“Self-published” doesn’t have to be a bad word!

     A few days ago I was talking to someone about my novel and he seemed genuinely interested in it. He asked questions about the book and I could see his eyes lighting up. He asked where he could get a copy and how much it cost. I gladly answered as my heart raced at the thought of another sale. He asked me who the publisher was and I told him I self-published it. He shook his head and when I asked him about that reaction he explained that he refuses to buy self-published books. I asked him why and he told me that he’s wasted too much money on self-published books that were pure garbage.
     My heart sank. I tried to explain to him that my novel was a quality novel that received high reviews. It didn’t matter. He associated the phrase “self-published” with poorly written/edited stories. I watched as the dollar signs turned to smoke and floated away. What could I say? Part of me agreed with him and it saddens me to admit that.

The Truth Hurts

    I’ve seen so many self-published novels that really are garbage and it hurts those of us that put a lot of time, effort and money into making our work shine. Too many times I’ve seen novels that look like the “author” spent a couple weeks or months pecking away at the keyboard writing the story then immediately uploading the “finished” product to a self-publishing site and hitting the “Publish” button. That “author” then sits back and waits for the truckloads of money to come rolling in and are genuinely surprised when they don’t become a millionaire overnight.
     They don’t seem to realize that doing something like that not only hurts them but everyone else that self-publishes. The market gets flooded with low quality novels and that standard gets attached to everything with the “self-published” label. Self-publishing a novel does NOT mean you don’t have to put any real work into it. There’s an old adage that states “You have to spend money to make money.” That definitely applies to self-publishing a novel. If you want to do it properly, you have to pay for a cover design and an editor, at the very least.
     Granted, you can design your own cover and some authors have managed to do a good job at it. Unfortunately, there are far more authors that don’t want to spend the money and do it themselves with no clue what they should be doing. The end result usually reflects that lack of knowledge. I look at the self-made covers being spammed on Facebook and the first thought that comes to mind is, “What were they thinking?”.

That Should Cover It

   I know when I was looking for a cover designer for my first novel I was overwhelmed with the number of options out there. A big deterrent was the price some of those people were charging for their covers. I had trouble believing anything as simple as a cover could be worth that much money. Well, it is. The simple fact is, people really do judge a book by its cover. A quality, well-designed cover can make the difference between a sale and the customer moving on to the next book in the list.
     It takes very little effort to find decent cover designers. They’re everywhere. A question posted in the right group on Facebook can yield a few responses. Many of them have plenty of experience and are usually willing to work with you on the design itself and the price. They’re human, I think, and they understand not everyone can afford to pay the full amount upfront. Talk to them about it and they might be willing to work out a payment plan. If not, you can always try looking for one that will work with you. They’re out there and just a little effort will allow you to find them.


   If you really don’t want to pay someone else to do it, you CAN do it yourself. That doesn’t mean you can just find an image you like, throw your title and name on it and call it done. It’s not that simple. First of all, there’s the little matter of a thing called a copyright. Use a copyrighted image on your cover without permission and you could end up paying a lot of money to the copyright owner. There’s also the probability that you’ll have to pull your book from the “shelves” until you can get a new cover.
     There are options. If you really like a copyrighted image and can’t imagine your book without that image on the cover then contact the copyright owner. It’s possible the owner will be willing to sell you the right to use the image. If that happens, BE SURE TO GET UNLIMITED RIGHTS! If the owner sells you the rights to use the image once and you end up selling a thousand copies of your book, the copyright owner can demand payment for the other nine hundred ninety-nine uses of the image and he’ll be in the right. Get unlimited use of the image and it won’t matter if you sell one or one million. The image is yours to use.
     That route may not appeal to some of the authors that can’t afford to, or don’t want to, spend money buying rights to a copyrighted image. That’s fine. There are sites that offer free stock images an author can use. You have to be sure that the image is really free and allows unlimited commercial use but they’re not that difficult to find. Another option is to grab your camera and take a photo yourself. Doing that eliminates all questions of copyright ownership.

Research, Research, Research

  No matter where you get your image, it’s very important to do a little research. There are techniques for cover design that are proven to work. Colors, images, layout, font type, font color, and font size all make a difference between a good and bad cover. It doesn’t cost any money to search for articles on the subject so you have no excuse for not looking for them. Read through the articles. Get an idea of what does and doesn’t work and follow that advice. It will be worth it in the end.
     A great cover on your novel may get people to look deeper into your novel but it won’t be enough to seal the deal. The content within the book is just as important. If the novel is full of spelling and grammatical errors, it won’t matter how good the cover is. You should always go through your work several times and fix issues that can hurt your chances of making sales. Beta readers can help find things you miss. Beta readers are free and can be found on multiple sites as well as in writing groups on Facebook. Ask for readers, let them go through your story and listen to what they have to say. There’s a good chance they can make your story stronger.
     Beta-readers aren’t the end, though. No matter how many readers you get feedback from, you should always hire an editor to go through your book. Editors provide an invaluable service and you’re a fool if you don’t use at least one. Just like cover designers, editors are easy to find. Some are better than others and some charge more than others. Sadly, higher fees don’t always mean higher quality editor. Do your research. Talk to authors that editor has worked with and get their feedback.

Editors Are People, Too

   Again, just like cover designers, there are some editors out there that will be willing to work with you when it comes to fees. Some may be willing to split the fees 50/50, which means you give them half the fee up front and pay the other half when the edit is done. There are others that will do edits in installments. They’ll give you a price for a chapter by chapter edit and you can send one chapter at a time with the fee for that chapter. That method can take more time and doesn’t really work for finding plot holes or doing content edits but it’s still a possibility. There is even the tiny chance that you can find one willing to do an edit for free. It’s rare and you have to be careful to be sure the editor is going to do quality work, but it is possible.

Other People’s Money

   You can’t afford to pay an editor, even using installments? Still no excuse. There are options for that too. There’s a thing called crowd-funding. Do a search and you’ll find options. The concept has been used by many self-published authors to get the money they need to pay for editing and cover design. Kickstarter and Indiegogo are two that I’ve seen mentioned most often. (I’ll post links later when I have more time.) It takes some work to make a crowd-funding campaign successful but it’s worth it. If you want to make your novel as successful as possible, the effort put into a successful campaign is time well spent.
     The options are there, people. There’s no reason you should throw a low-quality product on the shelves. The only reason something like that should make it into the public’s view is laziness, and that’s really not an excuse at all. Seriously. Why spend so much time writing the story if you’re not going to spend just as much, if not more, time and effort making the story the best it can be. Money can’t be an excuse because there are ways around that if you’re willing to put at least a little effort into it. “Self-published” doesn’t have to be a phrase that makes buyers cringe. A little, a little effort, and all of us can make “self-published” the respected phrase it deserves to be. It takes a lot of effort to self-publish a book and that effort should be the rule, not the exception. There’s no excuse for shoddy work to be self-published. Is there?


6 thoughts on ““Self-published” doesn’t have to be a bad word!

  1. Deborah Kappes-Cassidy

    Excellent article Clint. It’s unfortunate so many people still think that self-published is a bad thing. It’s our job as indie authors to make sure that we do everything that you mentioned: get an editor, have a great cover, and don’t be in a rush.

  2. Angela Gonyea-Sheffer

    Here, here. Retired teachers may be an editor resource for someone on a tight budget. Author Victoria Douglas gave me that advice and as my dad’s cousin was a teacher both my children had, retired, and as family willing to work for a percentage of my net, she was worth looking at. I know I just read part of a book so bad it was even with the book my son wrote in the fourth grade (for said teacher in fact) I could have screamed. I’ve been us journalist for many, many years but I am new to writing fiction, and writing books, so I take the advice of those who have done this and have done it well. Thanks for adding more wise words out there!!

  3. ddrespling

    Yes, yes, yes! Especially this: “There’s an old adage that states “You have to spend money to make money.” That definitely applies to self-publishing a novel. ”

    I cringe when a self-pubber tells me they can’t afford an editor. And thank you for explaining copyright. Many people don’t get it and think that if an image is online, it’s fair game. Nope. Also, free fonts can have limitations as well!

    Hopefully over time the stigma of the self-published author will fade, but it’ll only happen by putting quality out there.


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