Self-publishing: not as difficult as it used to be.
I've seen a lot of posts by authors, most of them moving from traditional- to self-publishing, giving advice for newbies on how to self-publish. This usually includes a dizzying array of things that you "need," like a professional editor, cover designer, and a person who designs the layout of your eBook.
Oooookay. Slow down, crazy. Look, if you want a fancy font in your ebook or whatever, fine, but keep in mind you have to pay someone to do this for you. And from my personal experience, layout experts don't do anything you can't do yourself by following the how-to directions on the help pages of the major self-pub sites. Honestly. You just need to keep it simple. Use a basic font (I use American Typewriter on Pages), use page or section breaks between chapters, and apply a hyperlinked Table of Contents. If you want graphic headers for your chapters, multiple fonts, and drop down letters, then yes, you should probably hire someone for that. But why would you want to? Readers don't care, they just want a good story; and with eReaders' ability to change fonts and font size, I honestly think this is a waste of time and energy, not to mention an expense that I can practically guarantee you will not recoup if you're a first-time author. The point of selling your books IS to make money, and that means minimizing expenses. Just give the money you'd spend on "professional" formatting to a charity if you can't stand the thought of being frugal; it will go to better use.
Another thing new self-pub'ers are told is that they need professional editing. I 100% agree. Put on your editing pants and make sure your book is as polished as it can possibly be. Read in it paper, on an eReader--preferably even multiple eReaders--and on your computer. If you have writing or editing buddies who are willing to swap manuscripts with you, that's even better. But professional editing, while a very valuable thing, is correspondingly expensive, and again you will probably not be able to recoup that cost. Also again, I've seen self-published books that are riddled with errors and problems with continuity, etc., and were supposedly professionally edited. If so, those editors took the authors for a ride. (Incidentally, my books were edited by a friend of mine at reduced cost, and I still haven't earned back what I spent on it, so I know of what I speak.) Authors and publishers will tell you you need editing, but then they'll also say they expect a "perfect, ready-to-be-published" manuscript when you submit to them. So either writers are capable of producing publishable material on their own without any editing, or they NEED an editor. Which is it? Once you start making money on your self-published books, this might be a justifiable expense; but starting out you need to think about cutting costs to get as much return on the investment of your time and writing as possible.
The third thing that people will tell you is necessary is professional cover design. Again, I agree. The cover is the number one selling point for any book and not everyone is artistic or visual. In fact, I think if there was one thing I would recommend people spend money on when they self-pub, it would be the cover. HOWEVER, again, this is a big expense. Do you have about three hundred dollars to throw around? If so, go ahead and hire a cover designer. If you're anything like me, though, you don't. I have a degree in art and am reasonably versed in how to use Photoshop, so I design my own covers. Could they be better? Yes, probably, but I'm satisfied with them. If designing a cover scares you, simply put the title and the author name on a plain background and use that. It will be better than the placeholder image and once you have some money to spare, you can hire a professional designer. Keep in mind, though, that just hiring a designer does not guarantee a salable cover, especially in the world of eBooks and self-publishing. It needs to work as a thumbnail and in grayscale (for more on this, see Joe Konrath's excellent post, How to Sell eBooks).
I understand the demand for professional standards, and I definitely am not saying that you, as the author and publisher of your book, shouldn't aim for those standards. YOU SHOULD. But if you're self-publishing, you're not a professional, and that's okay. You need to be realistic about what can do and what you can afford. An established author going into self-publishing, like Joe Konrath, already has a fan base and can afford to hire people to do the things authors generally don't feel comfortable doing. But if you're just starting out, you probably won't make enough to recoup those costs. Just try your best and remember why you want to publish in the first place--to tell a story, to communicate and connect with people. Your book may not be perfect, but if it fulfills the vision you have for it, that's the most important thing.
- "On Self-Publishing and Perfectionism" by Evangeline Holland
- "How to Sell eBooks" on A Newbie's Guide to Publishing
Incidentally, if you need any help on formatting or covers, I'm more than happy to help. Just send me an e-mail (ellis drake author [at] gmail) or leave a question in the comments.