Indie Author Reveals All
by Kit Bakke
My daughter belongs to the
twenty-something tattoo generation. Several years ago she urged me
to get a tattoo, too. “OK,” I replied, “but only after my second
book is published.” I imagined a tattoo of a fountain pen, with
little drops coming off the point, one for each book.
Then, after basking in the glory of
the 2006 publication of my Miss Alcott’s E-Mail, I spent most
of 2009-2010 collecting rejections for my middle-grade novel Dot
to Dot. Finally fed up, I swallowed my pride and turned to the
dark side: self-publishing. After some sketchy research, and despite
their dopey name, I settled on the home team: Amazon’s CreateSpace.
Then, in my first phone call with a charmingly Southern-accented
salesperson who kept calling me “ma’am,” I learned that CreateSpace
is located in Charlotte, NC. Amazon bought an existing printing
business there and rebranded it as their own. The press continues to
print books from mainstream publishers as well as print-on-demand
(POD) CreateSpace books. They’ve added an á là carte suite of
editorial, design and marketing services as well, all available to
frustrated authors like me.
I feel as if I’m outing myself,
opening my secret closet of gangly, embarrassing skeletons, but in
the months since I pulled the trigger with CreateSpace, the
environment has become increasingly friendly toward self-publishing.
One article called us “indie authors.” I suspect there are thousands
of writers out there who gain daily strength from thriller author
Barry Eisler’s March announcement that he had turned down a
half-million dollar deal with St. Martin’s Press in order to
self-publish his next book. And then there are all those unlikely
people like Amanda Hocking who’ve made a fortune self-publishing
So what’s it like to self-publish a
book? How is it different from going with a mainstream publisher?
Everybody’s experience is different, but here are a few observations
and tips to mull over if you are thinking of jumping on or off
I contacted CreateSpace in the middle
of November 2010 with an inquiry straight off their website. A sales
guy named Gaines Hill shot back an answer the next day, and despite
my getting his name turned around to Hill Gaines a couple times, we
got along fine. He described the process and my options and offered
me a package of about $2,000 to publish Dot to Dot.
That’s the first difference between
self-publishing and mainstream publishing: the author has to have
money. For my two grand I bought interior design, comprehensive
editing, twenty free books, multiple opportunities to review and
alter proofs, paperback full-color binding, up to ten interior
images, a review by Kirkus, and distribution through multiple
channels including Amazon, Ingram and Baker & Taylor.
I chose not to use CreateSpace for the
cover design, as my daughter had a graphic designer friend who did
it for about $600 (same price as CreateSpace would have charged).
She also designed the map I needed for the interior, bookmarks for
handing out at bookstores, and helped with images for my new
Each author has a team of CreateSpace
people to work with. I was very impressed with their timely
responsiveness, both by email and phone. Since CreateSpace makes its
money on throughput of titles (as opposed to volume of sales of
individual titles), they are incented to move quickly and
As a CreateSpace client, you have
access to a slick online dashboard of your manuscript’s progress.
It’s very easy to see
whose court each piece of work is in, what’s coming up and how to
prepare for it. I found this very different from the mainstream
process, where I was frequently in the dark about my
responsibilities, what deadlines we were operating under, where the
book stood at any particular moment, and where I was allowed input
and where not. Take covers, for example, which tend to be
traditionally angst-ridden for authors, because publishers view
covers as marketing and authors are generally not allowed input. I
saw the cover of Miss Alcott’s E-Mail for the first time in
the publisher’s catalog. Obviously, it was much more fun to be
involved in the cover design of Dot to Dot from the ground
The speed of production is another big
difference between self- and mainstream publishing. Miss Alcott’s
E-Mail took two years from contract signing to release. Dot
to Dot has taken a little over seven months. The pace is largely
controlled by the author’s change requests. The number of change
requests is dependent on how complete the manuscript really was when
submitted, and how carefully the author has thought through the
various design options in advance.
For instance, do you want your chapter
headings to be at the top of each page? Or your name? Or the book
title? Do you want the page numbers left- or right-aligned, or
centered? Do you want new chapters to always begin on the
right-facing page? What font do you want to use? Are there multiple
fonts in the text? How do they look together? CreateSpace provides a
series of questions to guide you through these choices, and white
papers on design tips, but sometimes you don’t really know how it
will look until you see a proof.
CreateSpace’s package gives you three
rounds of interior proof changes, and one round of a complete, bound
proof to approve. Additional changes are possible at a cost (under
$100 for a round of twenty or so changes).
The big downside of self-publishing,
of course, is lack of push distribution. You could also say that
lack of print reviews is another deficit, but the evidence is cloudy
on the impact of reviews on sales. However, having no publisher’s
representative visiting booksellers with a catalog listing your book
is a definite problem, solved only by more work on the author’s
part. I believe, though, that as mainstream publishers continue to
cut book-launch spending (not to mention reduced editorial services
and design options), the difference between the two methods is
diminishing. The fact that CreateSpace books can be ordered through
the standard distributers Ingram and Baker & Taylor is a huge plus,
one that I’ve found that not many booksellers themselves know.
How does a self-published book get
priced? The author sets the price! I’ve chosen to go low because
it’s a middle-grade novel and I don’t want to create a price
barrier. How does the self-published author make money? The
CreateSpace author gets 40-80% of the cover price (less production
costs) of every book sold, depending on the channel. That compares
with about 6% I received for my mainstream published book.
So that’s the scoop from my
experience. It’s been fun. I love the book. Now I have to go turn
myself into a publicist. Oh, and get a tattoo.
can learn more about Kit at