Going Indie For Dummies -You Lays Down Your Money

I cannot emphasize enough that you should at all costs avoid paying money up front to have any of the necessary stuff done to your book.  Particularly if your indie ebook is a short story or a novella, it’s QUITE possible you’ll never see that money again.  When I was young in judgement — and covers — I set myself a maximum of $5 per short story cover and $15 for novels.  Now that I’m more experienced and KNOW that my collections will over a year make me about 5k a piece and a novel 10k (17k over two years for Witchfinder) I would be willing to actually pay money for covers, if I could get them done for 1k or more.  But the thing is, I usually find what I want cheap or even free, so what’s the point?

There are other things you should have done.  I’m going to recommend strenuously against a structural editor (unless ALL your beta readers are genre fans AND they all say you have issues they don’t know how to fix.)  Structural editing is

a) very difficult.  A lot of the “professional house” editors think they can do it and they can’t and fall into “make it more like a book I’d/do write.”  In my entire time as a writer, I met two structural editors IN PROFESSIONAL HOUSES who actually improved the book (yes, one of them was Toni Weisskopf who right now does very little actual editing, because she has other duties.  The other one improved the structure but also introduced political idiocy.)  The rest fall under various flavors of “will make it worse” — sometimes a little and sometimes OMG no.  Again, these are professionals with years and decades of experience in some cases.  The chances of your finding a structural editor who IS good at it, are small to nill.  The chances of your knowing how to VET a structural editor to make sure he’s not making things worse are below zero.  As for the chances of your being able to actually, you know, know what to take and what to leave as to edits are even lower, unless you have a good ten books bellow your belt.

b) Copy editing: even houses confuse this with “editing” and I’ll get a list of typos or repeated words from editors who are supposed to be doing high-grade structural.  It’s what most people think of as “editing.”

PLEASE make sure you get a copy editor who actually knows what he/she is doing.  Again it is too easy for a copy editor to screw with a book by making the wrong choices, and/or not getting what you’re trying to say.  (I recently had a copy edit that suggested changing “calloused hands” to “callous hands” — yes, her hands are cold and unfeeling.  What the actual F?)  so several steps:

1- look for a copy-editor with references and call/email those references where the copy-editor can’t hear/read and ask for the real skinny and how hard they are to work with.

2- ask them what manual of style they use.  If you get back “manual?” or “I just use sensible grammar” and this is a paid copy-editor it’s time to bail, ladies, gentlemen and fuzzy toys.  There are many ways of doing things including punctuation (unlike what your grammar teacher told you.)  I favor, for my own checking, Strunk and White which has a slightly British flavor.  Most publishing houses use Chicago Manual of Style.  Baen uses Words to Print (I think that’s the title.)  You want to make sure your books are consistent, so make sure your copyeditor uses a style you can live with.

3- NEVER EVER EVER trust a copy editor so much you let the thing go to print unchecked.  The best editors have bad days.  ALWAYS go over it (if possible electronic) and consider every change.  yes, it difficult, but even Amanda, who is like my own ex0-editing-mind, one that notices things I don’t by the time I’m done with a book, periodically not only misses typos, but changes my wording because I used a word unfamiliar to her, or one whose denotations she doesn’t like, but the change would change my whole meaning/sense/rhythm.  Now, Amanda comes as close as I can go to just trusting someone and saying “approve all” but there’s still that change in 100 that I go “uh, no.”  Or email back and go “Uh, you made this unintentionally x-rated, which is why I decided not to use that word.”

c) blurb writers.  No seriously.  And in this case, I wholeheartedly recommend Dorothy Grant.  She’s good.  I’m often not.

d) publicist

Now, in all the cases above, if you can, avoid paying for it.”

But Sarah, you say, what if I have to pay?

Again I say onto thee, if possible AVOID paying for it.  If you know other indie writers in the same boat, i.e. trying to put things out with the lowest possible outlay, you can usually exchange with a bud.  For instance, I do covers for Amanda and she copyedits for me.

But what is this obsession with not paying?  What about being a business means “no outlay?”

It’s not being a business, it’s that every book is a roll of dice.  It  might make you a ton or zero.  Until you have enough inventory that one pays for the others, an outlay is inadvisable.

Also, honestly, ultimately, and with no intent to defraud the IRS, once you start selling for a while your biggest outlay will be taxes.  This is because taxes for self employed people are insane. It’s also because the minutia of preparing them takes away time you could be writing.

So, say Amanda and I pay each other $200 for cover and copyedit.  BOTH of us would owe self-employment tax on that.  And both of us would have a 200 deduction.  a) it more or less (with tweaks) comes out in the wash.  b) it’s a lot more WORK to track and document.  Which means it takes away time and in indie time is money.

If you can, go co-op, go voluntary exchange, go free. If you have friends like mine, we don’t even keep track of who’s ahead or who owes whom.  If Amanda needs a cover, I do it, if I need a copy-edit (unless it’s a special thing and I need someone else or she’s unholy busy/having RL problems at the time) she does it.

That said, the most difficult to go free on is covers, at least until you have an acquaintance with ALL the free sites, a good handle on filters, and an eye for covers (and I’m still on the low side of learning on those.)

Now you’ll say that the most I ever paid for a cover was $500 and what was handed to me was unusable, so I ended up using other covers and doing the usual.

Anyway, if you’re going to pay, I’ve heard of people getting covers from Deviant art.  EVERYONE I’ve asked in deviant art either doesn’t answer or tells me the picture is already contracted to a book publisher OR a card deck or something.  Your milleage may vary.  I think my tastes are too professional or something.

Then there’s dreamstime, which of all the stock photo sites is the easiest.  People keep telling me that they can’t find anything but photos.  Well, that could be because you don’t set your search right.

Dreamstime has a bar at the top that will say something like “photographs, illustrations, vectors” and if you click on it, you can set it to illustrations, which is my recommendation if you’re doing SFF and have no patience for filters.

I am so out of Dreamstime I can’t find my saved favorite (not bought) pictures, but if you look at my covers for the Magical Shakespeare or even Witchfinder’s human figure, those are all Dreamstime and the most I paid for one of those covers was $15.

Again, try to keep your expenses to a minimum if possible.

But of course if you have a buddy that will draw the cover (provided you’re VERY sure it’s professional level) and cost you say $100 as opposed to $25, it’s totally worth it.

Next up: But I like my editor!



  1. I’ve found that the cost:benefit on short stories is “do it yourself.” On novels it is “hire cover and copyedit and formatting” because of time and not taking the time to learn all the ins and outs of .doc ->html -> mobi without major problems ensuing. I do my own blurbs and back matter, but I also took the Pitches and Blurbs class from DWS first.

    YMMV, IANAL and I didn’t stay at Holiday Inn Express last night.

  2. The rest fall under various flavors of “will make it worse” — sometimes a little and sometimes OMG no.

    The dreaded Tor slog in the middle when the A active-plot set up peters out and the B emotional plot is clumsily threaded in before the A plot picks up and the A&B wind up to a strong finish (when they drop the finish, too you get Neil Stephenson 🙂

    1. Neil Stephenson—I like some of his work, but boy, he’s really all about those whiplash endings.

        1. The Big U. Which should, IMO, be made into something or other, but it would either need to be retro alt-80s or have some updating.

  3. I’ve actually heard of a case where a professional editor who was also a creative writing instructor actually farmed out editing tasks to his students. Not so terrible that, except he neglected to vet the results.
    I’ve done betas for a couple of authors who are quite fond of foreign words and archaic phraseology. Leads to all sorts of open side windows to research the words in question. Unless it’s an obvious typo I never assume a word has been misapplied without research and ultimately checking back with the author.
    I wrote a post several months ago on my own take on first, beta, and copy edit. Several writers contacted me and I wound up doing beta reads for them. One who was already indie published impressed me to the extent that I checked her ratings on Amazon and found that the only criticisms were on either her politics or her lack of copy editing. Took the work in progress she’d sent me and did a full copy edit. Took three days. Sent it back to her and never heard from her again. I did just check and she did publish the book. Guess I’ll have to buy it to see if she used my edits.
    Understand, the copy edit was freely offered, and if she used them I’m delighted as it will make a good book better. Just somewhat puzzled that I never heard back.

      1. YES!

        Words Into Type, that’s it! Frankly, it’s my favorite of the style guides, a breed of book I usually don’t care for. Need to get a new copy of it myself. 🙂

        1. As do I… I also need to talk to the friend who’s offered to do copy editing for me and see which manual she uses, but that’s a ways off.

  4. Anyway, if you’re going to pay, I’ve heard of people getting covers from Deviant art. EVERYONE I’ve asked in deviant art either doesn’t answer or tells me the picture is already contracted to a book publisher OR a card deck or something.

    Guess I was just lucky in getting that “werecat” picture I used for The Kinmar.

  5. I am extremely pleased with my copy editor. Not only does she state which manual she uses, she tells me which edition she is using at the moment and frequently, if there has been a change to prior edits, she cites the rule. She is a total editorial geek and I can imagine her hanging out on the forums at BluePencil and posting “Latest Chicago Manual now says no hyphens for color combinations OMG this changes everything!!111!”

    That said, she does not make any attempt to rewrite my work and only suggests changes for clarification. We have…differences…regarding commas, but other than that and my preference for the spelling “grey” we see pretty much eye-to-eye. She also is on time and at or below her original estimate on cost.

        1. Thanks. I figured it was something like that, but I never remember to check on things like that when I’m in a place that I CAN.

          I probably got the preference from E.E. “Doc” Smith, given his predilection to using a lot of British English in his writing (or at least the Lensman books), and he was the first SciFi writer which I read a lot.

            1. Huh. I haven’t seen much about him outside of his books (aside from that recounting Heinlein gave of going for a drive to check out a used car), so I wasn’t aware of that.

        2. Unless you’re writing romance, in which case the preferred spelling in America is grey, especially when describing eyes. I’ve heard this blamed on the heavy influence of Jane Austen, but have not verified.

    1. That is a benefit of having an editor who is familiar with British and American English. I get asked if a word choice is deliberate when I’m writing from the POV of a British or Commonwealth character, instead of getting automatically corrected to US semi-standard.

      Now, if OttoCorrupt would just stop trying to correct the Labour Party to labor party in my teaching notes!

      1. Switching back between cataloging for U.S. vs. U.K. publications messes me up as well.

  6. I’d never thought about the copyediting consistency thing. (Haven’t had to worry about it since college.)

    One thing that is useful if you have a new editor (copy- or structural) is a commenting fixture on whatever word processing program you’re using. Especially if you are tracking the changes. That way, if they have a question (“did you mean *this* word?”) you can answer with an explanation. I had an episode where I was dealing with genre-specific phrasing and an editor who was unfamiliar with those terms. I only had to shoot down a couple of her edits (does anybody else get why “It’s a deal,” made me go crazy?) but there were a lot of explanations of things such as falconry terms.

    It’s… a bit of a problem when you realize that you’ve got a better vocabulary set for your genre than your editor.

    1. *giggle* I was skimming a historical romance in the bookstore a few weeks ago and kept coming across phrases such as “his hands around her closeted waist.” Someone or something had changed “corseted” every time it appeared. That was almost as bad as changing “treads” into “threads” when describing half-tracks and tanks (that book is _The Siege of Mecca_). It led to unintentional bursts of laughter in all the wrong places.

  7. If you are using a new copyeditor for a series, it can also be useful to have a “style sheet” where you put down your preferred versions of all names, terms, and titles. That way, the new person has something to refer to when looking up the spelling of an alien race, or how they’re referred to.

    Or even things such as how I prefer “nerve-wracking” to “nerve-racking.” (“Wrack” from the same root that led to “wreck,” dontcha know.)

    1. Gee… I’d’ve just assumed that “nerve-racking” was, um… just plain wrong!

      Same root as wrack as in “wrack and ruin”. By comparison, nerve “racking” clearly has something to do with putting nerves on shelves or brackets or something.

      I did a quick search to see what various authorities have to say on the subject, and found—quite to my surprise— that many authorities claim that “racking” is perfectly correct. They seem to be unaware that the presence or absence of the “w” indicates origin from a completely different root word. Sigh. I guess that English is going to lose that particular distinction.

      This is one of those times when I find myself wishing that “proper” English grammar and spelling were a bit more prescriptive rather than descriptive. The rest of the week I look at the French Academy fussing about how no one should be saying “le movie” (a.k.a. “the cinema” in English 😉 ), or “le ordinateur” rather than “le computer”, and feel intensely satisfied at living with a language that is defined by usage.

      1. um… I meant, of course, that the French Academy approves of “le ordinateur” and hates “le computer,” but of course I got it backwards above.

      2. Also, “free rein.” It’s a horse riding reference. (Not correcting you, but the “nerve-racking” crowd are the same people who call it “free reign.”)

        1. YES. Even though that’s the one example that is alternatively grammatically correct.

      3. I remember a hilarious Asterix comic where they mock that French tendency by having Getafix criticize the other Gauls for using Latin words, the language of our oppressors.

        1. Many years ago, there was a great article in Time magazine about that French Academy and their rulings. As a side-bar, they included a list of words borrowed from English that the Academy was complaining about along with a handy English translation of each. A few examples I recall (each as “French word; English Translation”):
          Le movie; The cinema
          le drugstore; the boutique

          In what was surely deliberate irony, each of the thirty or so examples gave a French-derived word as the official and correct English translation. 😀

          1. I was corrected once, saying the correct term was ‘bon weekend’, not ‘bonne fin de semaine,’ by my French teacher. In France.

            It’s also still a hamburger. Also video. But ‘magnetoscope.’ I wasn’t sure why they had that inconsistency, and I didn’t get a good explanation for it. (It amounted to ‘because.’)

  8. My biggest problem is that I have picked up certain habits from the writers who wrote in the 60’s and early seventies. The worse is that I like to use single quotes to call out a phrase in a dialogue, be a dialogue between quotes, or internal.
    A lot of people think they should be double quotes and say I’m using ‘scare quotes’ (see? Just did it) thing is, I’m not using scare quotes. In a regular dialogue you can’t use double quotes, because it would just mess up the sentence tags.
    And in an internal dialogue, which is what a 1st person book is, again, I don’t think you should use double quotes in those cases. I also don’t think what I’m doing meets the definition of ‘scare quotes’.
    So I just tell people it’s a style thing.

    1. I personally go with “Double quotes for dialogue”; single ‘quote marks’ for calling out a phrase or word in a dialogue, and italics for internal dialogue or emphasis.

      Absolutely did my head in when I tried reading something in a novel translated into French and they were using two of the lesser and greater symbols to indicate dialogue. Made me wonder how they handled HTML tagging.

      1. I’ve seen a lot of use of italics for internal dialogue (or telepathy), but from a reader’s point of view, I like the practice of using a different FONT for internal dialogue.

        1. How different? Serif vs sans-serif? Or something more subtle? How do you find fonts “close enough”? Just dig through font sites and hope? How does that work for Kindle – does the book include the fonts it uses?

        2. I’ve seen that in a few places, but it feels a little visually awkward to me. I’ve seen few places where it’s fine to use (say, to mark the speech of say, a god or alien) and I have to end this comment due to parrot chasing my fingers as I type on keyboard.

      1. For US English, it should be double quotes (“) for the main quote and singe quote (‘) for the quoted quote. British/Commonwealth reverses the order. I learned the British style by accident between undergrad and grad school (when I started writing fiction) and got sat upon by several professors for it.

        I use a body language tag in the text when a character is doing scare/irony quotes, but that’s just me. (“Oh certainly,” Major Monroe said. She made quotation marks with her fingers. “We come in peace.”
        “Which is why they launched kenetic strikes on Lisbon and Chicago before initiating radio communications,” Commander Na Gael replied, rolling her eye.)

  9. I recommend looking online for tutorials and freebies, but some places are great for aggregating such information.


    Like the site I linked above.

    I also previously mentioned a website that sells premade covers in one of the other going indie for dummies series. Most of them are photomanipulations, but who knows? There might be a cover there that will remove a lot of your stress for a little bit of cash spent.

  10. Aw, crap. I’m a Grammar Nazi and I don’t use a style manual. I’ve been doing it wrong all these years!

    Seriously, the material about copy editing is illuminating and I’ll be buying copies of at least Strunk&White and the Chicago Manual. Do you recommend someone who I could ask, at Baen, for their house manual?

    1. Before you buy the current Chicago Manual, compare it to the previous edition. I’m still using the previous edition (17?) because the revisions were not germane to my writing, and the book is not cheap.

Comments are closed.