Using Sidelines to Fund Self Publishing Ventures

I finally think I’ve narrowed down the most stressful aspect of self publishing — at least for myself. Writing isn’t hard. Promotion isn’t hard (when I’m not being excessively lazy). Formatting isn’t even that hard.

You know what is hard? Coughing up the dough needed to publish the most professional product possible. In the grand scheme of things, $300 isn’t really that big of an investment. But when you’ve got a baby on the way and are living off only one stable income, the idea of parting with any chunk of cash is insomnia-inducing at best.

Unfortunately, getting a job while nine months pregnant without a car and while living on the economy in Germany is much easier said than done. So I did what I always do when I get the sudden burst of ambition to up my income: consulted Dr. Google and circled the drain for a few hours contemplating jumping head first into dangerous sideline projects like stock market investment and domain flipping. Of course, diving into those kinds ventures without experience is a great way to break your neck — er, bank.

What’s a girl to do?

I briefly contemplated returning to the soul-sucking world of freelance writing. One click on Elance and the disillusionment came rushing back. Yeah. No thank you, not interested. Finally I’ve settled on two work-from-home ventures that so far have become promising prospects:

  1. Short Romance Writing: Yes, I’m funding my writing by… well writing. Romance, especially steamy romance, has this weirdly lenient readership that is willingly to pay $2.99 for a 3-6k word story. I tested this theory by releasing a hot and humorous romance short of 5k words last week. It’s already sold four copies. That’s $8.36 in royalties. That’s right, this piece that took me less than a day to craft has earned more royalties in direct sales than my novella that took me a month to write. Want to know how much I invested in my short story? Four dollars on a stock photograph. That’s it. It’s already profitable (even if marginally so). Now I’ve set aside one day a week to publish a new short (serialized with the intention of bundling, of course). Sadly, that one day will probably be more lucrative than the six others I dedicate to writing what I love.
  2. Cover Designing: (This is where I do that lovely shameless plug thing. Don’t judge me too harshly.) A couple of days ago I was doodling in photoshop, as I often do whilst I’m suffering from a bout of procrastination, when I got the idea to turn my mouse scribbles into pre-made cover art for other self publishers. I took the idea to my favorite forum and was encouraged enough by the feedback to open up yet another website: http://www.premade-covers.com. I can usually create 1-2 designs a day and am selling the covers at a flat rate of $35 per. The beauty of the whole thing is that the doodles are something I do for fun anyway when I’m in that distracted stage of writing. Even one sale will make the venture profitable (and joy, I’m currently working with my first potential client).

ButterflyF AppleF FlowerF

 

In total, I spend about two days a week on sideline projects and the other five dedicated to working Piper’s Peace. This minimal investment of my time has actually done wonders in to liberate me from the writer’s block that was dropped on my wrists. Turns out it wasn’t a writer’s block at all, but merely a mental block that couldn’t get around the looming fear that my expenses would eventually out weigh anything I might reap from this project. Now I can get back to writing for the love of it (and leave my shorts to writing for the monetary gain).

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To outsource or not to outsource… Is it even a question?

Did I mention the fact that as self publishers we are basically a one man business? Now we’ve got two options when it comes to running our business: do it all ourselves or outsource some of the workload. I’m personally a big fan of making life easier on myself, but if sharing the burden isn’t enough of a reason for you to go running to a freelancer, here’s a couple of more that just might be:

  1. Someone else can do it better. Regardless of how many times you read over your manuscript, there’s always going to be that one little mistake your eyes miss. My stance on the matter is that I know my story, inside and out. When I reread it, I’m already anticipating what’s coming next instead of focusing on going line by line to look for that misplaced comma. On top of that, I know next to nothing about graphic design (thank you WordPress designers for the premade themes, I’d be lost in the sauce otherwise). My master trade is writing. I could probably manage to at least be average at the rest, but who wants average? Certainly not my future readers.
  2. It will give you a competitive edgeThis is a biggie. The market is saturated with sub-par works all vying for the same readership. Amateur covers, minor grammar mistakes, poor formatting – all are going to cost you a significant share of that readership. With millions of other titles out there, if you can’t stand out for the right reasons, you’re already shooting yourself in the foot.
  3. It will free up your time, allowing you to be more efficient. Raise your hand if you’re an obsessive self-editor. *hand goes up* Yep. Me too. And it’s a great way to circle the drain and never get anything published. Enter the wonders of hiring an editor you can trust. I kick out a chapter a day, give it a once over, and ship it down the line to Dawn. And then she does all the obsessing for me so I can focus on the next chapter. Your time is valuable, and it’s best spent honing your trade and promoting your brand.

 

So who are the experts that I should consider outsourcing my work to and how much should I expect to pay?

 

  • Editor: Your editor is your last line of defense before publication. She will catch the minor errors that you missed, polish your writing, and offer insight as to what is and what isn’t working. There are a few levels of editors, starting at the bottom with proofreaders and standard copy editors and going all the way up to developmental/line editors. At the low end of the spectrum you can find freelancers willing to copy edit your work at rates as low as $1 per page (manuscript page, not Word page – a standard manuscript page is 250 words). Keep in mind that most often you get what you pay for in terms of outsourcing, and a quality editor is far more likely to run you at least $30 an hour or $3 per page.

 

  • Graphic Designer/Illustrator: Someone who specializes in book covers and is knowledgeable as to what covers are selling in your particular genre. There is a huge range in costs for a professional cover designer. You can get them as cheap as $10 on Fiverr, but again, you get what you pay for. You can come by a good, marketable cover for between $40 and $100.

 

  • Ebook Converter: You can also use freelancers to have your books converted into an ebook format. I’ll be honest and admit I have not done a lot of research on the market as far as pricing and the advantage of doing such. We’ll find out if it’s entirely necessary when I attempt the frustrating process of formatting my book for publishing next week, so keep an eye out.

 

So what if I can’t afford to outsource, but still want to have a competitive edge? What can I do? There are a couple of options:

 

  • Beta readers: Non-professional, usually unpaid readers who will give you feedback on your story before publication. Beta readers can be found on many writing forums and over the social web. Some offer their feedback for a trade, while others like to focus on a specific genre. The advantage of beta readers is that they are free and they usually know the genre they beta for. The disadvantage is that they do not have the professional background of an actual editor and they do not have the same incentive for quick turnaround times on your work. If going this route, it’s beneficial to utilize multiple betas, instead of just one.

 

  • Read throughs: If you can’t find a quality beta and just need a pair of eyes on your work, you can at least enlist the help of family/friends by asking for a read through. This is your least professional editing route, BUT it will help you find the glaring grammar errors that turn off most readers. Heck, even with an editor, I still use my husband to read over everything I write.

 

  • Design your own cover: You can use sites such as shutterstock and depositphotos to purchase cheap, royalty free images. It behooves you to do some research first – what do the covers look like of the currently best-selling books in your genre? A simple amazon search will give you an idea. Then see if you can’t come up with something similar. Choose a font that doesn’t scream self-published (you can find a nifty list here). And most importantly keep it simple – especially if you have limited experience with graphic design.

 

When it comes down to it, you want to put the best product possible on the market. Outsourcing is an investment in those who know a certain craft better than you do. The pay off is in giving yourself that much more of an advantage over your competition. If you can’t afford to hire a professional, it is still prudent that your eyes are not the only ones to see your final product before it hits the market.