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.
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!