Indie Life - Steps To Indie Publishing - Outsourcing Pt. 3 of 3

Hey, gang! Time for another Indie Life post. What is Indie Life? Essentially, it's a growing list of independent authors and publishing professionals who aim to support each other through the sharing of information and insight.

We do this by posting on the second Wednesday of each month in an organized blog hop. If you think you'd like to take part, click the Indie Life button above.

Today I'm wrapping up my series on the basic steps to getting your book published independently. 

In the first installment, I talked about the 6 essential tasks before you (writing, editing, cover, formatting, distribution, and marketing). 

In the second post, I gave some tips and information on how and why to outsource--or hire out--each of the first three steps. Well, except for writing--if you need a ghostwriter, they're out there, but I honestly have no clue about that.

In this final post, we'll take a look at the final three steps: formatting, distribution, and marketing. So let's get to it!

Step 4 - Formatting

Why you should hire it out - Okay, you've got that manuscript polished to a shiny, chrome-like level. It's time to slap it up on Amazon and watch the downloads stream in!

*slaps mouse out of your hands* Not so fast my friends. In most cases, it's not a simple matter of just using your finished Word document.

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the like use specific file types for their e-Readers. You'll need to convert your Word doc to mobi, ePub, and maybe other exotic filetypes for them to get along.

Yes, there are programs that will do it for you, but trust me on this: It isn't a "button press" process. You'll need to understand how those programs work, and you'll need to figure out how to "debug" your Word doc or you'll get sentences that look like this: 

D    og ate the      chicken. Dogloveschicken   !

And none of this speaks to formatting paper books. We'll get more into this in the distribution section, but paperback formatting requires a bit of artistic skill, or at the very least, some design esthetics. 

This isn't as big of an issue for electronic books. eReaders almost always have the ability for the reader to dictate their preferred text size, style, etc. And while you can certainly try to alter the text layout of a paperback by pressing "the buttons" (i.e., with your mind) I'm not sure you're going to get very far.

So the pressure mounts when you format a paperback, because you're pre-determining the reading experience and the reader's preferences for them. NOTE: You can DEFINITELY screw this part up.

When to find a formatter - Is formatting your own book doable? Absolutely! In fact, I know many, many, MANY indie authors who prefer to do this step for themselves. Why? Because once you've got it down, you've got it down. And that translates to saving you money in the long run.

However, it will most likely take hours if not days of your life to get it down. So consider hiring someone to do it for you if you, A) HATE tedious computer work, B) are prone to eyestrain, or C) don't have lots of time to kill.

How much is it going to set you back? Another reason to consider hiring a formatter is that it's probably the cheapest service you can hire out.

For eBook formatting, you can expect to pay between $50 and $300, usually depending upon what you're asking for and the length of the work. 

I say what you're asking for, because certain distributors (like Smashwords) have "special" or premium catalogs that require a few more hoops to jump through. You may have to pay more for those kinds of things.

Another factor is if you have a lot of images within the text. Think of maps for fantasy, graphs for non-fiction, chapter images, etc. That can cost you extra as well.

There are lots of formatters out there who will do eBooks for less than $150. 

For paperback formatting, I'd expect to pay between $150 and $500. You might even pay upwards of $1,000 if your formatter is also manipulating the images for the cover, back jacket, and spine, or if she needs to include a lot of images with in the text.

Considerations - Keep in mind that when you hire a formatter, this probably doesn't mean zero effort on your part. You'll need to inspect the files they send you back. This can take hours. As in, how-long-does-it-take-you-to-read-a-book? kind of hours.

And I HIGHLY recommend you inspect what they send you back closely.

Most formatters will stipulate how many "re-do" attempts you get. Meaning: If you inspect the file and aren't pleased with something, you can send it back to them for corrections. 

Furthermore, formatters will not proofread your manuscript for you, so if you have typos, they'll most likely go into the final version of the book. Fixing them might require re-formatting, and that WILL require more $$$ on your part if you aren't doing it yourself.

Resources - Smashwords has a handy resource for finding independent publishing professionals called Mark's List. It's particularly useful, because Smashwords does attempt to keep it up to date and vetted. You'll find lots of book formatters there. 

Also, be sure to ask your author friends, particularly if you've read their book and thought it looked nice. They might do their own formatting and be willing to help you do yours for not-much-money. 

Bottom Line - Okay, here's where I do a little hedging on you. Finding a good formatter is tricky. And I've found out the hard way that a large part of formatting is trial and error--and that costs you when you're hiring it out. 

In my one and only experience with working with a formatter, I spent more time going over their work than it would've taken me to learn how to do it myself. And it still wasn't great!

I suspect this is why so many indies decide to do it themselves. Unless you know (trust) the person doing your formatting, you're likely rolling the dice.

Unfortunately, it would take another entire post to get into how to do it yourself. So I'll leave you with this excellent overview I read recently, courtesy of our blogging author friends, M Pax and Michael Pierce

So my REAL bottom line is this: If this is going to be your one and only book to publish (at least as far as you know), spend some real money on hiring as professional a formatter as you can find. (Proof is often in the website I've found--if it's a mess, they probably don't have the eye for detail formatting requires.)

However, if you're in this indie game for the long haul and are going to publish several things a year, invest your energy and time in learning how to do it yourself.

Step 5 - Distribution

Why you should hire it out - It doesn't take Donald Trump to figure out that you want your book in as many retailers as possible. And there are more book slingers out there than you might think.

Amazon, KOBO, Sony, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Diesle--just to name a few. And that doesn't include the vast numbers of paper book peddlers (libraries, bookstores, etc.) If you're doing this on your own, it can take a staggering amount of time to get your book in their hands, on their terms.

Distributors take care of that for you. They'll make sure your book is ready for purchase on Apple iBooks and you won't even have to lift a finger--well, other than giving them your manuscript. 

When to find a distributor - If you're only willing or able to get your book uploaded to one or two sites on your own, you might want to consider working with a distributor. 

Also, if paper books are a big part of your plan, you'll want a distributor.  

How much is it going to set you back? This is tricky. There are different types of distributors, and each goes about getting their pound of flesh a little differently. 

Smashwords offers--alongside digital publishing on their site, which is different than being a distributor of your book--a distribution program. Basically, if you meet their premium catalog requirements, they'll get your eBook up on iBooks, Sony Bookstore, and more. In most cases, it's a 60 (author)/ 40 (Smashwords and partners) per-book-split on titles priced .99 and higher.

Then, there are services like BookBaby, who offer a buffet-style approach to book publishing and distribution. (You can literally have them do everything except the writing and marketing.) They have a one price model: You pay upfront for whatever types of services you want, (starting at $99) and keep the rest of your earnings--minus an annual $19 service fee, of course. In exchange, they make sure your book gets to a bunch of retailers. (BookBaby also does print distribution, so again, you can have them do everything.)

Lastly, there are paper book channels to think about. Amazon offers CreateSpace, which is different than Kindle Direct Publishing in that it does distribute your book (if you so choose) to sources other than Amazon. 

It's free upfront if you design the layout of the book materials and upload the files yourself. Or, you can have them design your paper book for a fee. Then, they'll send it to wherever you specify for a royalty fee per book sold (you'll get to keep about 30% of whatever the title is selling for). They'll also charge you for every paper book you order, but it's heavily discounted from the sticker price the consumer sees. 

Another popular distributor is Lightning Source. You send them a file or print book for them to scan into their system, then they'll get your book out to the various distribution channels. Unlike CreateSpace, they do offer services other than POD (print on demand... think: the difference between creating each book as it is ordered Vs creating a print run with several volumes).

Considerations - They all have different terms, so make sure you familiarize yourself with them. In every case, you're going to be sharing your hard-earned book earnings with these people for a long while, so do some homework, and use the best service for you. 

Resources - This is a reoccurring theme here, and it's very telling of why we do this Indie Life thing--ask your author friends! Listen to their experiences using different distribution options, and try to find people who are shooting for something similar in terms of what you want for your book. 

CreateSpace might just be the perfect, hassle-free option you're looking for if most of your marketing time is going to be spent online. However, if you want to get your book in as many indie bookstores and libraries as possible, there might be better options.

I'd also recommend talking with the people at those bookstores and libraries who are responsible for ordering books directly. They'll let you know who is easiest for them to work with, which is important if that's where you want your book to be sold.

Bottom Line - This is the sink or swim point for many authors, and lots of them just go with the first distributor whose terms they can actually understand and meet. I'd encourage you to really talk to other independent authors and at least try to make an educated guess based upon what YOUR goals for YOUR book are. 

Step 6 - Marketing

Why you should hire it out - You've got the Facebook and are on the Twitters, what more do you need to be able to let the world know your baby is kicking and screaming in a store near them?

More, like, lots more. Marketing goes beyond a blog tour. It goes beyond a thriving Twitter account and a great book. There are many layers to creating awareness of you and your work, and the time you can sink into it is quite literally infinite. 

So, if you want to spend more of your time writing, and less of it typing Facebook updates, and your idea of branding is running around and zapping people with a hot iron, it might be time to hire it out.

When to get help with marketing - The marketing gurus out there (see - not me) will tell you that marketing for your book begins long before the book is even finished. 

You'll create a brand--an identity--for you as an author and a person by being present on social media and other public outlets. It's through the (hopefully) rose-hughed lenses of that brand that readers will begin to see you. 

You can most certainly do this organically just by being yourself on your blogs, etc. Talk about the things you like to read, watch, and listen to. Talk about your work generically and preferably not ad nauseam. Support other writers/authors, and so on.

However, this takes a LOT of time (usually years) and persistence before it builds into anything quantifiable in terms of 'presence'.

And maybe you've been writing in secret and, like a cat hiding in a box, are just waiting for the right time to jump out at us. If so, you'll need some help with getting noticed right away.

Or, perhaps you're really good at a couple of things (like blogging and Facebook), but you're really non-existant on other major platforms like Twitter. It might be a good idea to get some help to better cover your bases.

How much is it going to set you back? Again, your mileage may vary here. Do you just want a blog tour to help with your latest release? That'll be in the $100 - $300 range depending upon how long the tour goes and what the tour planner is expected to do. 

If you just need someone to build you a website, that will cost from the low hundreds to the thousands depending upon the fanciness you desire and the amount of time it takes a designer to build it. (And don't forget the hosting fees, which are usually nominal, but can add up over time. This is why a lot of authors default to using free blogs, etc.)

But maybe you need the whole "PR team" treatment. Someone to create your brand, teach you how to tweet, set up interviews, help you build that website, etc. That will set you back hundreds or, more probably, thousands of dollars. 

Considerations - Most of us will be willing and able to take on some of the marketing burden ourselves. So the decision then becomes more of identifying what you suck at, what you dislike doing, and what you're unwilling to invest your time into doing.

If you have some web design chops, consider building your own website through free sites like Weebly. It's pretty user friendly, and you can get a polished site up relatively quickly. Plus, it'll save you big time $$$. 

If you enjoy blogging and have a large following, you might be able to do your own blog tours. You might also find the time you spend organizing and carrying them out to be not agonizing (I refuse to call it enjoyable...).

But be honest about what you can do to a quasi-professional level Vs what you'll just be dabbling at. As the saying goes, you get one shot at making a good first impression, so make it count.

Resources - I mentioned Weebly above as a resource for building a website. 

Here's a good article with a big picture look at the keys to a successful virtual book tour. Here's a somewhat recent breakdown/comparison of some popular blog tour companies and their service/fee structure. 

Here's a list of 7 essential online book marketing tips I found useful.

Bottom Line - Again, I can't emphasize word of mouth enough. Talk to other writers you respect and trust before forking over your money. I found my blog tour planner that way, and I haven't regretted that expenditure for a second. 

Also, don't let me give you the impression that blog tours and website are all that goes into marketing. For big picture idea, check out this list of 10 winning marketing strategies.


Well, that's it! (I think... *phew*) I know this was a long post and series, but I'm hoping others will find it useful. I've intentionally tried to make it broad and "plain speak" to allow readers to wade into the world indie publishing as opposed to being thrown in headfirst. This was not intended to be an immersive guide to self-publishing.

(There are lots of people out there who know way more about it than I do. But I can tell you from the perspective of an everyday Joe, which is what I attempted to do.)

As I mentioned from the outset, quality matters. It's so very important to your longterm success and goals as an author to do these steps the best that you can each and every time. The worst possible outcome is for someone to not read your words because you've neglected a few simple details. 

Below is the link list I offered previously. If you provide some of the services I've covered in this series (cover design, formatting, etc.), please add your information below and I'll keep it posted on this blog.



  1. Wow! You covered so much. I'm impressed. We might have to list your blog at the IWSG site.

  2. Fantastic post on other services Indies can hire out. Now I feel like I'm too cheap on my formatting prices, but I'll still keep them low. ;)

    1. I think you're a great illustration of what I tried to suggest multiple times: Ask your author friends. I'm assuming you keep your fees reasonable because you enjoy helping other authors, and it isn't your primary focus of business. (i.e., you're a writer first) Plus, just like LD below, you're a well-known person in our blogging-writing world, and I think indie authors can be confident you'll do good work for them. :)

  3. $50-100?! Pits, I'm so cheap. I format 3-4 ebook versions for $30. Print books start at $99.

    EJ, I'm on a List-Serve where a marketing issue came up about an author who was going to hire out all online marketing because she had no online presence. Almost everyone in the group (industry professionals for 10-30 years) said it would be a waste of money if she hired someone to do all of the marketing for her. I agree. You can get a service to help, but a personal relationship with people online is still needed to be effective. (When I teach my seminars on Pub & Promo and someone says they don't even have an email, I shudder...)

    1. I tried to estimate on the high side of things in general, just because I thought it would be worse to budget too little than too much. I mentioned in the second post that you should shop around a lot for "deals", and should've probably reiterated that again here. You're a perfect example of that, and I know you have a relationship with lots of indie authors out there--so they can be confident that with you, cheap doesn't = not good.

      Appreciate you pointing that about the list serve discussion! I tend to agree that doing things organically is absolutely the best way. In fact, a good friend/marketing guru of mine just posted recently about how artificially inflating your web presence through 'follower drives', giveaways, etc. isn't always the best way to do things.

      I can't imagine not having e-mail in this age! Although, I think my sanity would be a little more intact without it. :)

  4. Wow. I'm blown away by how much you know and how well you explained it. Awesome post, EJ - totally awesome.

    1. My wife would tell you I know just enough to be dangerous, M! :D Appreciate your comment!

  5. Hi, E.J.
    Definitely an informative post. I started formatting my books for some of the reasons you mentioned. It's a lot easier to make quick changes when you know how to do the job yourself. Checking out some of the other links you mentioned. Thanks.

    1. Thanks, JL! I'm hesitant to tell people they have to--or even should--format themselves. I know there are capable and honest formatters out there. (A couple of have commented here, I think. :)

      But my experience was that it would've saved me a lot of grief and time had I just learned how to do it on my own from the start. And as you said, once you know how, it's easy to make changes as you need to, which is part of the power of being an indie author in the first place.

  6. Cherie Reich is very good at formatting. I hate formatting, but I do it myself. It's what my book is going to look like so I like that control.

    I bought an ad on Goodreads 2 years ago. I pay a webhost once a year. I do events now and then. Otherwise, I don't spend a lot on marketing. Not yet.

    1. I'm not sure how I feel about spending a lot on marketing until you have a lot to market. I generally think that if you're spending more time (and money) promoting your last title than you are writing and promoting the next--especially when you're just getting going--it isn't a great use of your time.

  7. Excellent post. I'm lucky that my wonderful CP also formats for me. As for marketing, it's tough, and I can't afford any help. I haven't found a good balance between marketing myself and my work and writing. One day Alex will share with us how to make clones, right?

  8. A lot of things covered today, EJ!

    Formatting is definitely something I'll be farming out...

  9. Ugh, so much work now to be a published author. I guess I'm still hoping for the traditional publication so I don't have to handle all this myself, but I think the days of an author not wearing the marketing hat also are long gone. Can't just write a book/story any more.

    Thanks for the tips EJ.


  10. Great info, E.J. You covered a lot here! Hope all is well with you. Have a great month!

  11. What a great post, EJ! Full of insight, clear, concise, and enlightening. I'm tweeting and FBing. I didn't know about much of this, and will definitely hit you up when the time comes if I have any questions. That is, if you don't mind. ;)

    M.L. Swift, Writer

  12. This is an excellent resource in and of itself, EJ. And it's right where I'm at. I've organized my own blog tour, and it hasn't been that bad. Right now my ms is having its final proofing and then it's off to the formatter. I'd like to learn formatting someday, but I can't possibly invest the time right now.
    I"m bookmarking this page for future reference, cuz you know... baby steps ....

  13. Good overview. I think if any author is in this for the long haul and doesn't have a lot of cash to start with then it's worth learning formatting. I agree - it was a big hurdle to get over - but now I'm so glad I know how to make my ebook look good and the way I want to. But, it's def. an aspect that can be hired out depending on how deep your wallets are.

    Plus, you can easily update the epub your formatter gives using Sigil - free software. Especially when you want to add links to new books or fix typos. :)

  14. Good advice, sir. I'm DIY all the way with my republished work, and Amazon's preview feature has been invaluable. Wish Smashwords had a similar feature, but I usually download the ePub and page through it to make sure everything looks good to go.

  15. This was AWESOME to read! I've been concerned about formatting, but my boyfriend is going to try his hand at it. He's patient and pretty tech-savvy, so I *think* he'll do a good job....
    Thanks for the great resources!!


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