Thursday, February 20, 2014

Of Fishing and the Self-Publishers Education

There is an old saying most of us know that goes, "Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime." The idea is that what you are given (or even buy) only lasts for a day. But if you learn to produce that thing yourself, you have a lifetime supply.

So, what does this have to do with indie publishing? Simply this, indie writers can not simply be writers. They must learn many other skills as well. We need to learn editing, formatting, cover design, marketing, search engine optimization and others.

Many indie writers will object saying that they do not need to learn those skills. They will simply hire others to do those jobs for them. This is where our proverb comes into play. If you buy a service, you will get that service for one book. If you learn that process, you have it for all books. Some people spend up to $2000 or more per book. Yet, when I suggest that they simply learn how to do something
Picure by Photoloni
very simple like do their own ebook formatting or design their own book covers, they object that they don't know how to do that. Imagine if instead of spending $2000 dollars on outsourcing, you spent the same amount of money on editing courses, graphic design, books about the basics of marketing and search engine optimization, maybe went to a social media marketing convention. How much would you learn to do that would save you money not just on this book, but on every book you wrote.

However, even if you decide that you would prefer to outsource everything except writing, you still need to know the basics of all phases of publishing. You are no longer a writer only. You are also a publisher. Sure you can outsource a cover design, but do you know what a good cover needs in order to be visible in an online store or stand out as a thumbnail? Do you know how much time it likely took the artist to create that cover and whether the charge was appropriate to the work involved?

The same goes for editing. If you hired a content or developmental editor, did they preserve your voice and your vision or substitute their own? Were the changes they made consistent with your concepts of the character and plot? Did they understand the world of your story? If you outsourced proofreading, you will still need to read through your manuscript to evaluate how well the proofreader did his/her job.

If you learn something about formatting your own manuscript for ebook or print publishing, you may decide that it is so simple (especially ebook publishing ) that you don't need to outsource it. Or if you do, you will know how to not be overcharged and what to look for in the final product.

Whether you do it your self or your outsource the work, you will still need to learn a bit about every aspect of publishing. You may not become an overnight expert in all aspects, but if you do nothing more than learn enough to intelligently choose your service providers and to evaluate their work, the time spent "learning to fish" will last a lifetime.


  1. I'm trying to take this to heart this year. When I decided to self-publish, I set aside a sum of money to cover expenses and get my business off the ground. I hired an editor and a cover designer and even paid for a couple of promotions, as well as trade paperbacks to give away. The book still hasn't paid for itself.

    Doing my taxes this year, with the size of the loss on the Schedule C, reinforced my determination to do more myself. I used the Kindle Cover Creator and a public domain photo for a short story I published last month. I'm working on learning Pixelmator (a cheap Photoshop alternative) to design covers myself and getting more familiar with my digital camera so I can use my own images. I've joined a new critique group which focuses on content editing rather than grammar and punctuation. (I can do that myself with the help of The Chicago Manual of Style and my Mac's read aloud function.)

    Yes, it's more work, but I hope that I don't have to watch that bank balance go down as fast in 2014 as it did in 2013.

  2. I don't know if I was lucky or unlucky, but when I started self-publishing some months I could barely afford a piece of clipart for the cover, but at the same time I needed that income to keep from going under entirely. If I didn't do it myself, it didn't get done, and if it didn't get done a bill didn't get paid.

    So, I have never lost money on a book even some that were "duds." It is a myth that the more you spend the more you make. No matter how good your book is, publishing is always a gamble. Hundreds of people could love your book or you might sell 10 copies. So many factors are involved. I tell the story of a Taco Truck that was parked near a freeway interchange near where I live. When I moved here, I saw the Taco Truck as I drove to work every day. It was a beat up old truck, but it had great tacos at two for 99 cents. After a couple of years, the set out some tables on the emply lot they parked on. A year or so later, they added an awning. In another year, they added a type of small building they could pull the taco track into and have a take out window. Then about year after that in the lot next to the truck, some construction started and in about six months. The Taco Truck was gone and in its place was a full service restaurant. That was five years ago and the restaurant is still going strong in an area where other restaurants opened and closed in a year.

    They put their emphasis on the quality of the food and started adding the other stuff later as they could afford it. Too many writers are being given bad advice to essentially try to start at the top. You have to spend money to make money. Oh, lord, how many businesses have gone under heading that particular piece of popular "wisdom." To a certain extent it can be true, but if you spend more than you make, you are not going to be in business long.

    Just about everything you can pay for, you can learn to do. It may take some time, but it will save you money until you have enough royalties pouring in that you can afford to outsource. Every successful small business I worked with when I was in advertising had the owner sweeping up years before they hired a janitor. We can learn from that.