Quality Control: Author Edition

In my latest Adventures in Indie Publishing column over at Nerds Feather, I talk about the importance (and all too frequent lack) of quality editing and artwork in indie and self-publishing. I focused mainly on the reader. What of those of us who write this junk magnificent artwork?

As I state over there, the largest problem is cost. Making some assumptions- namely, that your day job doesn’t exactly enable you to spend money on frivolous things like editing- how does one overcome the catch-22 of needing to spend money on editing and cover art with not having that money on hand?

First, let’s estimate some costs. For the purposes of this, we’ll assume the book in question is 50,000 words. According to the EFA, basic copyediting runs around $30-40/hour, with 5-10 MS pages per hour at 250 words. For the purposes of this estimate, we’ll say 8 pages, or 2,000 words per hour. We’ll again go middle of the road and say $35/hour, for a grand total of $875. Of course, a good editor does more than find your typos (obviously, mine has her hands full with that alone). According to the same rate sheet, fact checking follows the same rate scale, and for simplicities sake, we’ll assume the same number of hours- another $875, totaling $1,750. For the purposes of this general estimate, we’ll call that $2,000 (NOTE on the preceding: I separated copyediting and fact checking to allow for variances in each and to emphasize that they can be two separate services. As shown here, they essentially add up to the ‘heavy copywriting’ service).

Next up, the cover. I’ve said it before; I’m sure I’ll say it again: You can’t judge a book by it’s cover, but it’s how they’re picked. At this point, you also have to think about if this book is going to print, or will just be an ebook. This can make a world of difference. There are many places that will do an ebook cover for under $300, and some of them are passable. Middle of the road seems to be more around $500-$1,000 for ebooks, and add at least $1,000 if you plan on going to print. So if you go with a nice ebook cover or cheaper print cover, $1,500 is a solid estimate (I use Atomic Covers, which runs at $900).

Of course, your book has to be formatted as well, if you plan on selling it more places than via KDP. Back to the EFA, which says $45-85/hour, at 6-10 pages per hour (remember, your 50k word novel is 200 MS pages). So we’ll say $50/hour at 8 pages per hour, for a total of $1,250. This feels high with the tools out there today, so let’s say $1,000. So our estimate shakes out this way:

Low Mid High
Editing $1,000 $2,000 $3,500
Cover $300 $1,500 $5,000
Formatting $200 $1,000 $1,500

So our safe, middle-of-the-road estimate totals out to $4,500, which, again, I assume you don’t just have lying around (if you do, can we be friends?). As an author, what are your options (no, doing it yourself isn’t an option, except maybe with formatting)?

Shop: There are a lot of options out there, and my late-night, whiskey-fueled estimate is not the bible on this (my day job is however, estimating, so it’s not just a wild guess). Rose Jasper Fox offers a Developmental Editing Package for $24 per 1,000 words- so our assumed novel of 50,000 words would cost $1,200- considerably closer to the low-end estimate for quality work. Do leg work, ask around, ask other indie authors and see where you can get a better rate.

The same goes for cover artists. There are a lot of them out there, and just because they’re the most expensive doesn’t mean they’re the best- and just because they are the cheapest doesn’t mean they’re the worst.

Ask: This requires more digging, and much more networking, but you always have the option to let them come to you. How many young artists out there would jump at the chance to do a book cover for their portfolio? Or is there a young editor that is just starting out that will give you a good price if they can use you as a reference? Ask around, on social media, where authors/editors/artists hang out (IRL and online), or just put up an ad on craigslist. This can save you a ton of money.

Save: Writing that book took time, right? I’m assuming that most of you don’t write at some NaNoWriMo pace all the time (if you do, write a how-to book and sit back and count your money). Let’s say it takes you a year to write your book- can you save $5,000 over a year? $3,000? Probably, especially if you cut back on things like lattes (2 lattes a week- almost $500 a year), cable (you should be writing anyway, not watching TV), the latest cell phone ($200+) or something else frivolous, like food or shelter. Your book is an investment, a business, as well as your creation. Show it the love and care it deserves.

Crowdsource: Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are both great options. If you go this route, make sure you have ALL your costs accounted for- people might not remember you as the greatest author ever, but you can bet they will remember you if you couldn’t afford to ship them their books. Also, make sure you’ll reach your goal. It’s a great dream that people will stumble across your campaign and Wil Wheaton and every other social media hero will tweet it and it will go viral and you’ll make like a million dollars and… yeah, exactly. Maybe it happens, and I hope it does, but don’t bank on it. Set a reasonable goal, and start recruiting people to fund it before you launch.

So in conclusion, do everything you can to make your book a quality work that people will appreciate and enjoy. If you do, you’re not only helping yourself, but the whole indie community.

CLOSING NOTE: If you are an editor/cover artist/etc, please feel free to drop your name/link/services/whatever in the comments, and/or shoot me an email at deanfortythree@gmail.com and I will be more than happy to include you in this and future posts along these lines.

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10 thoughts on “Quality Control: Author Edition

  1. Ashley Lowe, Editor says:

    A lot of us are even willing to work/stretch with indie authors. We understand the trials and tribulations people go through, but quality editing and cover art is hard work! That being said, nearly everything is negotiable. It’s worth it in the long haul if an author wants to be taken seriously! 🙂

  2. Michael J Sullivan says:

    I applaud you for outlining the various tasks, but I also want to caution, that if most people took on a project with the costs you are projecting…they would fail. When you self-publish you need to “think like a business person” and for each decision you have to consider ROI. It’s better to start small, then do further investments IF you get returns. For instance…I would start with investing in a cover and copy editing. You can shop around. I’ve seen very good covers produced for $150 – $300. Also for copy editing I’ve personally hired freelances for 100,000 word novels in the $350 – $750 range. So I recommend doing the best job you can with $500 – $1,000 and put out an ebook only (because it is easy and cheap to format), Then if you want to upgrade to a better cover and do layout for print invest in such things only after you’ve started to earn.

  3. Belinda Pepper, Red Swallow Design says:

    Dean, you asked for service providers to drop a line. I’ve been a book cover designer for over 2 years now (professional artist for 11), and just finished pulling together a team to help cope with demand. Us indie authors are a ravenous lot, eh? ;D
    The site is still being finished off, but here it is: http://redswallowdesign.com/

    One thing I worry about when people advocate spending lots of money on a cover design is that authors (especially those who don’t know a whole lot about design) will think that a high price tag automatically equals a professional-looking design. Unfortunately, that’s not true. On my homepage, I’ve posted the following graphic: http://tinyurl.com/a7qn29z
    I could post many, many more examples, but I also don’t want to be responsible for a witch hunt.
    Moral of the story, authors can spend a lot less than the amounts you’ve quoted, and still get a great book cover. You just need to know where to look. I recommend asking experienced artists to help you decide who is/isn’t a good cover designer. Experienced artists should know enough about good composition, colour theory, value, and concept to be able to recognise a good cover when they see it.
    You can also follow blogs like Joel’s “Book Cover Awards”: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2011/08/monthly-e-book-cover-design-awards/ or Red Swallow Design’s “Design Spotlight”: http://redswallowdesign.com/design-spotlight/
    These blogs recognise good design, without ulterior motive.

    Formatting and editing can also be done for much cheaper, without sacrificing quality. When it comes to editing, us writers should put together a team of beta readers (preferably successful authors themselves) and make the manuscript as good as possible before sending it to a reputable freelancer (I have contacts for both, if anyone needs a hand finding someone).

    While writers should avoid going the DIY freebie route, they also shouldn’t spend an arm and a leg, especially when just starting out.

    My 2 cents! 😀

  4. Andrew Bell says:

    You asked for editors to drop a line here, so I thought I’d post our info. We’re an editing company targeted largely at people looking to self-publish, or who would like help starting or touching up their manuscript, though we also work in non-fiction, business content, blogging, and almost anything else, and offer services including developmental, line, and copy editing, proofreading, researching, and ghostwriting. We offer rates 20% below the industry standard. For details, please check out our website, http://www.quillpeneditorial.com, or email my partner at catherine@quillpeneditorial.com.

    Thanks!

  5. Shannon St. Hilaire (@SLStHilaire) says:

    I am an in-house editor looking to branch out into freelance editing. Prices will vary depending on your manuscript and what services you would like, but since I am starting out it will be a good deal. Please contact me at saint.shannon at hotmail dot com if you would like to chat. You can also find me on Twitter: SLStHilaire.

    I look forward to hearing from you!

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