Back in the 90s when I was a book editor at Pacific Press, we had a summit meeting to talk about the state of publishing. I remember raising my hand and offering the opinion that the editor of tomorrow–which of course means today now–would need to be a jack of all trades. He or she would need to be good at line editing, but also know how to write, how to do marketing, something about artwork and design, and even about the nuts and bolts of printing. I was surprised when a fellow book editor disagreed with me, saying that I was wrong. When I challenged him about that later, asking him why he said what he did, he said, “I don’t think editors need to know all that stuff because I don’t know all of that stuff.”
Fifteen years later, I am now a professor teaching writing as well as an indie author. And from my perspective, the two biggest differences between an indie author and a mainstream author is (1) mainstream publishers have access to much more marketing capital for advertising and dealing with booksellers; and (2) indie authors have to do everything themselves. When I say DO, I am not speaking literally of the indie author editing, formatting, and designing their books themselves, although in my own penny pinching way, I have tried to do that. But they are responsible for getting it done. Think of the difference between a general contractor for you home, and Joe Shmoe with a hammer and a saw ready to do everything himself.
Writing a book is a major investment–in time, of course, but also should be in terms of money. The eye-opening fact is that it is very difficult to get your investment back in the form of sales. So where should your priorities be, in form of spending money on your project? From what I have learned in the past year, this is how I would prioritize cash expenditures:
1. Cover illustration. Think of this as the body of your new car. Do you want a gorgeous paint job and lots of chrome, or do you want to show off your car to the world with rust, a broken mirror and scratches and dings? Your cover is the first selling point that your book has. Make sure you invest in it. It doesn’t have to be a professional that does your work, but it does need to look professional.
2. Professional editing. Having been an editor, I have been tempted more than once to just let this slide. But in that way lies madness…Seriously, an editor sees things that you as the author just can’t see. But a professional edit job costs big bucks. I had a quote of $9,000-$11,000 for editing a three-book series from a friend of mine, and I know he wasn’t trying to fleece me. If you are broke, like I am, here’s what I suggest. Find another indie author who needs an edit done, and then exchange manuscripts. Just make sure the person you partner with is someone who will do a decent job.
3. Cover and interior design. I lucked out here. I teach InDesign and Photoshop, and have a son who loves to do such things. And so I feel I can do an adequate job here. Make sure it looks good, and is consistent, but you don’t have to spend a great deal of money on this if you can’t do it yourself.
4. Marketing. There is a temptation to spend a wad on advertising, but you need to be careful here. Choose wisely. Ask yourself what would motivate you to buy your book, and if the place you are advertising is where the potential buyers frequent. One of the places I want to investigate seriously in 2013 is Facebook, simply because you can be more exact in who you are advertising to.
So that’s my two cents worth. To me, Cover Illustration is above and beyond the others in terms of bang for the buck. Go visit sites like Deviant Art to see some of the up and coming artists there. And then get a quote from someone (or two or three someones) who you think can do what you need done. You’ll be surprised how much you can get for a few hundred dollars.