Publishing Process Survey Says: Part 3

Book Production Process Survey

In my last post I said I was going to milk this survey for as many posts as I could. Maybe we should start a pool on what that number will be. The first post has some disclaimers, cautioning against reading too much into a survey such as this (click here to refresh your memory). I also discussed the overall costs the respondents reported incurring in the production of their most recent self published book. Using the same method as I discussed then (assuming the actual cost to be the midpoint of the dollar range chosen on the survey), I’ve drilled down on each of the potential production steps to explore the costs using various possible methods. This post will cover two: Content editing and creation of the book cover.

Prior to evaluating the results, my expectation was that I’d find a large percentage of authors would hire someone to make their cover while a small percentage would hire content editors. This assumption was based on anecdotal evidence, my guess of percentages based on those authors whose process I’m familiar with, and what I see touted as common wisdom. (How many have seen or received advice saying, “if you don’t spend money on anything else to get your book out, at least hire someone to design a good cover?”) While more people did hire a professional for cover design than for content editing, the spread between the two turned out to be slightly smaller than I anticipated.

Cover Design

There were four choices given for how an author accomplished creation of their cover. I’ll list each from cheapest to most expensive.

The cheapest route, at least in dollars, is to trade or barter. It has no cost, but has the downside of requiring you find someone you’re confident has the required skills who also has a need for a skill you can offer. Only 4 people reported using this method to get their latest book cover created.

Much more popular was going it alone with the author creating their own book cover. A surprisingly (to me) large number took this route, with 34 out of the 89 responses using this approach. While some of these reported their cover didn’t cost a cent, many of them still incurred costs, some reporting expenses as high as the $250-$500 range.  The obvious cost someone would have is a fee to license the use of photos or artwork, although there may be other potential costs, possibly software to manipulate images or licensing of proprietary fonts. The average cost for those using the DIY approach was around $30.

A slightly more expensive and much less popular method was to buy a ready-made cover, with the author possibly making a few minor tweaks on their own. Only 4 people picked this option with an average cost of about $50.

On average, the most expensive option is hiring a cover designer or graphic arts professional. Some reported paying less than $10 (Fiverr comes to mind) while others spent more than $1,000. Two thirds paid in the $100-250 or $250-$500 range. 47 respondents had it done with an average cost of $275 with close to 70% spending less than the average.

Breaking this down another way, 57% “got a professional” either by paying or bartering while 43% did the job on their own. (It could be argued that the 4 who reported using a ready-made cover should be included in the got a professional category which would raise that category to 62%.)

Content Editing

As a memory refresher, this is how I defined content editing in the original survey post:

A content editor is a paid professional, although that pay might be accomplished using an exchange or trade of services. A content edit (sometimes called a substantive edit) often serves the same purpose and provides feedback on the same kind of things as an alpha reader. An author who uses both an alpha reader and a content editor would do so to shake out any issues raised by the alpha reader in order to minimize the cost of the content editor (plus the obvious benefit of getting multiple perspectives). A content editor is also more likely to provide ideas for fixing issues found than an alpha reader would be able.

Among the respondents, 7 said their book didn’t receive content editing, although a couple of these used beta readers prior to editing by any outside party, so unless the beta readers used by these authors wouldn’t report high-level issues or the authors would ignore them, these should possibly have been reported in the next category.

43% of the respondents reported using beta readers to shake out any high-level issues rather than using a professional editor. For those who feel that I have a bias against authors trying to keep their costs down, this is one area where they couldn’t be more wrong. This is an approach I’d recommend, assuming an author puts together a good beta reading team. Seeing the feedback from a few professional content edits hasn’t changed my mind. We’ll see how many editors I rile up with this comment.

Some authors reported that while no one was specifically responsible for content editing, their copy editor would give them feedback if he or she spotted any higher level problems.

Last, 9 respondents reported trading or bartering for the services of a content editor while 27 hired someone for this task. These two “got a professional” categories make up 40% of the total which as I said earlier was higher than I expected. For those paying for the service, costs ranged from under $200 to more than $1,000 (6 of the 27), one significantly more. Most were between these two extremes with the average cost coming out just shy of $800.

What’s Next

In the next post I’ll explore copy editing and proofreading, both how you’ve said you accomplish this and what the reported costs are for each. If I’m able to resist my tendency towards verbosity (something I wouldn’t depend on since I’m milking this survey for as many posts as I can) I’ll also get into formatting and other costs. Plus there are a few other questions that might have some interesting results I can report on or spin wild, unsubstantiated theories about. (How many of your fellow authors seem to be happy with what they’ve accomplished, for one.)

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

24 thoughts on “Publishing Process Survey Says: Part 3”

    1. Thanks, Melissa. What I’m finding as I’m digging into this is that the group of authors where I’m intimately familiar with the processes they use aren’t as representative as I thought they were. (A skewed and small sample.)

      1. Hey Bid Al: You were the single reviewer of my 1st effort novel to motivate me to do a major rewrite & hire a pro. proofreader and an experienced copy editor. I took your comments seriously (and thank you for them) and on April 30th, THE TIPPING POINT: A WAINWRIGHT MYSTERY will be released with new content, a new cover in a new trim size and, most importantly, new global distribution. Since I’ve acknowledged you in the book, I’ll send you a copy. Your help make this a superior product. Thank you,

  1. Thanks, Big Al, aka Sting (I can’t picture you as Madonna or Cher!). If you “riled anyone up,” try to remember that honesty always comes with a price–kind of like magic. LOL.

    Can’t wait for your next post!

    1. Sting? I call him Gordie. (But nothing he’s done solo hold a candle to the first few albums with The Police. 🙂 )

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Another option for building a cover is to buy a Shutterstock image that reflects the theme or subject of your book, then hire a book formatter to use it to create a cover for you. In addition, you can pay them to format your manuscript for uploading to CreateSpace or other self-publishing platforms of your choice. I spent about $900 with going this route. My novel, “united states,” is now in ebook, paperback, and hardback versions on Amazon and other major online book-purchase sites.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Nick. I wouldn’t think of a book formatter as someone who would always have the skills to do cover design, even working from a stock image, but I guess some might. I know if it were me, that price would be way outside my budget, but I’m sure there are ways to take that approach and do it for less. Thanks again.

      1. Hi, Big Al,
        This Dorval, Canada formatter, custom-book-tique, has an excellent cover designer as a subcontractor, so that worked very well for me at an affordable price. I also had input into the final design. Not sure how common that is, though, as you say.Thanks for your helpful post.

  3. Interesting info, Al. I learned today that even Bella Andre and Barbara Freethy make their own covers. Who knew?

    And I agree with you about using beta readers as content editors — as long as you can trust your betas to be honest (as you’ve noted). Substantive editing is the most expensive and most time-consuming part of the editing process. If you can get somebody to give you that kind of help for free or trade, your book production costs will go *way* down.

    1. I read that this week, too, Lynn. And I know a few authors who have (at least IMO) the artistic skill to do their own covers. I suspect many do. I sure wouldn’t. It’s knowing which camp you fall in that might be tough for some. (FWIW, one of those I think is able to do so no longer does her own and I guarantee she has the artistic chops. I forget the exact details, but know she had a painting on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Maybe she decided her time was still better spent writing the next one.)

  4. Thank you, Big Al! I like hearing what processes other authors use. You won’t get any negative comments from this editor on content editing. I use betas myself for higher-level story issues. They are FANTASTIC.

  5. Hello, Al. Very interesting. I wouldn’t mind taking part in your surveys, should the occasion arise again.
    Thanks for taking the time to do all this research for all of us Indies.

  6. Thanks Big Al, a nicely turned out piece with interesting results.
    The cost is always a critical factor for me, and by the looks of it, a lot of others too!
    The effort put into working out and passing on the resuts is very much appreciated. Thanks again.

  7. Thanks Big Al,
    Your article helps a lot. I did pay a professional cover artist to do my book cover. I believe I paid WillowRaven $300. I had contacted a professional editor , but he wanted a $1,000. As of right now, my girlfriend is my editor and typist ( I have to write with pen to paper). I also have other indie authors ‘test read’ my book to give me more feedback (it doesn’t hurt to have several other pairs of eyes go over the book). The test readers have found issues that my gf and I did not notice.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Lance.At least in my opinion, more eyes is better. It sounds like your experience is the same.

  8. Thanks Al. this puts a whole new complexion on the way we work and provided good food for thought.
    I wonder if you’re going, in a later post, to correlate sales success against production process?

    1. Thanks for the comment, Ian. That’s a good question and the answer is, I don’t know yet. The next post is ready to go (I think next Wednesday unless I’m confused about the schedule) and it covers the remaining individual parts of the production process in the same fashion as these. I’m still playing with the data and expect another post or two beyond that.

      However, I’m not sure what correlation, if any, there is between sales success and the process used, nor am I confident *if* there is a correlation whether I have the data to be able to make the case either way. Part of that is there are other factors that almost surely enter into sales success. One is marketing and promotion and the other is aspects of the story itself. Not only is their the issue of being a good story that resonates with readers, but some genres are going to see more success because of other issues (supply versus demand). And then the luck factor.

  9. It’s crazy to me that some authors aren’t investing in content editing. Unless you’re writing just for fun and really don’t care about revenue, this is an absolute must!

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