Tag Archives: expenses

Starting out as an indie author: Creating your own covers

Hire a cover artist or make it yourself?

Ruth Nestvold covers
Some of my covers*

I’m starting this post off with a random selection of my covers — what came up when I searched for covers in my Flickr account, since I just don’t have the time to put together a banner specifically for the purpose right now. Still, it’s a pretty good selection for what I want to explore today: how professional do you want your covers to look? What are you willing to invest to ensure that your covers don’t scream thrown together in an hour with free art found on the internet? (That was the basis for the only cover above that I did completely on my own, in response to a challenge on Joe Konrath’s blog, to write, create the cover, and publish an ebook within 8 hours. It shows. *g*)

Aside from the cover I slapped together just in time to make the 8 hour deadline, I think the differences between these covers are most obvious in the typeface. My daughter — the architect with all the Photoshop expertise who helps me with my covers — can manipulate images wonderfully, much faster than I can, but when we work on a cover together, we often seem to spend much of our time tweaking fonts.

Those who follow this blog probably know which of these covers were designed professionally, and which I designed with my daughter. But if any random visitors want to pipe up in the comments as to what they thought, I would be very interested to see if it’s as obvious as I think it is!

I already talked a little bit about covers and how to find cover artists in my post on the cost of self-publishing. In this installment, I would like to go into covers in a bit more detail, in particular, resources for those who want to try to make their own. But a word of warning up front — if you don’t have any background in design (or someone to help you who does), it will very likely show when you make your own covers.

Then why even bother if you can get a cover on Fiverr for five bucks? When you buy stock art on Dreamstime or Shutterstock, it usually costs more! Here are a few reasons for doing it yourself:

– First off, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to like that five buck cover. Most of my experiences with cover artists have been great, but one of my forays into hiring someone turned out to be a waste of time and money — and it was quite a bit more than five bucks. After that experience, I stuck with making covers with my daughter for a while, since I really didn’t feel like throwing any more money out the window.

– Another advantage of making your own covers is that you can tweak the information on the cover without having to go back to the cover artist, possibly paying more. Let’s say, for example, that you win some big award, and you want to add that information to the cover. Or you decide to make a book into the first in a series, and you need to add “Book 1.” If you created the PSD file in the first place, it’s much easier to do.

– It’s almost as much work finding a cover artist as it is making a cover. It takes plenty of time to go through lists of cover artists, look at examples of their work, and decide which one might fit the tone and genre of the work you need a cover for.

– Perhaps you’re a bit of a control freak, and you have very precise ideas about how you want your cover to look — and you don’t trust anyone else to get it the way you want it.

– You have a background in design, photography, art, or something else along those lines. You enjoy making covers, and for you it’s a part of the creative process. Bestselling indie author H. M. Ward even does the photography for her covers herself. You can read about her cover making process here.

Stock Art

So if you decide to get creative and attempt to make your own covers, where are the best places for getting stock photos? And how much will you have to pay? And is it possible to find stock that isn’t already being used by everyone and her sister?

Some of the main stock art sites:

Shutterstock

Canstock

Dreamstime

iStock

Bigstock

123rf

Depositphotos

Fotalia

Envato

Razzle Dazzle

On most of these sites you can either buy packages of credits for the purchase of stock images, or you can subscribe and download a certain number of images a day. Prices for individual images vary from site to site and also according to the size and start at a couple of dollars. For larger images, however, you can easily pay $20 for a single photo. So if you are going to be making a series of covers and you have a general idea in advance of the kind of images you’ll be needing, it can worth it in the long run to subscribe for a month and download your daily allotment of images during that month. I did this about a year ago, and now I have an excellent collection of images for use on covers, in banners, on my web site, you name it.

Unfortunately, most of these sites do not tell you how often an image has been downloaded, and you just might find the image you wanted to use on another cover in your genre. The license you buy from these sites is not exclusive. As a result, it makes sense to search by popularity and skip the images on the first page.

Another possibility for finding cover art is through Deviantart. This would involve contacting the artist / photographer directly and working out terms and pricing.

A reminder: make sure that the license you are purchasing allows you to use the art in ebook covers, and if you intend to make a POD book, print as well!

Fonts

When making your own covers, you may also want to use fonts that you don’t by default have on your computer. Here are some places where you can get new fonts:

Dafont.com

1001 Free Fonts

Font Squirrel

What if you decide to hire a cover artist after all?

There are a couple of threads on Kboards which I mentioned in this post which include links to cover artists and premade covers. The article also has a couple of other links to help you find a cover artist to do all the above work for you. 🙂

* The professional covers are the first and the fifth in the row.

Other posts in this series:

Starting out as an indie author: preparing your manuscript for ebook retailers

Starting out as an indie author: Using distributors for getting into online bookstores

Starting out as an indie author: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Xinxii (Using distributors, part 2)

Starting out as an indie author: The costs of self-publishing

Starting out as an indie author: Why editing is important — and who can skip the expense after all

Starting out as an indie author: Why editing is important — and who can skip the expense after all.

Starting out as an indie author

Why hire an editor?

Hiring an editor or proofreader for your manuscript before you publish is one of the costliest pre-publishing expenses you as an indie writer can incur. For a lot of us who aren’t selling thousands of copies of our books each month, the temptation might be great to skip booking any kind of editing services for our ebooks.

But the thing is, it’s very, very important to have (at least) a second set of eyes go over your manuscript. Yes, we all have spell-checking in our word processors these days, but what about those pesky typos that happen to be a word too (like “to” and “too”)? When the words came out of your own fingers, it’s often very difficult to see the mistakes. Someone with more distance to the writing and the story is also more likely to catch all those bloopers you and your beta readers missed. Who tend to be friends and fans, after all, and thus by definition might not have the necessary distance.

What exactly do I mean by “distance”? As I see it, distance in this respect means being able to judge your writing as a reader, and not as the author. We as writers tend to be invested in the words we write, the characters we create, and the stories we are telling, which can make it difficult to judge them objectively. But not only that, when we are still to close to what we’ve written, our brains have a greater tendency to translate an actual mistake on the screen or the page to what it is supposed to be. As an example, in one of my books, the word “lucking” for “luckily” went through nearly a dozen beta readers and critique partners before it was caught by the editor I hired.

Types of editing

Proofreading – Checking for spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes. This is the most superficial level editing which only looks for the most basic mistakes.

Copy editing or line editing – General proofreading plus checking for consistency and stylistic errors. Some editing services separate proofreading and copy editing, but I’m not quite sure how an editor would be able to correct only consistency and style and not spelling and grammar.

Content editing – All of the above, plus feedback on the structure of the story as a whole.

Developmental editing – Substantive feedback on the “big picture” elements of the work, including plot, character, style, and pacing. Editing of this sort should be done separately from copy editing or proofreading, since the whole point is for the editor to help the writer fix the story — and that in turn will require serious rewriting. Most writers with a completed manuscript will not be looking for developmental editing, which is very expensive. Rates for an 80,000 word novel start at about $500.

Here’s a list of editors from the Kboards site. As I implied above, there is some fluidity to the editing terms I listed. For example, some editing services refer to content and developmental editing as the same thing, while others differentiate between copy editing and line editing. When deciding on an editor, you also need to decide exactly what kind of work you think your manuscript needs and book accordingly. As I mentioned in my last post in this series, if you have never worked with an editor before, I would suggest first trying a few with good referrals or testimonials who offer free samples of their editing work.

When can you get away with not hiring an editor?

In “The Costs of Self-Publishing,” I listed editing and cover expenses (whether in stock art or hiring a cover designer) as the only two price points I think a writer starting out seriously needs to consider. Can you skip this price point? In my experience, it tends to be the biggest expense pre-publishing. As with all rules, there are exceptions. While I think most beginning indie writers should invest in an editor, there are a number of cases where the expense can safely be skipped, and several more where it’s a toss-up whether or not you really need to invest in an editor.

Your book / novella / short story has been previously published elsewhere, where it went through a professional editing pass

This one to me is a no-brainer. Most of my ebooks were previously published before I brought out my self-published editions, and I trust the editors of the magazines and publishing houses where they first appeared to have done their job. Of course, no one sees all the mistakes in a manuscript, and I’ve gotten “needs an editor” reviews for some of those works which very definitely did have an editor. But they are relatively rare.

So if you are publishing your backlist or anything else that has been previously published, you can safely skip hiring an editor or proofreader.

The book has been workshopped extensively and/or gone through several beta readers, at least one of whom took the time to also do line edits

While this was the case with Shadow of Stone, I hired an editor anyway because I wanted to make the book as good as I possibly could. At the time, however, my ebooks were selling quite well. With the sales I have now, my decision might have been different — but I believe the quality of the book would have suffered.

You have editing experience yourself and you are willing to lay the work aside for at least three months (preferably more) before doing a final editing pass

While I have not actually used this method yet on any of my own self-published works, I could imagine it would be effective in combination with critique partners or beta readers. I have a Ph.D. in English, I’ve taught both literature and grammar, and in my former life as an English professor, I helped edit a number of scholarly papers and collections. That, of course, is not the same thing as fiction (something painfully brought to my attention when I was at Clarion). But I do have the professional editing skill set.

I have often set fiction I’m working on aside for several months, and I am always astonished how, after such a break, I can see my own work with fresh eyes. What also helps me to see what I’ve written more critically is to print it out and read it with pen in hand. Mistakes I don’t catch on screen I might catch on paper.

You have a friend / critique partner with editing experience who writes in your genre and is willing to trade manuscript edits with you

This is also a method I have not yet tried, but it is something I’ve discussed with friends and can imagine would work — as long as both sides take the editing seriously, and neither one is too inclined to take edits personally — with the subsequent danger of ruining the friendship …

Possible alternative: read the book out loud

So what if none of the above applies and you absolutely do not have the money to hire and editor or proofreader? On a couple of blogs, I have seen a method the respective authors swear by: either read the book out loud to yourself, or have it read to you by text-to-speech software. I have never used this method, so I have no experience to relate, but by all means, read the blog posts I linked to and give the method a shot.

I would love to hear of any experiences you’ve had with professional editors — or any other editing methods you’ve tried — in the comments.

Other posts in this series:

Starting out as an indie author: preparing your manuscript for ebook retailers

Starting out as an indie author: Using distributors for getting into online bookstores

Starting out as an indie author: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Xinxii (Using distributors, part 2)

Starting out as an indie author: The costs of self-publishing

Starting out as an indie author: The costs of self-publishing

Starting out as an indie author

A couple months back, a certain Charlotte Ashley took issue with something the wonderful (and wonderfully successful) SF indie and KBoards author Hugh Howey* said, and in order to prove how wrong he was, she posted an amazingly inflated list of the expenses involved in self-publishing. She came up with a total publishing cost for an 80,000 word novel of $1900. Her numbers have already been taken apart by the good folks who follow the The Passive Voice. If you are inclined to do so, go and read her post and then the comments on PG’s blog. My more modest estimates will be waiting here when you get back. (BTW, if you have not already done so, I recommend subscribing to PG’s (Passive Guy) blog, and signing up for KBoards as well. You will learn much in both places that will help you as you move forward in self-publishing.)

While I have no interest here in joining the battle regarding Ashley’s numbers, her list offers a simple point of departure regarding potential publishing costs. This probably should have been my first post in this series, since when it comes down to it, in this post I’ll be going into a bunch of the things you have to look into before you start formatting your manuscript and deciding where to publish it. These are the questions (and expenses) to consider when you’re sitting on that brand-new potential world bestseller and wondering how to get it to all the millions of readers who are waiting for your stunning work of staggering genius. So with no further ado, here are the main price points to look into before publishing your novel.

Editing services – First you have to decide whether you want straight proofreading, (checking for spelling and grammar mistakes only), copy editing (generally proofreading plus consistency and other small errors), or content editing, which includes feedback on the structure of the story as a whole.

Most freelance editors charge per word; some charge per hour, making it very difficult to estimate what the cost of a complete manuscript would be. In the latter case, it’s very important to find an editor who will do a free sample in order to get an estimate of the final cost.

Prices for editing services vary wildly. Editors who are just starting out tend to offer their services at lower rates in order to attract customers from whom they can get referrals and testimonials for their web pages. Here again I would suggest signing up for Kboards and checking Writers’ Cafe for people offering editing services. At the same time, I would not recommend booking anyone just starting out who doesn’t offer a trial of at least the first 2,000 words.

From a quick glance through my bookmarks and Kboards, it looks like the minimum cost for proofreading a 80,000 word novel would be about $200.

I will go into whether or not you can safely do without editing services in another post in this series. But just a hint: most people should probably hire a proofreader — unless they have multiple, talented beta readers who are willing to do line edits. 🙂

Minimum proofreading cost for 80,000 words: $200

Book cover – Book covers can be a lot cheaper than you might think, given all the cover artists out there who sell pre-made covers at barely above cost. Like with the editing services mentioned above, this can be an attempt on the part of a designer starting out to find initial customers and build a reputation. A number of cover designers also offer designs rejected by customers as pre-mades — which doesn’t mean they’re bad, but they just weren’t the ones the authors liked best.

Here’s an example of what you can get when you buy a pre-made cover:

Island of Glass
Pre-made cover from Littera Designs

The cost of pre-made covers starts at about $25. If you’re interested in looking around to see what’s out there, I would once again recommend checking the threads of the Writers’ Cafe on Kboards for cover artists. There is a thread for pre-made covers here.

Of course, you have to have the perfect story for the cover. And buying such a cover might entail additional expenses. I have since hired Littera Designs for two more books in the series. 🙂

Other inexpensive options for getting a cover for your book are through Elance and Fiverr. I have not used either before, but I know several people who have used Fiverr and were quite happy with the results, for example Beth Camp and Christiana Miller.

Finally, if you have some Photoshop or Gimp skills, you can make your own covers. In that case, the only expense would be in time and licensing fees for stock art.

As with editing, I plan to go into cover options in more detail in another post in this series.

Minimum cover price: $5

Layout & Design – As I mentioned in “Preparing your manuscript for ebook retailers,” it’s getting progressively easier to create your own EPUB and MOBI files for uploading to the various ebook retailers. You may have to spend some money initially for software that will help or speed up the formatting process, but not even that is necessary if you can learn how to use the free tools. Naturally if you find yourself utterly defeated on the formatting front and/or you are a perfectionist swimming in money, you can have your ebook professionally formatted. As with editing, the cost tends to go by the length of the manuscript. As I have never used an ebook formatter, I’m unfamiliar with the prices they charge. This is also a service that can be booked through Fiverr, however — simply search for “ebook formatting.” (Layout for paperback Publish on Demand books is another level of difficulty entirely; for that reason, I intend to devote a complete post to POD formatting and options.)

Minimum layout cost: $0

Publicity – How are you going to get anyone to notice your book once you’ve thrown it out there into the cold, cruel world? Blog about it? How many regular readers do you have? Who will notice?

One option (which I have not yet tried) is to book a blog tour with someone who will arrange guest posts on book blogs in your genre. (If I ever dare the waters of a paid blog tour, I will be sure to post about my results.) Organized virtual book tours start at around $40. If you have writer friends who blog and write in your genre, you can trade cover reveals at no cost to either of you. Another marketing strategy is to try paid advertising. This is rather difficult, however, when the book is newly published and reviewless, since most sites that advertise ebooks have minimum review requirements.

Of course, you can always go with Charlotte Ashley’s suggestion and pay for a Kirkus Review for $425.

Minimum publicity cost: $0

Website – Some people maintain that it’s not professional to have a WordPress blog that is obviously free, like mine (you can tell because “WordPress” is in the URL). Better would be to have www.ruthnestvold.com. Well, I have that too, and it costs me about $60 a year for hosting. Personally, however, I doubt if it is really necessary. I know a number of successful writers who use free blogs as their web presence. Perhaps there are readers out there who decide not to buy a writer’s next book when they see that he or she has a free blog, but I suspect they’re in the minority. So it’s up to you whether you want to pay the money for your own domain or not. The important thing is that readers can find you if they want.

Minimum cost for a website: $0

Minimum total cost of self-publishing (subjective)

Seeing as the only expenses that I find absolutely necessary are an editor and a cover designer, that puts the minimum cost of self-publishing at a little over $200 for an 80,000 word novel. Some people would disagree with me that a self-publisher needs an editor or proofreader, which would leave cover design as the only necessary expense. Editing and covers can, of course, also be much more expensive. My pre-publication expenses for Shadow of Stone came to well over $600 — admittedly, a long book, making the editing price point more expensive. But I also wanted the same cover designer I booked for Yseult, and he had since raised his prices. I also did not want the embarrassment of publishing an unedited manuscript. (And yes, I did earn all that back.)

Such things, however, are naturally for each individual author to decide. When it comes down to it, it’s possible to spend absolutely nothing. Skip the editing, make the cover yourself with the free program Gimp and free stock art (but make sure the licensing allows you to use it for ebook covers), format it yourself with free tools, upload it to ebook retailers, and you have an ebook.

Nonetheless, it’s important to be aware of the professional services available that might give your book an edge among the many self-published ebooks on the market. A book that has been professionally edited and that has a professional cover may just have that edge.

Next week, I will go into more detail as to why I think editing is important — and who can probably skip the expense after all.

*If there is anyone who proves you can make money writing science fiction, Hugh Howey has to be it. So take heart, SF writers out there! There is still a market for visions of the future. 🙂

Other posts in this series:

Starting out as an indie author: preparing your manuscript for ebook retailers

Starting out as an indie author: Using distributors for getting into online bookstores

Starting out as an indie author: Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and Xinxii (Using distributors, part 2)