The lonely writer: isolated dreamer, secret spinner of stories.
If that’s you, don’t get used to it. Sooner or later, regardless of whether you publish traditionally or independently, it takes a team to make a book. By taking a good, hard look at the team behind every successful book, you can figure out what combination of cash, time, and effort you’ll need to invest in order for your book to find its readers.
Here, a brief look at the skills, availability, and costs of the people who make books happen, including tips for indie authors on how to build their own teams.
- Beta readers: To help make your manuscript better. Skill set: Smart, fast, objective. Labor pool: writing groups, acquaintances who aren’t afraid to hurt your feelings, online critique/exchange sites. Cost: a mention in the acknowledgments, an Advance Reading Copy of the book, the favor returned if your beta readers are also writers. DIY tip: Cultivate objectivity, but recognize that it’s the rare writer who can see all the flaws in her manuscript.
- Researcher: To help you add depth and veracity. Skill set: patience, expertise, detail-oriented, investigative skills. Labor pool: librarians, friends and family who like hunting down facts, experts discovered online. Cost: a mention in the acknowledgements. DIY tip: Even fiction writers often need research.
- Developmental Editors: To improve the structure, content, and style of your book. Skill set: well-read, experienced, able to see a project from fresh perspectives, a keen reader’s eye. Labor pool: in traditional publishing, this team includes your agent (though not all agents do developmental editing), your acquiring editor, and editorial assistants. Cost: Agents generally get 15% of royalties. The editorial staff is paid by the publisher, who generally holds back 80-90% of the gross sales to cover this and other expenses. If you’re hiring your own developmental editor, expect to pay $45 - $50 per hour. DIY tip: Beta readers can help both before and after the professional makes her suggestions. Check out this advice on hiring a developmental editor.
- Fact-checker: To help you avoid factual errors that would discredit your work. Skill set: same as for Research. Labor pool: To a lesser extent than in the past, the traditional publisher’s editorial team handles fact-checking. Cost: as with other editing. DIY tip: If you want your developmental editor to also check facts, be sure to specify this in your agreement. As an alternative, hire someone who helped with the research. Beta-readers may also be good at checking facts.
- Copy Editor and Proofreader: To make sure your manuscript is technically perfect. Skill set: impeccable knowledge of grammar, mechanics, and spelling; uses appropriate style manual for the type of book you’re writing. Labor pool: In traditional publishing, copyeditors and proofreaders are part of the publisher’s editorial team. The author is part of the process, checking and approving copyediting in the manuscript, and proofing the galleys. Cost: In traditional publishing, covered by the publisher’s margin. If you’re hiring your own, expect to pay by the page (usual $1+ per page) or by the hour (starting at around $35 per hour). DIY tip: Copyediting comes after you’ve completed the changes prompted by the developmental editing. Proofreading comes after the copyediting.
- Book designer: Includes design of interior, covers (front and back) and jacket copy. Skill set: experienced in graphic design and book marketing. Labor pool: Traditional publishers have designers on staff and also hire artists on independent contracts. Costs: If not taken from the traditional publisher’s margin, figure $750 and up for design services. The more editions (e-book, softcover, hardcover with dust jacket), the more you should expect to pay. DIY tip: Check portfolios and references of potential designers; investigate experiences of other authors. In theory, you can do your own design, but unless you’re a professional, the results will be amateurish.
- Publicists and Marketing Professionals: Create a marketing plan for a successful launch, beginning before publication; may include book tours, virtual book tours, social media campaigns, media appearances, interviews, distribution of ARCs (Advance Reading Copies), press releases, literary festivals, book trailers, contests, events, reviews, advertisements, and anything else that generates buzz. Also write advertising copy, including book blurbs and sell sheets. Skill set: someone who knows your book and its audience (and how to reach them) Labor pool: Traditional publishers have publicists on staff, but because publicity budgets vary widely from book to book, many traditionally published authors also hire their own publicists. Even traditionally published authors are expected to do a good portion of their own online publicity. Costs: Vary widely, depending on services, but you’re likely looking at a minimum of a few thousand dollars to hire a publicist. DIY tip: Nagging people to buy your book is counter-productive. Marketing requires strategy, time, and expertise.
- Distributors: Changing rapidly with e-books and print-on-demand technology; still, you need to make sure readers are able to easily find and access your books. Stores have limited shelf space. Skill set: connections; knowledge of best markets for your book. Labor pool: Traditional publishers use distributors, who get a cut of the sales. Costs: In traditional publishing, a discount of at least 40% (often it’s 50%) is assumed for distribution, along with a margin for no-cost returns. DIY tip: Don’t expect booksellers to stock your book unless you can prove market and offer competitive terms through reliable, easy-access distributors like Baker & Taylor or Ingram (and just because your book is available from one of these distributors doesn’t mean booksellers will order it.)
- Salespeople: To help ensure your book reaches readers. Skill set: relationships with the people who actually buy books. Labor pool: For traditional publishers, sales representatives cultivate connections with booksellers and big box stores, promoting the publisher’s top titles (the ones in which the publisher has decided to invest the most money). Independent authors rely on friends and fans, as well as their own efforts, to hand sell books. Independent booksellers will hand sell books that they love. Costs: Built into the price of the book. DIY tip: Even if you’re traditionally published, don’t underestimate the power of friends and fans in getting your book noticed. Be kind to independent booksellers, and understand that they can’t hand sell every book (see Nagging, above).