Self-Publishing Thoughts and Progress

I have been researching and learning the skills involved with self-publishing over the last few weeks.    There have been days when it felt like a big exciting adventure, and other days when learning HTML made me cry.  Sometimes I feel like this is a great way to break into making some sort of income as a writer, and sometimes I feel like I am doing this because I am not good enough for anyone else to publish.   I have been motivated to write new stories and pull old ones back out of the vault.

Like doing anything new there are dreams and fears.  I worry that maybe I will write a great story that would have been publishable in a magazine or anthology, but because I publish it myself it will be lost in cyberspace.  I hope that people read my stories, like me and want more.   So many contrary thoughts are trying to share space in my little head.   Am I self publishing because I want control of my work, or because I fear rejection?  Will people take me seriously?  Will anyone buy and read my stories?

When I decided to look into self-publishing I was thinking write a story, slap in on Amazon, sell a few, and maybe make $20.   This seemed like a good plan to get some people to read my stories, to get some feedback, and to make me feel like I am actually doing something.

But there is so much more to it.  The book I am reading says that professional editing and cover design are a must.  That if you put up a story with a bad cover no one will buy it, and if you don’t pay for a professional editor then people will hate your forever once they read your error-laden story.

For a short story, an editor would be between $60 and $100.  A cover would run at least $100, likely much more.   So at the very least, in order to break even I would need to make $160, and that is not counting the cost of my own time.  Let’s say I spend 5 hours writing, re-reading, editing and formatting my story, and pay me minimum wage; $40 sounds fair.   So I need to make $200 for it to be worth my time.

If I am selling a story at $.99, then I will make about $.35 for each copy.  I have to sell 572 copies.   That is so many.  I think I am a good writer (not great), and I think my subject matter is interesting, but not 572 copies worth.   It can’t be done.    I don’t think I am selling myself short here; I really think there is no way an unknown writer doing a short story could sell that many.

I know that lots and lots of people are on Amazon.  So lots of people have the opportunity to buy my story, and some of them will.  I buy stories for $.99 because I like the title, or just on a whim.  But since I have had my Kindle (last year’s birthday), I have bought maybe fifteen stories/books from authors unknown to me just for the hell of it.  One of them I liked so much I bought four books by her.   A few stories I did not even finish because they were not very good.  Most fall in between these extremes.

If I sell a collection of stories instead of one, I can raise the price to $2.99, on which Amazon gives a 70% commission.  More stories would mean more editing.  So now about $400 for editing, and the same price for a cover, and add in my time ($200), so $700 total.  That means I need to sell 335 copies at that price to break even.  At a higher price there would be less impulse buys.  I am not writing a novel about a two dimensional lovesick girl and the vampire who passive -aggressively tortures her.    I am writing fantasy, horror and sci-fi short stories that have almost nothing to do with love and are lacking vampires.  I can throw in a few later for appeal if need be, vampires are the chocolate sprinkles of today’s literature.

The conclusion –  if I do this by the book, I am going to lose money.   If I am writing and publishing my own stuff at a loss, you know what that is called?  Vanity publishing.   I would be that man who used to come to my coffee shop every day when I was in college.  He thought of himself as a serious writer.  He put in the time every day, drinking mochas and studiously writing.  His work ethic was way better than mine ever will be.   About once a year he would give us all a book. I might still have one someplace.  We always took them, thanked him, and later told him it was great.

The truth was these sentimental memoirs were not good reading.  His life was not interesting  nor were his wife or children’s lives.   About 100 pages of such stories as the first time his daughter said “dada”, or the pain a parent faces when a daughter breaks curfew.   All of these stories culminating in the triumph of a white, upper middle-class daughter of a minister graduating high school.  It was touching sometimes and sweet.  But when he approached our book side to carry them they told him no.

He lost money and gave all the books away for free.  But he was having fun, and he had these little books to give to his friends and kids.  I scrapbook, so I understand why he did this and what he got out of the hobby.   But I don’t want to write as a hobby. I want this to be my job someday. By the same token I don’t want to scrapbook as a career, because while it is fun I am not super good at it and odds are I never will be.   I don’t want to start vanity publishing and never get past that.   So I have some decisions to make.

I come from a family of dreamers and schemers.   There have been several times when I have thrown down large amounts of money on the perfect opportunity for me, just to fail or give up. Like $2000 to start a novelty toy party business, to find that people would just book me for the naughtiness of the subject matter, but were too shy or cheap to buy anything.   $500 just last year on starting my own makeup company, to mostly give up when I realized finding customers was really hard and that people don’t take a fat strange-looking person’s advice on cosmetics.   The biggest one was thousands of dollars on an accounting degree to have the market tank a year into my career, and to have trouble finding new work in a field which I am actually not very well suited for.

Do I spend $500 to make a story professional?  Or do I just try my best on this first one and save the money to make the next one better?  I could set up a special account and put all my profits into that and my next collection could be edited or have a nice cover.  Unless the book I am reading is correct and doing such a thing could sully my name forever.

I just don’t know.

On the plus side, I spent most of last week editing and formatting one of my stories.  I used the info in this great guide to formatting for e-books.

If you are new to HTML (which I was), don’t expect this to be easy.  It was hard and frustrating.  I had to read and reread these steps before I finally got it. Everything he said was confusing to me.

Now I have one of my stories on my Kindle and it looks snazzy.  I can do simple images, put in a table of contents and make it so the font size is easy to change on any device.   I want to tell you about the stories I have decided to put in the collection, what I have learned from editing old stories and when this collection will be for sell, but that is going to have to wait until next time.

2 thoughts on “Self-Publishing Thoughts and Progress

  1. Good post. You should check out Dean Wesley Smith’s web site. He has sections on why not to edit too much and just relying on first readers (instead of hiring a professional editor). He also makes the case for why it makes sense to learn how to do your own covers. I agree with him when he says that a bad book will just sink to the bottom like a rock, though the more you write the better your books will become. Instead of spending $700 on a release you would sell for $2.99, you could do it for $10-20 plus the cost of your time and a lot more inventory out there. More inventory, as long as it’s well written, has good back cover copy and a nice cover, should help sales. I will be trying his approach and will blog about my experiences.

    Good luck with your stories!


  2. You could try writing for Duotrope. They do anthologies so like the short stories. I haven’t actually tried it, but it’s an idea to see about getting published without putting out all the money.


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