From DIY To Outsourcing: Why Self-Publishers Should Hire Experts And How To Work With Them

by | Feb 7, 2011

I’m pleased to have Joanna Penn as a guest blogger today. Joanna is the author of Pentecost, a thriller novel. This week she is launching her book, and in this article she explains some of the process she went through to create it.

There are brilliant reasons to do everything yourself when you self-publish. It’s cheaper, you have ultimate control and you can learn the process. But have you considered the upside of outsourcing some key tasks?

The benefits of outsourcing include:

  1. Experts will deliver a superior product. Let’s face it. You can’t be an expert in everything. People who focus on a core area will always be better than a generalist. Your focus as an author is always to improve your writing, not to learn how to format books, design covers or fathom the intricacies of ebook conversion.
  2. Joanna Penn The Creative Penn

  3. Professionalism. As a self-published author you don’t want to stand out from the crowd for the wrong reasons i.e. you don’t want your book to scream self-published because of inferior design or editing. There is a personal pride in publishing your work to the world, so you want it to be professional and as good (or better) than traditionally published books.
  4. Use your time for more productive pursuits. These days, authors have to focus on writing and marketing, everything else is optional. It will take you ten times longer than an expert to format an ebook and you may lose your sanity in the process. In that time, you could have written another chapter, a blog post or spent time marketing on social networks.

What work should you consider outsourcing?

I have done all these jobs myself in the past and now recognize the need to outsource in specific areas:

  • Copy-editing. Even after a number of drafts, it’s impossible to see everything that can be fixed in your manuscript. A copyeditor can polish your work and make it professional as well as offer ideas for improvement.
  • book cover design for self publishers

  • Cover design. An eye-catching cover is critical in an age of ebooks and online browsing. People will click through to look at an interesting book purely because of the cover. If there’s a great cover on the sidebar of your website, it may be enough for someone to take a further look. Most writers are not cover designers or graphic artists so outsourcing this can pay great dividends.
  • Ebook conversion. Paying someone else is affordable and will save you hours of frustration. It will also give your ebook readers a far superior reading experience, which means they might buy your next book.
  • Print book interior layout. If you have a complicated book with tables, images or specific typography, you should definitely consider using a professional. Even with a plain text fiction novel, it can give you that final professional finish.

How to work with freelancers

When you are looking for the best people to work with, the following points will help you.

  • Know exactly what you want in terms of service and timing. For example, you might ask an ebook conversion specialist for conversion of a MS Word fiction novel, 75,000 words into ePub and Kindle formatting. No upload required, just the specific files as well as the original HTML for any edits. Required in 3 weeks (or specific date).
  • Research costs and ask for quotes from several before committing. Freelancers understand this process and are happy to quote for their services, or they may already be displayed on websites. Speed of delivery will also be a factor in cost so ensure you leave plenty of time for booking people if they are busy. You will usually have to pay 50% upfront so make sure you have a budget ready.

Many people want to know where to find fantastic freelancers and word of mouth is still the best way. Ask other independent authors who they use and also use the social networks. I found my freelance professionals through relationships formed on Twitter before I even knew what I needed. When the time came to choose, I knew blogs I could look at for information and could liaise with people directly based on friendships I had already cultivated.

From a personal perspective, I have done everything myself on previous books and although I am happy with the content, I know the ‘packaging’ of the book could have been improved considerably. In learning from my own mistakes, I now use freelance professionals for the above tasks and I’m thrilled with the results!

Joanna Penn is the author of Pentecost, a thriller novel. Joanna is also a blogger at The Creative Penn: Adventures in Writing, Publishing and Book Marketing. Connect on Twitter @thecreativepenn

Pentecost trailer:

Tom Evans of interviews Joanna about Pentecost:

Disclaimer: Joanna used The Book Designer for cover design and interior book layout for Pentecost.

All Amazon links are affiliate links. Joanna was a wonderful client, and the book is an exciting read. You won’t believe it’s her first novel.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Shaleen Shah

    I’ve worked with freelancers for over ten years and I’d say your tips are right on target.It’s definitely tough to trust someone you don’t see in real-time, but if you open your lines of communication – I guess, everything will work out fine. Good Luck to your book launching and MORE POWER!!

    • Joanna Penn

      Thanks Shaleen, I actually found all my freelancers on twitter and then got to know them over time. I trusted them before I hired them. This seems like an effective use of social media for the freelancer and also the buyer. Thanks so much!

  2. Tara Woolpy

    I’ll be bringing my first novel out in August and I’ve been humbled by the difference it has made to hire professionals for design and editing. When I first put together my DIY cover I thought it was fine but then I was blown away by what a real designer could do with the same images. And the same was true when I asked a pro to copy-edit. She pointed out a number of things that could have looked very embarrassing in print. The proof is very clearly in the pudding.

    • Joanna Penn

      That’s so true Tara. I thought my covers served a purpose before as well, now I appreciate the difference a pro makes. Another pair of qualified eyes are definitely worth paying for!

  3. John Soares

    Joanna, I had a professional design the covers of my two e-books, but I did the interior layout myself in Word. In the future I’ll likely hire someone to do that. I did OK, but it’s very vanilla.

    Thanks for the good info here!

    • Joanna Penn

      Thanks John. I have done interior and cover myself before but I know what you mean about vanilla. I love what Joel did with the flames in the chapter headings for Pentecost. It looks great! Definitely something to consider if you have a budget. Thanks.

  4. Derek Oscarson

    Great design confers legitimacy. This new DIY world is certainly liberating but DIY can really come across as amateur. If you’re selling only the ebook of your novel, I think the cover is even more important because there is no physical copy to sell itself on the bookstore shelf.

    Thank you for writing this. These are persuasive points in trying to sell authors on professional presentation and polishing of your content. Great job!

    • Joanna Penn

      Absolutely right. The bestselling ebook authors are focusing on quality books with quality covers – it’s still the most important thing to catching the eye of a potential buyer.

  5. Mary Tod

    Hi Joanna and Joel … in terms of outsourcing, I think writers should look at their business just like an entrepreneur would and as you say, outsource what makes sense so they can concentrate on (1) higher value work, (2) more creative work and (3) the stuff they enjoy!
    I wrote a post with some thoughtsabout developing a business plan (…-business-plan/) including the notion of looking at how you work as a writer so you can find ways to be more effective. To add to your suggestions on outsourcing I would add research and technology as two areas to consider. Of course, outsourcing requires money – so if you aren’t yet making any from your writing, you will want to factor this in!

    • Derek Oscarson

      Also, Mary, authors who are self-publishing really need to expand their toolkits to include marketing and promotion, especially using social media. Find your audience and connect with them!

      • Joanna Penn

        I totally agree Derek – that’s why guest posting is so important for book launches!

    • Joanna Penn

      Thanks Mary. I definitely agree that you should keep what you enjoy and try to outsource the rest! and also keep what makes you unique – mainly that’s the writing! I wish I had the skills for cover design though, I think I would enjoy that process. On the budget side, I treat this as a business so there is some investment. But I use the multiple streams of income model – my speaking pays for my writing currently! Thanks



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