If you’re a self-publishing author, you know it requires a lot of hard work and dedication to get your book written, published and sold in a professional manner—or, if you’re new to the game, you’ll soon learn that it’s more than just a few button clicks to your goal (even in this modern age of instant video streaming and precision engineered toasters).
In fact, if you’re not prepared for the experience of professionally publishing your own book (i.e. with the aim to sell lots of copies or build a large audience), you could quickly become overwhelmed by the many tasks involved. From editing and design to print-sourcing and marketing/PR, there’s a lot of balls to juggle in a publishing plan done right.
That’s where rethinking your publishing venture as less of a solo project—and more of a well-planned, team-based effort—comes in.
Self-Publishing as “Serious Business”
Many eager new authors may wish to tackle the job of publishing entirely on their own, and kudos to those who have the resources (time, talent and a heck of a moral support network) to do it! But the reality is, few people have all the skills and other assets (both tangible and intangible) necessary to effectively manage the business of self-publishing.
And that’s exactly what successful self-publishing is: an entrepreneurial (authorpreneurial?*) business venture. If you have aims to publish multiple books as a full- or part-time independent author/publisher, this is an especially important distinction from a one-off publishing project.
As a matter of fact, even if you’re already traditionally published, you may have found yourself taking over more of the marketing tasks from your publisher these days. Or perhaps you’ve decided to self-publish some of your work that wouldn’t be considered mainstream popular or commercially viable. In either case, you’re probably fairly heavily engaged in regular blogging, holding contests/giveaways, printing and distributing promo collateral, social media interaction, etc. That alone sounds a lot like business activities to me!
So, it would be fair to say that authors of all stripes need to re-envision themselves as small business owners/entrepreneurs—even if they only ever publish their own works.
It’s important to note that few small businesses can hope to thrive and grow on the back of a sole proprietor alone. If you wish to subsist in any way on your written efforts—whether you’re a fantasy author publishing your first novel; a crafter or artisan selling a DIY book in your area of expertise; or a traditionally-published author offering new, experimental work to your existing audience—you’ll want to consider hiring outside talent to help shoulder the load.
Self-Publishing as a Freelance Team Effort
The good news is, there are countless talented entrepreneurs out there who are equipped and eager to assist you in your publishing business—if you’re open to the idea that the cost of hiring specialists is an investment in your future success (and of course, a deductible business expense!).
Be aware, however, that you will need to act as the project manager of whatever team you put together, and as such will be responsible for keeping the project on track: this means coordinating and delegating appropriate tasks in an efficient manner, communicating deadlines and expectations clearly, and keeping tabs on your budget to help minimize cost overruns.
Basically, it’s a lot like driving a well-trained dogsled team. From the wheel dog to the lead, they all know their jobs perfectly, and contribute different abilities to the team; they just need to know where you want to go and when they’re veering off course. So while you won’t have to spend time learning how to do all their jobs yourself, you will need to spend time communicating your needs and overseeing your team’s work to be sure everything is proceeding smoothly.
Freelance Self-Publishing Assistants: Assemble!
Well, that heading’s not nearly as catchy as a certain super-heroic team’s rallying cry, but it’s sorta empowering…
Speaking of superheros: if you want to make a big splash in self-publishing, there truly are some super-powered freelance specialist roles that, when properly employed, can greatly elevate the quality of your publications. Below are the tasks for which I personally recommend assembling a hand-picked team:
Editor: In my opinion, if you were to have only enough budget for just one specialist on your publishing team, a good editor should be your number one choice. Why? If your story idea or execution is not coherent, logical or lacks a distinctive voice or vision—or if it’s riddled with grammatical or spelling errors—then no amount of pretty design work or marketing will help it succeed.
Cover Designer: Next to a good editor, an experienced cover designer is one of your strongest assets to the team. Provided you have a strong manuscript that’s been edited thoroughly, a well-crafted cover design will help you sell and market a lot more books more easily.
Page Designer/Typesetter: Though it may not seem as important as cover design, you should consider hiring a page designer/layout artist as well. It’s actually a very exacting (and under-appreciated) art all its own, and results in a much more professional-looking book when done by a trained specialist. As such, I don’t usually recommend the DIY route—that said, a well-crafted, designer-made template can have its place for straightforward text (like novels).
Proofreader: This should go without saying, but an eagle-eyed proofreader (or two, or more) can help tighten up an already strong manuscript. You can likely rely on your editor (you did hire one already, right?) for a very efficient and effective final check after the typesetting is complete. It’s wise to also enlist others if you can, since by this stage everyone else involved has been staring at it so much, they may cease to notice smaller details.
Marketing Consultant: If you can’t afford a marketer or agent, at the very least I would recommend hiring a marketing consultant to help teach you effective marketing and PR for your book. In the modern age of social media marketing, it’s far more effective for you to relay your messaging personally, so this is one task you should dig into yourself (with professional guidance, of course).
But I Know Someone Who Will Work for Cookies…
You may wonder: “Why do I need to hire specialists when there’s plenty of free templates—or generous friends and colleagues—who edit or design on the cheap (or free) as a hobby or sideline, who can do all of this for me?”
The reality is, none of the tasks of editing, design or marketing can be done as efficiently (or professionally) as by someone who has dedicated themselves to learning and developing their skill set through countless hours of in-depth training and experience (not to mention, continually keeping up to date with that knowledge).
Speaking for myself as a graphic designer: graphic design is a skilled trade requiring strong design and technical skills. It’s not all pretty pictures, funky fonts and photo compositing (though I admit, it’s definitely a job perk!). There’s a significant amount of left-brained technical know-how required, and having a designer who truly knows their stuff can make for a much less stressful experience for you—even for seemingly simple and automated publishing procedures like Createspace and Smashwords.
You can safely assume that all the other specialists I mentioned are no exception; they know their industry and their job better than anyone, and they’ll help give you a better polished end product and promotional know-how for far less headache. There are (unfortunately) no shortcuts to quality work in a specialized industry. If you want professional results, you need to hire professionals.
I won’t lie though: cookies would be an AWESOME signing bonus (hint: I adore pecan chocolate chip 😉 ).
The Value in Working With a Team
It’s also worth remembering that what you get out of your investment in a well-built freelance specialist team is a value-added product. If your work can shatter the typical stigma of a “self-published book” with compellingly written content and an outstanding, professional presentation, then you can position yourself accordingly at a higher price point (competing with traditionally-published books). Or, you can simply enjoy having an easier time selling more copies, and/or convincing your audience to spring for a gorgeous hardcover edition (with its higher profit margin).
However, one of the best payoffs of working with freelance designers, editors and the like is working with eager and enthusiastic professionals who want to see your work succeed. There’s a much closer sense of connection in choosing your own specialists to work with, and you can hand-select them not only to optimize for budget and skill-sets, but also for personalities that suit your own. And that’s not something easily measured in financial worth alone.
In the end, a harmonious and cooperative team effort can take you very far indeed in your publishing ventures—much further than you could ever hope to get pulling that sled by yourself!
So, Who’ll Be On Your Team?
If you’re at the beginning of your publishing saga, I encourage you to start looking at assembling a team now and giving plenty of time to get everything in place when you’re ready to go.
In future posts, I’ll discuss some of the best practices to consider when working on a publishing project with a team of freelance professionals, including what order everything typically happens in, what’s expected of you as the author/publisher, and so forth.
Also, if you’re looking to hire a cover and interior page designer, please feel free to fill out my contact form with your project’s details for a free, no-obligation estimate. I always look forward to hearing from new authors!
* Incidentally, when googling whether “authorpreneurial” had been used by someone before, the top results came up with these fine folks who offer marketing advice for authors. I highly encourage you to read a prior post on their blog for further discussion on being a present-day self-publishing entrepreneur.