logophile: (Role Of A Writer)
[personal profile] logophile posting in [community profile] independentauthors
I wanted to offer how I got to the point I have in my publishing career, and maybe offer some advice to those interested. :) I think it works pretty well for both fiction and non-fiction writers, and I may have some ideas for those who do comic and graphic novels.

Back in 2006, I wrote a novelette called Morningstar. It was my step from fanfiction to original fiction, and it told the love story of the angel Morningstar and the angel Radueriel. It was very popular among my friends, and so I went to Lulu and self-published the 20,000 word piece. I made enough in sales to cover the initial investment of cover art and distribution before I pulled the book in order to rewrite it (which I still have yet to do).

I returned to my fandom ways after that, uninterested in writing anything original again, until I met my current co-author. We met through role playing on Livejournal in a fandom-based game. Soon, we'd pulled away from the fandom game itself to write the fandom storylines on our own. And then, in late 2008, we made the leap from writing our fandom characters to writing original characters. That was all it took.

From 2008 until April of 2009, we wrote like maniacs, managing two novellas and two partial novels as well as contracted for one cover of a book with a cover artist, before we have a relationship meltdown and things were placed on hold until October of 2009. In October, we regrouped, refocused, and put our feet on a solid path.

Around November or December of last year, I plunked myself down into the world of romance. I started showing up on various blogs, joining in conversations, researching the various e-presses we could submit our work to. But, my time in self-publishing with Morningstar left me questioning just what these e-presses could offer me. Many of them had so-so editing, gaudy covers, and poor marketing, and yet they wants 60-65% of my earnings if I signed with them. At the beginning of December, I happened up an independent author, Zoe Winters, who was very vocal in a debate about traditional publishing vs vanity publishing vs self-publishing, and we became friends.

That one contact with Zoe put me in contact with dozens of other independent authors, and my co-author and I made a decision. We wanted freedom. We wanted to write what we wanted on our own schedules without giving any of our earnings to a third party. We wanted complete creative control as well as to keep our profits.

In January of 2010, using LegalZoom (because we'd rather people who knew what they were doing do the paperwork and filing for us), we created Storm Moon Press LLC. It cost us just under $400, which included forming the LLC in my state and filing with the IRS for our EIN.

We sat down and decided we'd like to offer anthologies through our press with other authors contributing, so we put out a call for submissions (which has gone incredibly well).

The next step was setting up an account with Lightning Source International. We did not want to use a vanity press like Lulu to publish our works, so we went to the printer ourselves. We then spent $250 on a block of 10 ISBNs (and those ISBNs will see us through this year and next before we need to buy another block).

By the end of March of 2010, we had everything we needed to publish anything we wanted. I contacted the cover artist who originally did our cover to Rachmaninoff in 2009 and she agreed to work with us on our future projects. She's done four covers for us total, and she always keeps in budget for us (we allow $300 per cover).

Now, there are books by Aaron Shepard that can help with the set-up of an LSI account, buying ISBNs, formatting the covers and interiors, as well as help with marketing. If you want to learn how to do all the formatting yourself, these are excellent books and highly recommended. However, we decided we'd rather budget to hire professionals. My professional runs at about $60/hr to do all the interior blocking and formatting in preparation for printing and e-book release (as she has the knowledge and software to do it right). I lucked out when I found her as she was a casual friend I'd met through an unrelated hobby of mine.

Editing is crucial. The bane of self-published books is the stigma of poor editing. I don't care how good you think you are, you need a professional editor. Someone who does this for a living. Who went to school to do this. You cannot adequately edit yourself no matter how much skill you think you possess. Professional editing can run anywhere from $500 a manuscript up to $3,000 a manuscript depending on the type of editing you need. Don't skimp on this aspect of your production. The point of self-publishing is for the finished product to not LOOK self-published.

I think editing is the one area I can't stress enough. I see too many self-publishers using beta readers and themselves thinking this is all that is needed. No. No. NO. Set aside the funds SOMEHOW to afford a good editor. I have three on my list that I use. Two are casual friends I found through unrelated hobbies and one is a stranger I only know through recommendations. Their costs depend on the length of the piece. Regardless, the cost is worth it, and I don't regret hiring them.

Keep in mind, all of these expenses are tax deductible. Yes, you spend a good chunk of money up front (we're looking at well over $5,000 worth of business expenses this year), but it helps when the tax man comes next year. The refund we receive will go right back into the business.

Marketing is also key. You need to put yourself out there. Be a part of the communities you want to sell to. I use Twitter, Wordpress, and Facebook extensively. We will offer free e-books, print books, and ARCs to reviewers. We intend to offer bundle packages of print+e-books that cost less than buying both together to entice better sales. We will put our books out in every distribution channel available for us, as well as work the convention circuits.

Writing and publishing can be a full-time job. I know it is for me, but I don't just publish my own stuff, but also publish other people's. We do our anthologies where we pay a base amount on final word-count of the accepted short stories/novellas, and we offer the ability to e-publish novellas through us. Our first anthology was a learning lesson, and so we know better for the second, and I think it will be even more of a success than our first. :)

When it comes to non-fiction, which is not my area of expertise, I still think it's important to be an active part of the community you want to sell in. If you go comics or graphic novels, I highly recommend being a very active member on DeviantArt and going on the convention circuit. Another idea for both non-fiction and graphic books is to take commissions. There are many places that pay for non-fiction pieces, and many people will commission an artist if permitted. Don't over-extend yourself or forget your primary goal of your own work, but some outside influxes of cash can be very helpful.

All in all, there is an upfront expense when self-publishing as you don't have a publisher to make that investment for you. You can get that back at tax time, and there are alternate ways of making a buck on the side. Editing is key, as is marketing. Take pride in what you do, don't half-ass it. ;)

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