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Driving Down the Price of Publishing

14 September 2017

From Good Ereader:

Not too long ago, self-published authors were collectively admonished about the need to invest in their work. Hiring quality editors, proofreaders, cover designers, and formatters before attempting to sell a book was the constant mantra of industry experts. While some hapless writers continued to slap their Word docs up on Amazon and hope to snare a few readers, authors who took their careers seriously made the proper investments.

Around that time, a number of startups emerged, all billing themselves as eBay-like marketplaces for author services. Many of those startups have shuttered their virtual doors, while a few that produced meaningful connections between authors and publishing service providers have managed to thrive. But that hasn’t stopped newcomers to the game from trying to continually undercut the concept of paying for quality work.

“When I first began finding clients through online freelance postings, the self-publishing industry was a different place,” stated one editor who did not wished to be named. “Authors who had done their homework not only knew how much editing might cost, but they also knew enough to have sent their work to their writing group for critiques or even beta readers before declaring it ‘ready’ for editing. Now, I find new job postings almost daily requesting full edits of an 80,000-word book for $100.”

That’s one of the double-edged swords of self-publishing, of course. An indie author without a solid backlist and sales to go with it may not be able to invest thousands of dollars for a full suite of services, but that doesn’t change the income needs of those who are expected to do the work.

“I love spending time with other local authors, but conversations about finding editors and cover designers have become heartbreaking,” said Andrea Patten, award-winning author of The Inner Critic Advantage: Making Peace With the Noise in Your Head. “Poor quality isn’t good for any of us. If we don’t support talented, experienced editors and designers, all that will be left are those who are willing to be the lowest bidder.”

Link to the rest at Good Ereader

Covers, Editing, Self-Publishing

27 Comments to “Driving Down the Price of Publishing”

  1. Learn to do it yourself.

    Quality self-editing is an investment in all your future work.

    As I keep saying, if I can do it, anyone can. I’m dreadfully slow, but have learned every piece of the editing job. Me plus AutoCrit plus the Mac reading it out loud to me in a robot voice is enough.

    • Agreed.

      I need art/design help for covers & interior decorative elements, though even there I’m active in owning some of the text elements, the assembly, and all the resizing issues.

      I’m working on my own narrated-by-the-author audiobooks (investment in equipment is less than paying for a narrator/studio for a single book). If I want to step up later to serious narrators once I can afford them, I can always do that then.

      And right now I’ve got my CTO hat on and am investing in the creation of ONIX records, the underlying transmission medium of the industry, even if the only partners I can reach at the moment that way are thru PublishDrive and Streetlib.

      Not to mention my marketing hat for Amazon Ads and (soon) Facebook Ads. And accounting — let’s not forget accounting.

      We may be one-man companies, but the company still needs many hats, and the fewer we have to pay for, the better. Eventually, of course, we can hope to justify outsourcing more of the work vs time spent producing more product, but even then we will have benefited from having learned exactly what it takes to do the jobs we’re outsourcing.

      • Product first.

        Everything else, subject to energy.

        The biggest problem entrepreneurs have is the transition from one-person to a group when there is enough product that the founder can’t do everything any more. I’m light years away from that problem.

    • Renni Brown and Dave King. “Self-editing for Fiction Writers.”


    • AAAAA+ Alicia

      • My father never made the transition. It is hard on the entrepreneur and his family when he is the ONLY one for too many things.

        It is painful for entrepreneurs, and they often feel they have been ripped off by the managerial types and the business types who come after – and even get kicked out of their own companies – but companies cannot grow with a bottleneck micromanager at the helm.

        Then there are the other kind, who start a business, sketch out an idea, get funding, take the money – and run.

        Business makes the world go around, and I am definitely not the business type!

  2. Funny they don’t mention the risk of overpaying for poor/crap/no services like Author Solutions.

    If they were worried about writers I’d think that’d be higher on the list than those not using services at all.

  3. Unspoken here is the distinction between self-pubbers selling premium book packages at premium prices and those who are offering bargain-bin books at bargain prices.

    Premium artists don’t want to admit that there’s a market for cheap works, but that didn’t stop me from finding several thousand readers willing to pay $2.99 for self-packaged books in a niche genre. Now I can afford expensive cover art and my upcoming series should be able to support a higher price point and attract a spendier audience.

  4. Now, I find new job postings almost daily requesting full edits of an 80,000-word book for $100.

    If that’s the internet bid, someone will take it. The bidder will have to determine if the editor provided the service he expected.

  5. Good Ereader? Skip.

  6. The most I ever spent on editing was $800, and that was 150,000 words using an editor with decades of freelance experience (working for Pocket Books, mostly), who had edited such luminaries as Kevin J. Anderson and Dean Wesley Smith. The most I ever spent on cover art (my latest work) was $730, and that was for a superior artist that had credentials like “Corel Painter Master” and “Disney Artist” with a portfolio including projects for things like “Starship Troopers: Roughnecks” and a little thing called “Star Wars” (he was willing to give me a referral to a cheaper artist who was within my stated budget, but I was willing to exceed my budget for someone of his credentials). From the sales I get and the reviews I receive, my editing and cover art seem more than adequate.

    I agree that the specific example of expecting good edits for an 80,000 word book at $100 is a lowball offer, but they make it sound like the prices I’m paying are just as ludicrous.

    • Depends on what, precisely, you need and you’re getting.

      If you’re needing in-depth editing and grammar tutoring, or if you’re wanting a painting with detailed characters and background and two weeks of work? Then your prices are ludicrous.

      Whereas if your edit was mostly an “oops” check and you’re pretty good with syntax and word meaning, and your cover was 1–3 days’ work, then those prices are understandable. Still on the low side for professional rates, even when you’re referencing price lists that haven’t adjusted for inflation in years, but understandable.

      • I’ve always hired professionals, and those are the HIGHEST rates I’ve paid. I KNOW my cover artist rates have been unusually low (though not because I was hunting down cut-rate artists; for example, one artist was a professional with dozens of book covers in his past credits, but turned out to be living in Indonesia, and for tax reasons wouldn’t let me pay him more than US$100; until my most recent book, I’ve always had a budget several times higher than what the artist asked for), but with places like 99designs out there it’s easy to get professional-grade (if entry-level) cover art for cheap.

        I’ve hired a couple editors, and received a lot of estimates, and I ALWAYS search for professional freelancers with significant credits, but I’ve never even been ASKED to pay what organizations like the Editorial Freelance Association says is the going “minimum” rate for editorial service (for example, a line\copy editor who has worked in the past with Sarah A. Hoyt and Howard Tayler made an offer of $35\10,000 words, which for my 130k word manuscript of the time would have run about $450).

        I’m not arguing that this should be the top of what editors charge; I’m just saying that I have a hard time believing people who say that, by paying only as much as the credentialed, professional editors I’m working with are asking for, I’m somehow ripping off both the editors I’m working with and “driving down the price” for all other editors, everywhere.

  7. Meh. I’ve learned to edit myself, and you can get really decent pre-made covers these days from a lot of designers for under $100. That should be enough to start off, and as a writer has more income, they can pay for more custom covers. (Pretty much my plan.)

    I do feel sorry for people who really *need* editors/proofreaders, though. That stuff can be expensive, and it’s a lot harder to find quality service providers.

    I have this book I wrote a while back, which I intend to completely re-write from scratch after getting universally lackluster responses from my friends/family who’ve read it. I paid for a ‘beta read’ from an editor who’d come highly recommended by an indie author who’d had a great launch of her first book. He gave me zero feedback other than, “I think it’s great as it is.” Literally no help at all, after I explicitly said I was planning on redoing it from scratch and wanted some help knowing what to cut/keep/change. Another professional editor, I got the free first ten pages, with the same instruction that I was looking for someone who’d go over my whole manuscript for large-scale advice (developmental editing, I guess). She came back with only very nitpicky, detailed, line editing suggestions. Absolutely nothing big picture, even big picture in terms of the scenes that she saw. Those two experiences pretty much made me think hiring freelance editors is useless. At least for my needs.

    • I know someone who does that sort of thing, Shawna, but she can get spendy.

    • Beta readers are usually very good with providing this kind of feedback.

    • I second the beta reader idea. I found some at a critique site. As a general practice they focus on the big picture, which I like, as there’s not much point in line editing when you may have to cut from, add to, or rewrite parts of the story anyway. Some sites have subscriptions, which can be less than $10 a month.

      I caveat though that you’ll have to be prepared to do your own fact checking. I have not been able to find readers who have knowledge of say, history — my betas have very odd misconceptions about historical eras or life without technology. They’re not going to help me avoid any glaring errors in that direction, but they do let me know what [unexpected] details I must spell out.

      What I learned from the experience is that I should trust my instincts. The readers confirmed my suspicions of when something wasn’t working, and when something was. They let me know when I needed to flesh out details, or prune them back. At this point it’s likely the only editing I’d pay for is proofreading when I’m done with the content / line editing. But even that will depend on how much time I have on my hands.

  8. Sooner or later, the gatekeepers will die.

  9. Bargain hunters have always existed. Internet just makes it all more public and lets likeminded (or like-budgeted) folks flock together.

    If you don’t want to charge bargain prices, don’t hang out there. You don’t have to. Folks who are on a shoestring budget are best off learning how to do things for themselves, anyway, so they can decide what specifically to outsource.

    If you don’t want to pay top or even medium dollar, learn what it is you want, define it clearly, and figure out what fits your needs.

    Clear expectations also matter. Developmental/content editing can’t really have a sample edit, since you need the “big picture” to be able to spot it (and seeing that “big picture” requires a different approach than seeing the “little picture” of line/substantive editing.)

    Personally, when I do line/substantive editing, my clients tend to be folks who need tutoring in English (sometimes from gaps in education, sometimes from English being a second or disused language for them). I identify underlying patterns in what’s “off” and cue the writer about what they’ll probably find most helpful to work on improving, in the next thing they write. Ultimate goal is always to get them to the point of competent self-editing. That style of editing is overkill for anyone who already fixes their own dangling modifiers.

  10. One point that I wish were made clearer, for new authors, is that professional writing isn’t simply a matter of writing a book, then getting an editor to tell you how to fix it.

    Sometimes the first book, or two, or three, are learning experiences. Whether via classes, critique groups and/or paid (or unpaid) editing, you learn the fiction basics, take a hard look at the premise, etc. The old saying that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear still applies (apologies to PETA).

    No sense wasting money on covers, editing & promo for a book that will only hurt your reputation in the long run.

    • I highly recommend new writers to hone their craft on fanfic. With fanfic, you know you can’t publish it for money, so there’s no pressure to decide if it’s good enough to publish. And you still get an audience (assuming you’re writing in a fandom that has some interest/activity), and people are usually pretty encouraging. It’s really a fantastic way to learn how to write. All the characters/world/plot is already there, and you can add your part to it and play around, adding more original parts as you learn. Plus, the feedback you get can help you learn what parts of your writing people are drawn to (assuming you get good enough that people like your stories enough to leave detailed comments), which can help you in deciding what types of stories to focus on once you start writing original works.

      Pretty much all my “learning how to write” stories are either fanfic or (terrible) screenplays. It was probably good that I hadn’t decided to write novels immediately and that indie publishing wasn’t much of a thing back then. I’d hate to have had those early original stories (the bad screenplays) out in the world when, as I realized later, they were nowhere near ready.

      • A cautionary note: writing fanfic is fine IF the copyright holder allows it. Star Wars and J.K. Rowling do, within limits. However, in other instances, the fact that one is not making money is irrelevant to whether this is copyright infringement. Simply posting it online infringes the copyright.

      • Fan fiction is all well and good but you need to learn how to do world building and develop 3 dimensional characters as well. With fan fiction because everyone knows the universe a lot of authors don’t bother to develop those skills. As a consequence original fiction feels flat.

  11. write, refine, beta readers, decide edits, make own cover, format own ebook and epub/ POD. Upload. Done. Expense? My time. Payouts?

    One would better invest in learning to write decently. I’ve been inside the pub biz for decades, I wouldnt hire an big pub editor to edit now. Perhaps there is one. The rest? mffff. Everyone has their opines. The eds most often dress for the market they see, not for the readers I see.

  12. “Expense? My time. Payouts?


    And an incredible amount of time it has been. Also an incredible time. Great learning experience, this indie thing.

    And cover design was so much fun – so much to read and learn to educate the eye. Plus a reason to learn graphics – I’d alway wanted to learn graphics.

    Time, yes, and worth every minute. But I’m way out in left field in so many areas, I almost had to do it ‘my way.’

  13. As a reader, I used to be a grammar snob… I used to rule out reading anything that didn’t have a perfectly polished description in the listing, and high-quality editing throughout the book, even if I generally enjoyed the story.

    Then I started binge-reading indie-published series on Kindle Unlimited, and realized that when I’m not spending $4 to $8 per book, it’s much easier to just enjoy the story, flaws and all, without some part of my mind constantly asking “Was it worth the money? Will the rest of the series be high enough quality to merit spending $40-$100 to finish reading?”

    I never really got into borrowing before because the library didn’t stock endless numbers of urban fantasy novels, but I’m definitely getting my money’s worth from the KU subscription. 🙂

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