My Traditional Debut and My Indie Debut: A Case Study Comparison
Note: Poison Dance is available at the following stores:
Ebook: Kindle (US) | Nook | Kobo | iBooks
I’m in the interesting position of being a first time author in both traditional and self publishing in the same year. My novel Midnight Thief comes out with Disney-Hyperion in July 2014, and I’ve recently self published Poison Dance, a prequel novella. (Is it a prequel if it was written after the novel but published before?)
Since there's so much discussion of traditional vs. indie these days, I thought it be interesting to do a step-by-step comparison of the process for both books. Obviously, there are differences – Midnight Thief is a 370 page novel and Poison Dance is a 54 page novella for one thing. Also, Poison Dance was published partly to help market Midnight Thief. But still, it’s an interesting case study.
So I broke it down by each step. I also noted the cost of each self publishing step when relevant.
Midnight Thief: I drafted Midnight Thief over several years with the help of my critique group, who read the book in chunks every other week. After I finished, I went through two rounds of beta readers who read the entire manuscript, probably six or seven betas each round.
Poison dance: I drafted Poison Dance over last year's NanoWriMo (Since I stopped at 14k words, I didn't win :-P). It also went through my critique group and three beta readers after that. Cost: Free
Thoughts: The drafting process was very similar for both books.
Midnight Thief: Editing for Midnight Thief was perhaps my period of greatest growth as a writer, and I’ve blogged extensively about what I learned. Midnight Thief went through one round of content edits with agent Jim, one round of content edits with Editor Abby, one round of content edits with editor Rotem, and one round of line edits with Editor Rotem. (The switch in editors was because Abby took a position at HarperCollins after my first revision. Usually, the manuscript would stay with the same editor the entire time.)
Poison Dance: Developmental editing was the one area where I was absolutely unwilling to skimp, and it ended up being my biggest expenditure. I did one content edit with Shannon Barefield at The Editorial Department, who was fantastic, followed by a second content/line edit. This ended up being two fewer rounds than Midnight Thief, but Poison Dance needed less editing because it was a simpler work. Cost: $633
Thoughts: For the most part, editing is editing, and the back-and-forth with editorial letters felt pretty similar for both books. Though there is a slight difference. In traditional publishing, your editor is your customer, while in self-publishing, you are the editor's customer. With my Disney book, I did feel more accountable to the rest of my team and tried to come up with solutions that worked for everyone.
With Poison Dance, everything was ultimately up to me, which had its pros and cons. On the one hand, it made things simpler. On the other hand, there's a temptation to take the easy way out with editorial notes. Once I noticed this, I ended up overcompensating. At one point, I proposed rewriting half the book in response to one of editor Shannon’s notes, and she assured me that all I really needed were a few tweaks.
Midnight Thief: I was surprised at how many eyes went over Midnight Thief during the copyediting/proofreading phase. The manuscript itself went through one heavy copyedit and one light copyedit with a different editor. After the book was formatted into bound galleys, it went through a cold read with a proofreader, and it will go through one last copyedit before the finished hardcover is printed. Rotem and I reviewed the copy editors' changes after each round.
Poison dance: I didn't have the budget for multiple copy editors, so I hired a copy editor for one round, and then recruited a bunch of friends to proofread the story for me in exchange for a free copy of the finished e-book. Cost: $60
Thoughts: It’s really amazing how many mistakes slip through, even with multiple copyeditors and proofreads. As far as comparing the two processes, I definitely prefer having multiple professional copyeditors, but as a lower budget strategy the Poison Dance method worked as well. Thankfully, I haven’t had any complaints about mistakes yet.
Midnight Thief: I love the cover for Midnight Thief, which is fortunate because publishers usually have artistic control over the cover design process. I wasn't involved in the design process, although I'm in the process of interviewing my cover designer, and I'm really curious to learn the behind-the-scenes details. I do know that my designer hired a sculptor to create the mountain lion head door knocker though, which I thought was pretty cool.
Poison dance: Indie covers tends to be lower budget -- usually stock photo manipulation or 3D computer art instead of custom photography or anything else. I originally booked a cover designer, but had to cancel and ended up using 99 Designs instead. I’m really happy with the Poison Dance cover, but I’m not sure if I'll use 99 Designs again. If anyone wants to more details, let me know in the comments and I'll expand on this in another blog entry (Edit: Followup post here). Cost: $357 for design and stock photos.
Thoughts: I have the design sensibilities of a blind chihuahua, so for cover design I depend on others, whether those people are chosen by my publisher or by myself. I found that genre mattered a lot when searching for cover artists to work with. It's possible to get a professional looking romance cover for $150 or less, but high fantasy was more challenging because of the period clothing, fantasy art, etc.
Midnight Thief: Disney took care of this.
Poison Dance: It was relatively easy process to register Poison Dance’s copyright online. I also bought a block of ISBN’s from Bowker. Their pricing scheme is pretty ridiculous -- block of 10 costs $250, and a block of 100 costs $525. I ended up buying a block of 100 because I expect many writing years ahead of me, though now that I’ve forked over the money, the pessimist in me expects ISBNs to go obsolete in a few years. Cost: $35 for copyright registration, $525 for ISBN block.
Thoughts: *shakes fist at Bowker* *considers moving to Canada for free ISBNs*
Midnight Thief: This hasn't happened yet, as far as I know, but Disney will handle it when the time comes.
Poison Dance: I write in Scrivener, and it’s quite good at ebook conversion. It took me an afternoon or two to learn how to do it, and I get very clean epub and mobi files. For those who don't own Scrivener, I’ve heard that Jutoh is really good for ebook formatting as well. Cost: Free (because I had the software).
Thoughts: Ebook formatting was fun and super easy with the right tools.
Hard Copy Layout
Midnight Thief: A book designer laid out the hardcover interior of Midnight Thief. It has lots of nice details like creative fontwork, custom chapter ornaments to represent different narrators, and spot gloss on the book jacket.
Poison Dance: Laying out a hard copy was a little trickier than ebook formatting. For one thing, you can't get Print on Demand hardcovers, so Poison Dance is available only in paperback. A professional interior layout is usually done with Adobe Indesign, but I didn't want to pay for the software, especially since I didn't expect many people to buy Poison Dance in paperback. Since I'm philosophically opposed to using Word for layout tasks, I ended up using Scrivener again. Scrivener can export directly to camera-ready pdf, but that function doesn't control for orphans or widows. To get around that, I exported first from Scrivener to Open Office, and then exported from Open Office to pdf.
The resulting layout worked out pretty well, though it doesn’t have the flourishes of the Midnight Thief design. There were a couple things that I would have liked to fix but couldn't figure out. The bottom lines on facing pages don't always line up. Also, I figured out how to get the first few words of each chapter to appear in small caps, but couldn't figure out how to do the same for new sections within each chapter. I don't think it's the type of thing that a general reader would notice, but someone who's more detail oriented might. After laying it out, I ordered two proofs from Createspace for a final pass (two because the first one had errors). You can take a look at the interior of Poison Dance with the Look Inside feature at Amazon. Cost: $11.86 for printing and shipping proofs.
Thoughts: In this, as with most other aspects when self publishing, it was a balance of budget versus bells and whistles, and what I thought would be important to the reader.
Midnight Thief: It’s still eight months until the book comes out, so we haven't really started marketing Midnight Thief. I haven't even met my publicist yet. Midnight thief went up for pre-order at about the same time Poison Dance launched though, and it's been really interesting to watch the buzz develop.
Publishers get a bad rap these days about their ability to market books, but even in these early months, I can see Midnight Thief getting a clear visibility boost simply due to the fact that it's being published by Disney. I've become acquainted the (awesome!) book blogger community, who keeps up with future releases and talks them up. Midnight Thief is being featured already on book blogs as an anticipated release and added to goodreads shelves, and bloggers are requesting interviews, even though I've made no effort to publicize it. On Amazon, Midnight Thief is appearing on the “also-viewed” lists of other books. I know that all of this is due to Disney’s platform instead of mine, because Poison Dance is getting added to Goodreads and appearing in “also-boughts” at a much slower rate, even though my marketing efforts right now are primarily focused on Poison Dance.
As we get closer to the release date, Disney will also be making review copies available to influencer networks. The Midnight Thief ARC debuted at the National Council of Teachers of English conference and will also be handed out at library conferences and mailed to booksellers. It will also be available on net galley and edelweiss and reviewed in the trade review publications.
Poison Dance: While the Midnight Thief marketing efforts relies on established connections with influencers, my Poison Dance marketing efforts could be described as more grass roots. Instead of posting my ARCs on Edelweiss for book bloggers to request, I'm querying book bloggers individually and reaching out to readers.
One thing I love about promoting Poison Dance is the flexibility and agility I have. Because I control the pricing and rights, I can run promotions whenever I want to however I want to, and I can act quickly to take advantage of opportunities that pop up. If I meet a friendly blogger, I can give her a copy right awaya. If some of my author friends are running a special promotion, I can jump in and have my price changed within a few hours. I can also track my sales and real-time and see which efforts are actually helpful.
Thoughts: I've described two different approaches to book marketing here -- one that's based on a more established platform, and one that's less established but more agile. I've found the combination of the two to be really powerful. Having both Poison Dance and Midnight Thief out essentially allows me to use both traditional strategies (ARC mailings, trade reviews, catalogues, etc) and indie strategies (price promotions, etc) to promote the same series.
So this is the point where I’m at right now with both books. Readers, what have your experiences in publishing been like?
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