Self-pubbing : Is it a Catch 22?

Though there’s no guaranteed way to self-published success, a lot of writers will agree on some “best practice” ideas that will improve your chances. The Holy Trilogy are these:

  • Pay for a professional Editor to make sure your story and copy are spot on.
  • Pay for someone to get the formatting right for whatever method of publication you’re using
  • Pay for a professional to design your cover artwork.

They may not be in order – the cover art is what is likely to snare your passing trade, after all. A decent front cover makes your book look professional and worth buying. Once you’re over the threshold, it’ll really help the reader get into your book if the inside is as well laid-out as the outside, with no irritating typos, bizarre paragraph breaks or plot holes you could lose a badger in.

We can all see the worth of these three choices. But what if they’re beyond your reach?

Certainly, a lot of people are finally able to tell the story they’ve been thinking about for years, and publish it through the magic of the internet. No more submission letters to agents and publishers, hoping to catch a break. Just write it, upload it and wait for the money. Except, without the money to start with, you don’t get your Editor, Formatter and Cover Artist, so the odds of your book selling in decent numbers are small. Maybe you could hire them once your book has sold a few hundred copies, but…Oh. It won’t sell without the hiring and I can’t hire without the….Right.

I posted this question on some writer communities on G+ and received some great responses. Many of the writers there had used contacts they had made through social media – getting friends to Beta Read, rather than using editorial services, or they had traded their own artistic or graphic design skills to get editing in exchange for cover art. Some simply shopped around, getting good deals on editing work from new editors looking to make their names.

My favourite response was from Buzz Malone of the writing group “Literary Agents Hate Kittens”. He said:

“The good news about self publishing is that you can learn from your mistakes and fix them. I would encourage every writer to dive in and start making the mistakes as soon as possible. It really is the best way to learn.

HOWEVER, I would also encourage every writer to think and long and hard before ever spending a penny on almost anything. Why not try it yourself first? You may discover that you needn’t ever hire a cover artist because you like the pictures your fiance takes. Or, it may be a good venue toward showing an artist friend’s work.

As far as making the whole chicken and egg thing of hiring people to do stuff using the money you’re going to make from your writing, etc., forget about it. We all have golden dreams of becoming overnight sensations and making it rich somewhere deep inside. But the fact is that 99.99999% of us will never get rich writing. 99.99% of us will never make a living at it. 90% of us will never sell enough to recover our time. If you’re writing books or novels as a way of getting rich… let me save you a lot of time and money and heartache. Stop….now. Buy a lottery ticket. Your odds of winning are way better.

If not, you write and starve and go in debt, and then, you make the mistakes. And then, finally, you get a job and hire an editor to fix the mistakes that you cannot fix for yourself. But even then you do it with the realization that the investment is into making your art the best it can be, and not with the idea that somehow, someday, your “investment” is going to pay off in cash. That’s not why we write. “

This is the real truth, I think. Always strive to make your work the best it can be. If that means you re-read it a dozen times yourself, and hand-draw the cover art, then so be it. As long as you are committed to producing the best work you are capable of, then be proud of it. If that means you hire people to work on it because you have the available cash, that’s fine. If you do it all yourself, then that’s fine too.

The work and words of Buzz Malone can be found here:


7 responses to “Self-pubbing : Is it a Catch 22?

  1. As an editor, it pains me to say this, but if you only have about a hundred dollars to spend on the publishing of your book, spend it on cover art. Regardless of cliche, it’s true that we do judge a book by its cover. If you have friends who are writers, whose opinions you trust, ask them to beta read or edit for you. Do the same for them.

    Doing your own editing is a fool’s game, but you don’t HAVE to pay for editing to ensure you’re getting a good editor. Honestly, I would recommend an independent editor over an editing service every single time. Independent editors, in general, are less expensive and care more. Why? their reputation is on the line with every book they edit. They tend to be more driven than an editor who works for a service and churns out manuscripts like McDonald’s churns out cheeseburgers.

    Formatting is too easy to learn to actually pay someone to do for you. Unless you are extremely fearful of formatting, there are numerous books out there that can help you format your book for kindle and kobo and still look professional.

    • Thanks Laurie. As someone who twitches every time I read a typo (especially in my own work, where they abound) I want to encourage people to get an editor. Oddly, I think doing without on your first book may help people see why they’re needed. It’s so hard to see your work objectively when you’ve been living it for so long.
      But you’re right about the cover art. It’s deceptively difficult to do, and such a big draw if you get it right.

    • I don’t think I’ve heard someone come out and state plainly what you just did but it makes sense. I have seen plenty of stories that people have written that are riddled with errors but they still get great reviews because people were willing to overlook their mistakes. They have great covers and a great story. Editing can be done after a story has been published. I’ve seen that done, too.

      Having said that I think I will get my cover done first but then still work to get the editing done before I publish. I may not be able to afford the best but I do want some editing. What do you think about the editing done in sections as I can afford it?

      • Most editors, like me, who specialize in independent publishing will offer payment plans so you can get your book out there and (hopefully) making money for you as quickly as possible. I have authors who pay me as little as $100 a month until their editing fees are paid off.

        It ends up doing us both a service because I have a steadier income than I might otherwise, and they don’t have to pay in a lump sum.

  2. Really? I had no idea that was an option. Thanks so much for letting me know this. I’ve already book marked your site. Right now I’m working on a series of short stories so I may be able to afford that much. This is truly exciting.

    I kept thinking there was no need to be in a hurry cause I wasn’t going to be able to afford to put a quality product up online. You’ve made my day, given me hope and incentive. 🙂


    • I’m happy to help. There’s never a guarantee that a book will do well, but the more you publish and faster you build a decent bibliography, the better off you are. That’s why I do my best to help my clients get their editing done in a timely manner.

      I don’t really make much money from my own books, but they give me examples to show my editing clients.

      • Oh, I agree there’s no guarantee. However, if I don’t try it is guaranteed for sure I won’t succeed. It’s a gamble but I’m willing to be patient and work hard. It’s a bit of a cliche but I’d much rather try and fail than do nothing and succeed. Thanks again for the information.

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