Updated: May 3
[Episode 2] Venturing into the world of publishing can be confusing… and expensive!
Before I get into the numbers, we need to talk about what I need to spend money on to make this project happen. Some things are a necessity, but as I went deeper into the self-publishing world, I found the number of services or add-ons could be endless. So, I needed to limit how much I was willing to put into this venture. At the same time, I tend to fall on the ‘cheapass’ side of the spectrum, so I didn’t want to save money at the expense of lowering the book’s quality.
I settled on a budget of £500 ($652) because that made sense for my personal finances. It was a somewhat arbitrary number because I’ve heard of people spending thousands, but they also had longer books and/or a series. As my short story project is only 25,000 words, it’s a somewhat smaller project, so I figured I could keep the budget lower.
It’s also important to note that I’m not counting my labour in this budget. I was able to get some things for “free”, but nothing in this world is ever free, is it? It cost quite a lot of my time and energy. If I were to calculate all my time working at minimum wage, this project would have blown through the £500 in a matter of days. So, to avoid depressing myself with this reality, I’ll just leave it out.
Another note is that I drew on countless hours of experience writing, beta reading, and self-editing to produce this project. All that “training” is not calculated into the budget, but it played a huge role in lowering the editing costs.
Here is what I decided were absolute necessities:
There are three different types of editing (developmental editing, copy editing, and proofreading). Developmental editing is the high-level stuff like overall plot, character development, world-building, and so on. I’ve had the pleasure of working with beta readers in the past, so I was able to ask them to do this for free as part of a swap (not sure where to find beta readers? Check out this article!). This developmental editing was “free” in the sense that I didn’t pay them, but if we were all working at minimum wage, it would probably be a hefty sum. Still, I won’t count this unpaid labour as part of the budget because it will only make me sad.
For the copy editing, I first ran everything through Grammarly. It can’t replace a human copy editor, but it can help clean up repeated words, overly wordy sentences, and typos. I find that if I achieve a baseline quality before sending it off to beta readers or editors, it makes it easier for people to read, and they don’t waste their time correcting silly mistakes. I didn’t put Grammarly’s subscription fee into my budget because I use it for my day job, so *technically* it wasn’t a direct expense of this book.
After self-editing, running everything through Grammarly, and getting feedback from beta readers, I was finally ready to find a paid editor. I’ve used paid beta readers before (I didn’t have a great experience, here’s the full story), so I had some sense of what to look for when it came to editors. I use Fiverr for work or other projects, so I felt comfortable using that platform.
I logged into my account and started scrolling through copy editors. I found three in the UK (I’ve had Americans meticulously go through my writing to change it to US English, which I then have to undo) who seemed like they would be part of my target audience and had well-written bios. I reached out to all three, and one was relatively new to the platform but particularly enthusiastic, so I decided to go with her.
I spent £100 on her service, which I calculated was £4 per 1,000 words. I calculated that I can proofread about 4,000 words per hour, so for my 25,000-word project, that’s an hourly rate of £16. That’s not great but not terrible, especially considering I’d had help with a lot of the heavy editing in advance.
However, it turned out to be a huge mistake.
The editor sent back the document with a few comments about perceived historical inaccuracies (they weren’t, but I appreciate that she took the time to point them out anyway, mainly because that’s not the copy editor’s job so it was basically a free gift). Otherwise, she meticulously removed all the contractions (for example, weren’t became were not) and did little else. I’ve been in the writing world long enough to know that there is ALWAYS more editing. There are always mistakes, and even if the grammar is technically correct, there will always be things like passive voice, excessive wordiness, uniform sentence lengths, inconsistencies, etc., so I immediately sensed something was wrong.
But the reason why I hired a copy editor is precisely because I have trouble identifying my own mistakes. So, when I opened the file, I saw plenty of corrections in Track Changes. Fiverr only gives you three days to review the project, so I figured it was fine and hit “accept” (fortunately, I didn’t leave a review yet!). It wasn’t until I passed it to Kelly Kennedy, one of my beta readers, that she started seeing repeated words and inconsistencies. So, that trigged a whole new round of edits that uncovered dozens of issues.
***Small side rant about the editor’s approach!***
I ignored most of the copy editor’s suggestions to remove contractions. Her suggestion was based on the idea that the ghost stories are historical, so the writing should seem more “old timey”, but the truth is, the book is clearly written for a modern audience. I’ve never been a big fan of historical books, so I wanted to keep the pacing short, snappy, and move readers through the stories quickly. So, even if I wanted it to sound more ‘old timey’ (which I didn’t), removing the contractions wouldn’t have been enough.
I came up with a hypothesis about why the copy editor was so keen to note all the contractions. She wanted to hide that she had made a few other suggestions by covering the document in red Track Changes. That way, it would seem like she did a thorough edit even though all she was doing was looking for contractions and missing the important things. She seemed like a nice person, but I don’t think she had the editorial eye required to be a real copy editor.
To be fair, Fiverr is probably not the place to find qualified copy editors. Next time, I’ll try a different platform.
2. Cover design
Another major necessity is a well-designed cover. I wouldn’t recommend this to most people, but I designed my own cover on Canva Premium (£10 per month). I love graphic design, and it’s something I can spend hours on without even noticing. Even if it’s not as polished as a professional design, I think it serves my purpose for the moment.
The collection of ghost stories is local to my town, Hastings, so I needed some high-quality pictures. I follow a super talented local photographer on Instagram, Kai Bossom, and I know they’re on Unsplash, so I looked for photos there.
Turns out, they have a collection of beautiful local images that are available for free. As a fellow creative person who never gets paid for my work, I decided to tip £20 for the cover photos. If the book gets any traction, I plan to hire this photographer for bespoke images but right now, it seems a bit pre-emptive because I don’t even know that anyone will be interested in my ghost stories.
Since this was just an experiment, I decided to use Kindle KDP as it’s free. To create an e-book, they have software called Kindle Create that is free to download. It’s clunky but easy enough to use.
To create a paperback, you need to upload your manuscript as a PDF. This is where things got tricky. I’ve read many articles by people who use Vellum, a paid software that only works on Macs. I don’t have a Mac, and I wasn’t about to get one for this, so I decided to use Word. It was challenging because it required measuring the margins and ensuring the font size will be legible (no, you can’t just upload a normal PDF, as I learned). I also wanted to add some graphics because I’m extra.
It was very fiddly and tedious to do this in Word and then export it as a PDF. It turned out to be very time consuming, but it was ultimately free.
4. Proofing copies
Once I uploaded everything, I needed to see how it would look in real life. Kindle KDP has a service for that, and you can order a print copy with an ugly band on it at the manufacturing cost. I did that, only to discover a fair number of mistakes.
After correcting everything, I can now order “author copies” at manufacturing price (but obviously, I don’t earn any royalties on these) and send them to reviewers as ARCs, advance reader copies. I can still edit the files fairly easily, so I can correct them when I inevitably find more mistakes. Plus, sending ARCs will help me get a few reviews to make the page look more active. The price of the proofing copy and ARCs depends on the book's length, and mine was £2 per copy, plus a strangely expensive £3 shipping fee per book, which brings each copy to £5. I've spent £50 so far.
If you would like an ARC, please let me know! I would love to send you a FREE copy as either an eBook or paperback.
So, here we have it! The book is now live on Amazon! Check it out here.
Here’s what I have spent so far:
I still have funds left over from my original budget of £500, so I plan to do some paid adverts to boost my ranking on Amazon and run some book giveaways.
Episode 2: How much did I spend on self-publishing? (you are reading this article now!)
Episode 3: 3-month check-in: what did I earn from self-publishing? (upcoming)
Episode 4: 6-month check-in: was self-publishing worth it? (upcoming)
If this process interests you, be sure that you're subscribed to the mailing list so you won't miss an episode. I hope you will join me on this self-publishing adventure!
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