Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR QUICK START GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING and to be notified when the 3rd Edition of the Indie Author Survival Guide releases!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Indie Business Talk - Hiring Your Team

Indie publishing is a micro business that can be as individual as the author that's running it. This week I'm doing a series on the business side of things. What this week isn't about: marketing. While marketing is important, this is about the details of running the business, not the strategy behind how to make your books successful. See my marketing posts here.

This week's posts include:
Mon: Setting Up
Tues: Tracking Sales
Wed: Hiring Your Team
Thurs: Exploiting Rights

While you can go DIY on everything for your indie publishing business, I don't recommend it: especially once you start to make money and can afford to reinvest in your growing business. Your time as a writer is valuable - creating new intellectual property is the basis of your business. You have to have something to sell, or all the rest of this doesn't matter (and that goes double for marketing). And while you may be tempted to skimp in the beginning, some costs quickly repay themselves (like covers) while others less so (like formatting). Choose wisely.

Developmental Editing (editing for story content)
Line Editing (editing for craft, sentence flow, fluency)
Copyediting (typos, word usage, grammar)

How Do You Hire An Editor?
Get a recommendation from someone you respect and trust. Ask for a sample. Make sure you're compatible.

Is Hiring an Editor Necessary?
Yes and no. (see below)

Developmental Editors
I personally think developmental editing is crucial. However, I also think it is something you should NOT pay for, at least not at first. To me, critique partners are developmental editors - some have more experience than others, but when I'm swapping critiques with someone, we are (usually) doing an in-kind swap for developmental editing (sometimes it's more of a line edit or copyedit, depending on need or skill of the person involved). Especially early in your career, you learn as much from critiquing as you receive back in a critique. Over the years, I've built my Critiquers of Awesome list, and I continue to swap critiques with the amazing people on my list (I've got three manuscripts lined up to critique right now). However, I'm also experimenting this year with a paid developmental editor. Alison Dasho was highly recommended by a very successful fellow indie author (Denise Grover Swank). Because my books have done well, I have funds that I can reinvest in my writing, and this is one way to do it. I'm still keeping my critique partners, but this will allow me to reduce the burden on them (I tend to write fast). But mostly, I'm curious to see if a "professional" editor can offer something substantially more/different than my very talented writer friends. My experience has been that fellow writers offer the best feedback, but I'm willing to experiment.

Line Editors
I don't use line editors. Occasionally my crit partners will do some line editing as they go, but I'm confident enough in my craft to know when a sentence is working or not. Or when feedback about a "slow" section of prose means that I need to spend more craft time on it. However, if you feel like your prose could use some work, or if you're just starting out, I would recommend going to a critique group and have them help pinpoint places for improvement, rather than pay for line editing.

Copy Editors
My Mindjack Trilogy was copyedited by Anne of Victory Editing, and she did an outstanding job. Sheryl Hart also did some copyediting for me before she hung out her shingle, and she did great work as well. When picking a copyeditor, I got several recommendations from the Kindle Boards, requested sample edits, and went with Anne because she did solid work and seemed to "get" my prose - something not to be underestimated when a copyeditor is going through and trying to remove every sentence that starts with "But". For novels, I highly recommend hiring a copyeditor. For my novellas, I have not used a copyeditor, mostly because of the economics, but also because I tend to write clean - I know that the finished product will still be relatively typo-free even without copyediting.

Indie authors can (and do) skip editing altogether and still sell books. It's tempting. Readers tend to forgive a lot for a story they like. I keep my focus on delivering a great story (which means developmental editing, paid or unpaid) that's clean enough not to distract readers (which sometimes means copyediting and sometimes not).

Cover Artists
Hire someone to create your covers.

I can't really say this strongly enough. HIRE SOMEONE. There, that felt better. :)

It's tempting to use your daughter/friend/sister-in-law to make covers for you, especially if they have professional level graphic skills. I personally prefer to hire someone not related to me, because if the cover doesn't come out the way I want, I need to be able to say "sorry that's not working for me" and start over with someone else. Most professional cover artists will work with you to get what you want, and will professionally part ways if it's not working out.

I have a whole post on creating covers, but here's the upshot:

Covers Pay For Themselves
Books need a good cover to sell. $300-$400 may seem like a lot, but you make that back if you sell even 200 ebooks. Even short stories can justify money on cover art (something I doubted early on). If you spend $50-$100 on cover art, even a 99cent short only has to sell 300 copies to cover the art. A good cover can move those numbers.

Covers Convey Concept/Genre, Not Story
Don't try to "tell the story" on your cover. Make sure it conveys the genre and the concept. In a way, a cover is like a query letter. It's only job is to get someone to want more. In my experience, conveying genre is not especially difficult, but getting concept across can require some serious thinking. Time invested in creatively thinking about concept for your cover can pay off big-time. And don't expect your cover artist to do this work for you - they can help, but YOU know your story and YOU have a creative brain. Use it.

Dale's covers
Use A Professional
I come up with the concept; I troll the bestseller lists and stock art sites looking for ideas/images; but when it's time to make the cover, I trust my graphic arts professional to make it look awesome. D. Robert Pease has created all the Mindjack covers - I brought the concept to him, but he added the elements that made it pop. I've gotten more praise for those covers than I can count. I know for certain that they have sold books. I highly recommend Dale!
Steven's covers
For my upcoming future-noir series, which are shorter works and need a lot of covers, I'm using Steven Novak's graphic talents. I'm not ready to reveal those covers (yet! soon!), but he's done fantastic work for many Indelibles (see above), and I highly recommend him as well.

How to Hire a Cover Artist
Look first at their portfolio. That should give you an idea of their skills/range. Get recommendations from other indie authors - you want someone who everyone raves about. Lots of people hang out shingles and have Photoshop skills, but cover art skills go beyond that into things like understanding typography, visual design, and knowing how to make something look good in thumbnail. Whether you have a contract or just a flat-rate agreement, agree up front on cost and time-frame.

Photo-Manip vs. Original Art
Many gorgeous covers have been made using stock-art (from places like - having a great concept and a fantastic cover artist gives you a lot of latitude. However, sometimes, an author may want to use original photography (a photo shoot, say) or illustrated covers. I caution authors against spending more than $500-$600 on a cover, unless you're fairly sure you can recoup the costs. That being said, I'm using original art for my steampunk fantasy romance, because I didn't think stock-art would be able to capture the feel that I need for that cover (and I think I can recoup the cost). Fantasy (and middle grade) often use illustration (judging by the covers in the Top 100), so I'm conveying genre as well with that particular choice. There's no wrong answer in covers (except the one that doesn't sell!).

I have a whole series on formatting: The Easy, The Hard, and The iTunes.

At first, my cover designer D. Robert Pease formatted all my ebooks and print books (and did a fabulous job!). Eventually I decided to invest time in learning how to format The Hard Way, because I wanted more flexibility in formatting my smaller works (novellas). Having an engineering background, and knowing some HTML, it was relatively straightforward, and being an indie author, I felt it was important to have this tool in my toolkit. But formatting is also not a great use of my time, and I completely understand outsourcing this part. Or doing it The Easy Way (simple, fast, and no-cost).

Overall, indie authors have unparalleled freedom in producing their works: they can DIY every step or outsource it all. They can go one way for one book, and a different way for another. But having a stable of professionals on your side to help in launching your book into the world can make the different between one that will fly off the (virtual) shelves and one which will languish unread.



(reminder: Open Minds is still free on most retailers, including Amazon UK and DE)

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  1. Thanks for the shout-out Susan! I CAN'T WAIT to see the illustration for your steampunk story!

  2. I use Robin Ludwig for my covers and I've used and recommend Ted at Dellaster Designs for formatting! Great post Susan!

  3. Of course I love Steven for my science fiction and I have to give Regina at for my New Adult cover The Only Exception. She also has done all of Jessica Sorrenson's amazing covers. For editing I use Marcie Turner at Looking Glass Editing who informed me that I love freckles and dangling participles.

  4. Being an illustrator, fine artist, and designer i can offer my services for cover art.
    Please visit my Facebook page:
    And my official website:

    Thank you!
    DC Langer

  5. You know I love Dale and Steven!

  6. I can't believe I didn't truly understand the difference between line editing and copy editing until yesterday.

    Email me if you want to see what my editor friend sent me about the whole thing.

  7. Me personally, I would rather pinch pennies with the cover design and spend the extra on editing - but that's someone who is just starting out, doesn't yet have a good feel for what she can and cannot handle on her own. I know that my paid editor - ESPECIALLY my copy editor, ohmyword - catches things that I never would, no matter how many times I read the MS. So I'm always going to shell out the extra for both, a line editor and a copy editor, in addition to my fabulous critique partners.

    The covers ... obviously I want them to look professional, but honestly, I'm more concerned about the content of my book than what it looks like. Again, though, I am still pretty new to this self-publishing business, so my opinions on the matter might change in a few years!

    1. I think it's natural for writers to think what's inside is more important than what's outside. Unfortunately, no one will discover what's inside unless they're attracted to what's outside! :) An outstanding book can succeed in spite of a bad cover, but you've hobbled it by not putting it's best face forward. And people will, right or wrong, judge the quality of the book by the quality of it's cover. :)

  8. Hey, Susan, thanks for the shout-out! I'm a believer in using a critique group for developmental editing too. My local SCBWI group is great for that. I hope I have something your boys will like to read before they're too old. Editing really is just as interesting to me. At least I have a picture book ready, LOL!

  9. Great advice Susan. Thanks.


  10. Great article Susan. Thank you.

    Choosing an editor is a challenge. Ideally I would want to read a couple of books they had edited before committing to using them, but if I've got ten editors to choose from, that's a lot of books to read. If they edit a sample of my work, that doesn't help me to judge their work as a developmental editor.

    There's the Society for Editors and Proofreaders here in the UK, but I don't really know enough about their credibility.

    Editors are quite expensive, so choosing the wrong one is an expensive mistake.

    Recommendations are useful, though. I guess the more indie books I read the more I can go and seek recommendations where I think the editor has done a good job.

    1. Tony - I agree that choosing wrong can be an expensive mistake, which is why I rely on fervent recommendations from authors whose work (and success in the marketplace) I respect. And there's always a gamble with any new service provider - sometimes you just have to take the leap. For developmental editing, I'm not sure reading books they've edited would be (necessarily) be a good way to judge - you don't know how much of that was the original author's work and how much the editor's. However, if an author thinks the editor added substantially to their work, I would take that as an important endorsement, especially if the end result was impressive.

      Networking in the indie world pays huge benefits, not least these kinds of connections. Best of luck with your writing!

    2. Thanks, Susan. That's a really good point.

  11. Great post as always, Sue! And yep, covers are SO important. Followed next by editing, and I don't think I'll ever pay for formatting again. I know, never say never, but I'm just sayin... :D

    My brilliant cover designer for The Truth About Letting Go was Allie Brennan of B Design:

    She's awesome and VERY affordable! <3

  12. Awesome post, Susan. I love that you and Leigh are sharing recommendations of people to hire.

    1. Thanks Natalie! And thanks for the shout-out on Nate B.'s Blog. :)

  13. What about a good marketer? ;)

    I think there are lots of things to consider when going into self-publishing. I've worked with so many different authors (tradition, indie, self-pub) and all at different stages.

    I recommend BiblioCrunch as a great way to find good professionals for those who just can't see to find what they are looking for ;)

    Also I do some work on the side ( and Author RX, Inkslinger PR are also great places to go for marketing/PR/assistant type help.

    There is a whole big world out there of professionals, it's just about finding the right one for YOU.