Anyone can publish what they write, but if you are serious about trying to sell it, you should invest in it in several ways, before you do.

Why? Because publishing is forever. A print book sold is permanent. Sure, you can recall an ebook and substitute an updated version, but how many people take the time to replace their old one? Most people never re-open your book once they decide they are done, whether that is at the words “the end” or when they get fed up with errors or poor writing. Only a few people re-check and re-read, and they only do it for those rarest of authors, the ones whose books they love so much or find so useful that they reach for it over and over again.

You won’t be that author if your book sucks.

Don’t be the go-to when your reader runs out of toilet paper. Don’t be the ebook deleted from a library because it annoys the reader to look at its childish cover art another time. Do these things up front, instead:


Friends, don’t make people read your crappy first draft. OK, maybe on your first book, and then only people you really hate. Scratch that. Only people that love you enough to say, “Wow, awesome,” and pretend they made it all the way through. Please, please, please go through it at least three times (initial draft, first pass-through for finish-out, and first edit) before you subject it on the world.

Then, have a few trustworthy but gentle people in your life give it a quick read to see if it is worthy of calling in chits. Make suggested changes that you buy into.

Then, and only then, should you ask writing groups or critique partners to wail on it. Consider their suggestions. Incorporate the good ones.

And then set it aside for a month or three, enough time to give you emotional distance. Go back to it and re-edit.

Guess what? I’m so scared about putting smelly poo out there that after I’d done all these steps, I paid for a manuscript consult with a book editor. Yep. And it was worth every penny.

Once you believe it is the best you can possibly make it, it is ready for…


Once your manuscript is ready – really, really ready – you need a professional editor, someone to clean up your words, sentences, and paragraphs. You really do. I taught writing in grad school, and I critique for lots of people, but I am not qualified to critique your manuscript. If I’m not, then I doubt your best friend Joey is either.

If you know a professional editor and can swap services, then knock yourself out. Otherwise, expect to spend around $2000 on editing for your novel. Less if it’s on the slim side. This is an area where you pay now or pay later. Don’t skimp. Find someone great. You can even hire mine.

Cover Art:

Good covers sell; crappy covers say “next please.” And your readers will see the covers reduced to the size of a thumbnail on Here’s the size of a thumbnail, of a book by an indie author that I’m reading right now.

It’s a good book, not a great book, and, IMHO, the cover is pretty good, not great. Want more of my opinions? Run away fast if you don’t.

Here’s an indie cover I think is great, although I haven’t read the book:


Here’s an indie cover I didn’t find compelling:


Which books would YOU buy?

Expect to spend $200-500 for cover art, unless you can trade favors with someone with skills. You can be the judge of my covers: I spent $250 apiece on them. Half of that went to the artist who did the image, and half to the graphic artist who did my text and layout for the print books. The contact info for my cover image artist is linked in SkipJack under Partners.

I chose to use original art rather than stock photos or graphics, because I was doing five nonfiction books with obvious interrelated pieces. I wanted them to strike a familiar chord with readers that had seen one or more of my other books. For my novels, my covers will be much simpler, and they will be based on photography rather than digitized art. I am sorry, but I can’t release any of my novel covers yet, so you’ll have to come back in six months to see how they turned out.


I’ve already opined on formatting software. What I haven’t mentioned is how important good formatting is to the success of a book.

For ebooks, some elements of formatting won’t be within your control. Page breaks? Not relevant. There are none. Font size? Your reader can change it. Same thing with the color of your page or text. But how your do your Chapter Headings, where you put your “other matter,” like “About the Author” and “Other Books By” all counts, a lot. So do images, bullet points, indents, spacing between paragraphs, and footnotes.  I’ll blog some time in the future with specific tips on what works best for each of these. For now, just know you will need to invest the time to do it right, and not just schlep up whatever you had in your draft manuscript onto the internet. *Shivers*

If you’re doing print books: All of the things that mattered for ebooks matter for print, plus a lot. Now you do have page breaks, page numbers, and actual paper, binding, and covers.Your font matters – pick one that is readable, not nifty. The size matters. Don’t go tiny to save paper. You have a million and one decisions to make that affect readability and thus purchase-ability, and they also impact the cost to you. Again, this merits a whole blog. I’m just throwing out a warning now: don’t phone it in.


Tune in next week for more of my lessons learned and opinions on indie publishing. Because I want to help you skip all that jack, too.

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9 Responses to BEFORE you put it out there

  1. Terri Sonoda says:

    Hi Pamela; Wow great suggestions. My only concern is that $2000 for a good editor. That would keep most of us “would be” ePublishers from even attempting to get our work out there. It’s great if you the money. I just had no idea it costs that much. I so agree on the cover art, though. I have passed over purchasing many a book because of the unappealing cover. I don’t know why because I may have missed out of an excellent. Esthetic appeal wins out yet again. This publishing business is tough!
    Great post. Thanks!

  2. Eric says:

    Hi Terri — thanks for commenting. Yes, the editing is expensive. But you can cut that cost in half if your book is shorter (50-60k words) and if you find a hungry new editor. Check out and solicit bids. You might get the price down to as little as 1 or 2 cents a word. I cannot stress how important an editor is. It takes one or two readers putting comments up on Amazon saying your work is sloppy and a piece of crap before you don’t sell anymore except to your closest friends. Check out elance.

    It’s definitely a tough business. But the reasons its hard are compelling: as authors you ask people to devote HOURS of their time to reading your work. It’s not even the price of your work that is the real cost, it’s the time, weighed against all the alternatives for using it. Readers understandably get peeved when a writer wastes that resource with error-ridden work. And the errors aren’t always obvious (usually aren’t) to the writer. Don’t believe me? Send one chapter of your manuscript to an editor for a free sample critique — Pamela’s editor does them — send it to her if you want. Read the result after the editor is through with it and decide for yourself if the transformation is worth it. You’ll be shocked and humbled. Guaranteed. And the impact on the reader of reading the edited version? Immeasurable. Well, that’s not true. It can be measured. One version sells, and sells, and sells. The other? Sales taper after the book taps out the friends and family network.

    Now if your goal is just to see your book published and made available to this friends and family network, then the editing doesn’t really matter.

    If your goal is to push yourself as an author until you can make a reasonable living from selling it on the open market to total strangers… 🙂 … then you will have to make some decisions about how to most efficiently utilize your resources to maximize your viability in the future investment of other people’s time in your work.

    Hard, hard choices.

    Good luck! (Do the sample edit, and check out elance)

    • Eric says:

      One other piece of food for thought. When you publish your first book, you don’t want to end your potential long term relationship with readers before you get to “the end” of the book, so please research these issues thoroughly, far beyond the confines of our blog. There are fabulous resources out there, available free. Here’s one of the best, most comprehensive free resources currently available:

  3. Terri Sonoda says:

    Thanks Eric. This is good information. I appreciate it.

    • Eric says:

      You’re welcome. David’s free ebook Let’s Get Digital is something both Pamela and I read cover to cover, and actually we read several of these types of books before she jumped. He’s just a great place to start, and I have other recommendations for you — email me if you want them,

  4. Vidya Sury says:

    There’s an education in here. Pamela, I see one more ebook here. Terri’s point about the costs – no – let me call that “investments” 😀 – is very valid. I have my 2 cents to chip in here. For those of us who are keen on getting our books out there, (I say “us” because, hey, one day I hope to get my book(s) out there too!), it is worthwhile to “build our communities” on an on-going basis. This is a good thing in so many ways, but even better when you can trade your expertise with someone. For example, I have a friend who is not so great at writing but a kickass editor. I know that I’d run whatever I write by her at least as a first step. I like to think I am a good editor in terms of proofing (yeah, I always find spelling mistakes in everything I read. At least one. :D)

    So, to summarize, I am just saying, in the process of making friends, it is also possible to choose some friends – after all, life is never a one-way street.

    Thanks for the inputs, Eric. I must check that out.

  5. –Pamela,
    I’m not sure which way to go: E-book, Indie, The old fashion way…Toooo many to think of.

    I’m getting all hot and frustrated.

    I think the cover is VERY Important. I will not even buy a book if I don’t like the cover. Is that stupid or superficial?

    Anyhow, my dream is to have my book all over the place. Yeah, Target & Barnes & Noble!

    Does that mean I need to go the old fashion way?

    Thanks Guys. Xxx

    • Eric says:

      Certainly if you try for traditional and get an agent or publisher, you have a better chance of getting into a Target. But first you have to cross the agent/publisher threshhold (which is hard and a lengthy-process, but worth pursuing). That is no guarantee, however. You can also pursue it as indie. If you have books in expanded distribution through Create Space, Target can buy them just the same as any other book buyer. But you have to hustle and show the book deserves the space, get it in front of the right people, and show that you have had the ability to make it move off the literal or virtual shelves.

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