Paying Writers, and Self-Publication

My editor, the lovely and awesome Gayle, had brought up a wonderful point, and you can find it here.

I’ve said it before about independent artists, and I stand by it. Up-and-coming musicians didn’t take up music as “that thing they do when they’re not in the office” – it’s. their. job.

The same goes for writers. It’s a job. And it’s a job that, face it, goes unpaid from time to time.

Gayle broke it down as a matter of timing, and she specializes in short stories, novels, and poetry. My specialization is blogging and novels, but bloggers, as a whole, are not a paying market as of yet – although I do deal in barter. This blog, I will tell you this right now, brings in nothing financially, which is fine. It does, however, bring me something much more important: reputation. This blog is how I showcase my writing prowess in the easiest, most accessible medium.

However, when it comes to my books, especially because they are independently published, I am a particular stickler for getting my dues. Yes, I do give away copies from time to time, but they are not given without a tradeoff of some sort. Review, promotion, etc. – that is a bartered payment for a copy of the books. I publish them at financial loss to myself, and getting paid for my work, whether in cash or in barter, is a way for me to recoup the losses.

Since I’m a self-published author, I do not have the advantages that a traditionally published author enjoys. A trad-pub author has an editor already assigned to them by the publishing house. An agent, who is in charge of getting them into the publishing house. A cover designer, who specializes in templating and designing the perfect cover themed to the book. A marketing specialist to get the book into bookstores. An accounting department to mete out royalties and ensure everyone gets their cut. An attorney for international property rights.

A self-pub doesn’t have any of that, and thusly, has to do the publishing gamut solo.

I’ll break it down for you as far as what it takes for me to publish my work. This is considering that I have an established storyline, genre, setting, characters, etc. This is more on the simple act of Producing A Self-Published Book.

1. Read the last thing I wrote.

This is essential. My series is closely intertwined, and if I don’t have a solid base, I can’t write the next step. The good thing is that there’s a gap between writing and publishing – what I wrote in 2006, I published in 2009, etc. – and what I will be rereading is a rough draft that’s still pliable. But it will be my most recent draft that I will be reading; that’s where the story needs to get picked up.

2. Take notes.

Post-its or a notebook, I make a key point of several things within the story. They will serve as the basis for the next plot.

3. Consider the cast of characters.

They’ve taken their roots, they’ve evolved, they have histories, and they have personalities. I need to be realistic about them and how they perceive their environments. Who should be at the forefront? Who needs to be introduced? Whom shall I base them on?

4. Outline the plot.

My novels are anywhere from 12 to 18 chapters long. Longest I’ve done so far is 554 pages. I cannot tell you how easy it is to get lost in the story. I need to outline a sequence of events, and outline the story arc as a whole. How many books will go into the arc? The first arc is 4 books, and mostly released (save for Book 4 at this point). The second looks to be three. The third may be as long as five. And where am I in the arc?

5. Write the rough draft.

Generally, this takes place in November, around NaNoWriMo. I know myself well enough to know that if I don’t have a motivator, I will take forever. NaNo is that motivator, and believe me when I say that there is nothing quite like a challenge to get the muse going. But that’s just the rough draft.

6. Set the draft aside, and pick it back up, to finish it.

Once November is done, that draft gets saved, and goes on the shelf. I don’t touch it for at least a year.

Yes, a year. Believe me, it’s a requirement, because by the time you’re done writing for NaNo, you do not know where to continue with the story. It will not be good for the overall quality of writing if you just push it all out at once.

7. Rewrite

This phase takes a couple of months. I generally go two scenes a day of careful revision, often cross-referring back to previous works, and researching topics that I’ve earmarked. Since I base my books on some sciences – psychology, forensics, police procedure – I also go back to my textbooks from college. Or hit the library and go get the latest editions to do the research.

8. Send to my editor…in pieces.

Gayle and I worked out a chunk system. I send her several chapters at a time, she guts through them, and tosses them back to me. This takes another couple of months.

9. Format and artwork

As I’m doing the edits with Gayle, I’m also looking for my cover art. While I’m a graphic designer myself, I do not do well with drawing, and often, because I’m so into the writing process of the story, I forget what it has to look like.

This is where Jenna comes in. Jenna had given my characters a face since 2007, which is when she began to draw the first concepts for Book 1. She and I meet, and hash a concept. Once we’re done hashing, she gets to work. Considering that she too has things she has to take care of, it takes her about a month to kick me a cover.

Alternately, if I decide to work with a guest artist, then that guest and I have our own concepts to hash. This takes longer.

Formatting the file for printing and a copy for e-pub is actually the easiest part.

10. Proof and Publish

Self-explanatory. I receive a proof copy, go through it one more time, correct stray errors, re-proof, and publish.

11. Market

Also self-explanatory.

Now consider that this entire process takes at least a year and a half.

Also consider that my people have to get paid. Gayle gets paid. Jenna gets paid (in barter, for the time being, but it’s a matter of time until I will pay her a cut off the royalties). Any guest artist gets paid. Anyone whom I ask for help – I bring up cost, and agree to pay.

And, because I am a self-published author, I have to also fight back against several stigmas, which are addressed in an interview with Gayle, found here.

But now you see what sort of a work I’m putting into those books. It’s work. I don’t write because it’s my hobby, I write because it is what I do, and cannot live otherwise. But it is also a metric ton of work, and it involves a lot more than just me. My people need to get paid. When my books is bought, you’re not just paying me for my writing. You’re paying my cover artist. You’re paying my editor. And you’re letting me know, via whatever percentage of royalties I get, that my writing is being read and, by means of reviews, appreciated.

There is one little thing I will touch on as far as stigmas are concerned, and that one was not mentioned in the interview. Something that I have recently encountered is an oft-unspoken trend that self-published authors are somehow  not thought of as “real authors” in the writing community. When I put my books up on Smashwords, I started earning sales – great. But I also realized that those sales skyrocketed when I enrolled my books in a steeply-discounted summer sale. In other words, they’re free through July. I thought at the time, “Great! I’m getting my feet wet in e-pub distribution!” But in conversation with people, I got a gem of a saying. “Well, you’re self-published,” someone told me. “You should be grateful you even get the free sales.”

That incensed me in a major way. Again, I’m self, and this means I don’t have a team behind me working to make the books sell. I’m doing that on my own. And if they’re selling for free – or on the super-cheap – then I don’t see how that makes me less of an author. The bottom line is, they are selling. And a self-published author generally works like a dog to make sales. Any sales I get – free or not free – are rewards for the work that everyone puts into producing the books.

Think about it for a bit. And support your authors, especially if they’re choosing to go it alone.