Tag Archives: POD

Earning Money from Self-Publishing

So far this week I’ve covered why people might want to self publish (and when they shouldn’t), and I’ve offered a step-by-step guide to the process. One big question remains—how can you turn a self-published book into a success story?

Since I just released my books, I can’t claim success yet. If you want to follow along with my story, I’ll be reporting updates on my personal blog on Wednesdays.

In the meantime, I can tell you my plan. First though, some comments from experts:

On the Behler Blog, Lynn Price acknowledges changes to the industry, but offers a warning to self-publishers: “The big advance money is drying up and the big guys aren’t buying the kinds of books they did years ago.… [However] It’s one thing to heed the call to the battle cry and chant ‘death to publishers!’ and quite another to actually go out and do it. And be successful.”

Self-pub superstar Amanda Hocking adds her own warning: “Traditional publishing and indie publishing aren’t all that different, and I don’t think people realize that. Some books and authors are best sellers, but most aren’t. It may be easier to self-publish than it is to traditionally publish, but in all honesty, it’s harder to be a best seller self-publishing than it is with a house.”

On the other side, Joe Konrath writes adult mysteries. He started in traditional publishing but has become totally gung ho about self-publishing. He sees no reason why anyone would want a traditional publishing contract today. On the other hand, he fully admits that success takes a big dose of luck. He often features guest authors sharing their success stories. These are primarily adult genre authors, but it’s still interesting to see what people do—and often how little difference a big publicity plan makes.

Along with luck, Joe says you need a well-written book, a great cover, a strong blurb describing it, and a good price point. He considers the e-book ideal $2.99, the lowest price at which you can get Amazon’s 70 percent royalty rate (it drops to 30 percent for cheaper books). You can judge my covers for yourself and check out the description and sample chapters of the writing at my Amazon page. Now let’s run some numbers to figure out that price point.

The Eyes of Pharaoh coverI can price my work as a $2.99 e-book and make $2 per book with Kindle’s 70 percent royalty rate. My traditionally published books are available on the Kindle, but at $5.99 for each of the Haunted series (the paperback price) and $8.80 for The Well of Sacrifice (hardcover price $16). I don’t get many sales that way, but many people complain that e-books are overpriced. (For an explanation of why, check out this post by former agent Nathan Bransford.) With The Eyes of Pharaoh and Rattled, people may be more likely to try the lower-priced books.

POD copies will be priced higher, because of printing costs. I can price Rattled at $7.99 which earns me $.92 for regular sales through Amazon. I can order copies myself for $3.87 to sell directly. The Eyes of Pharaoh is priced a dollar cheaper but actually earns me a little more, because it’s 160 pages versus 260.

Rattled will most likely sell far better as an e-book than in print, because the target audience for romantic suspense, 20-50-year-old women, are big e-book buyers. When I told my agent I had decided to self-publish Rattled, which he’d recently read and been excited about, he said, “Chris—I’m totally with you, and support you on this. Romance writers are doing SO well with e-self, I think you should.” (No, he won’t make money off of me this way now—but he could still negotiate foreign and film rights, should those arise.)

The Eyes of Pharaoh may sell better in print. We’ll have to see. Anyway, I should be making $1-$2 per book, and the books are reasonably priced.

So how to sell them? I have an advantage over new authors in that I already have somewhat of a reputation. I’m certainly not famous, but I do have fans. The main trick is getting the word out about the new work. Fortunately, I already have a wide social network. I’ve been a regional adviser for The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for eight years and have many friends among the regional advisors across the world and internationally. I have several hundred Facebook friends, two thirds of them children’s book writers or illustrators. I post occasionally on Verla Kay’s Blue Boards, I have a presence on Jacket Flap, Good Reads, and Library Thing. I recently joined a listserv for mystery fans and already got invited to do a guest blog post.

I also have a presence as a speaker/teacher. Next week, I’ll be on a panel and giving a solo talk at the Left Coast Crime convention for mystery writers and fans. I’ll also be hosting a table at the banquet, and I’m planning to give copies of my books to people at my table, with a request that they write a review on Amazon or other sites if they like the book. In April I’ll be speaking at a schmooze meeting and at a conference in Albuquerque, and at a workshop in El Paso. I’ll be teaching at the big SCBWI summer conference in LA next August.

I’ll also follow my usual habit of sending out press releases. Because I live in a small town, I usually get local coverage. I’ve even gotten covered by the paper in Juneau, Alaska, where I went to high school—though I haven’t lived there for more than 20 years (small towns are hungry for news). I send announcements to my two alumni magazines. I often write articles on writing and discuss my work when it’s appropriate as an example of a topic. Some of these articles I offer for free for the publicity.

I’m not trying to make myself sound like somebody special; this is just a realistic look at how a professional writer handles her career. If you have no social network and no time to build one, your book may sit there quietly doing nothing. I can’t make people like my book. I can ask my many writing friends—some of whom owe me favors because I’ve helped publicize their books on my blog or in the articles I write—to post reviews of my new books, mention them on their blogs, or whatever. Social networking doesn’t offer the key to the universe, but it can help get your book off to a good start. Once you have lots of strong reviews, the book may take off on its own. I believe both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have programs to help promote books that have great reviews but poor sales.

Joe Konrath (mentioned above) also insists that to increase sales, you want to take up as much shelf space as possible. In other words, if you have a dozen books available, you’ll sell more—not just because one person may buy all of your books, but because they have more ways to find you. Different people will find different books appealing, but once they’ve tried your work, they may explore farther. Sounds reasonable to me, so I’ll work to get some more romantic suspense published. (A note: I chose to publish my adult work under a different name. The downside is that I have no name recognition for Kris Bock. However, since the adult work would probably be rated PG-13 if it were a movie, I want to separate it from my children’s books.)

The Rattled Cover

I expect sales to start slowly, but hopefully rise steadily. In six months I should have a good idea of whether or not this is working, though it may take several years for sales to build. Here’s a nice success story from author Elizabeth C. Mock: “Less than a year ago, I published my debut novel (the first in a trilogy) and last month I breached 100,000 downloads/sales.” She also notes, “People want good stories and if a story resonates with people, then it will sell regardless of its origins in traditional publishing or self-publishing. If a story isn’t good, it won’t sell.”

In conclusion… I don’t really have a conclusion. I decided to try self-publishing because it fits my needs and my goals—and my abilities—right now. You’ll have to decide if and when it might be right for you. I hope I’ve given some ideas.

Can’t get enough of the topic? Next week, other members of The Spectacle will weigh in. Leave any questions you have on the topic and I’ll try to answer them the following week. As I mentioned, I’ll be posting weekly updates on my self-publishing journey on my personal blog every Wednesday, including specific challenges and solutions. Stop by or become a follower, if you want more insight into how this works out. Or if you decide to try self-publishing for yourself, let me know how it goes.

Chris Eboch with the Haunted series






Chris Eboch still loves her traditionally published Haunted series and looks forward to releasing book 4 on her own, since the publisher doesn’t want it (silly publisher).


Filed under Chris Eboch

How to Self-Publish Well

I’ve spent the last two days talking about what self-publishing is, plus who might want to self-publish and why. That leaves us with when, where, and how.

For me the answer to when is now. This week, in fact. If you have an appropriate project, why wait? To give you an idea of how long it takes, I started in February and I now have The Eyes of Pharaoh available as an e-book and print on demand. My second self-published novel, an adult romantic suspense called Rattled (written under the name Kris Bock), is going up now and should be available for sale next week. (The books were written and edited before February, of course.)

Wait a minute—traditional publishers typically take at least two years to release a book. How can self-publishing be so much faster and still be any good?

For one thing, publishers have to place your book in a queue of other books. They’ll add lots of extra time at every stage, in case someone misses a deadline. They may need to wait for an illustrator to become available. They have to wait for monthly meetings. They want to get the book into their catalog and send out copies for review in advance. All that takes time (though not always as much time as they use, as proven by hot topics rushed into print in a few months).

To self-publish my books, I needed a few weeks to research what I needed to do, get the manuscripts proofread, and contract for cover art. It’s not hard to set up an account on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc. and start publishing. Then it takes one or two days to get the e-book version available and a couple of weeks for print on demand if you want to review a proof copy first.

The Rattled Cover

Let me break down the steps.

I’ll be fairly detailed here, to give you a good idea of the work required.

Write and edit a book. Get feedback to make sure it’s good. This is obviously the hardest and most time-consuming part of the equation. That’s always true, even with traditional publishing, but here you’re putting the work out without an agent or publishing house editor’s guidance, so take extra time to get feedback. Don’t count on family and friends, or even a beloved critique group (unless you have several critique partners who are published writers and skilled editors/teachers). You may want to hire a professional editor. Many of the best editors lost their jobs in the last two years, and some of them now offer freelance editorial services. You’ll also find many of us among the professional writing community who will critique or edit your work for a fee.

Write any front matter: title page, dedication, acknowledgments, “other books by,” “this is a work of fiction” statement, etc. (You can follow the format in other books).

Write any author’s note for the end of the book. You may also want a bio at the back of the book. Include all this front matter and back matter in your document.

Make sure you don’t have two spaces between sentences, spaces at the start of paragraphs, etc. Make sure everything is formatted the same, e.g. all quotes are smart quotes, dashes are em dashes with no space around them, ellipses are spaced consistently and so forth. Word’s “Find and Replace” function is a life-saver here.

Hire a professional copy editor and approve/reject their suggestions.  Prices for a professional copy editor tend to be about .015 cents per word, so $500-$1000 for your average middle grade or YA novel. Don’t skimp here, though, or you risk publishing a book that looks unprofessional, which is worse than no book at all. Make sure you hire a professional who follows a specific style sheet, not just someone who’s “good with English.” (I saved money by trading a manuscript critique for proofreading at this stage.)

Hire an illustrator. Prices for cover design can start as low as $200 if you use stock photography. Photographic covers are common in young adult novels and suitable for some contemporary middle grade novels. If you’ll need an original illustration, expect to pay about $500. Most print-on-demand publishers and independent printers will offer cover design services, but you may be better off going through your local SCBWI branch or posting a request for illustrators on the SCBWI discussion boards.

Cover art is more of a challenge for speculative fiction writers, because it’s hard to find stock photography that appropriately captures a fantasy or science fiction world. Paranormal authors might get away with a photo of a spooky setting or a ghostly image created with a transparent layer, but for most speculative work you’ll need an original illustration. Whatever you choose, make sure you’re getting a fabulous, appropriate cover, because it’s one of your most important sales tools.  Jane Friedman of Writer’s Digest has 10 tips for effective book covers (mostly what to avoid).

You can save money by hiring an illustrator who is trying to break into the industry, or who isn’t getting enough work right now, but make sure you get a professional. Don’t skimp and wind up with something cheesy. You also need someone who can get the specifications right and provide the correct digital formats. Make sure you understand whether you are getting only cover art, or complete cover design with title and (for print on demand) spine and back of book. Keep in mind that not all illustrators have experience with book design (the font and placement of the title and author name, the information and layout on the back, and so forth). Make sure you also both agree on how many revisions the illustrator is willing to make.

I hired Lois Bradley for the covers of my first two self-published books. She’s a published illustrator starting her career, and as a bonus is also a graphic designer. We worked together on the cover art, trading ideas. Because I have a background in art and my husband is a graphic designer, I felt comfortable working without a separate The Eyes of Pharaoh version 2professional book designer. We did market research on Facebook by posting variations on title placement and so forth and eliciting feedback from my Friends, many of them authors and illustrators. Since these were Lois’s first book cover jobs, we negotiatedThe Eyes of Pharaoh version 1 an excellent “friends” rate and she’s taking some of the payment in trade.


The Inside: E-books

The Eyes of Pharaoh version 3

Cover in progress: note the different placement of the title/eyes.

Save a copy of the manuscript to use with e-books. These take minimal formatting—you don’t even choose the font style or size because people have their own preferred settings on their readers. Include section breaks between chapters, but no page breaks within chapters because the text will flow differently on different devices. Use a basic font like Times New Roman or Courier and avoid any unusual formatting other than italics and bold. You can include interior B&W illustrations. Amazon’s Kindle site offers more specific guidelines.

You can upload the document to Kindle as a Word .doc file (not .docx), but they recommend translating it into an ePub document. You’ll want the ePub anyway for other sites. This online program will convert the document to an ePub file.  Check to make sure it properly formatted italics, bold and so forth. It worked perfectly for me. Although it seemed to remove all blank lines and centering, the Kindle translation added them back in. If you want special formatting, you can do that with html (which I’m not going into here).

You can now set up accounts and upload your ePub document on Amazon’s Kindle site, Barnes & Nobles’ PubIt! site for the Nook, and/or other sites. Some sites such as Smashwords publish your book in multiple e-book formats, including Kindle and Nook, taking a small percentage. For maximum exposure, you may want to use all these sites. Most authors currently do best with Kindle sales, but some have better Nook sales, and Kindle might not always dominate the market.

You only need a front cover for e-books. The various sites will ask you for information such as a description of the book, author, illustrator, age group, genre, tag words, and so forth. Once you hit publish, the electronic version should go live in a couple of days. You can make changes to the document at any time in the future. You can also play with your description, price, and even cover art to see what sells best.

Print on Demand

The formatting is more challenging with print on demand. You’ll choose every aspect of how it looks. To do it yourself, you’ll have to understand font size and style considerations, when and how to adjust the page size, margins, leading, and kerning, and how to get rid of widows, orphans, and rivers. Layout can be easier with a design program, but it is possible with Microsoft Word. If you want to upload your own print-ready interior PDF, CreateSpace has detailed info.  CreateSpace also offers Professional Manuscript Layout Starting at $299, and I’m sure you can find other options.

Walton Mendelson is kindly offering a free download of his 98-page Build Your Book instruction guide, targeted specifically at CreateSpace users using Word to do layout, which covers basic book design, typography, basic how-to on scanning and shooting art, and more. The amount of info is a little overwhelming but you could do your own design with this help. Mr. Mendelson apparently also offers design services.

When you’re finished with layout, save a copy as a PDF—make sure you have chosen “standard” format. Doublecheck that all your formatting came through, such as italics and spacing. Now you are ready to upload your document. CreateSpace leads you through the process step-by-step, asking for information such as title, subtitle, and description to be used on the webpage. Your cover must be a single PDF that includes the back cover, spine, and front cover as one image, with at least .125” bleed. CreateSpace offers guidelines for determining your spine width based on your page count. (I’m not specifically promoting CreateSpace; it’s just the one I used so I know it best.)

CreateSpace will assign a free ISBN, which works with all distribution channels and lists CreateSpace as the publisher. You can also supply your own ISBN, or you can pay $10 to use their ISBN and list your own “imprint” name.

With POD, you can make changes after your final review, but you will have to pull the book off the site for a week or so.

Phew! Sounds pretty complicated when you list it all together. Aspects are definitely tricky—for me, learning to use Word as a layout tool provided several days of frustration—but certainly not impossible. You can find help online, in more detail than I’ve given here, and it’s fascinating to learn about all aspects of publishing. Just don’t expect to rush too much. Take the steps one at a time and give yourself a month or so to get through them.

If you have some money to spend and only plan to self-publish one book, you may want to simply hire services from the publisher. If you think self-publishing might be an option for a number of your books, it’s worth taking the time up front to learn the system yourself, especially if you’re tech savvy and/or have graphic design experience. (If you’re releasing an out-of-print book, and you can get a copy of the layout and permission to use the cover art/design, the process should be easy.)

Tomorrow: earning money from self-publishing.


Filed under Chris Eboch