style in Microsoft Word to create a special first line indent of 1/100th of an inch to trick Kindle apps and devices, so that they won’t automatically indent paragraphs.
What? Goddamnit, I don’t want to go back to college to learn how to publish a book. It’s bad enough to write one. In addition to technical issues, there is another question here. Suppose that in spite of everything, you wrote a book, didn’t edit it much, didn’t proofread very carefully, and since you had a buddy who knew a little bit of Photoshop, you got a not-so-bad cover for the book? Then self publishing might be easier. If you want a book of quality, however, there is more involved.
One of the advantages of going through a traditional publisher is that they provide many lovely services writers don’t think about when communing with the muses and being artists. Like cover design, proofreading, or deciding what size paper to print on. If you want that level of quality, unless you have skills and experience most writers don’t have, you have to hire people who do have those skills (though you still have to think about things). Because self publishing has become so common, many businesses have in fact arisen to supply those services.
When I began this process, I was told it might cost around $2,000 to self publish. I thought “I can’t possibly pay that much money, I don’t have it,” yet I decided to proceed as if somehow it would work out, though I could not see how. Thus I have proceeded, and in the meantime I got hired to a job with a good salary, so now I can afford to pay, but even before I found that job, I began paying people when I didn’t feel like I really could afford it.
Here are my own costs, though yours may be different:
(1) A content editor to give me comments ($500)—Finding someone who is worth hiring might be tricky, but I was satisfied, and I made changes based on the comments.
(2) A proofreader (a cheap one, at $200)—This could also be tricky, to find someone who is good.
(3) ISBN numbers ($300)—If you’re putting out church recipes or the story of your life only for your kids, maybe you don’t need this, but if you’re serious, then you do need it. Just one ISBN number is $250 from the bastards at Bowker, who sell them in the United States. I needed two (each version of a book must have one: ebook, print book), but you can get ten for $300. The numbers don’t expire, however, so now I have some for the next book.
(4) Book cover and formatting ($720)—Originally I wasn’t going to use a professional designer, but now I can. In addition, and thank you thank you thank you, I’m paying extra for them to format the book, so I don’t have to think about creating a special first line indent of 1/100th of an inch. They’re probably not doing that either, though.
(5) A new website (free, except for the cost of hosting the site)—This is only free because I can create my own website, but I think having a site is a necessary tool of a contemporary writer.
This week I got a first draft of the formatted novel to look over and I’ll send it back directly, indicating the changes that need to be made. One step closer. I’m having to push myself through this process in spite of a sense of anxiety, though. I’m concerned about somehow screwing it up and looking stupid and unprofessional. I’m moving ahead, though, in spite of that, just as I moved ahead when I thought I couldn’t afford it.
Soon, there will be a book available. In the meantime, fortunately, I have beer.