Self-Publishing ‘Properly’, Or: Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

I got an email earlier from my editor, Misti, telling me that’s she’s almost finished her edit of ASCENSION POINT.


Ahem. We’re going to have a chat on Wednesday, and shortly thereafter I’ll be able to start carving up my MS into a leaner, meaner form, with an eye on publishing before the end of October.

As this milestone nears, I just wanted to post on something I’ve been thinking about, what I consider the two different approaches a writer can take to self-publishing. In essence, one’s free, and one’s not. But there’s only one which I think is doing it ‘properly’. Can you guess which? 

Being a software engineer, and generally all-round geeky guy, I knocked together a spreadsheet of what I’ll have spent to take ASCENSION POINT from an idea to publication-ready. This is what I paid for:

  • Professional cover design. A front cover for the e-book version, and a spine and back cover for the CreateSpace paperback.
  • Professional editing. A content edit and a separate proofread.
  • Scrivener. Technically a sunk cost in that I’ll be using it for all future books, but I have to offset it somewhere. Might as well be against book one.
  • Blog. The domain name, for a professional-looking web presence, and the custom font package because I AM A FONT NERD AND I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU SAY. Another, annual, sunk cost, so I’ll need to offset this against every second book if I manage to put out two a year as planned.

All told, that came to just shy of $900.

IMPORTANT NOTE: the cost of editors and cover designers varies wildly, so your mileage may vary. This is no indication of what any other writer might end up spending.

So. What’s the other approach? Well, I could have done my own cover in Paint. I could have skipped a professional edit altogether, and relied on my beta readers and my own nous. I could have written the book in OpenOffice, or another freeware editor. And I could have stuck to the domain and the standard fonts.

Total cost? $0. The right thing to do? I certainly don’t think so.

All the advice I’ve read, from a range of writers whose opinions I respect, is that if you’re entering the self-publishing game you need to enter it as a publisher, with all of the professional business mindset which that entails. Your book’s going to be sitting there on the virtual Amazon/Kobo/B&N bookshelf next to a million others which had professional publishing budgets behind them.

The only thing that’s going to catch the shopper’s eye is your cover, and I’m pretty sure the designers employed by Random House don’t use Paint. And if that shopper does buy your book, the best way to ensure they don’t come back with a 1-star review that derails your career before it’s even started is to have a professionally edited product.

As a reader and a buyer myself, this is just common sense. There are a hundred thousand books on Amazon that I wouldn’t download even if they were free, because the cover or the sample first 10% makes it abundantly clear the author hasn’t put their money where their mouth is, created a professional product, and backed themselves that it’s going to sell enough copies to recoup the costs and more.

“OK, so you’ve spent $900 expenses. How many copies do you need to sell before you start to turn a profit? Must be quite a lot, right?”


“…what? No, that–”

No, it’s 258. Priced at $4.99, still cheaper than a lot of e-books from traditional publishers, but above the seething morass of obviously self-published works from 99c to $2.99, the author gets $3.49 a pop. Sooooo….


If I can’t sell that many copies, then I’m packing up and going home. Seriously.

To summarize: If you want to be taken seriously as a writer, act professionally, spend some money, and back yourself to succeed.

“But Dan, what about–”

Quiet, imaginary reader. I’m getting to it. There is of course an obvious problem with this approach–not everyone has $900 or more knocking around that they can spare, risk, gamble, whatever you want to call it, on what is to all intents and purposes a hobby until that first royalty payment rolls in. In which case, you just need to do your best. Get creative. Hit the Kindle Boards forums and crowd source a cover–offer your designer 5% of sales in the first year. Make up for the lack of a pro editor with as many qualified beta readers as you can find–other authors who’ll show you theirs if you show them yours.

Spending the cash offers a shortcut, of course, but it’s the attitude that’s important. Say to yourself: “I am a writer. This is what I do. My book will sell. I owe it to myself to spend the time or money or both to self-publish properly and give my readers the best I can give them.”

Because then they’ll come back for more.

(Caveat reader: Dan Harris is an aspiring author who is yet to publish a single book. His current career income from writing stands at $0, and everything he knows about writing or publishing he read on the internet or thought up in the shower. This article does not constitute legal advice, and should not be construed as such. Terms and conditions apply.)

Have a great weekend, folks.

10 thoughts on “Self-Publishing ‘Properly’, Or: Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

  1. Don’t forget any costs that you may incur with marketing when you launch your book. And don’t forget to keep writing and producing that second book so that your ‘bookshelf space’ looks a little better. But yay on the editing! And I absolutely agree with you on the professional cover.

    1. Absolutely. I did think about mentioning marketing costs–getting a Book of the Day package on ENT, etc. But I just don’t know enough about it yet, or whether it’s going to be something I’d class as necessary/required alongside editing and a cover designer.
      The second book is coming, I promise! Slowly 🙂
      Thanks for commenting.

  2. I absolutely respect your approach. I think that kind of commitment is way separates those who are willing to invest in themselves and their work from those who are just trying to win the self-publishing lottery.

    1. You, sir, are correct AFAIAC. (As far as I am concerned. I’m trying to bring that acronym in. We’ll see how that goes.) I was actually having this exact conversation with my mum earlier. We can’t all hope to hit the zeitgeist with a particular theme a la E.L. James or Suzanne Collins–the best, most reliable approach is to just write a damn good book, the best that you can, slap a kick-ass cover on it, give it a solid promotional kick into the world, and then write another ten.
      Happy weekend!

  3. I love this post. I wish I could print it up and put it under people’s windshields all across the world. Or drop millions of copies from a blimp that actually has the link to this post printed on the side.

    I will be buying everything on your list as well as improved business cards, some promotional materials, and a publishing license. Happy writing. Spread the word on this post. I know I will.

    1. Your comment made me super happy. I love your blog, especially your use of -balls and -sauce as suffixes, so to me this is HIGH PRAISE INDEED.
      My business card writing business is not quite off the ground yet, but you will be the first to know when it is. WARNING: all business cards will be imprinted with randomly selected link to article. Client’s name may not be present.
      Keep writing those words and things, ‘Jordanna’. Sometimes I think that’s not even your real name…

      1. Aww, Dan thank you so much. I had no idea you felt that way about my blog. Fantas-balls. Lol.

        Definitely let me know about the business cards. I want something awesome and unique and have yet to find what I’m looking for. If you have it, I’ll order it. Even if a few (only a few, right?) don’t actually have my ‘name.” Haha.

        PS, Jordanna is my middle name. 😉

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