The Write Business: Self-Publishing the Right Way

Today's Writerly Wednesday is a guest post by S.J. Forester, a terrific freelance editor that I met via I hired Sean to edit a new devotional I'm coming out with this winter. I liked his work so much, I ended up hiring him for three different projects. Yes, his work is that good. He's meticulous, responsive in providing feedback, and knowledgable about all aspects of self-publishing. 

The most important lesson I've learned in my self-publishing journey is the need to use excellent editors, book designers, and illustrators. Through, I've been lucky to find terrific people to work with, like Sean. I asked Sean to do this guest post because I've been so impressed with his professionalism and the quality of his work. I highly recommend him.

The Write Business : Self-publishing the right way

By S.J. Forester

Like all publishing, self-publishing is a business. You are providing a product to customers in exchange for their money. Unfortunately, the vast majority of self-publishers upon hearing tales of vast riches just jump right in without considering all the work involved. And they turn out a shoddy, unsuccessful product because they don’t know any better. And this has given self-publishing a bad reputation. To be successful, you must treat self-publishing as a business. But what does that business look like?
The following is what all publishing looks like. Just because the word “self” is attached does not mean self-publishing is exempt.

First, you start by actually forming a business. Go to your county clerk’s office and register a sole proprietorship. Immediately you gain immeasurable credibility. It’s quick and easy and very inexpensive in most counties. Look like a business.

Second is acquisitions. This is where the publisher finds stories that are worth telling. Stories that will sell. As a self-publisher, you should make sure you have a story that other people will buy before you waste your time and money going through the whole publishing process. This is easy. 

There are so many ways to get feedback.

Participate in local or on-line writing workshops. These can be pretty hit-or-miss, but worst case, you’ll get practice and develop a tolerance for criticism.

Give your rough draft to everyone you know who will give you honest feedback. That last bit is really important. You must get honest feedback. Sometimes it will hurt, but negative feedback is almost always more helpful than positive feedback. If you receive no negative feedback whatsoever, then you’ve given your manuscript to the wrong people. Try again.

And, of course, the best way to make sure your story is worth telling is to hire a developmental editor. A developmental editor will start with your synopsis and make sure that your story makes sense and that there are no glaring plot-holes. He or she will also give you feedback on marketability and genre appropriateness. After any major issues are corrected, the developmental editor will then go through the entire manuscript making notes throughout and writing up a full critique of plot, characters, and style. The main areas they will focus on will be conflict and character development. EFA recommended rates are $45-55/hr at ~1,000 words/hr. However, a good freelance editor will cost about half that, and you should estimate ~$10-20 per 1,000 words. A mediocre freelancer will be about half again that.

Next, you have copyediting (sometimes called line editing). This is where the author and the editor assigned by the publisher go back and forth on the manuscript until it’s as close to perfect as it will get. This can involve major rewrites, minor plot changes, or just grammar and flow. As a self-publisher, you should rewrite and rewrite until your manuscript shines. Then, go hire a copyeditor. I can’t emphasize this enough. 

A professional edit of your manuscript is a must

About the worst thing for the success of your book is a review on Amazon that your grammar and punctuation are a mess. See above freelance editor rates. I must also emphasize that just because someone is a writer or English teacher that does not qualify them to be an editor. There is a lot more that goes into editing that one must be specifically trained or have experience for

Now, while all this is going on, marketing is also happening. The marketing process starts at least three months before release. Send out review copies. Release sample chapters. Use Twitter and Facebook. Write blog articles. But above all, keep writing. 

There is no better marketing than writing another book. 

So when you have to choose between writing or marketing, you always choose writing. Only spend time on marketing that you can’t spend writing.

Next up is book design. 

This is where a publisher determines how the final book will look. This includes typesetting, layout, and cover design. This is one of the easiest things to mess up. A poorly designed book is an instant turn-off to most readers. It’s also one of the easiest things to do yourself, but it requires significant technical aptitude and a good amount of time to learn. 

If you are not exceptional with computers, do not do this yourself. 

Because of the huge variety of book layouts (color images on every page to just plain text throughout), book design is one of the most variably priced parts of publishing. Mostly it will range from $2/page to $10/page. I myself don’t charge nearly that much, but that’s because I’m usually also the editor and it’s not far out of my way to do design at the same time. There is also the expense of cover art which varies wildly depending on the requested complexity. Anywhere from $100 to $5,000.

Next, we have proofing. This a last check through the typeset book to make sure everything looks the way it should. If you have hired editors before this point, then you should be able to do this yourself. If you haven’t hired any editors, then this is the last chance to have professionally trained eyes take a look at your work.

And finally, we have production and distribution. 

These two are grouped together because they go hand-in-hand anymore. You submit your professionally designed files to Amazon Createspace and they produce and distribute your physical book, while Kindle Direct and Smashwors do the same for your e-book. Personally, I recommend Lightning Source over Createspace for print-on-demand. LS is more expensive up front, but far more profitable in the long run. Also, avoid Kindle’s KDP Select program. Its exclusivity clause cuts you off from 60% of the e-book market. It’s almost never worth it. And it’s not just that you aren’t making sales to that 60%, it’s that your book isn’t being exposed to that 60%. People who won’t have the opportunity to know that you and your books exist. Over the length of your writing career, that’s a huge disadvantage.

I hope this brief overview helps. If you need more help, I provide all of the above services, and usually at significantly lower rates than industry standard. To inquire, email me at

S.J. Forester is an entrepreneur and an executive editor at an indie press. When he is between books and ventures, he likes to freelance as a publishing consultant and editor. You can contact him at SJ(at)sjforester(dot)com.


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