Thinking out loud here. I’ve self-published several novels. I know how the process works. It’s not fun, but I can manage it. You have to find and hire a cover designer. You either do your own interior page layout (which I’ve done, more than once) or hire it done. I’ve had some phenomenal good luck with cover art for my books, and I’ve had some dismal failures, stuff you’re never going to see — and I paid money for those failures.
Long before you get to that stage, hiring a developmental editor is a really good idea. When the page layout is complete, you need a sharp-eyed proofreader. Formatting the e-book file is another headache. Been there, done that.
Right now I’m contemplating a massive rewrite of my recently uploaded YA fantasy/whodunit, Woven of Death and Starlight. I thought it was finished, but now I’ve realized there are some important bits that are missing. Rather than try to do a sequel, I need to pull the original book apart and put it back together with better world-building, more dazzling magic, and a hefty dose of palace intrigue. It probably shouldn’t be a whodunit at all. The current version is 113,000 words, which is already on the long side. At a guess, the revised version will run at least 150,000 words. Quite possibly it will hit 200,000.
That’s going to be a daunting pile of work. I could easily devote a year to it. And then what? Find and hire a cover designer, do the page layout, all that stuff? That would be an added burden, and I’m too old to willingly embrace added burdens.
We’re not going to talk about marketing and promotion. I don’t do marketing. I’m a writer. Writers write. Marketing is someone else’s job. I envy people who have a gift for it, but I don’t have that gift. I fucking hate marketing. I do have a very nice website (for which I paid good money and continue to be assessed for its upkeep). I have an Amazon author page that I bludgeoned into submission (by pretending that a certain ancient title was written by some other Jim Aikin). And I have this blog. That’s all the marketing and promotion I plan to do.
There are, in the Internet multiverse, any number of companies that would love to take some of the burden (not including the marketing, though they might pretend otherwise) off my hands. They’re called vanity publishers. They will all assure you that they’re not vanity publishers, but nobody is fooled. They don’t want the label, because vanity publishing is pretty much synonymous with schlock — dreadful books that never should have seen the light of day, penned by authors whose hopes and/or egotism vastly outweigh their talent. But if I don’t mind being slightly soiled by sharing an imprint with authors of that ilk, there’s surely something to be said in favor of hiring a vanity publisher. I don’t mind writing a fat check (we’re talking $5,000 or more) if it relieves me of the burden so that I can just sit down and write.
To answer your next question, no: I’m not inclined to try to crack the nut of mainstream commercial publishing. Not with a 200,000-word novel.
The trick is to find a good vanity publisher.
I had a phone conversation this afternoon with a chirpy young salesman for one of these outfits. (This is one of several tip-offs that they’re a vanity publisher, by the way. Legit publishers, even small indie outfits, don’t phone the author before they’ve seen the manuscript.) His company is probably better than a lot of them.
During the conversation I asked him to send me a draft contract so I could see how it’s worded, purely so I can learn more about the company’s business practices. I did make it clear to him at every juncture that the book is not yet written. Following the conversation, he sent me the draft contract, and it’s formatted purely as boilerplate, into which he inserted my name, today’s date, and the proposed title of my proposed book. The language of the PDF is written in such a way as to refer to a book that has already been written, and he made no effort to tinker with it before sending it. Not to mince words, this is creepy. He knew the book doesn’t exist. He could have left those spots in the contract blank.
Here’s a clause from the contract: “The Publisher will take no royalties on book sales; 100% of sales proceeds will go to the Author, and are payable quarterly, on the 15th of January, April, July, and October, for any royalties amount greater than $100. Royalties amounts less than $100 will be compiled and disbursed in full once they exceed $100.” Given the extremely modest sales figures I’ve had up to now on my impassioned scribblings, this publisher could easily hold onto my money for six months or even longer. Not that I need the money; the point is, Amazon transfers money to me every month, as it’s earned. So while this publisher claims to take no royalties, they do earn interest on their authors’ money. Not much interest, I’m sure, but when you have a lot of authors it’s going to add up.
Also during the conversation, I asked the sales guy about their editing process, because that’s part of what I want to get for my money — developmental editing. He described a process wherein he or someone else would read the manuscript and prepare “three or four pages” of notes. The editor would also be available as a sounding board to discuss possible revisions. The contract specifies “[t]wo rounds of developmental editorial evaluation emphasizing big-picture recommendations for content, flow, consistency, accuracy and structure based on target audience and purposes of book.” Nothing about what will be included in those two rounds. Not that such details could be included in a contract; we’re in “trust me” territory here.
The developmental editor I hired (five years ago now) for my Leafstone epic read the whole thing twice, not just once, and she provided a lot more than four pages of notes for each book in the series. Her fee amounted to about $1,300 per book. At today’s rate, a fee of $1,500 for a good dev edit of a novel would be very reasonable. More likely, you could expect to pay $2,000. Add that to the cost of cover art, interior page design and layout, proofreading, and so forth, and then look at the price tag for this particular publisher, which would be in the $5,000 range, and the price tag doesn’t look completely unreasonable.
But that’s predicated on the premise that one would get a good developmental edit. Three or four pages of notes based on a single read-through don’t qualify as a good edit.
I don’t have a book yet, so all of this is preliminary. Depressing, but preliminary. What I’m really looking for is a psychological boost. I’m looking for a way to move forward with confidence, knowing that all I have to do is write. What I don’t want is to have all the rest of that stuff hanging over my head every day when I sit down to stare at the computer screen.
It may turn out to be a really fine story. But first I have to write it.