Steps To Indie Publishing - Outsourcing Pt. 2 of 3 - Editing & Covers

Hey, gang! You might recall a couple of weeks ago I covered the basic steps to Indie publishing (a mostly serious list). As a refresher, I basically listed a bunch of things like editing, covers, formatting, etc. that lead up to you getting your book published. 

At the end of that post, I made a case for considering hiring someone to do those things for you. 

As promised, here is part two (of three... sorry, there's a lot of information to cover!) wherein we'll take a look at the first three steps I listed previously (writing, editing, and covers) checking out the basic why, when, how much, and what of outsourcing those publishing tasks.

I'd also like to remind everyone of our mantra: Quality matters!

I know a lot of you in the audience are actually hiring out as editors and cover artists, so in an attempt to do a little love connecting, I'm providing a link list for you to let people know about what you do and where to find you.

ALSO, if you want to learn more about Indie publishing and outsourcing, I highly recommend you stop by our special 1 hour early (8 PM Eastern) #NALitChat tonight on Twitter

We'll be chatting live on air (we do an audio show along with tweets, so if you're not into tweeting you can just listen) with Kate Tilton who works with Bibliocrunch--a one-stop-shop website that connects Indies with editors, artists, distributors and more. 

You can join the conversation (or just follow it) on Twitter using the #NALitChat hashtag. Should be a lot of fun with tons of information shared.

Keeping in mind this is based off of my experiences and research, that the cost estimates are intentionally broad, and that your mileage may vary, let's get to it!

Step 1 - Writing

As I mentioned before, I'm going to assume you actually want/like to write and aren't going to hire a ghostwriter to do it for you. Furthermore, I know nothing about ghostwriting, so we'll move right along...

Step 2 - Editing

Why you should hire it out - Okay, the distinction needs to be made up front: Professional editing is different than having beta readers and critique partners. You need those, too! But a professional editor is the next step. This person will be paid (and handsomely--we'll get to that) to scour your manuscript and make that sucker sparkle. 

They don't get to pull the "my kids are insane demons", "the cat vomited on my computer", "OMG Walking Dead just started again!" excuses a beta gets to use. Why? Because they are on the clock, and their business reputation is at stake--just like yours. It's a magical relationship, really.

Can you have a tight manuscript without paying an independent editor to look at your work? Maybe. But can you guarantee that your critique partner wasn't distracted by life and possibly their own manuscript when they looked over yours? No. Furthermore, can you hold them accountable if they were? No. Free is free, and you don't get to bitch about it if they miss your comma splices and word spamming.

When to find an editor - The first thing to understand about editing is that there are different types and levels of editing. If your betas are ninjas and your critique partners omniscient, you might just need some proof/line editing (think typos, homonym screw-ups, etc.) or copy editing (think style, form, and presentation of the text). 

But let's just say your mom is your only/best beta reader and loves everything you do. THEN you might want to find someone to do some developmental editing (think BIG picture stuff like plotting, pacing, and character development) for you.

So, the type of help you need will dictate when you need to seek an editor out. If you've got a fairly raw draft, you'll want to find a developmental editor earlier on in the project. However, if you've got something pretty polished on your hands, you might wait until you're closer to the publishing point for a little more focused help.

In either case, keep in mind that editing takes time, and reputable editors book up sometimes a year in advance. But before you go all ants-in-pants on me, remember that quality matters. Good things are worth waiting for.

And don't assume they're too busy to help you. Always ask, because they sometimes have unexpected cancelations, etc.

How much is it going to set you backThis will likely be the most expensive thing you outsource. It's also probably the most important. Basically, if you can only spend your money in one place, put it here. 

All the marketing, fabulous covers, and glitz in the world aren't going to cover up sloppy writing. Yes, I know (Insert Horribly Written Book Title Here) sold a billion copies, but yours won't. Trust me. 

Expect to pay $250-$2,500 depending on the length of the work (most charge by the word) and the type of editing you need. Developmental tends to cost more because it takes more of the editor's time and more interaction with the author. If they are a busy and well-established editor, probably on the high side of that estimate for a novel.

Considerations - Always shop around, talk to customers, read testimonials, and carry a cross and rabbits foot with you. Then, make sure they give you a sample of what to expect from their editorial feedback, demonstrated on YOUR work. It shouldn't take more than a few pages to see if they know what they're talking about, and if you'll be able to work with them.

Resources - Check sites like Predators & Editors and popular writing forums like Absolute Write for the skinny on specific editors. And definitely ask your writing friends. Word spreads quickly in writing circles.

Bottom Line - Do your homework before giving anyone your money.

Step 3 - 

Why you should hire it out - Look, some people just don't have an eye for visual esthetics. That's cool! But when it comes to the cover of your baby, don't pretend. A rocking cover is very important to the overall package of your work, and as an Indie author it's maybe your best weapon in the fight to get noticed amidst the see of traditionally published books out there.

And be honest with yourself: If you don't have a clue what pixel count is, you have no business doing your own book covers in the digital age. 

When to hire a cover artist - This one is really up to you. Some writers like to have the cover in front of them as they draft for inspiration. Others don't want to think about a cover until the book is almost ready for the presses.

Whenever you decide to contact a cover designer, just be sure to have a reasonable grasp on the basic elements you want included in your design. Keeping in mind that most cover designers will not be reading your manuscript cover-to-cover, they're going to rely heavily on your vision and synopsis of the work.

A cover can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months to complete depending upon the type of work being done and how many 'revision cycles' you go through. 

How much is it going to set you back - $75-$1,000 This will vary greatly upon the considerations listed below, and the amount of work you're requiring of the artist you're hiring. Some charge by the hour, others by the project, so be sure to ask upfront.

Also, be aware of how many feedback/revision cycles the cover artist will give you. (Usually listed in their terms.) Typically, the more you pay, the more say you're going to have. If someone is putting together a $50 cover for you from stock images that already exist, don't expect them to change the eyebrow color of the models fifteen times.

Lastly, look for bargains! New design studios are popping up every day, and the new ones sometimes offer a good discount to help build up their clientele. Ask for sample covers, and if you like what you see, give 'em a shot.

Considerations - Do you want something illustrated--an original? Do you want to use people (models) on your cover? Are stock/public images okay? All of these things will likely impact price. So keep the variables in mind. Simpler concepts usually = less money.

Again, don't assume the cover designer is going to read your novel. In fact, many do not. They rely heavily on the author to give them the details they need to convey an entire book in a single image. Not easy to do, so it's important to find a cover designer you can work with, and who can quickly share your vision for the story.

Resources - You can find tons of cover artist with a simple Google search, and you can also check this Goodreads list. Here's a nice blog post on finding and working with cover artists.

Also, many talented authors are talented cover designers as well. So ask your writerly friends! Here, here, and here are a few of mine who do covers. :)

Bottom Line - An effective, nicely designed cover doesn't have to cost a fortune, but it might take someone with a little know-how to get it done.

That's it for part two! Be sure to keep an eye out for the final installment where I'll talk about formatting, distributing, and marketing.

Do any of you have experiences outsourcing to publishing professionals? Any tips to share in the comments? Did I leave anything out?

Also, be sure to add your business/service title and a website to the link list below if you're providing some of the services we've talked about. You never know who might stumble across this. :)



  1. Thank you for this post, especially the resource lists. That's going to come in very handy.

  2. I've got great beta readers and a critique partner, but my editor found things on my dev edit that I could definitely develop more. I'm a firm believer on all levels of professional editing. The trick is finding the right editor who shares your vision for YOUR story.

    1. That's exactly right and definitely worth reiterating, Stina: Working with an editor (and a cover artist, too, for that matter) is as much about 'fit' as it is function. Yes, you want them to be competent, etc. but you also need to find someone you can communicate with and be confident that they understand what you want for your story.

      A tough thing to do, but don't be afraid to explore that with the person you're considering hiring. It's your money and you have a right to discuss things before entering an agreement.

  3. That will help a lot of people, EJ. And smart to quote a range of prices. That stuff doesn't come cheap.

  4. Thanks for the shout-out, Mr. Wesley! ;)

  5. Great post, EJ. Very well said. :)

  6. If you're going to self publish, you have to anticipate these costs as a business expense. It's an investment in yourself and your product (your novel), just like any other business. And, yes, quality matters SO much. :)

  7. Excellent tips, EJ. Things to keep in mind!

  8. A great bunch of tips, E.J., and well-timed for me as I'm just starting out as a freelance editor! Thanks for putting a linky list up. I don't offer developmental editing yet, in order to keep prices down, but I may branch into that later on. I do formatting, too. I think editing is more important than ever now there are more and more self-publishers - you don't want your incredible story to get let down by poor presentation.

  9. Hey, EJ... You are so right. The finished product NEEDS to look FINISHED and professional. There is way too much competition out there, so the author needs to understand this fully,

    As a cover designer and creative editor, shopping around is important. There are a LOT of scammers out there. SO my advice is to check with our community FIRST. I know at least three authors, me included, who do editing services, and COVER design. I illustrate as well for those authors looking for original art.

    Thanks for all the great advice and I hope you have an awesome weekend.

    ON Monday I am having a cover reveal of a cover I designed. I also wrote the blurb, so I hope you can visit....

  10. I couldn't agree more about the importance of putting your money on editing first, covers second. It's also essential that the editor understands your work and the cover artist/designer your ideas. So make sure each is a good fit for you.

    1. Editor and writer are definitely a relationship that goes beyond just business, Carol. You need to enjoy working with that person, and trust their instincts for your story almost as much as you trust your own. :)

  11. Thanks for sharing this information. I'm just starting down this road. :)

    1. It's a long road, Kimberly. And definitely not 'straight' or simply navigated. :) But it's definitely rewarding if you're willing to see it through.

  12. Great post! You're absolutely right about having a good editor!

  13. Anyone who is thinking about self-publishing should be reading this post. I've thought about all of this quite a bit and agree with your points. Also, I think some folks underestimate the value of a great cover.

  14. So true Brinda! And I don't even think of it so much as a 'great' cover. Just not a bad one--if that makes sense. At the very least, it needs to look professionally done and fit in well with all of the other books out there in whatever genre you're writing in.

    Amazon is not a museum where people are going to stop and ponder the meaning of your 'exhibit'/cover. It's a marketplace, and you've all of about 3 seconds to convince a reader your book is worth paying for. :)

  15. What an informative post! I agree with you that it is important to have a fabulous cover. As much as we shouldn't judge by them- we do. What a great resource you have created for writers to reference. :) Awesome!


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