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How not to waste your money

Self-publishing is a growth industry. Authors new to the system are an easy target for people who are more interested in making a profit than in offering good value. So how can you make sure you don’t waste your money?

Be cautious when companies offer to do everything for you.
Some of them charge a great deal for a mediocre service and push you into buying expensive extras.  And don’t be fooled by the ones that are linked to big publishing houses. Using them won’t give you the credibility of being published by the big name publisher.

Check out other people’s experiences
Before you sign up with any service provider, try to find out how other people have got on with them. A search for the company name on Google will show up lots of references and a search for the company name plus words like complaint or problem may be even more illuminating. You can also look at the books listed on the company’s site and get in touch with their authors to ask how they got on.

Check if you own what you pay for
If you pay to have your book laid out for print or turned into an ebook, you should own the result and be able to use any company you choose to print the book or sell the ebook. Similarly, if you pay for a cover design, you need to be able to use it in all your publicity material or you’ll have real problems marketing your book. Avoid companies who restrict what you are allowed to do with the design or cover.

Similarly, if you decide to invest in a print run, all the books should belong to you. Run away if a self-publishing company asks you to pay for 500 to be printed and only offers you a few free copies in return. That’s a really bad deal.

Read contracts carefully
Never sign a contract you don’t understand and never believe a company that says it doesn’t enforce terms you don’t like. (see Beware of the small print)

Don’t pay for reviews
If your book is good enough, you should be able to get reviews for free so there’s no need to pay for them. Your money is best spent elsewhere as paid-for reviews often carry less weight with readers. However, giving a free copy to a potential reviewer is perfectly acceptable and a good investment, provided you have chosen the reviewer carefully. (see Getting reviews)

Be very cautious about paying for advertising
Paid-for advertising only works if it reaches enough of your potential readers so check out any opportunities carefully before you risk any money.  For an email newsletter, ask the owners for the number of subscribers (which is likely to be significantly higher than the number who actually read it). For a website, ask for the number of unique visitors per month or the number of page views on the page where your ad would appear. If the people concerned won’t give you that information, don’t use them.

If they do give you the numbers, you still need to compare the cost with the potential benefit. You could contact previous advertisers to ask how successful their ad was, and you could try negotiating the price down – that’s standard practice in advertising. It’s always better to buy any advertising direct. If you go through  a middle man, you’ll be paying a mark up on the actual cost.

Avoid marketing experts
The person who knows your book best is you so you are the best person to organise the marketing. You may want a bit of help with copy writing,web design or other specific aspects but don’t pay someone to do the whole job.

Don’t pay for Search Engine Optimisation
Once you have a website, you’ll get lots of people offering you SEO services. Don’t use them. They will cost you money and may use SEO tricks that search engines dislike so much that they count against you. Search engines are in the business of finding good, relevant sites. If your site is good, it will get listed.

Investigate competitions before you enter them
Check out the entry fee. Does it seem excessively high or is it a reasonable amount to cover expenses? Check out the prizes? Are there any and, if so, are they worth the entry fee? (Badges and stickers don’t count – they are just publicising the competition.) Check out the rules. Does entering grant the organisers any rights to use your book? Check out previous winners to see the standard that’s expected, and avoid brand-new competitions unless they are run by a reputable organisation.

Look at free alternatives before you pay to join something
Writing books is a lonely profession so it makes sense to band together and swap ideas about self-publishing and other topics. But you don’t have to pay money to do that. If you look around the internet, you’ll find plenty of relevant groups on Facebook, Linked in and Google+ – all available for you to join for free.

Diana Kimpton


Using a step outline to create a plot

A step outline is a list of all the steps in a story. It sounds simple, and it is. But it’s also a powerful tool for creating plots. I always use one when I’m writing a novel because it helps me gather my thoughts together and see the shape of my story before I start to write. It’s much easier to sort out potential problems and plot holes at this stage rather than wait until the book is finished. And once the initial plotting is finished, the step outline also provides a guide to the writing process, a bit like a road map. Because I know where I’m going, I can concentrate on the intricacies of the particular scene I’m writing.

I didn’t understand how to use a step outline properly until I read How to Write for Animation where Jeffrey Scott takes the reader step by step through the process he used to develop an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That opened up a whole new way of working to me and helped turn me into a successful children’s novel writer. So, to pass on that knowledge to you, I’m going to talk you through the process of developing the storyline for one of my children’s novels. But before I do that, I’d better make two things clear:

  1. A step outline is not a chapter list. I don’t worry about chapters at the plotting stage and only put them in during the writing process.
  2. A step outline is not set in stone. I can, and often do, adapt it while I’m writing the book.

You don’t have to write a step outline from beginning to end. You can go from the end to the beginning if you prefer, or jump around putting in steps as you think of them. You can even write different step outlines for different threads of the story and then weave them together. That’s what I did when I developed the plot for Princess Ellie’s Christmas.

Cover of Princess Ellie's ChristmasWarning – spoilers ahead. Stop reading now if you’re under ten, mad about ponies and haven’t already read this book.

When I was commissioned to write this book, I knew it would be the Christmas edition of my Pony-Mad Princess series. That meant readers had expectations I had to fulfill. The story had to feature Princess Ellie and her best friend Kate, the cook’s granddaughter. It had to involve at least one of her ponies and, of course, it had to be about Christmas.

Initially the step outline was completely blank. I hadn’t an idea in my head, but I knew this would have to be a little different from the standard Christmas stories. Those always include snow and I’d already written a snowy story that depended on the fact that it never snows where Ellie lives. Also there’s no magic in this series so there was no chance that Santa could fly in with his reindeer.

After a lot of thought about what makes a royal Christmas different, I suddenly remembered the Queen’s Christmas message. Suppose the King, Ellie’s dad, decided to do a Christmas broadcast live from the palace on Christmas Day. That would mean there would be a TV crew that  could trigger lots of humour and story ideas, and maybe I could involve Shadow, the Shetland pony, by making him pull a trap carrying Santa (but not the real one because of the lack of magic). At this point, the step outline for this thread of the story looked like this.

  1. Live Royal Christmas broadcast
  2. Batty TV producer
  3. Final scene with Shadow carrying someone dressed as Santa in his trap.

That was a beginning, but I still needed to involve Ellie. I decided I wanted to make the story about giving rather than receiving presents so I started another step outline for this thread of the plot. It was rather short.

  1. Ellie wants to give Kate the best Christmas present ever.

To turn that into a story, I needed to give Ellie a problem but I wasn’t sure what. So the next version of  the step outline was rather vague.

  1. Ellie wants to give Kate the best Christmas present ever.
  2. Something goes wrong
  3. She manages to do it anyway.

Now I had to play around with various possibilities until I came up with something that worked. To do that, I used the fact that Kate’s parents work abroad so they would have to get home in time for Christmas.

  1. Ellie orders a present for Kate
  2. When it arrives, it’s wrong but it’s too late to change it.
  3. Ellie is distraught. She’s failed
  4. Kate is distraught too – her parents have missed the last plane home. They won’t be back in time for Christmas.
  5. Ellie arranges for them to fly home in the Royal plane
  6. Kate’s parents are the best present ever.

With that thread almost sorted, I went back to the original step outline about the Royal broadcast. I was already fascinated by special effects and had written a book about them. Suppose there was a special effects team with the TV crew. Could they make the story end with a snow scene after all? But for that to make a satisfactory ending, it had to somehow be tied into the story. So I made Ellie wish for a White Christmas – a wish that couldn’t possibly come true completely because of the lack of magic.

  1. Ellie wishes for snow
  2. Batty TV producer finds out
  3. Live Royal Christmas broadcast
  4. Final scene with Shadow and his trap carrying someone dressed as Santa through a winter wonderland created by the special FX team. Surprise for Ellie.

That sort of worked, but it had a flaw. Ellie didn’t solve her own problem (the lack of snow) – the producer did it for her – and that’s a sure fire way to come up an ending that’s not quite as good as it could be. To make it more satisfactory, I needed Ellie to do something to trigger the snowy scene, and I settled on her doing a good turn so the snow was her reward.

  1. Ellie wishes for snow
  2. Rehearsal for Christmas message is boring
  3. Ellie suggests someone dresses up as Santa and arrives in Shadow’s trap – a surprise visit that no one else knows about
  4. Grateful TV producer finds out about Ellie’s wish.
  5. Christmas morning. No snow. Ellie’s wish hasn’t come true.
  6. Live Christmas broadcast.
  7. Final scene with Shadow bringing Santa through a fake winter wonderland. Surprise for Ellie.

Now I was sure both step outlines worked, I had to weave them together. Then, once I had the basic outline of the whole book, I was able to add intermediate steps and extra detail to make the story even stronger until I was finally ready to start writing. (The final version had 48 steps for a 7000 word book.)

Diana Kimpton

Handling backstory

When I was asked to judge a writing competition, I was surprised how easy it was to divide the entries into two groups: the possible winners and the also-rans. So I looked at the entries again to find out why. The task was to write the opening chapter of a novel and what divided the good from the not-so-good entries was the way they handled the background information to the story.

Technically that’s called exposition, but don’t worry about the word if you don’t want to. What matters is the skill involved in telling your readers the information about your setting, your characters and the situation that they need to know in order to understand your story.

NEEDS is the crucial word in that sentence. You may know that your main character is 32 and loves the colour blue, but do your readers need to know that too. If neither of those facts are crucial to the story, the chances are that they don’t.

Only give your readers the background information that is absolutely necessary, and don’t even give them that until you’re sure you have to. The skill is to include just enough facts in your opening chapter to let your readers identify with the main character’s situation while leaving enough intriguing gaps to keep them turning the pages to find out more.

As an example, suppose you start your story with your main character hiding under a hedge from marauding soldiers. The danger will immediately capture your readers’ attention, but you’ll lose it again if you suddenly cut from the action to an info-dump – a section explaining who your character is, who their parents are, where they grew up and why they are in this mess. To keep your reader involved, stick with the action and weave the most vital facts into that.

For the opening of a novel, the vital facts are the ones that help the readers know enough about the setting to start making pictures in their heads.  If that character under the hedge hears horses’ hooves, we’ve probably got a historical drama. If he hears the shrill cry of a dragon, it’s fantasy and if the ground shakes with the pounding feet of robot warriors, you’ve got sci-fi.

If you want to see how the experts do it, I recommend that you read the first few pages of Back Home by Michelle Magorian and Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver. If you haven’t got those books to hand, follow the links to and use Look Inside to read the openings. You may even get hooked enough to read the rest of the stories. 

Aim to use the same degree of skill in your writing, weaving the background information into your story so subtly that it’s almost invisible. If you need to get over a fact, try to work it into a scene that also moves the story forward.

 I stood on tiptoe, struggling to reach the diamond.

“Let me help” said Dave. He stepped forward and pulled the diamond from the statue without having to stretch and without checking for trip wires.

“Idiot!” I hissed as the high-pitched shrill of an alarm cut through the still night air.  

We know both characters are in trouble. But we’ve also learned that Dave is the tallest of the two.

Dialogue is a useful way to impart information, but it must sound natural and it shouldn’t involve one character telling another something they already know.  So avoid speeches like:

 “Well, my son. As you know, you have an older sister and I enjoy woodwork.”

Make a scene instead.

“Let me do that,” said Dad, reaching out to rescue his best saw.

Sam tightened his grip on the handle. “I can manage. I’m not a baby.” He hated being the youngest in the family. Even Emily tried to mother him, and she was only two years older than him.

That scene gives us the same information more subtly and also helps build Sam’s character.

The temptation to include more information than necessary is particularly strong if you’ve done a large amount of research into the background of your story. But your readers have chosen to read a story, not a textbook, so don’t bombard them with facts about oil exploration, strain gauges or nuclear energy just because you’ve made the effort to learn them. As with all other information, only include it if it’s crucial to the plot.

Pace your information and work it into the story at the speed your reader needs to have it. But don’t hold it back too long. Your reader might feel cheated if your character only reveals he’s a black belt karate expert in the final fight. It’s better to introduce that idea earlier without making a big deal of it.

The reverse can be true too. If you give your readers what sounds like an important piece of information early on, they will assume it has something to do with the plot and expect you to use it. So, if you do tell them the main character loves blue, they’re likely to want to know why that matters.

Which brings us neatly back to only giving readers the information they actually need.

Diana Kimpton

Getting reviews – a reviewer’s point of view

Between 1999 and 2009, I reviewed a steady stream of children’s books for the website I was running at the time.  That experience taught me a great deal about how publishers relate to reviewers and how well their different approaches worked.

Some publishers seemed more enthusiastic about getting reviews than others. Some sent boxes packed with books, many of which were unsuitable while others gave me a copy of their catalogue and then sent any copies I requested. The best looked at the site and suggested titles they thought might fit well on it.

The approach that worried me most was a large publisher who sent a bundle of advance information sheets and a form for me to complete that allowed me to request no more than 3 or 4 books for review. This seemed very hard on lesser known authors who were unfortunate enough to have a book published at the same time as several top name authors as they were less likely to be reviewed as a result.

Occasionally a publisher sent a gift or gimmick with the review copy. This never made me select a book I might otherwise have ignored and sometimes had the opposite effect. I imagine the person who put lots of silver stars in the envelope with their book hadn’t considered how cross the reviewer might feel when she had to pick them all up.

I often had submissions from self-published authors, either directly or via a marketing/PR company they had employed. On the whole, the submissions from the so-called professionals were no better than the ones direct from the author and sometimes they were worse as they were less likely to be personally targeted. So don’t assume that paying for PR will automatically increase your chances of reviews.

The most effective submissions I received were from people who had bothered to look at the website, noted the very specific types of books I reviewed and then submitted their book with a personal letter suggesting where their book would fit on the site. I always looked carefully at books sent that way, and many of them ended up being reviewed.

Based on my own experiences, here are my tips for approaching reviewers.

  1. Don’t send at random to a list of names that someone else has put together. Check out each reviewer yourself and only send your book if it’s the type they review.
  2. Find reviewers who specialise in your genre, read their submission guidelines and mention their website, blog or other reviews when you write to them.
  3. If you’re approaching them by post, send a copy of the print edition (if you have one) plus an information sheet and a personal letter.
  4. If you’re approaching by email, include the information about the book in the body of the email and don’t send attachments unless their submission guidelines say they are welcome. It’s best to ask if they would be interested in seeing your book and tell them which formats you can provide so they can choose what’s best for them.
  5. Don’t oversell yourself. Reviewers are not impressed by hype. They have already heard of too many authors who are supposed to be the next JK Rowling and too many books that claim to be bestsellers when they’re not.
  6. Don’t undersell yourself either. If your book is shortlisted for an award, say so and, if it’s had a good review from a reputable source, include a quote.
  7. Don’t include bribes, gifts or gimmicks with your book, not even chocolate. It melts in the post and sticks the pages together.

Last, but by no means least, never ever chase a reviewer to ask if they’ve read your book. It’s very bad manners and will not help at all.

Diana Kimpton

This post was first published at


Beware of the small print

Whichever route you take to publish your book, one thing is certain. You’ll have to deal with contracts. They are long, boring and often hard to understand, but never make the mistake of signing on the dotted line or ticking the appropriate box on the website without being 100% sure what you are agreeing to.  .

I’m not a lawyer, but over the years I’ve learned a little about contracts. The most important thing to remember is that everything in them is there for a reason. Don’t believe anyone, not even an agent,  who says you don’t have to worry about a clause you don’t like because no one will actually put it into effect. If that was true, the worrisome words wouldn’t need to be there in the first place.

What rights are you giving up?
Your future income from your book depends on your copyright so it’s vital that you don’t part with it, either deliberately or by accident. However, as no one can produce a copy of your book without your permission, you will need to grant a license to any publishing companies that you work with.

Many publishers (especially the traditional ones) will want that license to grant them every right in your work that exists, with a proviso about ones later invented. But, before you agree to that, ask if they are in a position to use all those rights effectively. This is particularly true of film and translation rights. Before you license those, make sure the publisher has a good track record in selling them. Otherwise you can end up with the rights languishing unsold or the frustrating situation of having to pay the publisher a percentage when you’ve actually found the buyer for the rights yourself.

If you’re self-publishing, most of the companies you use will only need non-exclusive rights which leaves you free to work with more than one company at the same time. (eg Kobo and Kindle Direct Publishing). But traditional publishers usually ask for exclusive rights to protect the investment they are making. Before you agree to that, think carefully about the next point.

How long will the contract last?
Nothing lasts forever. Publishing companies go bust, and even your copyright expires 70 years after your death. As a result, a publishing contract needs to have some sort of termination clause. In the old days, this would state that your rights reverted to you if the book went out of print. However, that doesn’t work well these days because ebooks and POD books remain available for ever. So it’s better to have the reversion clause come into effect when sales drop below a certain level or, better still, to have a fixed term contract that automatically comes to an end after a set number of years. For self-publishing, you need flexibility as the markets change so it’s good to have the ability to cancel the contract after a set notice period.

It’s also important to have the rights automatically revert to you if the business ceases to trade or goes into liquidation. Otherwise you can end up in a legal limbo, with no one to ask for your rights back. I learned this the hard way as the first POD company I used years ago went belly up with no warning and disappeared completely. Luckily the contract was non-exclusive so I wasn’t totally stuck – just out-of-pocket and a little wiser.

Danger words
There are some words that should always sound alarm bells when you see them in contracts, agency agreements or website terms and conditions. Two that particularly worry me are permanent and irrevocable. If you spot those, read everything else very carefully and be prepared to walk away rather than commit to something you can never get out of. The word exclusive is sometimes necessary but the sight of it should always make you extra cautious. Be sure to check out how long the exclusivity will last and what benefits you’re getting in return.

Non-competing works clauses
These have become a feature of traditional publishing contracts and are a major reason why I prefer self-publishing. Originally they were fairly reasonable: the author only promised not to sell another publisher an abridgement or extension of the same book. But over the years, they have become more and more restrictive as publishers seek to control their authors future careers. I was once asked to sign a contract that stopped me publishing any book that competed with the one I was selling. When I commented that this seemed to mean I could never write another book for the same age group without their permission, the publisher said I was right and that was exactly what they wanted. That was totally unacceptable to me as it would have grossly restricted what I could do in the future so I turned down their offer and sold the book elsewhere.

You need to watch carefully for non-competing works clauses because they are sometimes hidden in other parts of the contract, especially the warranty. If you spot one in a traditional publishing contract, try to get it taken out or watered down as much as possible and time limited (so it expires after a year or two rather than lasting for the full term of the contract). And only agree to it if you are happy to live with the consequences. Don’t just cross your fingers and hope no one will apply it. You might live to regret it.

Any sort of non-competing works clause in a contract for self-publishing services should sound alarm bells so loud that they deafen you as you run away. If you’re paying all the costs, you should always keep full control and freedom.

Finding out more
Contracts are a huge topic so this post has only touched on some of the issues they raise. You’ll find plenty of other useful information on the subject at and

Getting advice
If you have an agent, they will help you with the contract. But be careful – anyone can become an agent so there is no guarantee that yours knows what they are doing.  If you haven’t got an agent or you don’t want to rely on the one you have, you can get contract advice from The Society of Authors and/or from a lawyer with relevant experience. 

Diana Kimpton


Resources for publishing print books

When I first decided to do a print edition of There Must Be Horses, I intended to pay someone to lay out the book for me. But most designers use Adobe Indesign so I wouldn’t be able to make any last minute edits myself unless I bought the same software. At £650, that was seriously expensive and way outside my budget.

Thankfully an internet search showed up a viable alternative that was much, much cheaper: Serif Page Plus. At around the same time, I met an author at the Winchester Writers’ Conference who had used PagePlus to create his book. The end result looked so professional that I decided to give the software a try, and I’m really glad I did. (I used PagePlusX6 but this has now been replaced by PagePlusX7.)

Tackling a task I had never done before with software I had never used was a pretty ambitious project involving a huge learning curve. I initially felt very daunted, but I soon found there is plenty of useful information on the web as well as Serif’s own tutorials. There’s even a phone helpline where an extremely helpful man patiently talked me through something I was finding extra tricky. Once I’d learned how to use master pages for internal design and layers for cover design, I was able to experiment and discover the full power of this excellent software package.

Page Plus produces high quality pdf files ready for sending to the printer. But before I was ready to do that, I needed to understand the conventions of book layout and learn how to make professional decisions about fonts. For this, I turned to several other resources.

  1. The books on my bookshelves.
    Looking at these helped me see that the odd numbered pages are always on the right and that new chapters start further down the page than the rest of the book does. They showed me the most common size for books like mine, the usual number of lines per page and the way copyright information is usually laid out.
    An excellent site full of advice on book layout and cover design.
  3. Createspace
    Amazon’s user friendly POD system offers helpful advice and templates to help you lay out your book. I found its article on creating pdf files particularly useful.
    A useful source of free fonts.
  5. The Non-Designer’s Design and Type Books
    I love this book by Robin Williams (which is actually two books in one). It’s an excellent introduction to design and type for beginners, packed full of visual examples that demonstrate the difference even small changes in layout can make. I found it invaluable for understanding which fonts to choose and how to decide about leading (the technical term for line spacing). It’s also useful for designing information sheets, bookmarks and other publicity material.

Many people have commented that the print edition of There Must Be Horses looks very professional so these resources worked for me. Why not give them a try?

Diana Kimpton

Pricing your book

Pricing is an issue for all businesses, not just self-published authors. The most important thing to remember is that the right price for any product is the one that people will be willing to pay. And the best way to get to grips with that is to think how price influences what you buy yourself.

Suppose you want to buy a watch. There are eight on offer – one for £60, six for £20 and one for 99p. If you’re like me, you’ll look at the six that are the same price and decide that’s the going rate for a decent watch. The one for £60 looks expensive in comparison so you’re likely to reject it unless there is a compelling reason why it’s worth the extra money.  And the one for 99p looks too cheap which suggests there might be something wrong with it.

The same applies to books. If yours is much more expensive than all the similar books on the market, you’ll need to work hard to persuade readers that the extra cost is worthwhile. And pricing too low on a permanent basis can sometimes give the impression that the book is poor quality. However, everyone loves a bargain so reducing the price for a limited period can influence buyers a great deal. Think how you might have reacted if the £60 watch was reduced to £20 for one week only. Which of those 7 equally priced watches would you have been most likely to buy?

Pricing ebooks
The costs of producing an individual ebook are so low you can almost ignore them. All you have to part with is the share to the retailer. The rest is yours to keep so you can afford to experiment with different prices to see how readers react. This is easiest to do if your book is only available on Amazon as you’ve only got one outlet to worry about, but changing prices on other outlets through Draft2Digital is quite quick too.

If you have a print edition of your book, the price of that will affect how people feel about the ebook price. Readers expect the ebook to be cheaper so pricing the two the same will make your ebook look expensive and put buyers off. But pricing the ebook well below the print price will make it look like good value, even if that price might have looked high on its own. As a rough guide, pricing an ebook at one third of the price of the print book seems to work.

Pricing print books
You have less flexibility when pricing print books because you have to cover the cost of producing the individual book as well as the discount to the retailer (which can be as high as 60%). As a result, the price of your print edition will need to be substantially higher than your ebook in order to make a profit. However, if you want to sell many copies, your book needs to cost about the same as other books of a similar type.

This is really important. One bookshop manager told me that the main reason he turns down many self-published books is because they are too expensive. He can only make money if he sells books, and he knows his customers won’t pay £12 for a paperback novel from an unknown writer when the competing titles are all priced at £7.99. So before you decide on a price, research the cover price of books of a similar type. (That’s the full list price – not the discounted price that often shows on Amazon.) 

Non-fiction books tend to be more expensive than novels so it’s easier to be competitive when pricing those. The reverse is true of children’s books which tend to be cheaper than books for adults so being competitive is more difficult although it is still essential.

Once you’ve done your research, do some sums to work out how much profit you will make at the various prices you might charge. Make sure you include the discount to the retailer which is always at least 35% and often higher, especially if you’re selling through a wholeseller. Obviously you’ll save that if you sell direct but you still need to take postage into account. 

Make sure you do these calculations before you commit to producing your print book. If you can’t afford to price it competitively without making a loss, you may need to have a rethink about the best way forward. But sometimes it’s worth having a print-on-demand version of your novel, even if the profit is tiny as it gives you something to sell at events and to give to reviewers.

 Diana Kimpton


The cost of self-publishing

When you self-publish, you have to pay all the costs of producing your book. But how much are those costs going to be? I’ve seen some widely varying estimates online and some terribly high charges asked by some of the companies that offer to do all the work for you. So, to give some clarity to the situation, I’ve decided to tell you how much I spent to produce my latest book.

matadorfrontcoverThere Must Be Horses is a 49,000 word novel for teens/young adults without illustrations. Before I started down the self-publishing road, I set myself a maximum budget of £2000 so I was pleasantly surprised to find I only spent £650 to produce the book in both ebook and print-on-demand format. Here’s a breakdown of where the money went.

I decided that I wanted my own ISBNs so I bought a block of 10 for £121.98. I used three for There Must Be Horses – one for the print edition, one for the Kindle book and one for the epub edition. The £650 includes the full cost of these, but I’ve got seven left over for other books.

Structural Edit
I was determined to produce a book to the same standards as a traditional publisher so I paid a professional editor to do a proper, structural edit. She commented on how the book worked, picking up bits of the plot that didn’t quite work and highlighting places where the motivation wasn’t clear, behaviour wasn’t believable or the pacing went wrong. I paid an hourly rate of £22.50 to someone I had worked with in the past and whose opinion I trusted. I’d already done several rewrites by the time I gave it to her so she didn’t have too much work and the final cost was £162. Obviously this would cost you more if your book had more structural issues.

Copy Edit
Once I’d finished sorting out all the issues raised by the structural edit, I handed the book over to an experienced freelance copy editor. He picked up spelling and punctuation errors (I’m dreadful with question marks) and subtle issues such as using a mixture of em-dashes and en-dashes – an error caused by the way Word works. He also pointed out an issue with chapter lengths that I had introduced while sorting out the structural edit. He charged £18 per hour and the total cost was £112. Again, this would be more expensive if the book contained more errors so I gained from having given him a relatively clean manuscript.

I had originally decided this was beyond me and commissioned a cover designer recommended by a friendly small publisher. The price was going to be £350, but the designer had taken on too much work and, when the cover was three months late, I decided to cancel the order and try designing it myself. With some help from my husband who has done a course in Photoshop and feedback from long-suffering friends, I finally created both the ebook and print covers myself. The costs involved were £111 for pictures from and £51 for a copy of Serif PagePlusX6 – powerful, inexpensive software that’s ideal for self-publishers.

Ebook creation
Steve and I are web designers so this was something we managed easily using software we already had and free software we downloaded. It’s a pretty straightforward process if no pictures are involved so, even if you’ve no technical experience, you can do this yourself using  Amazon’s KDP system and Draft2Digital’s system. For me the total cost was zero.

Interior design for print
I started off thinking I would have to pay for this and was quoted £350. But I didn’t want to end up with an InDesign file that I couldn’t edit myself when I spotted a typo so I decided to try doing it myself using PagePlus. It took me a while to get the hang of the software and to understand the principles of book design (more of this in another post) but, with the help of an excellent book, a kind man on the PagePlus helpline and, I finally produced a book that looked professional and had all the features I wanted. (dropped caps at beginning of chapters, clear text, good line spacing). Apart from the software that I’ve already included, the only cost was a copy of The Non-Designer’s Design and Type Books for just under £30 – expensive but really useful.

Print-on-demand set up
I produced the print-on-demand edition with Createspace using the pdf files for the interior and cover that I had produced with PagePlus. As a result, the only cost was £23 for two paper proofs. One would have been enough if I’d spotted the problem with the first one in the digital proof checker provided by Createspace but the fact that I didn’t proves the value of getting a proper proof copy. A large part of this cost was fast delivery to the UK. If you are based in the US, the proofs will be less expensive.

By the time I had spent that £650, There Must Be Horses was on sale in Amazon and the Kobo shop on both sides of the Atlantic. I hope this gives you some useful figures to compare with the thousands that some self-publishing services charge (usually without any editing). 

Diana Kimpton

Books about marketing

These are the best books I’ve found about marketing so far. I’d love to hear about any others you find.

Let’s Get Visible
by David Gaughran
This is an invaluable book for anyone selling books through Amazon. It explains how sales rank, popularity lists and other extensive marketing tools built into the Amazon site work and how you can make the most of them for your book. I’ve tried his ideas, and they definitely work.
Buy ebook from Amazon

Tweet Right – The Sensible Person’s Guide to Twitter
by Nicola Morgan
I’m still not 100% convinced that Twitter is as useful in book marketing as some people say it is. However, tweeting is a skill authors are currently expected to have and, if you haven’t done it before, this guide will help you get started.
Buy ebook from Amazon

The changing world of publishing

At the Romance Writers of America’s conference in 2013, there weren’t enough takers to fill all the available appointments with publishers and agents. This news filled me with excitement because it signals the big change in the world of publishing that I’ve been dreaming of – the time when self-publishing became easy enough for authors to choose as their preferred route instead of beating at the barriers set up by the publishers and agents. Continue reading