D.P. Vaughan 28 February, 2024 0 Comments

Answering Some Questions About Book Publishing

I don’t normally provide book writing or publishing advice here because it’s just not what I normally talk about, but I provided some information about publishing and self-publishing to someone who wanted to know more information about it, and realised other people might be interested in reading it to. If you are: great! And if not, there’s always next post. 😊

Disclaimer: This my understanding as a self-published author, and any errors below are mine alone and no one else’s. Also, don’t take this as legal or financial advice in case I do have anything wrong.

 

Sensitivity readers

Some people hate this concept because they consider it to be “censorship”. What it really is, though, is asking for people whose backgrounds you don’t share to check over your work to make sure it’s not furthering any false stereotypes and doing harm in representation. For example, my debut novella features a gay Black man and an aro-ace mixed race (half-Vietnamese, half-unspecified — but white) bilingual woman. There are so many aspects to their backgrounds that I don’t share and so I don’t know what I don’t know, and I’m not aware of all the harmful stereotypes surrounding them and don’t want to contribute to that, even if unknowingly.

But sensitivity readers aren’t just people who share that background (although even that would be better than nothing!), they’re trained to be aware of harmful stereotypes and implications that an author may not have intended but which could be read into it. Costs can range from dozens of dollars to literally thousands, depending on how in-demand the sensitivity reader is, how experienced, qualified, etc.

Now, they can’t make an author change anything (which is why the idea that it’s censorship is nonsense) because the author is ultimately responsible for what words end up on the page. But it’s always good to not reflexively react defensively about anything they’ve pointed out which could be a problem (because it might actually be a problem, even if the idea makes an author feel uncomfortable). Also, sensitivity readers shouldn’t be used as shields for criticism of an author’s work because they’re just a single person and can’t possibly cover all the experiences of an entire group of people. For that reason and others, they’re normally uncredited.

I normally send by work to sensitivity readers after I’ve finished my second draft (I don’t subject any other living human to my first drafts!).

 

Developmental Editor

The most expensive type of editor, typically. They look at the story holistically, focussing on the plot and character arcs. It’s the type of editing that can result in the biggest changes in your manuscript because you might need to delete entire scenes or chapters, or add in new ones, or move things around.

I typically plan my stories out to the nth degree so this is usually not a particularly painful part of the process for me: I generally have good plot structuring, so the main things I need to do is make sure the page says what I meant to say, and haven’t missed out details that a reader won’t know (because they don’t share my brain where the information is kept). I’d expect the cost of this to be anywhere from a thousand dollars to a few thousand dollars.

 

As an author, you’re not obligated to listen to or accept any of the edit suggestions, but I’d recommend listening to most of them since they’re more experienced at looking at plot structure than a beginner author is.

I don’t send my manuscripts to my develomental editor until after I’ve done as much self-editing as I can, and until after I’ve had sensitivity readers look it over.

 

Copy Editor

This type of editor looks at the sentence level constructions and seeks to improve them. They will also point out what sentences can be cut or merged, and will give you suggestions on how to make your prose better.

Personally, I accept about 95% or so of my copy editor’s suggestions and just accept them because usually I like what they’ve suggested. On some cases I push back a bit where I think my idea is better. Or I’ll adjust what I wrote to something that addresses their concerns instead of just accepting their what they said as-is.

Again, you don’t have to accept any edits they make or suggestions they make, but since you’re paying a professional for this service you probably should.

Normally costs a few hundred dollars to maybe two thousand dollars.

 

Proofreader

This type of editor is solely looking for errors: they could be spelling errors, grammatical errors, capitalisation errors, punctuation errors and factual errors.

By the time my manuscript is up to the proofreading stage I’m satisfied that it’s pretty much “done” and whatever the page count is at this point probably won’t change.

What I said before still applies: you don’t have to change anything if you don’t want to, but they are professionals trying to improve something, so maybe take their advice seriously.

However, as a counterpoint, here’s an example of an instance where I didn’t take a proofreader’s advice: in a story set in the early 1980s, the narrative voice referred to someone as a “policeman’. The proofreader suggested “police officer” because that is the term we mostly use nowadays because not all police are men. But back in the ’80s “police officer” most definitely wasn’t the standard term used (hell, it wasn’t until 1999 that female police officers in the UK stopped having the ‘W’ added before their ranks to indicate they were women … something the men never had — and some newspapers still include the W even today).

Normally costs a few hundred to a thousand dollars.

 

Typesetter/Formatter

Now these two roles used to be very different, but in the 21st Century they’re a lot more blurred together. A typesetter is someone who takes your manuscript and sets it out the way it will be in the final book. A book formatter is someone who formats the appearance of your manuscript in its book form. Again, although they’re different roles, I use the two terms interchangeably. This part of the publishing process is super important because if this isn’t done correctly it can make your work look cheap and unprofessional. It’s technically possible to do this with Microsoft Word (I know because some authors successfully do this) but I wouldn’t recommend it: it’s fiddly and time-consuming and easy to stuff up.

My understanding is that this job can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. Oh, and any changes you need to have made (because of a typo or what-have-you), you’ll need to pay the typesetter/formatter to make those changes and wait for them to get around to it.

I decided “bollocks to that” and decided to do it myself. I use software called Vellum: it cost something like 200 USD and you can use it for an unlimited amount of books (print books and various eBook formats). It’s Mac only, though, and I don’t have a Mac, but I use a cloud Service called Mac-in-Air that’s about 20 USD or whatever per month to be able to log into a Mac computer somewhere in the world to do my typesetting/formatting from the comfort of my PC.

 

Cover artist

Super important! Everyone judges a book by its cover. If you have background as an artist, then you might be able to do this yourself, but no one else should even attempt it! Book cover art creation is such an established artform with principles I can’t even begin to understand. This could cost anywhere between a few hundred to many hundred (or more!). Oh, and AI art is a controversial minefield that I’m not even going to touch except to say, “don’t use it for your book cover”.

 

Marketer

Now, this part is true regardless of whether an author has a publisher or not, because unless you’re a household name, publishers aren’t going to bother doing any marketing for you. So all authors, unless they’re already super successful and super famous, need to do their own marketing.

Nowadays that typically means being active on social media platforms. If this isn’t your thing and you have oodles of money to spare, you could pay a virtual assistant to do it. I try to do this job myself but most of my sales have been by people who either know me or who have met me and I’ve talked them into buying a copy.

I’ve attempted to market myself on Reddit and Instagram and I don’t think I’ve had a lot of success with this avenue yet. But we’ll see: I’ll keep trying, and we’ll see if it gains any traction. If nothing else, I’m pretty good at selling in person at conventions and book fairs.

 

Webdesigner

Every author needs a website. Publishers will pay for one and might even organise everything about the creation of it (not sure about the accuracy of this statement). But if you’re doing it yourself, you either need to have existing and decent skills in website design or pay someone else to do it (I paid someone else to make it, but I maintain it myself — I think it cost me a hundred or two hundred dollars, maybe?).

 

 

Branding

I don’t know if publishers do much with this for their authors, but I would assume they do. I paid a graphic designer to create my logo and branding. I had a lot of input, so they were basically just trying to manifest what I was telling them I wanted. You could get away with fifty to a hundred dollars for this if you don’t go for someone super expensive.

 

ISBN

Each country has some kind of company or agency where you can purchase ISBNs. You will need one for each format of a book (eBook, paperback, hardcover and audio book are each separate format that will require their own ISBNs), and each edition (if you release a 2nd edition later on, for example).

If you’re just doing eBooks only through Amazon, then you don’t technically need an ISBN (I don’t think), but I don’t want to be tied to a single platform, so I bought the ISBNs myself. I can’t remember how much ISBNs were for me, but I bought something like 10 of them because they’re cheaper in bulk. Next time I’ll probably buy a hundred since by the time I have 5 books out I’ll have proven myself and shown I’m in this for the long term. A publisher would normally sort all this out and pay for it for you.

 

National Library

I believe each country has a rule that all new books must be submitted to them to keep a copy of. I know the US and Australia do. I imagine this is something a publisher will sort out for you. As for me, I just uploaded my eBook version rather than posting or dropping in a physical copy of the book and that seems to have satisfied the requirements.

 

Copyright

Publishers will sort out the copyright. My understanding of US and Australian law is that any newly created work is automatically protected by copyright. But there are agencies you can register with to help protect your rights. I think this was free for me, but you’d want to look into it yourself.

 

Beta Readers

These are readers who will read a work, an in-progress work, and give feedback on what they like and don’’ like. You can tell them what you want them to give feedback on. I think all authors have to organise this themselves; I don’t think publishers get involved in this. Most beta readers do this on a voluntary basis but others requirement payment.

 

Print on Demand

Unlike the bad old days, where if you were self-publishing, you had to order like a 100 copies of your book as an upfront expense and hope you sold them all, print on demand services will only print copies when there’s a confirmed sale. This heavily reduces the risk involved because the printing costs are taken out of the revenue of the sale, not paid by the author up front.

I don’t think publishers have anything to do with this — they just get a print run done of however many they expect they might be able to sell. So, if you’re going down this route, you’ll have to organise it all yourself. I use IngramSpark and their distribution networks are wide. You can order my book from Amazon and thousands of other websites around the world, and when they receive an order, IngramSpark prints a copy of the book and ships it out to the buyer.

 

Online Platforms

Publishers would take care of all this, but if you don’t have one it’s all on you. You’ll have to create author accounts on all of the online retail platforms (Amazon, etc.) and register your book with them. Now, IngramSpark takes care of this for the paperback versions for me automatically, but for the eBooks I set this up with each platform directly.

 

Web Hosting

Your author website will need web hosting or domain registration. I imagine this is something a publisher would organise for their authors and pay for. But I think I pay a few hundred dollars per year because I’ve registered a number of different domains and have them redirect to my main one (so dpvaughan.co.uk and dpvaughan.com.au all direct to dpvaughan.com).

 

Email List

One of the most powerful tools an author has to directly communicate with their audience is an email mailing list, even though that sounds super 1990s. Social media is unreliable: if a platform tanks (Twitter, cough cough) or you get banned for some reason, your entire contact list is lost to you. But with an email list, you can contact people directly. I use MailChimp, the free version, and it’s adequate for my needs.

Every month I sent out an email updating my subscribers about what I’ve been up to. The idea is to keep people warmed up and interested, so that when you have a new book available you can tell them directly and immediately so they know they can buy it. I assume a publisher would help authors setup and pay for this for them, but I don’t know. I use the free version, and I organised everything myself.

 

Distribution and Sales Channels

Now when it comes to getting your book into brick and mortar bookstores, this is the one area where traditionally published authors have a HUGE leg up on self-published authors. Publishers have extensive distribution channels and can make their authors’ books be stocked in those bookstores. Doing this as a self-published author is not impossible, but there’s a much higher barrier to entry, and you have to organise it with each store on a store by store basis.

I live in Canberra, Australia, and so far, I’ve convinced six brick and mortar bookstores in my city (plus a student association bookstore on four different campuses of a large registered training organisation) to stock my book. I’ve also had some local libraries purchase copies to loan out, but I’ve had to organise all of that personally because I don’t have a publisher who’ll do it for me.

 

Book Launch

Now, I don’t know about this one, but I assume publishers would organise or pay for this for their authors. Like I said, I don’t know. Fortunately, I directly organised this with a bookstore who hosted my book launch without charge, probably because I’m a local author and they support local authors, and it went really well. Photos to come soon!

 

Legal and Financial Management

Now, if you’re an author dealing with a publisher, you’ll want to pay for your own legal or financial advice to make sure they’re not going to screw you over. But when it comes to the publisher making deals with other entities, I assume they have their own legal/financial departments to sort that out for you. But if you’re self-published like I am, you need to sort out everything yourself.

 

Public Relations

Publishers will contact the media with press releases for their authors and new books, and can arrange for interviews and the like. This is a major benefit of having a publisher. If you’re self-published, you have to do all of this yourself. I mean, I guess you could pay a public relations consultant, but who has that sort of money?

So far, I’ve used ChatGPT (gasp!) to help me format and word my media press releases and sent them to media outlets directly. And while I haven’t had any interviews yet (other than the one at my book launch, which was an amazing experience!), I do have a number of high schools who’ve expressed interest in me coming in to talk to their students about book writing and publishing.

 

So hopefully you found that interesting. 😊 Thanks for reading if you got this far!

 

Next week I’m going to share some photos I’ve had taken of my book at various bookstores and libraries, and from my book launch as well.

 

Until then … farewell!

 

Illustration of Rotary Printing Press by Victor Rose, courtesy of Old Book Illustrations