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:

http://www.creativedigitalstudios.com/

http://www.bookcoversandvideos.webs.com/

http://www.avalongraphics.org/books.html

http://www.tamianwood.com/BookPages/Book03Fantasy.html

http://www.thedarkrayne.com/book-covers/

https://www.fiverr.com/categories/graphics-design/ebook-covers/#layout=auto&page=1

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: http://www.scribus.net/.

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.  http://wiki.scribus.net/canvas/Scribus

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.

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Shoestring Publishing, Part Two

Last week we started going down the list of possible expenses you might have when starting up a publishing business. Let’s look at a few more of those.

4. Accounting software or physical ledger, file folders, etc.:

I have found that if you own a tablet or a smartphone, it is relatively easy to find apps that can help with business accounting. I know that there are expensive programs out there which do an amazing job of keeping a record of business expenses and income, such as Quickbooks, which is perhaps one of the most well-known names in business accounting software, whether it’s online or desktop. But it is possible to find programs out there in the form of free apps or downloadable freeware/shareware that will give you a basic ledger system. The one I chose to use is called GnuCash. It isn’t necessarily perfect, but it works pretty well and the price tag was perfect. If you’re looking for a free accounting program, you can learn more about it here: http://www.gnucash.org/.

There are others, of course. I found a couple of links that might be worth checking out, but I can’t personally vouch for them as I have not tried them.

https://www.waveapps.com/accounting/

http://www.turbocash.net/

And there are also a couple of articles with more information on free software:

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2382514,00.asp

http://www.techradar.com/us/news/software/applications/best-free-accounting-software-8-programs-we-recommend-1136684

If anyone has tried a different free accounting software program and found that it really worked well, feel free to share in the comments.

5. ISBNs for your books:

Ah, the ISBN. You really should not try to publish a book without one. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It’s this number that provides a unique identifier for your book that makes it distinguishable from other books, even if your book should happen to have the same title as a different book by a different author. If you try to special-order a book, a bookstore will need to find this number in order to get it for you and make sure it’s the right book. So yes, you really need one if you want to sell your book to the general public and not just print a copy for yourself and your family. However, there are a few considerations you need to know about where ISBNs are concerned.

Some authors decide to publish through CreateSpace or through a packaging service, and get the ISBN through them. You can do this if you choose, but I personally don’t recommend not buying your own ISBNs. Yes, CreateSpace and/or a book packager could issue you an ISBN, but if this happens, then they are listed as the official publisher of your book. In other words, if you get your ISBN through CreateSpace, if CreateSpace assigns you the number, then CreateSpace is listed as the “publisher” of your book. If you (or your new publishing company) want to be listed as your book’s publisher, then you have to buy your own ISBNs. In the United States, the source of legitimate and official ISBNs is called Bowker. Their website is here: https://www.myidentifiers.com/.

It looks horribly expensive, with the cost of a single ISBN placed at $125.00. But this is one of those expenses to which you’ll just have to resign yourself; it’s really not a viable option not to buy one. However, if you’re planning more than one book, it is far more cost-effective in the long run to get a block of ISBNs so that you have more you can use for future books. Also remember, you’ll need one ISBN for a print version of your book if you’re planning one, and also one for an ebook version. Any different version or format of your book will require a different ISBN. If you want a hardcover as well as an ebook and a paperback, you’ll have to have another ISBN for the hardcover. So choose which number of ISBNs you will purchase based on how many different versions of your book you plan on having, and how many books you’ll eventually be publishing.

A block of ten ISBNs is the most popular option for indies, and ten at once comes to less per ISBN then just buying them one at a time. I bought a block of ten ISBNs to cover RavenSidhe’s first several books. I’d have bought a block of 100 as an even better value if I could have, but the cost for ten is $295.00, and for 100 it’s $575.00. I needed to conserve my startup cash I’d saved, so I went with the block of ten, which will be enough ISBNs to cover my first five books with an ebook version and paperback version for each. Bowker’s interface is easy to use, and it keeps track of all of your ISBN data, including numbers once you’ve used them, and also those remaining numbers that you have not yet assigned to a book. So, depending on how many books total you’re planning to publish over the next 5 to 10 years, it may well behoove you to go for the block of 10 ISBNs for $295.00, and add that into your budget. Or, for just one version of one book, plan on a single ISBN for $125.00

Bowker also offers several other services, including help with cover design, ebook creation, proofreading services, etc. All of these services cost money, of course, and you can certainly find cheaper ways to do a lot of what you’ll need done. For example, Bowker offers the service of helping you file a copyright for a price of $79.95, but it’s just as easy to file it yourself with the Library of Congress and only end up paying $35 if you’re registering a work by a single author who is also the claimant, and if the work you’re registering wasn’t made for hire. (In other words, you’re the one filing for copyright for one book, you’re that book’s author, and you weren’t hired by someone else to write the book.) So as tempting as the services Bowker offers in addition to its ISBNs may be, as a small publisher, it is well worth your time to find out whether it would cost you considerably less to do most of these little tasks yourself.

So far, including a block of 10 ISBNs added to the total from last week’s sample expenses, we’ve spent $970.00 in establishing our publishing business.

6. Editing fees:

Oh, my goodness. This is a big issue, at least in my opinion. I cannot stress enough that many authors are not very good at editing their books for spelling, grammar, sentence structure, plot and flow of the story, etc. This is the kind of thing that contributed to the original stigma against self-publishing in the first place. It still does, because to be honest, I still see far too many self-published books out there that are poorly edited or that seem not to be edited at all. It makes me cautious about how much money I’m willing to pay for any self-published book. Thank goodness for those “see inside the book” widgets! They’ve saved me more than once from spending money on a book that would have put my teeth on edge.

The truth is that most authors really need an editor to go over their books in minute detail before the book is ever published. This is much bigger of a deal than most people think it is, and I would submit that people who think it’s not a big deal are probably those who just don’t happen to have much of a penchant for attention to detail. But for me personally, as a reader, if I try to read a self-published book (or any other book, for that matter) that is rife with spelling errors and clunky sentences, etc., then it pops me right out of the story. It drives. Me. Nuts. I simply cannot look at a book filled with errors like that as though it is professionally done. So if you are an author who has trouble with any of these details, then it would really be a good idea for you to get someone to edit the book, preferably not your spouse or other family member, who is less apt to be as critical of your manuscript’s quality as someone more objective. However, given the high fees that are often charged for editing services (Bowker, for example, offers fees “as low” as $8 per page. But I, as a publisher on a shoestring budget, could not even come close to affording to pay an editor even as much as $1 per page.) If you are in this same boat, how, then, can you get quality editing for less or no money?

One answer is to check into writers’ critique groups and beta readers–and not just any random beta readers. Find people you already know or meet new people through writers’ groups who are sticklers for grammar and line editing, and who also have a strong sense of plot and pacing. A writers’ conference or convention might be a good venue at which to find critique and editing partners who’d be willing to trade services with you. Local writers’ groups are also possible places to meet people who fit the bill. Or you may even find people in odd places where you’d never expect to find potential editors. For example, I just met an editor recently while I was at the courthouse for jury duty. No kidding. They’re out there. You just have to look for them. And after you’ve found them and they’ve agreed to help, you need to be willing and ready to consider honestly what they have to say by way of critique, and you have to be willing to return the favor if they’d like you to read their work (or format their manuscript, or whatever your strength is) in return for their objective opinion and/or editing skills.

Yes, it’s possible for you to do the editing entirely on your own if you happen to be really good at that sort of thing. But be aware that even then, you may still miss a few mistakes that you didn’t know you made, and so you’ll have to be extra vigilant when you’re going over your manuscript. Get a copy of Strunk and While’s “Elements of Style” and use it whenever you’re in doubt about any of your grammar, sentence structure, or punctuation. Use your thesaurus or dictionary if you aren’t sure whether you spelled a word right. Make the effort, please, even if you claim that you’re “just not good at that kind of thing.” It’s so worth it to come across as professional, and it will make a huge difference to your credibility.

I lucked out and have a great couple of critique partners I’ve worked with for many years, one of whom we like to call “the Grammar Queen.” I hope you can find your own “grammar queen,” because believe me, your book’s future readers will thank you (and her.) In my opinion, if you’re going to all the trouble of setting up an actual publishing company, then you really owe it to your future readers and yourself to do as professional a job of the editing as possible. As an end resort, if you have no other way to get the book edited, then yes, you’ll probably have to pay someone to do it. (That, or bake them a mountain of chocolate chip cookies.) For editing services, I spent $0, but I also spent countless hours editing my own work after having it gone over in minute detail by my two critique partners and two or three beta readers. It’s just a matter of extremely strict attention to detail, and the commitment to see the process through.

This post is getting a little long, so we’ll continue our budget discussion next week.

Shoestring Publishing, Part One

In outlining this article, I found that there were so many categories under “budgeting” that we really should break this down into several posts. So bear with me. First, I’ll list the general categories that I wanted to cover and that I encountered when establishing RavenSidhe, and then I’ll begin to address those categories two or three at a time, which may take several posts. I think it will be easier this way, both for me to write up and for you to consider in your own budgeting. When spending hard-earned or hard-saved money, it’s always best to make careful choices in what you buy.

In making a general budget for your publishing business, you’ll need to consider quite a few needs that your fledgling business might have. This list is by no means exhaustive, and you might want to add some categories for your own use, but here’s what I have to begin with:

1. Making things official: business filing fees, etc.
2. Equipment: computer, monitors, peripherals, backup storage solutions
3. Business cards
4. Accounting software or physical ledger, file folders, etc.
5. ISBNs for your books
6. Editing fees
7. Cover art
8. Formatting fees
9. Library data block
10. File upload fees
11. Copyright fee
12. Incidentals such as art supplies or how-to books on formatting, font licenses, etc.

Looks like a daunting and expensive list at first blush, but I promised I’d show you how a publishing business can work on a shoestring budget, which just means a budget that is very, very tiny. So let’s start to break this down.

I’ve mentioned before that when I started RavenSidhe, I saved up for it first by putting aside money from Tarot readings over a period of a year and a half. There were also a very few expenses that I covered out-of-pocket, but generally speaking, RavenSidhe was built on less than $2000.00. With the official filing fees varying from state to state, your own amount may be more or less, but this will give you an idea of about what to expect in your budgeting.

We talked before about the difference between forming an LLC or a sole proprietorship. We also talked about how the filing/administrative fees to set up a business in your state might vary from those in Idaho, but for now, Idaho is where I am, so I’ll use Idaho’s figures. You’ll have to adjust your budget to accommodate your own plans in your own state. So moving into the categories, now:

1. State business filing fees:

  • Certificate of Assumed Business Name (DBA) for a sole proprietorship in Idaho: $25
  • Filing fee for an Idaho LLC, or Limited Liability Company $100

So far at this point, I’d spent $100, since I went for the LLC business model instead of a sole proprietorship.

2. Equipment:

  • computer
  • monitors (2)
  • peripherals, including backup drives or cloud storage, etc.

I already had a computer when I started my business, but not all computers are equal to the task of carrying out some of the operations involved in publishing. Most will do just fine, but if you’re limping along on an old, outdated model of computer with an obsolete operating system, you may want to consider an upgrade to a better, faster computer with more memory. You might also want to buy such a thing as a laptop, for ease of working on your stuff when you’re not at home on your desktop machine. In my experience, a good, working computer of some kind can often be found for $500 or less. Assuming you do have to buy a computer, the better a deal you can get, the more you can stretch your budget. Let’s assume you can find a decent desktop machine or laptop for around $350.00.

Next, I have to say that getting a secondary monitor for your machine might be well worth your consideration. I use two monitors for my desktop machine, one beside the other. This enables me to have such a thing as a digital instructional manual or a YouTube how-to video window open on one monitor, and my current work-in-progress being formatted on the other monitor, so I can refer to the instructions as I go if I need to. I never guessed how much having an extra monitor would make a difference to my work, or how convenient it would be. This alone was one of the best investments I made when establishing my business. The extra monitor costs around, say, $100. Luckily for me, one of my monitors came with my computer, so I only had to buy one extra.

Now we’ve spent about $550.00. We’ve established our business entity, and we have a computer. Other possible equipment-related expenses might need to include a new flash drive with lots of storage, or even an external hard drive that you can save your files onto as a backup, just in case of the sudden demise of your main computer, which would sink all your hard work in one dreadful moment. A good flash drive isn’t horribly expensive; they run between $14 to $40, depending on how much memory you want.

Here’s an example of something similar to what I use: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0041Q38QM?creativeASIN=B0041Q38QM&linkCode=w01&linkId=4E4IYPQ4XLMN3JBR&ref_=as_sl_pc_ss_til&tag=poostal-20

I’ve also gotten very good service out of an external hard drive similar to this one, which costs around $70:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000ND75CU?creativeASIN=B000ND75CU&linkCode=w01&linkId=7BEMU2QS6NHSJA6E&ref_=as_sl_pc_ss_til&tag=poostal-20

Price for both items, about $110.00. So far, our total for equipment and business startup fees comes to $660.00. If you already have all the electronic/computer equipment you need, so much the better.

Cloud storage may be a zero-cost option for you, if that is something that seems more convenient or feasible than buying electronic storage solutions. I cannot personally vouch for any of the cloud services found at the link below, but feel free to check them out on your own and see whether this is something that would suit your preferences and/or budget.

http://www.1mtb.com/top-10-best-free-online-cloud-storage-services/

3. Business Cards: There are many options for business cards. The least expensive way I’ve found to get them is to order them from an online printing service such as Vistaprint or Moo. Yes, you could print some out yourself on cardstock using your own computer and printer, but your home printer usually can’t handle the weight of cardstock that you’d want to keep things looking professional. I’ve had great service from both Moo and Vistaprint, and the quality of their cardstock and printing is absolutely professional:

http://www.moo.com/us/

http://www.vistaprint.com/

Of the above services, I’ve found Vistaprint to be the more affordable of the two. I’ve generally gotten my business cards from Vistaprint on one of their promotional specials, and so I’ve never paid more than about $15 for a box of business cards. Of course, your total price also depends on how many you’re ordering. I tend to order in smaller batches because I don’t go through them all that fast, but if you’re planning to hand them out all over the place, then you might need a greater number of cards.

All in all, it’s a very worthwhile business expense. If you’re at an event with your books and someone approaches your table with interest but can’t buy a book “right now,” then if you have a business card to offer them, they can later look up your book and buy it online, especially if you wrote or included your book title and ISBN on the back of the card. That potential online customer might even pass the business card on to a friend. You never know where that information might end up and how it might result in sales. In my opinion, it’s well worth it to have business cards—much more so than those postcards and bookmarks you probably see many authors handing out at conferences or conventions, (and admit it–you know you probably just throw away or recycle those bookmarks once you empty your bag at home.)

I thought about going into the topic of business card design here, but I think that’s a whole separate post. See, I told you it would be a while before we run out of topics to cover!

Let’s stop here for now so that you can consider what we’ve discussed above. We’ll continue going down our list of possible expenses and business needs next week, with a look at more great resources you may want to obtain, whether those you’ll have to purchase or those you can get for free.

Business Plans: The Important Step People Tend to Skip

The business plan is not always the first thing on everyone’s radar. I’m not sure exactly why it often gets left out, but it may well be for the same reason that I never used to make an outline when I was about to write a report in school. I’d write the report first and make an outline afterward, and then only if a teacher required it. What I didn’t realize was how helpful an outline could actually be if written first.

Carrying the analogy a little further, the outline of a report and the written plan for a business are similar and have similar objectives. They both give you a direction to go, set out an order of events and subjects to address, and state clearly all of the things you’ve planned to include in your work, so you can see ahead of time whether you’ve left out anything important. As far as goals, they give you something to aim for. Just as an outline helps give a book an advance look at the structure and direction of a book’s plotline, the business plan does something very similar for the business you’re creating.

Now that we’ve got at least an inkling of why it might be good to make one in the first place, the next question is going to be, “What should I include in a business plan?” That answer will vary depending on whom you talk to, but there are a few general considerations that will work for most small businesses, including a small indie press like mine…or yours.

If you want to see how this might look for you, perhaps you’d like to bring up your word processor or grab a notepad. I’ll ask a few questions, you can answer them onscreen or on paper, and by the time we’re done, you’ll have the bare bones of a business outline. Then I’ll throw a few links at you, and when/if you feel like it, you can go see how the pros do it, and refine things a bit further or add things you think should be added. It’s simpler than a lot of people think, and it doesn’t have to be particularly fancy. It’s just important to know the answers to a few questions, and get those recorded so you can refer to them at some later date when you want to take a look at the progress your business has made and see where you might want to make changes.

1. Goals: What are your goals for your publishing business? What type of books do you plan to write and publish? How many books do you think you’ll be publishing—one to two a year, or are you more prolific than that? By the time five years have gone by, what do you hope to have accomplished with your writing and publishing venture? Keep your answers relatively simple to start with. This part of your plan is also what some would call a “mission statement.”

2. Audience: Who will be reading your books? Are you writing for an adult audience, for teens or children? Are you hoping to reach the DIY crowd, or the sci-fi devotees, cosplayers, horse lovers, backyard mechanics, crazy cat ladies? Who do you hope will see your book and want to buy it? You’ll be tailoring your marketing to them, so it’s important to figure out who these readers will probably be. If you’re writing in multiple genres, you’ll want to write down a couple of sentences to a paragraph to describe each group of readers you’re trying to reach.

3. Your Unique Focus: What makes you stand out from the crowd? This can be a tricky question, because of course there are plenty of other mechanics, math majors, self-help enthusiasts, life coaches, fantasy writers, etc. This is the time to consider what it is that makes your company and your books different from all the other indies out there. What makes it shine? What about your subject matter makes you feel passionate about it? These are important questions, in part because they are the same questions your potential readers will be subconsciously asking themselves each time they consider buying one of your books.

4. Distribution and Sales: How will you get your books into your readers’ hands? Do you intend to buy a bunch of copies of your printed book and then just sell them out the trunk of your car, the way people used to do way back in the day when self-publishing wasn’t yet a widespread thing and POD was unheard of? Will you get just a box of copies printed at a time, and take them to various genre-related events to sign and be seen? Or are you planning to skip the print version and just sell ebooks through Amazon or other online retailers? There are lots of online venues for ebooks, and if you’re going to be your own distributor, you’ll probably need to establish an account or business understanding with each one you plan to use. For the purposes of this particular blog post, let’s just have you begin to think about these questions for now. Write down a couple of ideas for what you’ll do, or just leave this spot blank for the moment. We’ll talk about distribution strategies later on, where we can devote an entire post just to this topic.

5. Projected revenue: Oh, this is a fun one–sort of. It’s very hard to predict exactly how many copies of your books you’re going to sell, because sales depend on so many things, like exposure, visibility, and marketing. But for now, just throw a number up there. Set a goal for how much money you want to bring in per month. If you set a goal that’s higher than a few dollars per month, it may take time and several books published to work up to that level, but that’s okay. Just write down the amount you’d like to see and keep it somewhere in the realm of realistic. It’s probably not realistic to set a monthly revenue goal of $1000.00 right at the outset, but it’s at least somewhat realistic to expect a monthly income of anywhere from $10 to $30.

Don’t get discouraged; this is potential income just from sales of your first book alone, if people find it right away and if you start gaining readers via word-of-mouth. It may not look like much, but if you get even a few dollars a month, it’s enough to save up to finance the production of future books, and you can build up further from there. Remember, one of the possible reasons you went Indie was so that you could take the time to build a business from the ground up, and it won’t be a grand mansion right at the outset. At first it may look a lot more like a cottage than a mansion, but you can keep adding on to it with more books published, and eventually it may become much larger and roomier than it was at first. In the meantime, you’ll probably want to hold onto that day job.

6. Production Process: How and where will you run this business? The most likely answer is “Out of my home,” but some may have the benefit of a separate office building or the like. Besides location, you will also need to consider how you will produce the most important parts of the book—the manuscripts, the files for your ebooks, and the layouts for your print version if you’re doing one of those. Another thing to consider: Will you be doing all of this work yourself, or do you plan to hire someone to format your book? This question is important for reasons that we’ll cover in a future post.

If you will be the one doing the formatting/coding/layout work, do you have a dedicated computer that you will use for this, or will you have to use a shared machine or a library computer? I assume that if you’re reading this blog, you have access to a computer, but you may want to jot down its capabilities here. Is it a Windows machine or a Mac? Does it have a decent amount of storage/memory? Are you currently limping along with an old machine and are you in need of an upgrade, or can you get by with what you’ve already got? This is important to know because it will figure into the budgeting, which we’ll also get to later.

These questions cover the very basics and can get you started, but there may be more parts you’ll want to add to your business plan as you go. There are also templates that you can download and use to structure your business outline, if you prefer. Here are some links to look at for more help with the business plan process:

https://www.sba.gov/writing-business-plan

http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/247574

http://www.myownbusiness.org/s2/

Even if you decide to use any or some of the above guides, you’ll still want to make sure that your business plan is tailored to your specific needs. You may find that there are parts of a more service-oriented business plan that, as an independent writer, you simply don’t need or want. Just get your underpinnings down and then fine tune your business plan from there. It’s perfectly okay to revise it and add to it as you go. It might even be useful to document your changes as you make them. That will give you the ability to look back and see where you had to re-evaluate your original plan from time to time to adapt to changing circumstances and opportunities that arose during the first few years after establishing your business.

I’m by no means an expert on business plans, and as you’ll see when you chase those links, there are other people who are far more adept at designing them than I am. But regardless of its level of sophistication and regardless of what you may happen to leave out or overlook, I truly believe that it’s far better to have at least some sort of business plan than to have no business plan at all. Good luck with yours, and have fun creating.

An Author’s Dilemma

Since establishing RavenSidhe Publishing, I’ve frequently been approached by new writers at public events where my books were on display. The main concern of these new writers tends to be something along the lines of “I’ve written a book, but I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t know what happens next. I might need your help later.” The decision of whether or not to self-publish one’s own work has become a major concern nowadays, and it’s no wonder.

While I’m flattered that people would think me knowledgeable enough on the subject of publishing that they’d want me to advise them, I’ve had to explain that I don’t personally mentor people on how to publish their books. I don’t have anywhere near enough time to do that–not if I hope to keep up with my own writing and other work as well. But what I can do is use this blog to give people an idea of what my writing journey has been like, and pull back the veil a little on the seemingly mysterious process of creating, producing and marketing a book. I can offer helpful links to resources and related information readily available online, with the hope that this will help people make up their own minds about what would be the best course of action available for them and their books.

Traditional wisdom advises a new author to find an agent if possible, and then seek publication from a larger New York publishing house, or if not that, then at least from a smaller press with some degree of respectability and recognition. For a long time, the stigma against self-published work scared off many a potentially independent author. Right out of the starting gate, let me just say that I was one of those writers. For the better part of three decades, I courted the New York publishing scene as ardently as could be. I played by all the “rules” and still lost the game as I had thought it was supposed to be played. Ultimately, I ended up not just self-publishing, but starting my own publishing company.

What combination of circumstances and events led me to do this? With the advent of easy self-publishing platforms such as CreateSpace, where any aspiring author could upload an e-book or even a print book with little to no start-up cost, why would anyone want to go to the extreme of registering an LLC and becoming a publisher in an official sense? To answer that, let me do what writers do. Let me tell you a story.

To begin, I’ll give you a little background about myself as an author, so you can see why I felt myself to be pushed kicking and screaming into the brave new world of modern-day publishing and self-publishing. Please bear in mind that the path I have taken is not for everyone. As in all things, it is always best to look at the information offered and then make your own informed and well-considered decision.

It seems strange to think about how long I’ve been in this game, but I have been a writer for well over 40 years. I wrote my first short stories in grade school and my first novel (longhand, in a spiral notebook) at the age of 16. Over the decades that followed, I went on to write several more novels. For some considerable time, I tried to no avail to secure a literary agent for my work. Always a stickler for grammar and editing, I went to a great deal of trouble to learn the craft of writing. I wanted not just to write, but to write well. Naturally, my first attempts at writing novels were terrible. My first million words of garbage went into the closet. Even now that I have become my own publisher and can produce whatever books I want, those first few novels will stay in the closet, because you all deserve better. Those first attempts might not have been up to par, but they were a good training ground nonetheless. I learned a lot from writing them and making all those rookie mistakes.

By the time I’d spent a few years taking master classes in technique at various writers’ conferences, entered a few contests and endured countless rejection letters, the miracle finally happened; I landed an agent for my novels. Of course, I was thrilled, and still am. My agent is a wonderful person whose opinion I deeply respect, and having formerly been an editor in New York, he helped further shape my writing into something I could be proud of. Unfortunately, shortly after he took me on as a client, the bottom dropped out of the market for big thick epic fantasy novels, which of course was exactly what I’d been writing.

Suddenly, editors seemed reluctant to consider taking on new authors in that genre, and while some still got into the club, I was not among them. I received positive feedback about the quality of my writing from various editors, including one who reportedly said she loved the book but could not find a spot for it. The length was quite likely one of the biggest issues, even though just a few years before, similar long novels were being sought after. After finishing the first one, I’d gone on to write an entire trilogy, which writing coaches and editors assured me was at a publishable level. Regardless, there was no spot for me and my books among the big publishers in the epic fantasy arena.

I then did what I thought to be the best thing at the time; I followed the market. Laurell K. Hamilton and several other authors were having a great deal of success in the urban fantasy genre, and even though my first love had been epic fantasy, I was more than willing to try my hand on the urban side of the tracks. The next novel I wrote was urban fantasy, but not the standard vampire/werewolf fare. Instead, I went for the thing that more readily held my interest: the world of the fae, and more specifically, the Irish Tuatha De Danann and related groups. I was happy with the finished novel, peer opinions were favorable, and although I had departed from the typical by not using first person point of view, I was sure that this book would fit right into the UF trend and be published. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of my agent and myself, and despite the reports of writer peers and publishers who read it and really liked my writing style, this novel found no home either.

Like it or not, I had come to a turning point I could no longer avoid. I had multiple experts in the field telling me that my writing was good enough to be published, but I still had no publishing contracts forthcoming. I’d had only one success in the short story arena when my story “The Truth One Sees” was published in the Warrior Wisewoman 3 science fiction anthology from Norilana Books in 2010. Other than that, my work always seemed to be hitting the market just after the curve, and I was doing a very professional job of getting nowhere. I was eventually forced to make a very hard choice. I could continue as I was and keep chasing the ever-shrinking New York market until eventually someone gave me a shot, or I could strike out on my own and take my writing fate into my own hands.

That sparked off a host of new worries and questions. If I self-published, would I be struck down by the same stigma that had affected many self-published books in the past? Part of the problem with so many of those is the editing. Some authors fail to learn their craft well or do proper editing, and then release books rife with typos, clunky sentence structure, and glaring amateurish mistakes. While it is an injustice to assume all self-published books will be badly done, it is also true that there is a reason the stigma against self-publishing came about in the first place. I didn’t want my books to be categorically dismissed by readers just because I’d published them myself.

There was also a huge amount of work required to produce the books, none of which I knew how to do. I wanted a paperback version, and I had reluctantly come to admit that e-books, at least to some extent, were here to stay. I didn’t have the slightest idea of how to design and format either one. That being the case, I wondered whether I should hire a book packager to produce my book for me. If I did, would it be worth the money they’d charge? I didn’t know. I set out to do some research, and while I was still deliberating, I began to save money so that if I eventually did decide to use a packager, I’d be able to pay the huge fees to get the book produced–fees that could range from about $1000 upwards.

My family had been in very tight financial straits for several years. Consequently, it took me about a year and a half to save enough money from doing Tarot readings to potentially pay for a book packager. When I’d saved the minimum and was ready to make the final decision, I was inclined to use a packager because I felt so daunted by the prospect of producing a book on my own. There was just so much I didn’t know. However, general Internet opinion indicated that using a book packager was considered “vanity press,” and was therefore to be avoided. Many sites and sources made a strong distinction between the so-called “vanity press” and “self-publishing,” in which the author does all or most of the work. I was torn, and feeling a bit pressured to conform to a new set of publishing standards that hadn’t even finished sorting themselves out yet.

In the end, I decided not to fight the old stigma against self-published books and the stigma against vanity press both at the same time. It looked as though the most effective way to move forward was to learn how to publish my own book. Even with what I’d saved, I didn’t have a big budget, so I would have to do almost all the work myself. I resolved to do as good a job as possible and make the final product as professional as I could manage. Perception is key to any market.

The other big factor in my decision was money. I could spend about $1500 to have one book published, or I could spend the same amount and create a business that could eventually produce hundreds of books at my discretion and perhaps support me one day. I, who dislike math, did the math this time. My decision rapidly became clear, even if the oncoming learning curve terrified me.

At this point, you’re probably wondering why I considered it necessary to start a publishing company. I could have produced more than one book as an individual author without registering an LLC, of course. But in considering my options, I decided that as long as I was going to so much effort to learn all the things I’d need to know to publish the first book, I might as well create an entire business, of which I could be the CEO and sole management. I’ve discovered that I like being my own boss. I like setting my own standards and making my own stylistic decisions. It gave me a freedom and power I hadn’t even known I lacked.

Never in my wildest dreams did I envision having to publish my own books. Always, I assumed I’d be picked up by a New York publishing house and the rest would be history. I wanted only to wear the writer hat, not ten other hats as well, but fate–or perhaps my higher self–had other ideas. In August of 2013, the local government office stamped my application form, and RavenSidhe Publishing, LLC became official. I had a daunting but important learning curve ahead–Publishing 101, learned in the field. In upcoming posts, we’ll talk about the process of creating publishing companies and published books from scratch on a shoestring budget, pros and cons of various decisions that arise, and options available. By the time we run out of topics on the subject, you’ll either be certain you never want to try this at home, or you’ll be hooked.