Wayne Stinnett, Author

Wayne Stinnett, Author

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The High Cost of Self Publishing

The high cost isn't in the money you spend before publishing. The high cost is in the money you don't spend.

Too often, a writer will put together their manuscript and, though it may be a gripping story, it fails to take off like they hoped it would. More often than not, it's simply because they didn't put into it what's required in the fast paced and over-crowded world of self publishing. They'll be in such a rush to get their book published, they overlook many very crucial steps. Steps that can make the difference between a rank of #1,000,000 and a rank of #1000.

I know this, because it's exactly what I did when I first started. The truth is, it wasn't all that long ago. I first started writing Fallen Palm, which was my first novel, in early 2013. It was based on some short stories I'd written decades earlier, but never published. I thought it a pretty good story and it is. But, I rushed through the publishing process. The manuscript was never edited, the cover was a decent image, but too low resolution. Formatting? I didn't even know the word.

It took me six months to write and it failed miserably. My first thought was that it was simply the fact that I was an unknown with just that one book. So, I started writing a sequel, still ignorant of any and all rules for writing and publishing. The second book took only two months to write and just before publishing, a really great thing happened completely by accident.

I was posting different photos on Facebook to get my friends reactions for a possible cover. An old friend from back in my high school days, a guy who is now a professional photographer and graphics designer, went out several days in a row to capture just the image I was looking for. Rather than just offer it to me, he created the whole cover. It's basically the same cover that's on Fallen Hunter today. I insisted on paying him for it. And that began my professional relationship with Tim Ebaugh Photography and Design. Tim's dad is a retired pro photographer as well and Tim's ability to capture subject, background, and lighting is phenomenal.

Tim then created a new cover for Fallen Palm, using a stock image I paid $25 for. I now had nine months of my time, mostly in the sleeper of my truck, and $75 invested in my two books. Both started to sell. Not a lot, but enough that I could put the profits back into the business. And make no mistake, if you're an indie, you're running a business. I've spoken of this at great length in other posts here.

When those two books started selling was about when the negative reviews started to appear. "Poor grammar" and "Needs editing" were cited quite a few times. So, I loaned my fledgling business $200 and hired a proofreader. Things got better, sales increased and I was writing my third novel, Fallen Pride.

The Pride manuscript was finished in March, 2014, but instead of rushing to publish, I took my time. I hired another friend, Nicole Godsey, of Nicole Godsey Photography. She's a Marine I know who is now a pro photographer. I also knew that her husband is a Wounded Warrior. Fallen Pride deals with PTSD and I wanted a certain image for the cover. That's her husband, Corey Godsey, with his head in his hands on the cover. Her image then went to Tim for the graphics.

I then learned there are several types of edits. Yeah, I'm that slow, it'd been nearly a year. There's proofreading, line editing, copy editing, developmental editing, and comprehensive editing, to name a few. Using all of January's royalties, which were paid at the end of March, I sent Fallen Pride to Eliza Dee, of Clio Editing Services, a professional editing company, for copy editing. The cost was several hundred dollars. When Pride was released in April, I had $575 invested in it and was halfway through writing the prequel to the series, Fallen Out.

This continued for nearly a year, writing and publishing Fallen Mangrove and Fallen King. Each book being more expensive than the last to produce, as I upped the level of editing. Fallen King was nearly a $1500 investment in photography, graphics, and comprehensive editing. But there was still a small piece of the puzzle I hadn't discovered yet.

Proper formatting.

"But, Wayne, KDP reformats my .doc file when I upload it." Yes, but in the reformatting, some things change. Chapter breaks, page breaks, headers, footers, and a dozen other very minor things, that individually don't amount to much. But, taken collectively, the reading experience is less than perfect.

When I released Fallen Honor, I had over $2000 invested in its success. The cover image is a stock photo by renowned photographer Ruth Peterkin, graphics overlaid by Tim Ebaugh, a full comprehensive edit by Eliza Dee and her team at Clio Editing, and the final proofreading by Donna Rich. If that weren't enough, I sent the finished manuscript, edited and proofed to Colleen Sheehan of Write. Dream. Repeat. Book Designs, for complete interior formatting into both pdf and mobi files, for paperback and ebook.

The result was Honor being published with over $2000 invested. It sold very well on the first day, over 600 copies at a discounted price and debuted in the Amazon ranks at #229. And now, five days post-publication, it's sold ove 900 copies and has had over 51,000 pages read on Kindle Unlimited. Yet it's still only produced a 50% return on the investment. I'm not worried, though. I have no doubt it will start creating a profit in just a couple more days.

Speaking of Kindle Unlimited, I learned something else recently, after sending my earlier works to WDR for formatting. I'd already sent the earlier works to Clio Editing for comprehensive editing and thought I might as well have them professionally formatted, as well. For you writers, especially those with books in Kindle Unlimited, you're probably familiar by now with the term Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count, or KENPC. You can find what this new change has done to your books page count by clicking on "Promote and Advertise" on your book in your KDP Bookshelf. I noticed that when each of my older books were properly formatted, the number of pages went up. Dramatically. This is very important in Kindle Unlimited, since now you are paid by the page read of borrowed books. I found that a properly formatted book's page count went up about 30%, with each one I republished after formatting to mobi. This is something you seriously need to look at. While it might not be true with every mobi file, it's certainly true for the ones that Write. Dream. Repeat. did for me.

Now, I know a first time writer, planning to self publish their book, might not have an extra $2000 laying around and there's no guarantee that your books will do as well as some others, but I guarantee without some level of investment, your sales will suffer.

We're writers. We make up stories to entertain people. Some of us have other gifts, like cover creation, editing, and formatting. But, it's the writing that has to take precedence. So, hire those things out and use the most professional service you can afford. You can always upgrade them later.

Lastly, I'm not suggesting you HAVE to use the professionals that I did, but I do highly recommend each one. Look around, some of your friends might be doing just these things on the side and are every bit as good.

Hope this helps.

Semper Fi,


  1. I enjoyed the post, in particular, reading what you went through getting started.

    I've definitely had to budget my expenses but learning what I could has helped me a lot. Formatting was a big one. I think I saved around 150.00 per book doing that myself. That money, I funneled towards my covers and editing. The one suggestion I might add to the post is to do your research and get recommendations before you pay.

    On my last book, I spent considerably more for editing. The editor had a decent website, presentation, and was very attentive to emails. The sample edit he did looked good. (always get a sample edit)

    The sad part was, the editing missed a lot or outright changed words. I have never used the word "zenith" but I found it in my manuscript. (it was in track changes, so it was an easy fix, but still...)

    Overall, I've been lucky with the individuals I've found to work with. If you find someone you work with well, stick with them. My cover designer is doing my next cover ahead of schedule (without any upfront money) so I can concentrate on editing expenses and setting up the preorder. I feel really lucky to have someone willing to do that!

    I enjoyed reading your post, Wayne! Take care!

  2. If you decide to go back to your other books and rewrite them knowing what you know now I would purchase the updated versions. They are just that good and after the first one I was hooked. I live in the Philippines and visit Manila 3 or 4 times a year. Your books are not available in any bookstore that I can find except on Amazon. If the purchase price were to go up I still would purchase the book, they are that good.

    Keep up the god work and am waiting "on pins and needles" for the next one.

  3. Good advice, Wayne. If you're a writer, there's only one person in all the world who can write your books, and that's you. So concentrate on that and leave cover creation, editing and formatting to others with more expertise.

  4. Wayne, your article is full of great advice. I've written/published 3 novels, but the first fits the description you gave above to a T. It's badly in need of proper editing to the point where I'm seriously considering a re-write. Have you thought of doing that with your first book, or have you already done so? Thanks for sharing your experience.

    1. My first book is the 4th edition. Released with no editing, it got a lot of bad reviews and I had it reviewed by an English teacher friend. Some months later, I released it again after it went to a professional proofreader. The last edition, came after a complete copy editing by a professional editing company. Just don't over-extend yourself, monetarily. Let the revenue it produces pay to make it better.

  5. There's an interesting piece in the September 2015 issue of Writer's Digest Magazine (I subscribe so I have the printed copy early) called "The Great Revision Pyramid". The piece is about the layer-by-layer approach to a smoother revision and a stronger final draft. I don't think a writer has to follow their pyramid exactly with their layer-by-layer concept, but I do think the idea works. I used a similar method for my first published novel during the 7 years it was going through revisions and editing after I finished writing the rough draft.

    Instead of using five layers as they suggested, I had a dozen layers and went through the manuscript a dozen times during the revision process. For instance, one of those 12 times was making sure there was at least one sensory detail on each page appealing to sight, sound, scent, touch or taste. Another pass was to make sure there was a conflict on each page even if it was only the main character upset about what he ate for breakfast (that's just an example. I'm not sure the main character in that novel was ever upset about breakfast), but conflicts don't always have to be about the big things in the plot, because the collision of the characters with their conflicts through life reveal who those characters are.

    I mean, in real life, the next door neighbor's dog irritates me around 7 AM each morning when its owner lets it out off leash, and it starts barking loudly at everything as it runs around the street looking for someone or something to intimidate, and that usually causes the other dogs on our street to start barking shattering the morning tranquility.

  6. Wayne - In your above reply (re your book in its 4th edition) you advise authors not to over-extend themselves, monetarily, and let the revenue the book produces pay to make it better. What if there IS no revenue to speak of? It's a Catch 22 and we need to invest more money--which for many just isn't there.

  7. While it might not be feasible to hire a $2000 developmental editor right away, there are other approaches. I've found good proofreaders for under $200. If that's too much, hire friends to beta read and offer suggestions, in exchange for a signed paperback. Stock are for covers doesn't have to be expensive either and a friend who's good with photoshop can create a nice cover for less than $50. From the start, I vowed not to put any of my family income into book production, building slowly on the income they generate, instead.

    1. Such a common sense approach, Wayne. Thank you. This article and blog are the best I've ever seen - down to earth professional.

  8. Should've had my name on the above -Mary A. Berger

  9. After someone referred to this post on ThePassiveVoice.com, I'm wondering if you have any idea WHAT the formatting changes were to your books when they were 'professionally formatted'?

    30% is a gigantic change in KENPC. Do you have any feel for what you were doing before? Were you justifying your text (this defeats Kindle's ability to do their own justification when they reflow the text)? Were you running paragraphs together? Leaving in widow and orphan control (a bad Word artifact) and then uploading only from Word?

    Mostly curious - I've just used Scrivener to do my formatting for my first book (that's the main reason I got it initially). I'm not too fond of Word - too many 'features' and no ability to simplify it enough for me.

    But I'm always looking to learn more about what I'm doing, and this comment made me spend some time wondering and tracking down what might have affected your page count.



    1. Hello, Alicia! This is Colleen from Write. Dream. Repeat.

      Originally Wayne was just uploading an rtf document with no specialized anything beyond italics and regular fonts. I don't use Scrivener so I don't have any suggestions for that.

      I used headers to match his print book and ebook design akin to how a print book is designed. There have been suggestions that bigger KENPC numbers are due to things like paragraph gaps but there was consistent increase from books with only 18 chapters to those with 40ish chapters, and I only use paragraph gaps at the beginnings of chapters. So, basically I'm not sure WHAT exactly did it, except that all of the books I format and upload directly as .mobi files seem to come out this way.

      Hopefully that answers a little. I know it's a big foggy; it is for me at this point, too.


  10. Hi Alicia. My originals were Word rtf documents and were justified, with no extra spacing between paragraphs. It had chapter breaks but no page breaks, nor widows and orphans. Write.Dream.Repeat converted it to a mobi file, but other than that, I really don't know what magic they performed. But, with each new upload the KEN page count went up between 28% and 31%. I'll direct Colleen to this post, and perhaps she can shed some more light.

  11. Thanks, Wayne and Colleen. I really appreciate both the information and the quick response.

    I'm puzzled.

    This is the post I did on Scrivener ebook formatting:


    It contains two 2-page spreads taken from Adobe Digital Editions with the epub. I don't justify in Scrivener, not for the general text, because that happens automatically later when the Kindlegen produces the .mobi file from the .epub.

    The first screencap is a typical chapter start: several epigraphs with attributions after my 2-4 line title.

    I use ONLY things Scrivener produces to get this far. I've examined the HTML and CSS and it does a good job: spacing is in ems, and font sizes (title - big, epigraphs - smaller than the text, subtitle a bit smaller than the title) in %.

    But I'm darned curious about the KENPC.

    I've tried to learn enough (no such thing) to be elaborate but clean, so it looks like the print books I'm going to produce from the exact same input (Scrivener), also using Compile. Scenes get a possible 3 line header.

    If either of you sees anything obvious, if you have a chance to look, I'm all ears.

    Do you have any feel for whether the pdf (assuming mostly 12 pt. type) is any kind of measure for KENPC?

    If you don't, that's fine.

    But that comment - 30% difference - is bugging me. Especially since there is nothing you're telling me that you are doing different deliberately - except possibly that justification. And that shouldn't account for 30%.

    Thanks - appreciate the info. Now I'm not sure what to do with it! I'm about to put up my debut novel (160K - Pride's Children - mainstream), and if there is something I need to do, it would be nice to find out BEFORE.


    1. Alicia,

      This is the maddening thing about KENPC counts by Amazon. They claim standardization and normalizing. And yet, many of my author friends who have been actively experimenting with their book files all seem to tell the same thing: nothing comes out the same.

      I don't think it's in justification, or the most common guess: word count (not that I'm saying you claimed it was this, but some people think it is). I think it's what dictates length of book in traditional book setting, too: number of paragraph breaks, page breaks, and paragraph gaps.

      Wayne's file had only page breaks at chapters, and of course, paragraph breaks. But he didn't have any gaps anywhere: the chapter title just sat centered above the body of the text. When I designed his print book and ebook, I gave that chapter title page balanced amounts of white space because that's what you often do in book design: text will often start about half way down to make room for an attractive header.

      It's not my favorite thing to talk about, though, because there are always a huge influx of authors putting gaps between [i]every paragraph[/i] which is horrible typesetting for fiction and difficult for readers who read on their phones to handle, but it's how some authors are padding their page counts. I absolutely don't do this and I never will: there are paragraph gaps on the first page of each chapter, like there should be, and to give some separation between scenes, as there should be. But reader comfort absolutely should be considered before higher page numbers.

      On another note, the reason why I say I don't know if this is the true is because Wayne's chapter amounts varied widely from book to book. So to consistently see the 28% to 30% increase is why I'm not announcing to the masses 'how I did it.' It could be a mixture of that and some other factors, like that he uploaded a mobi directly instead of forcing Amazon to convert a file.

      One friend of mine did something as simple as convert another's word document to a mobi and upload the mobi directly. No extra formatting, nothing. They saw a large increase of 20% (from 270 pages to 340 pages).

      A few others have seen an increase in page count when they made sure line spacing was set to single or deleted entirely. I tried that on another client's book and the page count dropped 5 pages.

      The other thing to consider as being different may be software used. I use InDesign to design and format both print and ebook. I do some clean up work later in calibre, but most of it is done in InDesign.

      It's pure chaos for this and nothing is consistent right now. Eventually I'm sure Amazon will figure itself, but for right now they'll tell you that the same book with no changes is dead accurate at 270 pages AND 340. They really don't seem to have a strong handle on it, and for that reason I'm not going to say that I've got a magic bullet--I'm just glad I can help people when I design it for them.

      Thanks so much for your curiosity!

    2. Thanks again for the detailed answer - and the admission that it's still in flux. I can handle that.

      I plan to put up my own .mobi files, made with Kindle Previewer from the .epub (after I do a few tweaks on the epub, and put it back together the way I want.

      I have a lot of typographics elements, as I use epigraphs, embedded text, and separate scene headers with a date/time/place line and the pov character's name (3 povs, third person).

      I figure the navigational aids are necessary - if the reader doesn't need them, he or she can just ignore them; otherwise, it's a complicated enough novel that you might not realize exactly where you are if you put it down. Otherwise, as unobtrusive as possible.

      I have the image of the print book I want, and I want the ebooks as similar as possible, but without defeating the built-in features such as scalable fonts. All of this stuff takes figuring out.

      I appreciate the information - the better ebooks are, the happier I'll be.

    3. You're very welcome! And for the record, I never promised Wayne higher KENPC count. That's just something he noticed and pointed out to me after the fact and now I've been paying attention to the other books I've done. I'll never promise a client anything I don't have direct control over, and this is one of those things.

  12. Sorry. Possibly the Kindle does the justification ON the Kindle.