Vanity or Not?

So I know I normally write about pro-life issues, but this post will be a little different. I want to reach out to readers and authors like myself who are struggling with what to do with their books. Do you keep sending to traditional publishers and hope one picks it up one day? Do you vanity publish and pay thousands of dollars? Or do you self-publish? It’s probably a common question in this day and age when you can self publish easier, and I don’t proclaim to know all the answers, but I can share my experience.

I’ve wanted to write a book since I was about six years old. I loved to read, and I used to write and illustrate my own short stories. (Those make me laugh now because I have zero illustration skills.) As I got older, I realized everything I wrote when I was younger was pretty much crap. Who knows, maybe in ten years I’ll look back on my novels and think the same thing, but I digress. A year ago, I really felt God calling me to write a pro-life fiction. I started it, and like normal, I got to about page twenty and wasn’t sure where to go, so I began praying about it. Within a few weeks, I would start to get ideas. I would type for an hour or so at night until the idea ran out, and I would put it away. The next night, I would have more to say. This went on for four months until my first novel, Heartbeats, was finished. I knew because of it’s pro-life message that it would really need promotion. It wasn’t a book everyone would pick up and read, so I sent it to many traditional Christian publishers first. If you’ve written a book and tried this, you know it’s a long waiting game with little payout. My case was no different. After piling up several rejection letters, and realizing even if I did get accepted, the book wouldn’t be out for 6-12 months, I felt led to look elsewhere.

So I started looking at self-publishing, but I was so new, I had no idea what I was doing, and it was overwhelming. My first attempt was bland and spaced too far apart. I couldn’t be proud of that book, and I didn’t have the knowledge to know how to fix it, so I started looking at vanity publishers. I didn’t really want to pay a ton of money, but I ran across one that promised book signings and a great promotional package. Being uneducated on the process and full of dreams, I did some research but ended up signing with them, even though many people told me not to. Shortly into the contract, I realized why. The company told me they did book signings and then told me they didn’t. When I pointed it out on their website, they took it down and said it was extra features. They told me they did a comprehensive edit of the book, but they did only grammatical. They did do a nice layout and cover. They created a video trailer and they sent out press releases, but not targeted to pro-life groups like they told me they would. (They are going to do that now) So, I ended up paying a ton of money for a formatted book, cover, video trailer, and a few press releases. Needless to say, my book did not shoot to the best seller list. However, the one nice thing about this route was that while they were doing all the work formatting, I could be writing the next book. So, there is that. However, after much more research, I have found several other companies who appear to do the same thing for much less money. If you are a Christian author and would like to know who they are, contact me, I would be happy to share.

When I finished my sequel, I knew I couldn’t go with the first company again. Even if it had been a stellar experience (which it wasn’t), I couldn’t afford it, so I began really researching how to self-publish. I ran across a site, Pressbooks. I can’t recommend them highly enough. You input your words, and they do all the formatting for you. They even have several templates to choose from, or if you know coding, you can change them to do even more. You do have to upgrade to get their watermark off, but with the coupon, it was $75.00, and it gave me the PDF, the EPUB, and the MOBI. Now if you only use Createspace, they actually have templates you can use that are free. Not quite as user friendly, but they work great for Createspace. However, the Createspace template does not work with Ingram, and I really wanted to publish on both, so Pressbooks was amazing.

The next thing I struggled with was the cover. I could create the generic cover on Createspace, but I wanted something better. Someone directed me to Fiverr. Jesh_designs is amazing. For $26.00, he designed the cover for Createspace and adjusted it for Ingram for free. He does unlimited revisions, and his turn around was generally a day. I’ll be going back to him for all my cover work.

So you might be thinking, “But I really want traditional bookstores to pick me up.” With Ingram, they can. See I thought if I signed with a vanity publisher, I was more likely to get picked up in traditional stores, but when I asked my publisher to contact specific stores, they said, “The stores can contact Ingram.” So the vanity publisher isn’t out pushing your book any more than you would be. Instead, what I would suggest is using one of Ingram’s Advance circulars. I plan on using the Christian Advance, which is sent to major retailers. For about $75.00, your book cover and blurb are listed, making it more likely they will try your book out, and you don’t need a publisher to do it. You have the option when you publish with Ingram yourself.

As for press releases, so far I am unimpressed, as I don’t think they’ve resulted in any sales, but again they are a tool you can do yourself. If you are a Christian author, I found Christian News Wire. For between $65-165.00 you can send your own press release targeted to companies who might be more open to your book. For example, there are many pro-life organizations in the Nationwide Conservative option that I would want to target, so it might be worth the money for me. You can find examples of press releases online and write your own. There are also some free press release sites, but I wasn’t impressed with them.

Okay, so what does this all mean? Well, if you really want your book out there, you can pay a ton of money like I did the first time, but you’ll probably never get it back. Or you can look at self-publishing and use some of the hints I found. Let me break it down for you:

Pressbooks: $75.00 with coupon, $99.00 without (hassle free formatting and files will work with Createspace or Ingram)

Cover: $26.00 with Fiverr (jesh_designs is amazing, but there are lots to choose from. Get someone who will do revisions though, as the Createspace Kindle cover won’t work for Ingram; it has to be adjusted)

Editing: $200-300. Most editing is much more than this, but I happen to have a friend who is wanting to get back into editing after having her baby. If you are interested in talking to her, send me a message, and I will get you in touch. Unless you have a pretty good grasp on the rules of English, you should hire an editor. Readers will forgive little mistakes, but if the book is full of grammatical errors or it hinders the story, your reviews will suffer.

Ingram: $49.00 to print and do ebook, although I found a coupon that allowed me to print and ebook for free. Ask me. You will have to buy an ISBN, which I would suggest buying in bulk through Bowker, so they run about $10.00 apiece. You’ll need at least two with Ingram for the print and ebook.

Ingram Advance catalogs: $75-$85.00

Press release: $65-165.00 tailored to organization most interested in your book.

So if we add all this up, you are looking at less than $1000, which is less than any vanity publisher, yet you’ll get the same product. Plus, you’ll have control over your price on Amazon if you want to run a promotion, and you won’t have to pay anyone else commission.

You may still never make it on the best seller list, and you may not even make the money you spent, but you’ll have a product you can be proud of for a lot less money and a lot less time.

If you are interested in any of the resources discussed here or have specific questions, use the contact form or sign up for more information. Don’t forget to check out Heartbeats and Where It All Began. I’ll be donating 10% of the sales to pro-life organizations.