Shoestring Publishing, Part Four

This week we’re going to talk about the next couple of potential items on your budgeting list.

8. Formattting fees:

I found this to be an interesting problem to solve. At first, I was afraid that I’d have trouble learning the process of formatting both my ebook files and my print book files to industry spec, and I considered whether it would be less daunting to hire someone to do it for a fee. To that end, I looked up some options.

One friend-recommended service that focuses primarily on formatting fiction ebooks is called the “E-Book Formatting Fairies.” Their link is here:

The fees were reasonable, (“$50 up to 30 chapters and 350 pages of double spaced, 12 point Times New Roman font in the Word document submitted for formatting”) and they offered a fairly fast turnaround. They normally don’t do nonfiction, but upon further inquiry, they indicated that if I couldn’t handle the formatting on my own, they might be willing to give it a go. Had I not decided to go through the learning curve and do all of my own formatting, I would most likely have hired them to format my book.

A quick Google search of “ebook formatting services” will turn up several links to various services, but many of them offer services far more expensive than the one I mentioned above. If you truly don’t want to handle your own ebook formatting, then you can expect to pay anywhere from the aforementioned $50 on up into the hundreds of dollars.

Print book formatting varies in price, but expect to pay quite a bit for the service. For example, I saw one service that offered a combo formatting package–print and ebook both, but the total for that package was $1400. As we’ve already discussed, this service simply wasn’t in my budget, no matter how daunted I was by the notion of learning to format my own print and ebooks.

As an aside, I should mention that I’ve had a couple of ebook enthusiasts ask me “Why do a print version at all?” In reply, I’ll say that it really depends on the author and what your goals are. For myself, after so many years of trying to get published, I wanted to be able to hold that paperback in my hands and see it sitting there in my bookshelf. But while that was my initial impetus for making a print version of my book, I’ve since found that different genres of books and different readerships tend to prefer different formats of books. For my Sidhe-related nonfiction book, RavenSidhe’s first offering, I’ve found that I sell more copies of the print version of the book than copies of the ebook version. For our first fiction book, an epic fantasy novel, it’s been the opposite. So I’d be inclined to say it might pay to do both, unless you’re selling in a genre that trends heavily toward having more readers who just want ebooks.

We’ll have to do a whole different post on the various types of formatting and tutorials available for learning how to do that, but for the purposes of this budgeting post, suffice it to say that I learned how to format both print books and ebooks using entirely free software, bringing my total formatting cost to $0.00.

9. Library data block:

This is the part that you won’t have to worry about at all if you’re only doing ebooks. But if you are doing a print version, then you may want to consider getting yourself what we call the “publisher’s cataloging-in-publication data” block of information for your book–the CIP data. You’ve probably seen these small blocks of data listed on the copyright page of some print books. The data block basically tells a librarian where to shelve your book if the library were to buy one. Most public libraries will buy one if you 1. have a library card and 2. provide them with the ISBN of the book you want them to purchase. If they can get it through their usual channels, then they will often be willing to buy and stock one on their shelves, and this in turn could potentially result in a bit more exposure for your book.

If you are publishing a larger number of books written by someone other than yourself, then you will likely qualify to have your CIP block provided by the Library of Congress itself. But as a smaller indie publisher with fewer titles out, you will probably not qualify for the main program and will probably only qualify for the PCN program–PCN standing for the “preassigned control number.” To get this number assigned to your book, all you need to do is go to the Library of Congress website, fill out a form online and request a number. They usually get this LOC control number to you very quickly via email, and it’s free. But since you are a small indie publisher or an individual author, they will not provide the rest of the Cataloging-in-Publication data block to you.

Here is an article that explains the CIP in a little more detail:

The CIP data block consists of the title, author, publisher, Library of Congress control number, and the subject headers and proper subject/category headings and numbers to indicate where the book should be shelved. Technically speaking, if you were to research the process thoroughly and were reasonable sure you knew what you were doing, you might be able to create this data block yourself, but I have personally found that I much prefer to have this done by a professional cataloging librarian. While if you live in a larger city you may have access to a cataloging librarian who you might be able to sweet talk into helping you, I found it far easier to procure the services of a librarian online.

The above-mentioned article provides a link to a service that will provide you a data block for about $100, but I found a different service that I used for mine, and the price was less. I paid $60 for each of my data blocks for my books, and I consider it money well spent.

I’ve hired this particular librarian to create the data blocks for both of my books to date, and I’ve been impressed with her expertise and quick turnaround. All I had to do was provide her with the information she asks for on her website, procure a (FREE!) LOC Control Number from the Library of Congress online, and email it all to her. From there, she creates the data block and emails it back to me.

The librarian I hire to do this service has a website that will further explain the data block and what it’s for, as well as what she will need in order to create one for you. Her website is here:

Ultimately, I decided that the CIP data block is something that I prefer to have in my print books. I feel it lends an air of professionalism to the finished product, and it’s also a nice courtesy for the libraries who agree to put your book on their shelves.

10. File Upload Fees:

This is an expense that you will likely only incur if you decide to choose a printer/distributor who actually charges a fee for each upload of your book files. There are plenty of articles online about the pros and cons of various printers. While I think that’s a worthy subject and should be a post all by itself, for the purposes of this budgeting-related series of posts, I’ll just say that for various reasons, I decided to go with one of the book printers who charges an upload fee. This fee isn’t terrible: it’s $49 per upload and includes both print and ebook files in one fee if I upload both at the same time. If I can’t upload them both in one session, as happened with my first book when I uploaded the files weeks apart, then the ebook upload fee is a separate $25, with the print upload being $49. I got my upload fee refunded because I bought at least 50 copies of my print book within the first 60 days after the initial file upload. The fee refund was a great help.

Some services like CreateSpace do not charge upload fees at all, so if you are on a severely limited budget, this may be the way to go for you. I’ve seen their product; they turn out a decent-looking book. We’ll go into why I chose to use a different printer/distributor in a later post.

Next week we’ll finish up this budgeting series of posts, and then we can move on to other considerations.

Back Next Week

Things got a bit hectic this week with some of my other businesses, (I have several, and my husband has one also) and so we’re taking a brief hiatus this week to deal with those things. Our regular posts will resume next week. On the bright side, it gives you a bit more time to flesh out whatever details of your budgeting process you were working on before we continue with our list. See you next week!

Shoestring Publishing, Part Three

In continuing our discussion of items on our budgeting list, we’ve come to one of the most important and also one of the most potentially problematic. That item, of course, is the cover art.

7. Cover art

Here’s where we state the obvious–that the cover art is the first thing most people will see of your book. It generates an immediate first impression, and so of course you’re going to want it to look good. This means that if you don’t have skill at designing covers and if you’re not an artist, you may need to plan on spending some money to buy good cover art from an artist online.

If you are already an artist, particularly if you have an eye for graphic design, then cover art may not be an issue for you. If you know a good artist who could potentially create your cover art, then you are also a bit ahead of the game. But if you aren’t an artist or already used to graphic design, then you may have more of a challenge on your hands. The last thing you really want is cover art that looks as though it was created by an 8-year-old with a box of crayons. (The caveat to this may be if you’re publishing a children’s book or a book about children, and you actually think an elementary school drawing style would be perfect for the cover.) Most of the rest of the time, though, you want a cover that looks attractive, catches the eye, says something meaningful about your book, and gives your readers a good sense of what it is you’re writing about.

Hiring an artist is certainly an option. If you Google for “book cover art” or “freelance artists,” you can find many different people out there who do in fact design cover art as a business venture. There are even some who will do so for relatively low cost. Here are a few at random, and again, I can’t personally vouch for any of them:

I looked at all but one of these sites, (Fiverr has so many artists advertising their services that it would be an impossible task for me to chase all the links.) Many of the covers in the portfolios on these sites are gorgeous. But as with anything for which you pay money, be an aware and informed buyer if you choose to use any of the artists.

As I said, I haven’t personally had experience with any of the above artists. The links are just meant to give you an idea of what’s out there in the way of cover artists. Now, it’s possible/probable that some or even many of them are primarily creating or offering ebook cover designs rather than full print book covers. In that case, you might be able to buy just the front cover part and then have a plain spine and plain back cover, and do all but the front cover part yourself. Or it may be that some of the artists could design the whole print cover for you (which of course might involve a higher fee.) You’ll just have to contact some of them and see what they tell you. From what I’ve seen, many of the ebook cover art offered online ranges in price from around $50 to maybe $75, though there are of course some who go up into the hundreds. There’s a wide range of prices out there. Fiverr is a rule until itself, and I know that some people have had success in using that.

By now you’re probably wondering if I picked an artist for my own book covers. The answer is no. Bear in mind, however, this was my personal best choice at the time. In future, that will most likely change, and I will no doubt find an artist who can create any cover I need. If your budget is a bit larger than mine was and if you can afford cover art, I encourage you to pick a wonderful artist and get yourself a great cover that you’ll be happy with. I would have liked to do that, but it didn’t work out for me to choose that option at the times I was putting together my first two books.

When I created the cover art for my first book, my choices were incredibly easy. On a trip to my childhood home, I had taken a wonderful photo that I knew without a shred of doubt was meant for my first book cover. Given the subject I was writing about and the way the photo had turned out, it was absolutely the right choice to use it.

I was able to get a free layout program that not only helped me format the interior of my book, but also helped me format the cover art. That free layout software is called Scribus, and it can be found here:

At first, I was daunted by the notion of having to learn a whole new software program, but I had every incentive to do so. One of the most popular commercial programs for layout is InDesign, but as you might expect, this industry-standard program is Very Expensive–a prepaid year of use of InDesign on Adobe’s Creative Cloud is $239.88 for a single app, or $599.88 per prepaid year for the more popular “all apps” version. Not something I could afford. Yes, you can also pay for a plan where you only use it a month at a time and pay as you go, but here was a software program that I had no idea how to use. I didn’t want to get stuck renting (not even owning!) this for a few months while I went through all the effort to learn how to use it. Sure, you can get a free trial version that lasts for 30 days, but the whole notion of trying to learn how it worked while my free trial was ticking away just felt like too daunting a prospect for me. Besides, Scribus had been dubbed by some as “the poor man’s InDesign,” and I was more than willing to give that a try.

I downloaded Scribus, and found a couple of helpful books that got me through the learning curve relatively unscathed. They are as follows:

Creating Print On Demand Interiors & Covers Using Scribus 1.4.1

Using FREE Scribus Software to Create Professional Presentations

These books told me nearly everything I needed to know to use Scribus to do what I wanted, and what few details they didn’t cover, I looked up on the Scribus site Wiki.

I followed a few rules of thumb: I kept the cover simple and clean in design, chose harmonious and appropriate colors, and edited, edited, edited. I learned the craft. I measured, rearranged, and started from scratch when necessary. In the end, I had a first book cover I could be proud of, and because the photo I used was one I took myself, I didn’t even have to worry about paying someone for the right to use it. Given that with the photo, I didn’t have to do any drawing or painting, I was pretty sure I could manage to create a good-looking cover if I could learn how to use the free layout software, and still produce the cover within the small time frame I had left before publication.

As I was online shopping for free fonts to use for the cover, I found one that I absolutely loved but which wasn’t free. It was available via license, however, and I think the license cost $39.00 for lifetime use. I’ve always felt it was well worth the cost to get the font that I really wanted for the book.

I also bought those two Scribus instructional books, so to be fair, we have to add their cost in to the total of my expenses, but I also had to keep in mind that they would be useful again and again if I needed to refer to them while doing future books. That has indeed been the case, so the expense for then was well worth it. One was $5.99 as an ebook, and the other was $30.00. Now, you can get that one in used form for about $23.00, so it’s the used price we’ll be figuring into our budgeting.

My cost for cover art now came to about $53.00–about the same amount that I’d have paid for a single premade ebook front cover image. Instead of hiring a cover artist, I chose to invest my time and money into learning how to create the covers myself, so that in future, I’d know how to do it and could do it again. I also found that I really enjoyed the artistic side of putting the cover together.

My first novel was far more of a cover challenge than the first nonfiction book was. Photograph covers are easy, comparatively speaking. But for an epic fantasy novel, I needed something different. I needed actual art. A painting, if I could get it. However, I had a problem. Given my projected date for publication of the novel, I didn’t have time to wait for any artist I might hire to get the job done. Even if they could turn it over in a month, it would still not be soon enough.

Word to the wise here: don’t do as I did. Truly. I have a bad habit of putting off the most daunting part of any process until the very last. Consequently, I created my first two covers as the last item of production, close to the advertised publication date. I didn’t leave myself any time to hire an artist to do a custom design if I hadn’t been able to manage the cover art myself. That meant that at this stage of the process, my only option would have been a premade cover which might not have really fit the theme of my books. Don’t do what I did; don’t wait too late. Whether you’re painting it yourself or hiring an artist, get your cover art done sooner rather than later in the process. It’s what I plan to do from now on. Plus, having the cover art earlier in the process makes for a better chance at advance marketing/advertising for the book.

So, to wrap up this story, I painted my own cover for the epic fantasy. Had I ever painted a cover art painting before? No. How did I do it? I went to YouTube and looked up many videos of technique, and then followed the instructions like a student in an art class. I’ll probably post something about the art/painting process later in this blog. For now, suffice it to say that the painting was a huge challenge, but I was satisfied with most of the elements I ended up with for my first fiction cover. Most elements, not all, but we live and we learn.

True confession time: Do I think my fiction book cover is all the way up at pro level? No. Definitely not. Do I think it’s horrible? No. I think at least it isn’t terrible, and I do think the colors and design itself are highly appropriate to the subject matter of the book. There’s certainly room for improvement, but no, I’d have to say it doesn’t look as though it was finger-painted by an 8-year-old, so it’s good enough for the time being. Do I plan to do better next time? Absolutely. And maybe one day when I can afford to hire an artist to do a full custom cover art spread for each book in the series, then I’ll do a cover art upgrade and change all three of the covers at once. I will, however, have to budget a few hundred dollars for this, because custom work generally costs more than premade cover art.

That’s all we have time for this week, so we’ll keep on with our budget list every week until we’ve gone through it all.