Of all the conversations I’ve had with authors and aspiring authors, most center around where and how to spend their money.
Maybe it’s the classic starving-artist mentality, but it seems to always be a concern. (Of course, I don’t mean to diminish the reality that the economy is rough for many people right now.) So, after having this same subject come up again with an author recently, I thought it’d be good to address in my column.
Here are seven tips on making the most of your publishing budget, whether you’re going the self-publishing route, looking to land a trade deal, or considering both:
1. Don’t skimp on editing.
Hire a professional editor or, at the very minimum, a proofreader (they are not necessarily one and the same).
Plan on this being the majority of your budget, unless you have thousands of dollars to invest. It’s been interesting to see how many self-published authors are meeting with some initial success on Amazon’s Kindle program—then scrambling to get their works professionally edited when readers start complaining.
And what if you’re shooting for a trade-publishing deal? Well, if you invest some money in professional editing, you (or your agent) can use this as a selling point to prospective publishers; your book will be editorially better than most, potentially saving them some time, effort, and expense. While a poorly written or edited manuscript is not guaranteed to go into the slush pile, it certainly makes it harder for an agent or publisher to say “yes” to your proposal.
2. If you’re self-publishing, budget for the best cover design you can afford.
Again, hire a professional. Do not rely on your friend or cousin who does design on the side. Preferably, you will contract a designer with book cover experience; it is a form of design with unique requirements and standards. A website designer, for example, may not be familiar with these standards at all.
If you absolutely cannot afford a professional through a traditional arrangement, consider going through sites like elance.com, odesk.com or 99designs.com, which let you put your project out to many designers for bid or competition.
3. Do not spend money on a publicist, at least not right away.
From my experience and observation, publicists are best suited for the point at which you’ve started to gain some traction on your book at a regional or national level. The return on investment (publicists aren’t cheap) at the early stages of the game is too hard to justify. The very nature of publicity is that it’s unpredictable; it can generate amazing results or none at all.
When you’re on a tight budget, the gamble just isn’t worth it. Let this consideration sit until you’re generating decent sales on your own. You will also then have a good handle on what aspects of your book are resonating with people, which will help to narrow the scope (and cost) of publicity.
4. Avoid advertising.
It’s tempting to think a Google AdWords or Facebook ad campaign can solve your problems, but it most likely won’t. People are just too overwhelmed and immune to advertising for it to be effective, unless you have a lot to spend. Also, putting the necessary work into a pay-per-click campaign is very time consuming.
5. Generally speaking, avoid hiring “self-publishing companies” for marketing services.
These are the add-ons you’ll find offered when you choose to publish your book through such companies. While I would never definitively say these can’t work or that they’re not worth considering in any situation, from everything I’ve heard and read, they are a very expensive gamble unlikely to produce worthwhile results.
At worst, the company is literally taking your money for doing nearly nothing.
6. Be wary of book contests and awards.
Of course, there are some that are fully legitimate and worthy. But there are many that do nothing except line the pockets of the people who put them on. Do some research among publishing circles to determine the reputation of any particular contest or award.
7. Skip the book tour, unless you’re doing it for fun.
This is not a consideration for authors with limited budgets, but it can be a temptation for authors with money to spend. It’s understandable; it seems like the way to go, given all the book tours you hear about from well-known authors.
But that’s just it. They succeed (or sometimes not) precisely because the authors are well known. Otherwise, I can nearly guarantee the costs will far outweigh the results.
Whether you have a little or a lot to invest in your book, money is its lifeblood. This is not to say you can’t go a long way with a “guerrilla” approach to publishing, squeezing a lot of success out of a few dollars—but generally, there will be financial expenses associated with your publishing efforts that you must plan for. Most often, there will be a correlation between how you allocate these funds and what you get as a result.
And of course, there will be exceptions to everything I’ve put forth above, but it’s usually best to not hang your hopes on exceptions.
All that said, what are some of your favorite tips for making the best of a publishing budget, whether your book is self- or traditionally published?