Self Publishing: Money Talks



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Almost as good as my first child – but more work.

Art is art and money is money, no? Sort of. They’re interchangeable.

From Leonardo, who didn’t have to work for a living, (the Medicis subsidized him to create,) via Van Gogh, who had to use both sides of his canvas because he couldn’t afford to buy another, to the $86 Mil that James Patterson made in 2018, the relationship between art and money is complicated. One begets the other. Or not.

Unlike painting, writing is cheap. Free, if you don’t count the liquor. Publishing is not.

I have no patrons, so I had to strategize. Having somebody pay for my book looked good but not likely. Twelve publishers rejected Harry Potter. You think that’s bad? Thirty-one rejected James Patterson. How many would reject me?

Finding a publisher is harder than ever, since they’re almost extinct. The rage of self-publishing –  Amazon, Ingram Spark, Book Baby, Kobo, – squeezed them out. The few still left cater to their A-listers. The B-listers work hard. The no listers? We’re out of luck.

My experience with editors is marginally less unpleasant than a root canal. They exceed in leadership, not common sense. Their interventions sanitized my work into an oatmeal-like, bland product I can hardly recognize! They even changed the freaking titles!

Funk this, I said. I’m going indie.

I researched, I read, I learned. What a publisher does – or should do. Editing. Book design. Formatting. Proofreading. Trim sizes. Covers – matte vs. glossy. Paper – cream vs. white. Cover design. Marketing. Audio production. And more.

To pay back – I learned it all for free – I’ll share this with you, my fellow frugal writers.

Step 1: Write the best book you can write. Never forget who you’re writing for. Who’s your market? Some writers, like Jack Cavanaugh, recommend picking your market before deciding what to write. Check out his outstanding free podcast “Let’s talk novels.” I disagree. I think you need to write what you need to write – whatever’s in your soul and wants to come out – but the market is important.  Good news: Writing is free and time-consuming. If you have expensive hobbies – shopping, traveling, tennis, golf or skiing – you may discover that you’re saving money.

Step 2: Your first draft’s done? You need a Beta reader. My friend Joanna MacLean,  a published author and photographer, kindly suffered through the first, rather premature version of Overdose. Her suggestions were invaluable.

Step 3: Implement what you agree with.

Step 4: Editing. You can edit yourself. Everybody advises against it. Hiring an editor is expensive. The cost is calculated per double-spaced page. It’s all over the map, starting in the four-figures. Joanna Penn’s website, The Creative Penn, is a great resource for everything publishing: book designers, cover designers, editors, proofreaders, software. You can find everything you need – at a cost. Check out her excellent podcast. It’s free.

I chose Writer’s Digest 2nddraft critique services. They charge three to five dollars/double spaced page. For $5/page they’ll analyze your characters, your plot, your pacing. They’ll do a thorough job telling you what works and what doesn’t and suggest how to fix it. They don’t fix it for you. I went for the line editing at $4/page, but I only sent the first half of my manuscript. It was cheaper, it took less time, and I figured that most potential readers only look at the beginning. The feedback was rough. The comments were polite but pointed and well-deserved. Recovery required wine. Lots of it.

Step 5: Implement the editor’s suggestions. I got myself together and made the changes. I had neither the gumption nor the budget to send it back.

Step 6: More beta readers. They uncovered more errors and omissions. Thank you, Mauri, Joyce, and Sharon.

Step 7: Back to work, fixing things.

Step 8: Proofreading. You need a professional. For me, it was “Writer’s digest” again. At $2/page, it took 10 days and cost me $500. Worth it.

Step 9: Formatting. You can hire somebody. I bought Vellum, a book formatting program. It does eBooks and paperbacks. It’s intuitive and fast. $250 well spent.

Step 10: Book cover. I tried to do my own. It was a riot – and a flop. Your cover is your most essential marketing tool. It has to be good.  I found custom book covers from $500 to $1500. Too much. I found stock covers for 80 to 120. Still too much. I discovered Fiverr, a marketplace for creators. I hired a cover designer. For $25, I got a unique book cover that I love.

Step 10: Printing. I looked at Book Baby and Ingram Spark. They print on demand and they have a wide distribution. They offer support and services, including formatting and book covers. At a cost. KDP, on Amazon, is free. They’ll even give you a free ISBN – your mandatory book ID.  That, alone, is 80 plus dollars. I loaded the book, I loaded the cover, and Voila! OVERDOSE came to life on January 18.

Step 11. Marketing. That was rough. There are writers who seem to make a living by selling book marketing strategies instead of selling their books. There’s a whole thriving industry catering to Indie authors. Beware! I tried an Amazon campaign. It’s a pay-per-click. I bid too low. I spent $1 and a lot of sweat to make $1.05. My $35 Facebook campaign bought me a lot of likes and new friends in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. They message me daily: “Hey, beautiful!” My husband loves that. They want to know me better. He disagrees. This is great for my ego, but it did nothing for my book. My mistake: when defining a target audience, I chose to maximize book exposure, not book sales. Still, I never expected it to be my exposure.

After wasting $36, I decided to stick to content marketing. I’m a writer, therefore I write. I write travel pieces and medical humor pieces on my blog,, and on the web. I include links to my book. Some pieces flopped. Some were shared 100K times. They nudged the book along. Thanks to “47 tips to stay away from my ER,” Overdose got to #12 in Medical Thrillers.

Step 12. Audiobook, you say? That’s where the future is. Not cheap though. At the tune of a few thousand dollars or shared royalties, you can have your book narrated by a professional. You can distribute it on Audible, Apple, Nook, and Kobo. I went back to Fiverr. I bid Overdose for $500. I chose the best audition. It flopped. Fortunately, Fiverr returned my money.

I had also advertised on ACX. Shared royalties, no money down. My narrator, Meghan Kelly, is professional, reliable, fun and more knowledgeable than me.

Step 13: Audiobook cover: Back to my old friend Fiverr. $5 modified the Kindle cover to the audio cover specs. Worth every cent plus the $5 tip!

OVERDOSE audiobook is now on Amazon.

Good news: I broke even . In two months, my royalties covered my costs. (Royalties are not the same as sales. My royalties are $1.59 of the $9.99 price of a paperback. The rest goes to printing, distribution, overhead and profit.)

I didn’t expect Overdose to make money, but paying for a vanity project is not my thing. This was not about having my name on a book. It was about having something to say, and seeing if somebody’s willing to spend $2.99 and a few hours reading it. Priceless.

I enjoyed the process. Most of it. I learned a lot. Editing, publishing, marketing – that was all mumbo-jumbo a year ago. I’m now looking at niches like large print.

It was fun. So much so, that Mercy, the sequel, is on its way. The first draft’s sitting on the shelf, ripening, while I’m working on #3, Poison.

I’m looking forward to introducing them to my new friends: my narrator, my cover designer, my proofreader, and even my editor – bless his heart.

Art vs. money: This is Interchange, De Koenig’s $3 mil. painting. Also an accurate representation of my understanding of publishing – last year.

Rada Jones is an Emergency Doc in Upstate New York, where she lives with her husband Steve and a black deaf cat named Paxil. She is the author of three ER novels: OVERDOSE, MERCY, and POISON.



3 thoughts on “Self Publishing: Money Talks

  1. Let us know how the next ones go – I hear there’s more money made on the sequels!

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