Going Indie the Easy Way: Helen Colin, My Dream of Freedom

Do you have a story you’re burning to share, but no idea how to get from “once upon a time” to “buy now?” Helen Colin did. I want to share the experience of SkipJack’s newest author, how she did it, and how you can too.

Helen is a 90-year old Holocaust survivor and beacon of light, hope, and inspiration. Helen is not a writer. She is, however, a storyteller with an important message. Helen told her story to friends who helped her put it on paper. She had other friends to help her polish it as much as possible. But none of them knew how the heck to take Helen’s story any further.

Enter SkipJack. Helen read about me in a newspaper article, and the resourcefulness and determination that she drew upon to survive a Polish ghetto and Bergin-Belsen concentration camp did the rest. She picked up the phone, pitched my husband and publishing partner Eric for help, and we said yes and took it from there. Not only that, but we donated our services to her and convinced others to do so as well. Now she has a print book, an ebook, and an in-production audio book. She’s taken 50 copies to the Holocaust Museum of Houston for them to sell, and in two weeks on Amazon she’s sold six print books and ten ebooks. All proceeds go to the Museum. So, while there’s no landslide of financial success here (yet), it is still a huge success story, and would more than satisfy the dream of many authors. Wow, if only it were always that easy, right?

Unfortunately, it isn’t. But I can tell you exactly what we did and what it cost, and you can duplicate our steps to get to your own “buy now.” I’ll do the same with my road to publication as well. But let’s start with Helen.

First, we knew we needed a copy edit of Helen’s book. Editing is an absolutely mandatory step in the indie publishing process. Her book was in good shape and it was nonfiction, so we didn’t think it warranted a more rigorous manuscript consult/critique. I found a copyeditor for 1 cent a word, which is rock bottom pricing. I think I spent more time on it than the copyeditor, but we eventually got to a clean manuscript. Note: this was the only part of the project that was not done as a donation of time. For my own fiction, I spend 3-4 cents per word between manuscript consult and copyedit. I believe the result is worth it, and my sales support the cost.

Second, we needed a cover. A good cover sells books, a bad cover turns people away. My cover artist normally would charge about $500 for a cover like we envisioned, but she donated her time. We ended up with an attractive cover that met Helen’s expectations. For my own books, I spend about $750 on design for covers (print, ebook, and audio) and supporting promotional pieces. Covers will range from $250 up to $1500 or more. Because at her age Helen would not be able to get out and promote her book, we opted against promotional pieces at this time.


Third, we needed the manuscript formatted for print and ebook. Because this book is nonfiction and contains a great number of images, formatting was a little more time-consuming and difficult than for my fiction. I formatted Helen’s book and ebook myself. Because our strategy for Helen was to maximize simplicity and minimize cost, we planned to publish her only through CreateSpace/Amazon for print and Kindle/Amazon for ebook. This made things much easier for me! I used a CreateSpace template to format her book with a clean look in Word. I then converted that Word document into an ebook-ready format that I could upload directly to Kindle for conversion to an ebook file. They worked beautifully for our purposes.  I do all my own formatting, so it is never something I spend money on, but if you hire someone to do it for you, each format can cost from $50 to $300 dollars, depending on the complexity of the book. Nonfiction is more complex and thus more expensive. I can format my own fiction quickly. A novel to print takes me an hour, and to ebook another hour.

For audio, we did a 50-50 royalty split with a voice over artist, so no money exchanged hands. Audio production will take another month or three. I did the same arrangement for my books, and I am quite happy with Audio Creation Exchange (ACX) for audio. We arranged for Helen’s eventual audio book to sell exclusively through ACX, Amazon, and iTunes to get her (and the Museum) the highest possible royalty.

We also chose to do KDP Select with Kindle, since we published exclusively on Amazon. This allows Kindle device owners who are Amazon Prime members to borrow Helen’s book for free, but Helen/the Museum to still receive a lending royalty. Also, we have the opportunity to help her do “free” days on KDP Select sometime in the future to build her readership and help her get reviews for her book. I have chosen to do the same for my books, and had a lot of success with it.

Helen had help (us) and the donation of services due to the charitable cause that is receiving all the proceeds from her book. You probably won’t. But you can do this indie publishing thing, too. It doesn’t have to be hard or even very expensive. If your dream is to see your book in print and allow others the opportunity to choose whether to buy it, you can get it from “once upon a time” to “buy now” spending as little as $250 for a good cover, 1-2 cents per word on a copy edit, and a few hundred dollars on formatting — less if you barter for some of the services. Crowdfunding is also an option to explore. Although I haven’t tried it, a friend of mine raised a few thousand to shoot a documentary using Indiegogo. If you chose the simplicity of the Amazon et al route, the steps are easy too. Or you can turn it over to someone and pay for their help in procuring these services for you (add in another few hundred dollars or a royalty share). If you decide you want to promote your book, the best promotion — you and your friends and family — costs nothing at all.

Yes, you can get much more strategic and spend money on promotion (I do: blog tour, publicist, book tour, etc.), but if your goals are modest, you can fulfill your dreams much more easily than you ever imagined.

While you wrestle with this information, might I suggest you go check out My Dream of Freedom, on Amazon, and leaving a review after you read it? 😉

And if you’re in Houston August 28th, come to my workshop on how to indie publish, soup to nuts. It’s called “What kind of loser indie publishes, and how can I be one too?” Watch for more information about my workshops soon, here, and for a book of the same name by moi to be released in August 2013.

If you want me to do a workshop for your group via Skype or when I’m in your town on my book tour this summer of 2013, let me know. I speak on this and a variety of other topics. You can reach me at [email protected], and keep reading SkipJack’s indie publishing blog for tips.

Good luck, y’all!


Pamela Fagan Hutchins is an employment attorney and workplace investigator by day who writes award-winning and bestselling mysterious women’s fiction (Saving Grace) and humorous nonfiction (How to Screw Up Your Kids) by night. She is passionate about great writing and smart author-preneurship. She also leaps medium-tall buildings in a single bound, if she gets a good running start.