Ros Barber Waxes Blithe on Self-Publishing in The Guardian

ros-barber_bw_19Novelist Ros Barber wrote a piece for The Guardian’s Books blog last week that tacitly pans self-publishing in favor of traditional publication.*  Entitled “For me, traditional publishing means poverty. But self-publish? No way,” the article is a list of points explaining why Ms. Barber won’t self-publish, and why you shouldn’t either.  Here’s my point by point rebuttal.

“You have to forget writing for a living.”

“If you self-publish your book, you are not going to be writing for a living. You are going to be marketing for a living. Self-published authors should expect to spend only 10% of their time writing and 90% of their time marketing.”

Barber’s first assertion, like all those that follow, is anecdotal at best and a blind assertion without any evidentiary support at worst.  The only explanation for the 90/10 percent ratio she cites is that a single self-published author who commented on her blog put the percentage of time he actually spent writing in the single digits.

This breakdown is contrary to my own experience and that of pretty much every self-published writer I’ve talked to, but, more importantly, it also ignores a fundamental truth of publishing in 2016: every author is also a marketer.

Ms. Barber’s article is very quaint, in that it makes references and draws allusions to a type of writing life that simply does not exist anymore, except perhaps for a very select few.  She impliedly invokes the image of a writer who focuses all of his time on the craft itself, “reveling” in the language of his creation, likely hunched over an Underwood putting words to the page with equal parts passion and torment.   The type of writer whose only obligation is the writing–the craft, oh, don’t we love to call it the Craft; the words, my friend!  Hemingway and Joyce!–who doesn’t have to leave his desk until his editor tells him its time to accept his Man Booker prize.

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Why I Design My Own Book Covers

TDS New 3I design a lot of book covers, for someone who doesn’t do it full-time.  Being responsible for the design of your books, inside and out, is part and parcel of being a self-published author.  That responsibility usually amounts to a choice between designing the books yourself, or contracting the work out to a freelance designer.

Deciding whether to do something yourself or outsource it is a decision that will be familiar to anyone who has run a small business.  When I worked as a private attorney, I faced this question everyday.  Do I pay for someone to design my website, or do it myself, since I have that skillset?  Do I do all the bookkeeping, or hire someone to man Quickbooks for me?  The only way to make these choices is to apply a cost-benefit analysis.  First and foremost, do you have the ability to do this task yourself?  If  yes, what’s more valuable to you, your time or your money?  If no, is it something you can learn?  And if you spend time learning how to do accomplish an ancillary task, are you spending your time wisely?

When you sit down to take care of the myriad tasks that make up the logistical and business side of being a full-time writer, you always have to ask yourself whether you’d be better off skipping this part and just doing some writing.  Usually, the answer is yes.  You should probably be writing.  Sometimes, the answer is an uncomfortable no: getting this shit accomplished is vital to the success of your career.  Other times, and these are the times I’m getting at here, the answer is a confident no: this is important, and it’s okay that I’m focusing on this for the moment instead of doing what I actually do, which is write fiction.

Exile AMZN-EPUBWhen my wife and I started Evil Toad Press, the imprint under which we publish our books, one thing we decided very quickly was that we would outsource all of our interior formatting/typesetting.  Neither of us had any significant experience doing this kind of work, and a day or two spent reading distributors’ formatting requirements and fooling around with Calibre and Adobe InDesign was enough to make up my mind.  I was confident that I could format the text of my book by myself if I had to, but it would require a significant investment of time and effort that I felt would be better put toward writing the actual books.  Most importantly, I figured out relatively quickly that I had no desire to do that work: it didn’t speak to me.  It felt dry and repetitive and boring.  I wanted to pay someone to do it for me, so I did.  We’ve never looked back.

On the other hand, I did have some experience with graphic design.  I’ve got some background in art and web design, and I’ve spent more hours than I care to admit teaching myself Adobe Photoshop.  I felt confident that I could at least take a crack at designing a few book covers, and to my surprise I found that not only did I have something of a knack for it, I really enjoyed doing it.

BOS CoverTo date, I’ve designed the cover for every book released by Evil Toad Press.  Even if you factor in the (small) cost of the tools required–subscriptions to Adobe Creative Cloud and Shutterstock, the odd font license–as well as a reasonable rate for the man-hours I put in designing them, we’ve certainly saved money doing it this way.  Even “pre-made” book covers, which are predesigned templates with your name and book title added, usually run anywhere from seventy-five to several hundred dollars.  If you want a completely custom design by a professional designer or illustrator, the cost may run into the thousands.

But more important, for me, was the unexpected thrill I got designing covers for books I cared about personally.  The challenge of capturing a book’s essence, genre, and tone and expressing them visually was exciting.  It was, and still is, a learning process, to be sure.  It requires a fusion of skillsets, including graphic design, typography, illustration, painting, geometry, and more.  But seeing a book cover come to life and being happy with the end result is incredibly satisfying.

TDODR Cover AMZN-EPUBI’m no professional designer.  I didn’t go to school for this.  I know I’ve got a lot to learn–sometimes it feels like I learn something new with every cover I design.  And not every cover is an immediate hit: some need several mock-ups before I get the concept right, others need to be redesigned entirely.  Sometimes I have to design several alternate covers simultaneously, to see which works the best.  Sometimes it turns out that a book needs a new cover somewhere down the line, because the first version isn’t selling as well as it could.

Some of my covers, to be brutally honest, are better than others.  As I said, it’s a learning process, and sometimes the magic just comes together better than others.

But the point I’m trying, and perhaps failing, to make is that designing book covers adds to my enjoyment of being a writer.  It doesn’t detract from it.  The moment it stops being fun, the moment it starts being a drag that I just want to put behind me, I’ll start paying someone else.  There’s no shortage of ways to buy a book cover.

So what’s the lesson, here?  I know.  You’re waiting for the sappy moral.  Well here’s a go at it.

TPS Omnibus CoverAn accountant once cautioned me not to let logistics get in the way my actual business.  At the time, his advice was specific: don’t try to do payroll by yourself, even if you’ve only got one employee.  Pay someone else to do that for you.  “You do what you do,” he said.  At the time, that meant that I should worry less about payroll and more about actually practicing law, so as to make the money that would support said payroll.  But it’s good advice for any business.  And writing, my friends, is a business like any other.

So do what you do: write.  Pay somebody else to worry about the rest.

The “Self-Publishing Is For Losers” Kickstarter Is Live!

Self-Publishing Is For Losers by P.J. FoxNow’s your chance to get behind a great book designed to help indie / self-published authors not only publish their work but achieve the writing career of their dreams.  Written by P.J. Fox, author of the bestselling The Price of Desire and The Demon of Darkling ReachSelf-Publishing Is For Losers: The Evil Toad Press Guide to Self-Publishing cuts through all the BS that’s out there about self-publishing and tells you what you need to hear to make it as an indie author.

The unfortunate truth is that as many strides as self-publishing has made, there are still many out there who deride it as a license for mediocrity–hence the ironic title, Self-Publishing Is For Losers.  That’s what traditional publishing wants you to think, whether they admit it or not.  This book teaches you how to put that thinking aside and focus on building a business and career of being a professional writer.

This isn’t a technical guide on how to design your ebook in a particular file format or a primer on the step-by-step details (i.e., which button to click) of publishing a book with Kindle Direct Publishing, but rather a big picture look at the work ethic and business skills you’ll need to get your work out there and selling.  Self-Publishing Is For Losers operates under the presumption that your book is polished and good, and gives you the skill set to take it from Word document to finished product.

It offers a wealth of nuts and bolts advice on business and marketing, but more importantly it also helps you identify when it’s time to step back and hire a professional.  If you chose the self-publishing route affirmatively, because you believe in keeping control over your own work and taking control of your own career, this is the book for you.  If you want your book to look, feel, and read like a traditionally published volume you might pick up in any Barnes & Noble, this is the book for you.  If you want brutal honesty and no-nonsense advice, then you need to help us publish Self-Publishing Is For Losers–and in return, you stand to get some awesome rewards.

“Self-Publishing Is For Losers”

When I’m not doing my own writing, I’m also a co-founder of Evil Toad Press, an indie publishing company that offers a variety of editing, design, and marketing services related to self-publishing.  We’ve written a self-publishing guide called Self-Publishing Is For Losers: The Evil Toad Press Guide to Self-Publishing, and are in the process of prepping a Kickstarter to fund its production.  For now, however, you can watch our kickass book trailer: