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Indie Versus Traditional Publishing – A Guest Post By Author Stephen Morris

Thank you to author Stephen Morris for the below guest post:

Author: Stephen Morris
Website: http://www.stephenmorrisauthor.com
Amazon Author central: https://www.amazon.com/Stephen-Morris
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StephenMorrisComeHell/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PragueFlood/

Title: “Why Should I Have to Pay For an Editor??”

“Why should I have to pay for an editor? Or a cover design? Or for advertising? If my book is published by a real publisher, then won’t they pay for all that?”

I wrote my first book over the course of a half-dozen or so years. I spent several months submitting it to agents. No response. This was in 2010. In 2010, self-publishing was still just another name for “vanity publishing,” printing your own book because it wasn’t good enough for a regular publisher to print. You would pay the vanity press a lot of money and end up with a garage full of books that you tried to sell but eventually couldn’t even give away. To publish your own book was a shameful declaration of failure.

That first novel of mine involved the very real flood that had devastated Prague in 2002. I wanted it out into readers’ hands in 2012 as one of the events to mark the 10th anniversary of that flood. If it wasn’t picked up by a traditional publisher by 2010, there wouldn’t be time for it to appear by 2012. But just about the time I was getting ready to throw in the towel and admit defeat, the New York Times ran a series of four articles about how this new phenomenon of “self-publishing” was changing the publishing world. A small handful of authors had self-published their novels and hit the bestseller lists. Some of these were even authors who had been successful with traditional publishers but had decided to self-publish their most recent books. Suddenly, self-publishing was no longer about vanity and failure. It was about writing books—making art—and getting them into the hands of readers who wanted them.

All at once, self-publishing was a viable option. My book still had a chance of appearing by 2012! I picked apart those stories in the New York Times with a fine-toothed comb. I wanted to know how these authors had done it so that I could do it as well.

Well, the first thing they had each done—after writing the book itself, of course—was to have an editor work with them on the manuscript. I had to admit, I had been looking forward to that experience as much as I had been looking forward to holding a published book in my hands with my name on it. I had heard—and read—time after time how editors and authors became the best of friends, how working with a good editor was like getting an MFA in writing, how editors could take lackluster drafts and spin them into gold. I wanted all that.

So I found an editor. I went to the Editorial Freelancers Association website (http://www.the-efa.org ) and posted a job there, indicating the number of words in my manuscript and a price-range for the project. Twenty-something freelance editors responded. I short-listed five of them, based on previous projects they had worked on that seemed similar to mine as far as genre and length. I gave each of them the same 5-10 pages of text and asked for a sample edit. Then I chose one. While my editor and I did not become the best of friends, I did learn more than I could ever have expected. Marta (http://tanmar.biz/about/ ) knew how to deliver what might seem devastating critiques but in a way that felt uplifting and supportive. (An editor who cannot communicate with the author in a way that the author is able, or willing, to hear may as well not be editing at all. These are the two most important attributes an editor can have: exquisite editorial skills and outstanding communication skills. Likewise, a good communicator who has nothing to say is not going to provide an author with the necessary guidance either.) The novel was infinitely better because of her input. The money it cost was more than well worth it. She deserved every penny; I got more than I paid for.

Some people might point out that authors get to work with an editor for free, if they go through a traditional publisher. Just like a publisher will provide the advertising and sales force for the finished product. (But a traditional publisher will not spend a single cent on advertising for a new, unknown author.) “Why should I have to pay for editing?” some new authors might ask. Well, you do pay for editing—and all those services—if you go through a traditional publisher. You pay for them up front when you self-publish and then you get 30-70% royalties when readers buy the book; you pay for editing, etc. with a traditional publisher by getting less than 10% royalties when readers buy the book. (And you’ll pay for all your own advertising and promotional work with a traditional publisher as well. They get you both coming and going!)

I think the realization that I’d pay for all these services, one way or the other, was the nail-in-the-coffin of my thoughts that traditional publishing was somehow better than self-publishing.

I also joined http://www.bibliocrunch.com and took all the classes and seminars that were available about self-publishing: how to get reviews, methods and places to advertise, suggestions for how to set up websites and Facebook pages—even how to use Twitter and hashtags! No matter how “introductory” the class was billed to be, I always learned something. (Now most of the workshops are done by webinar and I have mastered that skill as well!) Each class or workshop was about an hour long—not onerous and always illuminating!

I am lucky enough that my domestic partner is a professional book illustrator and designer so I did not have to go far to find someone to design my book’s cover. But it is—again!—worth the money to have a professional design your book’s cover since that will be the first thing about your book that a potential reader sees. The reader decides to “click” on the book’s image or not because of the cover design. Does it grab the reader by the lapels? Does it effectively communicate the genre of the book? Is it a striking, unforgettable image? The cover design and the title deserve all the attention that you can give them. (BiblioCrunch can help put you into contact with designers, editors, etc.)

I also bought a block of ISBNs from Bowker (http://www.bowker.com ) so that I could retain control of who owns my work. (If you let a self-publishing company assign you one of their own ISBNs, they often control where your work can appear.) (The ISBN is like a social security number for your book and is necessary to track sales and pay royalties.)

When the book and cover were ready, I chose to publish through CreateSpace and KDP (Kindle Direct). If you look at the bottom of the Amazon home page, you will see “Self-Publish with Us.” Click on it. Then just follow the directions, which are clearly written and easy-to-follow. (I tried some of the other self-publishing platforms as well but none sold anywhere near as many copies as Amazon and the other platforms all required the files to be uploaded to be just different enough from Amazon’s that it was a real pain-in-the-neck. The amount of work required to tailor the files (cover and manuscript) to fir the requirements of each platform were not worth the small number of sales that the various platforms produced.

Pre-orders? If you can set up pre-orders for your book, that helps push the sales ranking up. For example, if a reader can pre-order a book for a few days or a month or even longer before the book’s official release date, none of those sales are counted until the actual release date arrives. Then, rather than counting each individual sale dribbling in over the course of a month (for instance), all those sales are counted on ONE day and help push the book into “best seller” status. The other way to help achieve best-seller status is to select key words or genre categories that are as specific as possible because this limits your competition. For instance, your book may be #346,821 in the “general fiction” category but its #457 in “mystery, thriller, and suspense” and #108 in “mystery, thriller, and suspense/mystery” as well as then #57 in “mystery, thriller, and suspense/mystery/supernatural” and finally #18 in “mystery, thriller, and suspense/mystery/supernatural/vampires.” See how that happens? The more you can narrow down your genre, the higher your ranking goes and the higher your ranking goes, the more likely your book will show up in readers’ searches for books like that. The more readers see your book, the more likely they are to buy it and then read it. And then—hopefully—post a review about it.

Reviews are absolutely necessary to post on the book’s sale page(s). A few very well respected reviewers an author can pay for (https://www.kirkusreviews.com/indie-reviews ) but those can take time; the more reviews you can have on release day or shortly thereafter helps the book show up in readers’ searches as well. Give copies of your book or manuscript to people who agree to post a review. It doesn’t have to be long (a sentence or two in some cases) or even say good things; a few bad reviews prove that the reviews are all honest whereas reviews that are all star-struck can seem manufactured.

You can also enter your book in contests to get noticed. Reviews from judges—and bragging rights if you win or get Honorable Mention!—are always good to have. But some contests are better than others. Check out any contest you think of entering (http://selfpublishingadvice.org/allis-self-publishing-service-directory/award-and-contest-ratings-reviews/#listing-R ) to make sure it’s not a scam preying on authors.

Email list. Social media. Book signings and readings or other events. All these help get books noticed. Set up a newsletter on MailChimp, even if it’s only a handful of friends and family at first. Create a professional Facebook page for yourself as an author as well as an Amazon Author Central page. Make a website. (Websites and Facebook pages should be focused on you rather than your specific book; you don’t want to have to make a new page or site every time you publish a new book. I’ve also noticed that websites hosted by HostMonster provide a lot more behind-the-scenes information than some other platforms; HostMonster will tell you what search engines are bringing people to your site, what search terms they used, and what links they click once they are looking at your site. All this information can help you know what to emphasize in future posts in order to keep attracting online attention.)

But don’t just always tell people, “Buy my book!” Talk about lots of other stuff. Talk about writing. Review other people’s books. Talk about the weather. Talk about baking cookies. Only a tenth of your posts should be about your book(s); no reader likes to be hammered in the head with “Buy my book!” messages and all the other things you talk about in your posts helps people feel connected to you and that connection is more likely to keep and build a base of additional readers or fans.

The best advertisement for the book you’ve written is to write the next book. This one may not be noticed right away but the next one, or the one after that, might be the one that grabs everyone’s attention and then they go back and want to read everything else you’ve written before. Persevere! Keep at it! We write—and self-publish—because we write a book that we would want to read and dare to dream that someone else likes to read the same things we do.
We write—and self-publish—not to become wealthy but because we have stories to tell and we want to share those stories with others. We write—and self-publish—because we know the joy that comes with discovering a new, well-told story ourselves.

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