The truth of the matter is this: publishing is a shitshow, pure and simple. No matter which route you go, it’s going to be fraught with unforeseen problems and last-minute shitstorms. You will blame many people. Obviously. Because you, as the author, are perfect. You will wonder how editors go to bed at night. You will be curious how the publishing industry doesn’t self-immolate at any given moment because of its inherent contradictions and level of ineptitude. But in the end, it’s your name on the cover of the book, so unless you have zero respect for yourself, you better learn to take full responsiblity for every stage of the process, especially if you’re a self-punishing perfectionist like me.
To begin, I published my first book, Roadmap to Korean, in 2003 through Hollym. I published my second book, Faces of Korea, a year later and also through Hollym. I later published my first novel, A Father’s Son, in July 2013 through CreateSpace in print format and then in e-book version through Kindle. Note the former is an extension of Amazon (mostly) while the latter is not (but kinda/sorta is). More on that later.
Let’s start with some basics.
How much does self-publishing a book cost? Sorry, no straight answer. It depends on so many variables. Let’s assume you have a fully edited and completed manuscript like I did. Black-and-white pages, somewhere around 300-400 pages, colour front cover and a picture on the back. Super basic for the publishing world. Like, WICKED BASIC. Then you’re looking at somewhere around $1,300. The more services you want/require, the higher the price. In my search among the biggest houses in the U.S. I found packages that went well past $10,000. Here are some fundamental questions:
Do you need an editor to go over it for you?
Do you need someone to find and design cover art?
Do you want to include pictures?
Do you want Kirkus Reviews, among other joints, to review your book?
Do you want business cards/bookmarks/postcards printed?
Do you want them to market the book for you?
These are just some of the services that drive the price up. And if you have something such as a full-colour cookbook to publish like my friend Maria Amore did, wowzers, the price to self-publish just went through the roof.
How long does it take to self-publish? Again, depends on a few things:
Is your manuscript complete?
Is it fully edited and polished?
Do you need to include photos/artwork?
Do you have your cover design all done?
Do you drink whiskey in the morning with a bathrobe still on before you even touch the keyboard?
In my own case, my book was done and edited so I went in flying. Well, galloping. K, speed walking….or whatever the hell those people call it nowadays. But I wasn’t limping! I got my MS submitted, chose my own artwork from Getty images, had a designer set up the PDF file for me to approve and then we were off to the races. Total time from paying by credit card to getting my physical proof mailed to me to finalize publication? About three months. Then I got my physical copy in the mail and my heart was in my throat and it was so exciting and life was grand and the hills were alive with sound of Swiss/German music and….
…they got the wrong picture of me on the damn back cover. Instead of me, the author, they put a European-looking psychologist who probably plays the flute in his free time.
I was like WTF to CreateSpace? They came back with WTF, that’s not you? Anyway, they realized their mistake and I wasn’t charged for the extra service (more on extra charges later in this page).
Then, on July 29, 2013, my novel came out and it was all sunshine and roses…till I realized I’d missed a couple of small, so-small- hardly-anyone-would-notice-them mistakes. Until my STBFBFF (soon-to-be former BFF) pointed them out. And he doesnt even readz so good, like.
So a round of editorial changes, another change in cover design (from a glossy cover to a matte one), but all at no cost because it was part of my original agreement, and by October I had the new book. (Don’t ask if I’m perfectly happy with it. I never will be and could nitpick till the next time the Leafs win a Stanley Cup.)
Will I make a lot of money?
What were the specific problems you encountered in the self-publishing process? Fabulous question. My biggest peeve has been this: not being told I needed an ITIN (International Tax Insurance Number), which is issued by the IRS, to get paid my royalties as a Canadian (or any foreigner) from an American company. CreateSpace never told me. I only found out after doing some research and going to CreateSpace and saying WTF? They came back with, We didn’t know. Right. You publish thousands of international authors every year and you didn’t know. Whatevs.
(NB: Most English-speaking countries have tax-free treaties with the U.S. for artists and their royalties, so inquire! Otherwise, you’ll get dinged 30% off the gross revenue before you even deal with your own taxes.)
Two major problems: 1) the process for getting an ITIN is time-consuming, at least four months. 2) The IRS is maybe the most incompetent people I’ve ever had to solicit for a single thing. They’ve sent back my application three times, rejected, the first time claiming they didn’t have my mailing address. When I phoned the hotline and asked how that’s possible if they MAILED ME THE REJECTION, they claimed all they knew was what they saw on their computer screen. End of story. Applications two and three, don’t get me started. Long of the short, I have yet to receive my ITIN and receive a dime in royalties, so take care of this issue right away, as soon as you sign a contract.
Other things to keep in mind:
You only get what you pay for. If you spend the bank on this project of yours, they will be much happier to assist and provide more qualified people at each stage.
It will take longer to publish than you expect. Guaranteed. A Father’s Son was the anomaly, not the norm, in terms of publication length. I would safely plan to spend between 6-12 months, minimum, unless you know the process and have a polished MS ready to rock and roll.
There are three things you must ABSOLUTELY do online: your book must be available on amazon.com (or more sites like Barnes & Noble, Indigo and the like is a plus), a website to promote you and your book, and a presence on goodreads.com. There are lots of other sites to provide different ideas, but this is a start.
Don’t take anything personally. Publishers, editors, project managers, graphic designers et al are like reality show contestants: they’re not here to make friends. It’s a business. It’s about money. Bottom line.
Do your homework well ahead of time. Research, research, research. Talk to people. Email bums like me. Scour the Internet for information, tips and secrets that only the ancient Greeks would otherwise know.
Plan to spend at least 1.5 times more than you’ve budgeted for. Twice as much is even better.
Aim for perfection, but accept reality. This isn’t an exact science, and with so many hands in the pot, someone, at some stage, is bound to drop the proverbial ball. Deal. That’s life. Find a solution, then move on.
And most importantly:
Do this out of love. Do this because you love waking up and writing before you even think about coffee. Do this out of respect for the power of the written word, for literature, and the immense effect books have on all of us as individuals. You’ve published a book. Holy Shiatsu! Yes, yes, yes! And guess what? The hype is worth it. It’s an AMAZING feeling. You’ve done it. You’ve written a full manuscript and gone to bat for it. To the end. Right to the end. Shit. There should be an Academy Award for just getting it out. Because this is where you smile harder than you’ve ever smiled in your whole entire complete life. Ever. EVEREVEREVER!
I will continue to update this particular page because I know I’m probably forgetting a lot of things. However, if you wish to email me with questions, concerns, or comments, please feel free to drop me a line
Happy writing and good luck with the publication process!