The Cost — Grand Finale

I’m just in from the National Book Festival and staying on for a few days to visit friends and family in Washington, D.C..  Still processing the event, so I’ll tell you about it next time.  Promise!

My Books, By Obsidian Tiger Press

My Books, By Obsidian Tiger Press

For the last several weeks, I’ve been answering a rather complex question asked by Louis Robinson.  For those of you who are just “tuning in,” you might want to read “The Cost” Part One and Part Two.

For ease of reference, I’m going to repeat Louis’ original question here: “Well, my immediate reaction was to wonder how much we’d have to raise on Kickstarter to  pay you to write the 4th Breaking the Wall [hmmm… should I maybe be taking that series title literally, or at least more so than I have so far?] book. And no, you don’t need to answer that, or even think about the answer. But it did lead me to something that might be answerable: what does it cost you to produce a new book – in terms of time, of resources, of blood, sweat, toil and tears? And how do you judge that you’ve been fairly recompensed for your labour?”

Last week, in our journey into the creation of a book, I’d reached the point where I’ve written the book, self-edited it, solicited editorial input from at least one other reader, and maybe even hired a professional editor.  When all of that was done, I had it copyedited.

Now I’m going to take us to the point where I’ve sat down with the copyeditor’s comments and made suggested changes, all the while wincing at my inability to be consistent.  Now that I have a finished manuscript that’s as good as I can make it, the time has come to get it set up in book form.

If I were working with a professional publishing house, this would be their job.  I might get an occasional query along the way but, basically, until I’m sent final proofs to review, I’m out of the picture, free to go on with my life or with other projects.

However, when self-publishing, this is the beginning of what – for me, given my skills and my temperament – is perhaps the biggest time for “blood, sweat, toil and tears.”

The final phrase above is a perfect example.  I’m quoting Louis, so I’m preserving his punctuation.  However, as an advocate of serial commas, the lack of a comma after “toil” makes me nuts.  Nonetheless, serial commas or no serial commas will be the least of the decisions facing me.

I have some small experience with self-publishing.  My first effort was bringing out reprints of Changer and Changer’s Daughter (aka Legends Walking), because the fans kept asking me for them and because it was becoming increasingly apparent that no one else was going to do it for me.  My second effort was this past year, with the creation of Wanderings on Writing (a non-fiction book on writing) and Curiosities (my new short story collection).

In none of these cases did I do the conversion of manuscript into e-book and POD myself.  I don’t have the skills nor the equipment and felt, quite wisely, that it was worth paying out some of my own money to buy someone else’s skills.  In neither case was I over-charged.  However, once again (as with hiring an editor and copyeditor), this was an expense that I would not incur when working with a professional publisher.  In fact, they would be paying me for the privilege of spending their own money to bring out my book.

I know there are inexpensive and even free programs for doing conversions.  Fine.  If you want to take that course, by all means, do so and my blessings on you.  However, I’m answering Louis’ question about what I would do and hiring a formatter would be the next step.

So, I hire a formatter.  The formatter does her wizardry.  I have a book ready to upload, right?

“Right” only if you’re doing a sloppy, amateur job.  I’m not going to name names, but one of the most outspoken early advocates of self-publishing as a way for professionals to either bring out their backlist or to get more new work to their readers without the delays caused by those tyrannical publishers did just this.  Said person (I’m avoiding even pronouns, so guess all you want) put out books full of errors in spacing, stray punctuation, and even hold-over redlines from editing programs.  A friend of mine who had been happily buying this person’s work gave up in disgust.

So the first step after the formatter has done her wizardry is proofing…  Yes.  Again.  And this won’t be the last time.

Here’s where self-publishing becomes either interesting or maddening, depending on your temperament.  There are many little details that the production department of a professional publishing house handles for the author.  These include choice of font; choice of dingbats; initial caps for chapters or sections; whether to use initial caps at all or only for chapter starts or for every new section; whether to ornament the chapter headings; how to ornament the chapter headings…  I’m sure I’m forgetting some, but you get the idea.

This is called “book design” and it involves both artistic ability and an awareness of the traditions of publishing.  A skilled book design team has done so many books that they have this by heart.  I don’t.  The first time I did a book, the formatter said something like, “Hey, I see you have asterisk breaks in the text.  I looked at the original novel and they used dingbats there.  Do you want dingbats?  If so, pick some out.  Here’s a website.”

Said website had literally thousands upon thousands of dingbats.  I felt dingbats were important, but I curled up into a ball from sensory overload and began to wail.  The formatter took pity on me and sent a shorter list.  (I was charged for her time in assembling this, as well I should have been, since I was using her skills.)

Wait…  You don’t know what a dingbat is?  No.  It’s not an insult.  Dingbat is a perfectly legitimate formatting term; it refers to those little squiggles or doohickeys or dots or whatevers that indicate a break in time or change of point of view within a chapter.   Because, especially in a novel, I will often have multiple points of view in a chapter, a dingbat is crucial to provide a subliminal clue to the reader that the point of view has shifted from, say, Firekeeper to Derian.

Dingbats are as important to a novel as any other punctuation mark.  In e-books, they’re becoming even more important because various reading devices permit changes of font, size, and spacing.  Therefore, something “hard” to indicate breaks is essential if the authors wishes to maintain the flow of the text.  In the days of “print only” books, a blank space could be enough to indicate a pause, but if the reader can eliminate spaces, then something else needs to do the job.  For Changer and Changer’s Daughter, we ended up selecting two different dingbats: one to indicate change of point of view or a long break in time; the other to go where a blank space would once have served.

My second formatting experience was somewhat different.  Wanderings on Writing did not include dingbats, because I wanted to preserve the block paragraph pacing of the original blogs on which the essays were based.  However, Curiosities was more traditional in form.  When I received the first “go round” of proofs, the formatter had taken on the role of book designer (which is what her company promises) and had offered some suggestions as to initial caps and the like.

The problem was, once I started proofing the book for “form” rather than for content, I really didn’t like those initial caps.  I felt they were too large, too “strong,” and that, rather than ornamenting the text, they overshadowed and distracted from it.  The book designer – her name is Emily – was exceedingly patient with me.  We reviewed various options, chose the shading, then designed complimentary chapter headings, flourishes, and dingbats.

We did this more than once.  I’d have a meeting with Emily.  She’d go back to her office and make changes.  And then I’d proof the whole thing again.  I think I proofed Curiosities at least three times after it went into production.  That doesn’t count all the times I proofed it before, or that Jim proofed it, or that my friend Paul proofed it.

The fact is, every time you make a change in the formatting of a book, you really should proof it again for how the book “looks,” not for content.  You’re looking for stray words, widows and orphans (look it up), overlapping text, weird blank spaces, and a bunch of other purely “gut” things that make the difference between a professional-looking job and a “I slammed it through the meat grinder.”

(“Meat grinder” is also a technical term…  I’m not being obnoxious.)

Somewhere along the way, you also need to consider cover art and cover design.  Again, I have absolutely no artistic sense or talent, so this is something I need to hire someone to do for me.  For Changer and Changer’s Daughter, I used photo art, which was pretty common at the time.  For Wanderings on Writing, my friend, Tori Hansen painted a quirky water color that fit the mood I wanted to project.  For Curiosities, Rowan Derrick provided a very elaborate photo manipulation that, again, was tailored to the concept of a story collection.

If I were to produce a new novel in a series, my first impulse would be to at least query the original series artist.  However, I suspect major professional artist’s work might be a lot more than I could afford (unless the Kickstarter included a whopping sum just for cover art).  Therefore, I’d need to find other options.  With the bar for even self-published book covers constantly raising higher, I’d need to set aside both money and time to work with the artist.

Even after the art was chosen, there would be the cover design which, once again, is a job that takes skills I lack.  Emily worked with me on cover design for both Wanderings on Writing and Curiosities, but I was there, too, spending my time and effort.

In fact, in all the stages of production, I served as assistant…  Which takes time, energy, thought, and (because for many of these jobs I needed to learn an entirely new vocabulary) stress.

But once it’s over, I’d have a complete book.  I’d get it loaded on as both e-book (differently formatted for several markets) and POD (because some people, including me, still prefer paper books).

Time to relax and celebrate?  Oh, no…  The work is just beginning.  There’s the question of advertising.  Of getting involved with blog tours and other ways to let people know the book exists.   That means trying to solicit reviews, not just from readers, but from the professional venues that tend to sneer at self-published work.

Oh…  And if one did do a Kickstarter campaign, this is the time when you need to make good on your promises and send packages and e-mails and all of that stuff to the kind subscribers.  It’s very exciting when you have hundreds of subscribers, less so when doing hundreds of packages.

I’m a writer.  I’m really good at writing.  I’m very attentive to self-editing.  Anything beyond that falls into the category of blood, sweat, toil, and tears…

So, Louis, it would be very hard for me to put a dollar amount on what it would cost for me to do this. All I know is that, no matter what people will try to tell you, producing a book is neither fast or easy, not, at least, if you’re me and you insist on doing the best job you can.

I’d be willing but, especially when taking on writing a new book in an existing series, I’d need reassurance that there really was an audience for it before giving up a solid chunk of my life to producing it.

Any questions?  Comments?

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13 Responses to “The Cost — Grand Finale”

  1. Heteromeles Says:

    Actually, I’m wondering which dingbats site Emily sent you to browse. There are a lot of dingbats out there.

    Perhaps another way to answer this question is to think of it in terms of time. If you want a book to be the only project for a year, it has to bring in a year’s salary to the author to be a reasonably commercial project, especially for an established author like Jane. Someone starting off is going to take longer, but some fraction of that is the “tuition cost” of learning how to write.

    A good chunk of that time is going to be spent on publishing and marketing stuff, and other people are going to get paid first for doing the things you can’t do, which is an additional investment that has to be recouped.

    In any case, you can figure out what you think it’s appropriate for an author to make, and that’s how much the book needs to bring in. Hopefully as a fan you’re willing to pay some reasonable fraction of that cost.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      Sorry if I was unclear. I did CHANGER and CHANGER’S DAUGHTER with someone other than Emily, and also several years earlier, so the ever-morphing technologies were different.

      I don’t remember which dingbat site the other formatter sent me to.

  2. chadmerkley Says:

    I consider myself a connoisseur of book design. Bad design gets between the reader and the text. Good design is almost invisible. Excellent design actually manages to enhance the reading experience. One of my favorite examples of great design is The Cats of Tanglewood Forest by Charles de Lint and illustrated by Charles Vess. It’s a short novel, with great full-color illustrations, but the integration of illustration and text, the page layout, even the paper it’s printed on add to the reading experience..

    I will spare all of you the rant about poorly designed books I’ve run across. E-books seem to be finally catching on to the necessities of design and the process is maturing.

  3. chadmerkley Says:

    P.S. Is Curiousities available now? I’m not having luck googling for it.

  4. Louis Robinson Says:

    Thank you. Not quite the question I thought I was asking, but just about everything I was wondering about, plus some extras. The least I can do in return is provide that comma you wanted [Mother will never see this, so, just this once…]: blood, sweat, toil, and tears!

    Heteromeles is right that time compensation is a major cost that has to be considered for such a project. Not only does a professional writer deserve a proper ‘advance’, for producing the manuscript to order, but since she would be taking on all sorts of publisher’s functions – instead of writing the next one, be it noted – that really needs to be covered as well. Yet another thing that needs to be taken into account by the fan wondering ‘why not self-publish?’

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      Interesting… Well, I’m glad I answered your question, even if in a round about fashion.

      • Louis Robinson Says:

        My fault – I said book when I meant manuscript. There were some things I don’t recall you touching on in earlier discussions of how you work, and others mentioned in passing but not really tied together to show the whole process. It hadn’t yet occurred to me to wonder how you handled being publisher as well as author; since you went on to cover that as well, we got some extras.

  5. Sally Says:

    Okay, I’m going to have to contradict you here, Jane. You say you have absolutely no artistic sense or talent, and that’s patently not true. I’ve seen some of your creations and they are quite fun. You gave me one once, a triple-antennaed alien in polymer clay. I was very sad when, some time later, the antennas suffered catastrophic failure. I hasten to add that valuing crude creations for the thought/intent of the giver is not one of my virtues.

    I’m not saying you should therefore create your own book covers. I just think you should give yourself more credit for the things you do make.

  6. Nicholas Wells Says:

    I never know how to feel when I read stuff like this, considering I sometimes feel my first novel will be self-published rather than traditional. One the one hand, MY GOSH is reading all that scary. Never-mind the money required, the time, and the effort, and the constant question of “did I hire someone really good, or just semi-competent?” But on the other, actually knowing what’s required is good so I know exactly what I’m getting myself into before I… well… get myself into it.

    I may point a friend of mine to your blog. She’s a champion of self-published authors, and I think she’ll like a lot of what you had to say. For reference, her name is Mary Rosenblum (you might even know her). Much like you, I met her as a civilian meeting a professional (well, student meeting teacher), but it grew into a friendship from there.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      Your steps and stages may vary. I tend to push myself to the limits of my ability to understand, which certainly adds to the stress.

      However, the level of quality expected of self-published books in regard to format etc is rising. Of that there is no doubt.

  7. Paul Says:

    Some of the self-publishing requirements are truly daunting but, what with all the merged and dwindling pro publishers requiring more of even the writers they accept, it is sometimes the only way. But since anyone can self-pub anything, it’s also hard to break out from the pack.

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