Self-Publishing Bang for the Buck

by | Mar 5, 2011

When you get down to it, when you have an idea that’s bigger than your budget, when your book is finally done, but your checking account is flying on a wing and a prayer, you have to know where to put your money to get the best effect from self-publishing, to get the most bang for the buck.

Lots of people want to publish now, get in the Kindle store, see if they can match the success of the ebook authors we keep reading about.

What to do? Here’s a simple plan.

Spend money on two things:

  1. Editing. There’s nothing else that will improve your book, and its chances in the market, more than a good editor. And here’s a secret: you may be creating the book to fill a short-term need, but it will be around for the long term anyway. Books are persistent in a way lots of other things aren’t. I still have books from my college days decades ago, but none of the music from that era will play on anything I own now. No matter how small your budget, find someone to edit your book.
  2. Cover design. Nothing will be as critical to how your book is perceived in the marketplace than the cover. It’s the branding for the book. It positions the book within its genre. It should create excitement and interest, drawing readers in. It has to pop out in searches that return screens full of little postage-stamp sized cover images. Book cover design is a specialty and rightly so. Once you’ve got the editing under way, find a cover designer who can fit into your budget and see what magic they can work with your book.

Editing addresses the content, the interior, the guts of the book. Cover design dresses it for its existence in the world. A way to interest readers, and a way to give them something satisfying. Two great places to use the budget you have available to make the best book you can.

Photo by epsos

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Adam iwritereadrate

    Hi Joel. Totally agree with the importance of these two things – editing and cover design – despite the old saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’…! I wrote an article recently about the importance of self-editing, and I think how important it is will continue to growth in-line with indie publishing. Our post around self-editing can be found at:



    • Joel Friedlander

      Adam, thanks for your comment. Of course, while self-editing is used by many writers to good effect, the point I was trying to make here is that hiring a professional editor should be the number one priority of any author getting a book ready for publication.

  2. Roemer McPhee

    How good do you think the cover designers at CreateSpace are, compared with those working for the big 6 publishers?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Never seen a cover from the designers there. Is there a way to identify them?

      • Roemer McPhee

        Well, they’re all over the place, and have served many of your readers. I like what I have seen from the CS designers in my own case, relative to the haughty New York-6 types (playing violins on the Titanic, as they are).

        • Joel Friedlander

          Do you have any links to covers we can look at that were done by CS designers? I’d love to see them.

          • Roemer McPhee

            The site has lots of examples. I’ll tell you one thing, they work fast as well as well.

  3. Chrissy

    I’m not saying there isn’t a point being made, but I don’t think all writers can be painted with this brush.

    I’ve seen books both on shelves at BN and Borders from HUGE publishers and on Kindle DP with errors. I’ve seen BAD covers people paid all outdoors for.

    And I’ve had three people ask me who edited for me, and dozens ask who did my cover design.

    Answer? Me.

    There’s no one forumla. And there are a LOT of new scams cropping up for “services” that NOBODY should be paying for.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Chrissy, I agree with you. Each author deals with these issues in their own way. What’s necessary for one person may be superflous or wasteful to another. Most people clearly don’t have the skill to do what you’ve done. Good luck with your book.

  4. Jessica Kaye

    Joel, this is exactly the advice I give to my clients. It’s so good to see it in your blog. I can now point them to you as an objective voice of reason.

    • Joel Friedlander

      So now I know what it feels like to finally be an objective voice of reason! Thanks, Jessica.

  5. Roemer McPhee

    Joel, I wanted to add something else. My uncle, John McPhee, started writing for the New Yorker a long time ago, and at first he couldn’t believe the time that the great editor William Shawn took with his work.

    Shawn made the stunning remark to him: “It takes as long as it takes.”

    • Joel Friedlander

      Roemer, the problem I see with the current indie publishing scene is that professional proofreading has all but disappeared except for the top echelon of self-published books.

      Authors who practice the “proof and reproof” method of correction are never, in fact, going to get as good a book as someone who pays a competent professional proofreader to proof the book properly.

      I’ve read many of your uncles books, and the attention to quality in the use of language is inspiring. Truly one of the great essayists and nonfiction writers of the last 100 years.

      • Roemer McPhee

        Thank you thank you.

  6. Roemer McPhee

    Joel, I have a 128,000-worder that’s just about to appear, thanks to CS. The editing and vetting process has been so constant and extreme that I’ve tried to think up names for it. It’s like squashing bugs. The changes get smaller and smaller, the mistakes harder and harder to find, but after re-reads and re-reads, some of them are still there!

    It is worth every effort and dollar to achieve editing perfection. Once the book is done, it’s done forever.

    • KAB

      A voice from your REALLY long distant past.

      Are you still riding very nice, expensive bicycles very long distances (to Kentucky was it?) equipped with only a fanny pack and a credit card?

  7. Michael N. Marcus

    Joel, you made very important points that are too often unknown or ignored, but in this forum you may be preaching to the choir. Maybe your wise words should pop up on the screen every time a word processing program is turned on.

    Too many wannabe authors are misguided by the $195 packages from self-publishing companies, free cover templates, $50 cover design services, and ads that shout “SELF PUBLISH — FREE.” The ease and low cost of blogging, and producing and circulating eBooks, has made the situation worse by attracting writers (typists?) who are unqualified and unprepared to produce quality books.

    I recommend that writers have a budget of about $1,000 – $3,000 to pay for design and editing, printing several generations of corrected proofs if necessary, to send out news releases and review copies, and maybe to print business cards or promotional bookmarks.

    The rule is, “If you can’t afford professional design and editing, you can’t afford to publish a book!”

    Even professional editors who write books need to hire other professional editors.

    Michael N. Marcus
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series:
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),”

    • Derek Oscarson

      Well said, Michael. DIY does not equal Professional. Considering the time it should take to produce a normal book, authors would be well served by treating it right with professional editing and packaging.

      I would also recommend authors have a few print versions of their book produced for marketing and sales purposes. With modern print-on-demand services, you only have to pay for the design and then order as little as one copy for yourself to use promotionally.


      • Joel Friedlander

        Thanks Michael and Derek for your input. I’m not sure how many readers are part of the “choir” because the DIY movement is populous and enthusiastic. Derek makes a good point about getting what amounts to a “proof” copy just for the (wholesale) cost of one book.



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