Why Indie Writers Shouldn’t Waste Money On Formatters and Other “Necessary” Services All of the cool kids

are telling indie writers the same things: hire a cover artist. Hire an editor. Hire a separate proofreader to catch typos. Hire the best damned formatter you can find to make sure your books look “beautiful” on an e-reader. In the words of the immortal Dr. Leonard McCoy in Star Trek IV: “Now wait just a goddamned minute.” Let me be clear: as an indie writer, you owe it not only to other indie writers but also to yourself to make your work as professional as possible. Typo-ridden books and wholly amateur-looking covers just drag the collective names of indie writers through the muck. Cover design is especially important because it’s one of the few pieces of marketing that actually can help or hurt sales. I splurged on my cover for JWATT by going with Derek Murphy of Creative Indie cover designs. You know how much it cost me? $350 smackaroos. Do I regret it? Not for even half a second. All of the compliments I’ve received on the “stunning” artwork and “striking” cover design (especially in print) combined with the (more importantly) slowly-building sales have, if anything, confirmed my choice. (By the way, a big thanks to Derek for putting up with the pain in the ass I was this past fall while figuring out how to publish my first book—next time, I’ll be a far better client, I promise!). While it was totally worth it for that particular project, I quickly realized that $350 (or $450 now that he’s wisely raised the price) on a cover for every project would cause my war chest to dwindle at an alarming rate. Instead, I took a deep breath and shelled out a one-time $300 to take DWS’s cover class, and paid the $20 a month to subscribe to InDesign. I’m not gonna lie: I’m no Derek Murphy. But given the sales of Hack, and the “passable” quality of the cover for Rogue, I think it was certainly a wise investment. In the same way, we constantly hear as newbie indie writers “You must get an editor.” Uh…I don’t know about that. At least not in my experience. Granted, I practiced as an attorney at a big law firm for two-and-a-half years, and got a fair number of my “million words” out of me there. I worked as a beat

reporter/columnist following an NFL team for an entire season…and when that team is the 2011 St. Louis Rams, it sure seemed like three or four seasons. Fiction-wise, I wrote a 8,000 word, largely masturbatory piece of therapy of a “short story” that will never see the light of day. I wrote 150,000 words of fiction that needs a ton of work to be made into three 75,000 word novels (which is what the project should’ve been in the first place. Now about those 75,000 extra words…). Through it all, I learned how to (1) write quickly and coherently with a minimum of typos, and (2) edit my stuff in my head as I go along. I don’t know which former career of mine was more helpful: being a lawyer, or being a beat reporter. I do think that some of the more verbose budding indie writers would be well-served to take a quick-and-dirty legal writing seminar, if only to learn how to eliminate needless words. Definitely get out before they suck all of the creativity out of you, though… It all just underscores my point: instead of paying an editor hundreds of dollars a pop, wouldn’t you be better served finding some excellent beta readers and taking a few classes that would give you a shortcut to the same skills it took me countless misplaced hours to develop? I mean, sure you might spend a couple hundred dollars up-front, but then you’ll gain the skills necessary to lower your costs from that point forward. To use an accounting term (which I’m loathe to do since I hated accounting class, but I digress…), you can then amortize the cost of those classes out over the span of your next several books, which lowers the per-book cost of said endeavors. Another relevant concept is the Pareto principle, the idea that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Put another way: 80% of the value in any given endeavor comes from 20% of the work. Which is where formatters come in. “You can’t possibly put out an ebook without big letters at the start of every chapter!” the naysayers will cry. Actually, you can. I have. It’s okay: people will still buy the book. Formatting, on its face, seems like a huge pain in the ass. HTML? I can barely italicize book titles on Goodreads. Not to mention Smashwords’ ridiculous “Meat Grinder,” which has caused indie writers more misery than an abrupt Amazon algorithm change. I’ll be honest: I’m one of the first “Millenials” out there. I’ve read a bunch of stuff online that says we’re supposed to be lazy. So in my never-ending pursuit of the path of least resistance, and after being frustrated to no end with writing a 150,000

word manuscript in Word, I looked for a program that could export .mobi and .epub files natively. Enter Scrivener. I don’t get paid by Scrivener, which is a damned shame. I would love to be paid as chief shill for Scrivener, but so far Literature and Latte hasn’t come calling. Whatevs. I like their product so much, I’ll do it for nothing. When I found out that Scrivener outputs .mobi and .epub files, I was sold. All it cost me was $50 or so. Based on all of the scare-mongering online, I was worried that what it would export would be some bastard Frankenstein of a manuscript. Not the Mary Shelley novel— that would actually be awesome if it could gin up a similarly excellent novel for me. To show the depths of my paranoia, I even bought a new Nook to make sure that the output displayed properly on an .epub device—and right before B&N lowered the price around the holidays (cue Kyle: “You bastards!”). Warning: I invested my time (all of twenty minutes) in watching the two big “compile” tutorials Scrivener puts out. A brave sacrifice, to be sure, but one that I gritted my teeth through, nonetheless. I uploaded the output to both my Kindle and my shiny new Nook shaking with anticipation. I eagerly thumbed through one chapter…then another. The suspense absolutely killed me. What I found confused the hell out of me. No problems. There was an odd ellipses or em-dash “the text is all spread out!” gaffe that was easily fixable with a space. And no, my chapters didn’t start with enormous, “Olde English” letters. But it was a perfectly acceptable, professional product. It was certainly within the “80%” passable margin. I don’t think an extra couple hundred of bucks would’ve increased sales any, outside of folks who really get into book interiors. “My goodness, Reginald, I do believe that’s a giant Lucidia Blackletter ‘G’ at the beginning of this chapter—that author is certainly a professional!”

Book snobs notwithstanding, I felt pretty damned good. Since then, I’ve been a tireless advocate of Scrivener. A fifty dollar program that can repeatedly do what some formatters charge $100 to do per book? Sign me up. Andy Kessler wrote a book called Eat People, about how truly disruptive new technologies and industries thrive because they decrease the need for human labor in one way or another (hence “eating” people). Up until now, the indie book revolution has been a gold rush. Sure the Hugh Howeys and Amanda Hockings of the world have (rightly so) made millions off of this new industry, which inspires countless others to try their hands at indie pubbing. But a lot more people are making a ton of money selling a lot of prospectors pick axes and gold pans while a lot of folks are just sifting dirt. I think as indie writers, we need to eat some of these people. That’s not to say that the whole industry of indie author services is a sham—there is some value out there! Classes, run properly, absolutely can be worth it, as they teach you skills to cut out more vendors in the process. I can only vouch for Dean’s cover class (co-taught by his very capable designer Alison), but there are also other reputable teachers out there, a virtual treasure trove of knowledge that is available for a one-time fee. And, of course, cover design is art, which is difficult to teach and largely subjective. There will always be a market for crackerjack cover designers; of that, I am certain. But even then, even if you aren’t willing to learn InDesign, PhotoShop, GIMP, or Pixlr for your shorter works, you have to be willing to look at a variety of options for your various pieces, and ask yourself “is this good enough?” Not in a lazy, “I don’t want to do this so F it” sort of way, but in a calculated, “would my money be better spent in other areas?” manner. One final word (or “few paragraphs”): a lot of people will read this piece as advocating “scamphlets” or some of those atrocious indie novels that will never sell more than a dozen copies. Nothing could be further from the truth! In going through my first “mega-novel,” I realized it wasn’t of the quality I wanted, and consequently tabled it in favor of a far more fun, far more cogent work. It is true that some people lack the humility and grace to accept criticism of their work from trusted friends and/or other beta readers. It’s always been my position that it’s better to hear criticism from friends and beta readers than get scathing reviews, or worse, apathy from readers. If you think you fall into this boat, maybe it’s worth it to hire a (good, well-vetted) editor to take a look at your manuscript,

and (more importantly) clue you in to the areas in your writing in which you’re currently deficient, so that you can improve those and cut out the editor in the process. And, I agree, copy-editing is key. A couple of my beta readers are great at pointing out the glaring typos, and they’re just friends of mine who really enjoy reading and helping me out. You won’t catch all typos yourself, or even with beta readers. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to shell out hundreds of bucks for a copy editor. Scour the message boards, offer advance copies to potential beta readers— unless you’re really remedial in terms of writing and spelling, an expensive copyeditor can be a waste. You still owe it to your profession (even if it is a side profession—you are, after all, offering your work for sale, which implies that you believe it to be of some value) to make your work as professional as possible; typo-free, readable across all tablet formats, engaging, moving, damn it touching. But the next time I hear someone crowing online that “you have to pay for XYZ service,” I’m going to lose it. If you make a serious, concerted effort to learn the necessary skills and pay a modest fee for the rest, you’ll be better off personally, professionally, and financially.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful