So today, I saw this post on Twitter that felt very relevant to me, if only because I’d been thinking about blogging on the very same topic:
The author who posted these remarks received some pretty harsh responses, but I, for one, agree with her. The scenario she’s describing is pretty much how I go about my publishing process anymore. I do occasionally use beta readers, and I go through multiple rounds of self-editing, but for the most part, I keep things as simple as possible and honestly, it works really well for me. I’m on a really tight budget when it comes to my writing, because frankly, as the mother of two kids who will be going into college in the foreseeable future, and trying to pay off my own student loans before I need to go into a nursing home, I don’t have a lot of money to spend. Editing, cover art, marketing, and advertising can all be really expensive. I’m not saying you don’t get what you pay for. But I am saying I’m personally unwilling to shell out a lot of money when I don’t have any sort of guarantee of return on those investments.
Please note the use of the words it works really well for me, and personally. I’m saying these things work for me. They do so because I’ve worked as an editor both for fiction and nonfiction over the last 10 years, as well as a professional proofreader and copywriter. My full-time work in the past included graphic design, and I still enjoy dusting off my outdated version of Photoshop and playing around with making my own covers. I admit, I need help with marketing, but one of my author friends tipped me off to a site called Story Origin that offers group promotions and other opportunities for free, and it’s a hell of a deal.
What works for me may not work for you. I saw other folks on Twitter bashing Barbara Avon’s post, pointing out that there are lots of self-published books out with shitty covers and poor editing. And that’s definitely true. I’m not going to lie – I catch typos in my published books and cringe. I know they’re there. I know I can look at my manuscript 150,000 times and still not see a misplaced comma. Sometimes my layouts wind up looking wonky. Especially my paperbacks (and fixing these things are on my ever-growing list of things to-do, if and when I ever get/make/find the time).
I’ll also admit – my covers aren’t spectacular. I look at some of these beautiful, luminescent covers that people have paid top-dollar to professional designers to produce, and I love them. I’d love to have one like that. And there are some really reasonably priced digital artists out there — I’ve used them in the past (the cover for Freak of Nature, which will be out later this year, was made by a professional artist, and it’s way better than anything I could come up with on my own).
But I have fun making my covers. I really do. I felt the same sort of a-ha! moment inside when I finished combining the smoky wing with the romantic young couple for Forsaken’s cover as I did when I typed THE END on the manuscript. And let’s be honest, with the images and artwork available through sites like Pixabay and Shutterstock, it’s hard not to feel inspired!
Do I wish Canva.com had better font choices when I’m building my covers on them? Sometimes, yeah, but if it ever bugs me enough, I’ll pay for their premium service and get access to more. For right now, between my Photoshop and the free Canva services, I’m doing alright. I’m liking what I do. And to me, that’s the most important part.
One thing I learned a long time ago as an author is that no matter how much money you dump into your advertising and marketing, it’s never going to be enough. When my first big, mass-market title (Dark Thirst) released, I bought ads in RWA’s magazine and Romantic Times; I sent press releases and kits to reviewers and bookstores; I attended book signings and conferences galore. I literally spent thousands of dollars, and countless more man-hours on promotion. Did it net me some sales? Sure. Did it introduce my work — and myself — to new readers? Well, of course. But nothing I did compared to what my publisher, Kensington, did for me. They were the real reason that book did as well as it did, and it had very little, if anything, to do with marketing. Or me.
It was because of distribution. Kensington put Dark Thirst in bookstores, airports, drug stores — all over the place, all over the world. I know because I had readers write and tell me so. And they priced it cheap – at $3.99, it was practically a steal in the paperback book world.
That’s what got me readers. Not my name, not my marketing, not my fliers, online ads, blog tours, or anything else. Just good old-fashioned distribution and pricing.
I know I can’t afford to do that for myself. I know I will never achieve those kinds of results on my own. The only way I could ever hope to again is by being traditionally published by one of the big New York houses. And frankly, that’s not likely to happen. I’m a mom. I work full-time. I enjoy writing on my time, my schedule, and when I get too caught up in worrying about querying or making money at it, or mega-marketing it, or paying out the ass for gorgeous, luminous cover art, then it stops being fun for me.
I gave up writing pretty much for more than 10 years because it stopped being fun. I’m trying it again, and I’m doing it my way, and I’m having fun again, goddamn it. I have always said that I would as soon cut off my hand as stop writing, and it didn’t matter if no one else ever read another word I wrote. Writing is a part of me. It always has been. It’s who I am — and no one else gets to decide or define what makes it successful or mine.
I enjoy making my own covers. They’re not fantastic, but they’re not complete shit, either, and even if they are, they’re mine, and I enjoyed the creative process of developing them. I may not be the greatest proofreader ever, but I’m damn sure the toughest editor I’ve ever worked with and I hold myself to a fuck-ton higher standards than any editor at Kensington, Medallion Press, Samhain Publishing, or any other publisher who has ever released my titles did. I’m serious.
If hiring an editor, paying for cover art, and investing in book promotions and marketing works for you as an author, and results in you enjoying the process and feeling good about yourself, then I say more power to you, and I’m happy for you. I wish any author nothing but that — that we find our own ways to define success and not lose ourselves or our love for writing and creating in the process.
This is how I do it. How about you?