Behind The Scenes

Since my last post, A Day In The Life, had many people saying they liked seeing the day-to-day life of a writer, I thought you might enjoy a look at what it takes to get a book published. This may also give good information for those of you who are considering taking the plunge and jumping into writing and publishing as well. The process of writing and self-publishing is probably a little different for every writer, and your experience might be different than mine in some ways. But there are still certain steps every writer has to go through.

First, there’s the writing itself. Your story may be long or short, humorous or dramatic, strictly fictional or based in real life. But whatever your story is, it does nobody else any good when it is still in your head. You have to write it down. And although this process may take anywhere from weeks to years, in many ways it is the easiest part of the whole journey.

Next you have to decide how you want to publish the story. Assuming that commercial publication is your goal, do you want to look for a traditional publisher or will you go the self-published route?

A traditional publisher may be a real challenge to find, and it will definitely be a much longer process than the self-published route. You may lose control over some of your story when the publisher requests revisions and changes you might not agree with. On the other hand, they will probably give you an advance on your royalties and they’ll support you in revising, editing, cover design, publishing, and in the all-important marketing.

As a self-published author you will be in control of every detail of your book, and you will avoid the painful process of finding a publisher. Because of this you’ll get a much higher percentage of sales as your royalty. But you’ll also have to do everything on your own. You’ll be responsible for the editing, revising, cover design, publishing and marketing all by yourself. It can be a steep and lonely learning curve.

My learning curve has been a lot messier than this!

For this post, we’ll assume that you choose the self-publishing route.

You will now have to decide if you want to publish your story as an ebook, a paperback, or both. In the world of fiction, sales of ebooks far outpace sales of paperbacks, but there is a dedicated group of customers who prefer to read the old-fashioned way. Besides, there’s nothing more fulfilling than seeing your story as an actual, real-life book that you can hold in your hands. Only you can decide if you want to do ebooks, paperbacks, or both, but be aware that formatting a book for paperback is much trickier than formatting an ebook.

Next comes the editing and formatting. Self-publishers may pay someone to attend to details of word choice, spelling, punctuation, page breaks, consistent title and paragraph formatting, and a myriad of other minutiae. But even if you pay someone else to do the editing and/or formatting for you, you will still have to check their work over and over again. After all, you are the person in charge, and it will be your reputation on the line!

Then comes cover design. A few lucky writers have enough artistic talent to make an eye-catching cover on their own, but most of us need help. There are some free resources available online for this step but most options that will make your book cover “pop” will involve at least a modest investment.

Besides all this, the important question of where to publish comes up. Many authors choose to enroll their books in Amazon exclusively, taking advantage of the Kindle Select program (book “borrowing”), but other authors have greater success by “going wide” and publishing on other venues too, such as Barnes and Noble. Researching these competing outlets will teach you more than you ever wanted to know about advertising, marketing, and self-promotion.

Then comes the big day, when all the formatting is done, you’ve revised, edited and proofread every word at least a dozen times, the cover looks awesome, and you’re ready to push the “Publish” button.

After that all you can do is stay glued to the computer to wait for the reaction from your audience. Will your story sell? Will you get any reviews, and if you do, what will those reviews say? It’s a little like seeing your child go off to school on the first day. You’ve spent so much time and energy getting them ready for this, and now they’re going out into the big, bad world where anything can happen to them!

Don’t laugh. This could be you.

And how much does the “average” self-published author make? I put average in quotes because there really isn’t an “average” among so many authors with different skill levels and in differing genres. But the statistics I researched all agree: not much. Most self-published authors make less than $500 per year, and the typical self-published book will earn $60 in its lifetime of publication.

Earnings are noticeably better for writers of JAFF because there is such a dedicated JAFF fan base already in existence. Even so, don’t count on being able to quit your day job.

Sales are only a small part of why most writers publish, of course. Most get an immense amount of satisfaction from the process and would publish their stories whether they ever sold a copy or not. But it’s best to have a realistic idea of what to expect if you decide to try this for yourself.

Fellow authors, I look forward to your comments and insights into this process as well!

24 Responses to Behind The Scenes

  1. Another great post about life as a writer/self-publisher. Thank you for the “avenge” earnings information. The number made me feel like quite a success!

    • Thanks Lizzybel! Stephen King has famously said that if a writer earns a check large enough to pay a utility bill, and the check doesn’t bounce, then the writer is successful. That should make all of us feel pretty good!

  2. Hahahahahahaha! I love your ‘Don’t Laugh’ picture. Been there, done that. I do have a publisher and editor I work closely with, and we have done pretty well. But, yes, it is a lot of work. And it can be fun too as well as rewarding. Thank you for the instructive post, Elaine.

  3. Elaine, thank you so much for this eye-opening post! As a reader the more I learn about ALL that goes into writing and publishing makes me appreciate authors so much more! 🙂

  4. Oh my goodness! And I always thought that the writing was the hard part. The technical stuff wouldn’t bother me too much (I think!) as I’ve always been quite good with operating software etc as I’m one of those annoying people who actually read manuals. It’s the rest of it that I’d find difficult, I think. Putting myself “out there”, constantly re-reading my own work checking for errors and actually writing the thing in the first place. I’ll be watching for your post on authors’imagination with great interest, Elaine, as I’ve tried writing things down and have got through about half the plot in the first chapter!

  5. I loved your article, but do have to take exception to one statement: “After that [publishing your book] all you can do is stay glued to the computer to wait for the reaction from your audience.” Unfortunately, once you publish, your work has only just begun! Now you need to put on your marketer’s hat and get the word out! Educate yourself about using social media, run blog tours and giveaways, get a newsletter out, and do all you can to tell everyone about your book. Fortunately, thanks to the Internet, there are many cost-effective ways to market your book yourself, but you have to put in the time and work to make your book stand out in the sea of other books.

    • You’re absolutely right, Susan, and I should have mentioned it. Marketing and self-promotion are necessary for selling books, and successful authors promote themselves constantly. That could easily be the subject of a whole other post.

  6. Wow! So much blood,sweat and tears that go into creating the wonderful stories that we love so much!

    Authors must feel a fantastic sense of achievement when they see the result of countless sleepless nights,numerous mulling overs and would haves/should haves/could haves,in book form!

    Thanks for such an informative post!

    • Thank you, Mary! Yes, we do get a huge sense of achievement from the finished product. But I think our best reward is probably in hearing the enthusiastic responses from delighted readers. 🙂

  7. I’m not an author Elaine, I don’t have the imagination needed. And reading this I don’t have the technical knowledge either! I have so much respect for those of you who do as I really can’t bear to think of how much pleasure I would have missed by not having JAFF available. So a big thankyou goes out to you and all the JAFF authors who write all the books I love to read ??

    • You’re welcome, Glynis! But I hope this didn’t scare you off of ever trying to write or publish. My next post is going to be about how writers don’t necessarily have the imagination you think they do :-). As for the technical knowledge, it’s something you pick up gradually, not in one big gulp. I would encourage you to let your courage rise against every attempt to intimidate you 🙂 and learn more about publishing if you think you might be interested in it one day.

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