The Author’s Publishing Jungle

Having finally completed my novel, And the Memory Returns, I once again have entered the publishing jungle. My novel, at 40,000 words, is considered “too short” by the established “gatekeepers” to make a marketable novel—the going rate is 60,000 words or more. Nor is the topic idiosyncratic or blatantly catchy or a marketable genre like romance or suspense. A literary fictional story of a woman’s search for meaning as she ages, And the Memory Returns, is probably not going to set the book world afire. Nor can I add to the length when I feel the story is just perfect and compelling, as is.

How could I publish my book? I’m not willing to wait years required by the traditional publishing industry to see my book make it into readers’ hands, even if an agent would want my story.

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So it was that I began the quest to find a self-publishing company that offered the services I needed, hopefully, without breaking the proverbial bank. I heard from so many “vanity” publishers under the guise of “small publishers” that my head began to spin. Somehow, they even got my phone number. One talked to me over an hour as to how I had to consider my book a “spiritual endeavor” and put all my heart and soul into it, including setting myself up with a website as a speaker at national events. All for a fee, of course.

Another pretended to be a “traditional” publisher by saying publishing my book would end up costing me nothing. We accept your manuscript, they said, (without even reading it) because we know you have the “following.” But remember, we don’t accept just everyone. Upon further evaluation and emails back and forth, I learned I had to crowdfund $6,000 to meet their expenses of formatting, editing and cover design. Were they kidding? Not a fan of crowdfunding even for noble causes, I wasn’t about to ask friends and colleagues if they would donate to my publishing endeavor and then buy my book too.

For now, I have landed at BookBaby, a one-stop shop, much like Amazon’s CreateSpace, now defunct, which I used with great success to publish both my memoirs and my first novel. Except at CreateSpace, you got two cover samples. This time, just one. I have to write my own synopsis and prepare notes on my design, front and back, and hope that the one and only sample I am offered works.

I never had to worry whether my manuscript was properly formatted because I was paying CreateSpace to do that. And there were no additional charges with CreateSpace for fixing minor typos. Now, I need to consider that if my manuscript isn’t pitch perfect, there are additional fees. For example, fixing typos begins at a base rate of $50 and then $2 for every typo after that. Fair enough, although it makes me nervous since attempting to ensure the manuscript is flawless, without having to spend another several hundred dollars on copy editing or proofreading off the base price of $2,190, not including taxes, is a bit intimidating. That price is based on a shipment of 25 paperback books. Price goes up by just over $11 for every paperback I purchase, far above the approximately $4 which I spent at CreateSpace for a book of the same length and page count. (BookBaby did waive the shipping fee of $90 for 25 books because I live within an hour of their printing distribution center.) The pricing means I have to charge at least $15 to make even a little money off sales of the paperback. I can set my own price for the ebook on Kindle, and will get 70 percent for each sale.

Still, after much research BookBaby came highly recommended by indie publishing groups. And factoring in inflation and the years since I last published, I am getting ready to write the check. That is, unless you know of something better. I’m all ears.

This isn’t to say that I hadn’t already spent $1,350 on professional editing over two iterations of my manuscript because I did. I also had two beta reads, which a writer friend did in exchange for me taking her out to lunch and I’ve read numerous excerpts with feedback in the Women’s Writing Circle. In the end, all my hours of hard work writing the book will end up costing me about $3,500, which is far above the $1,900 I spent seven years ago on editing and CreateSpace.

Will I ever recoup my expenses? Probably not. But it could be worse. I know authors who have spent literally $10,000 or more to publish their work.  I won’t be paying for the marketing package some of them bought. As a former journalist and publicist, I’m hoping I have the tools to do that myself. And the time, of course!  It’s a jungle out there. Yet like most authors, I owe it to myself to “birth this baby.”

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in publishing your book.

Published by Susan G. Weidener

Join me as I share reflections, always with an eye toward the challenges and struggles we women encounter and embrace in both creative and personal ways. My memoir, Again in a Heartbeat, was selected as a 2011 editor’s pick by Story Circle Network. Its sequel Morning at Wellington Square has also achieved critical acclaim. A Portrait of Love and Honor, a novel based on a true story, is centered around a story of two people destined to meet and one man's commitment to honor following his years at West Point. In 1991, I joined the staff of The Philadelphia Inquirer and worked as a reporter covering news and writing feature stories until 2007. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs, I attended the University of Pennsylvania. In 2010, I started the Women's Writing Circle, a critique and support group for writers in suburban Philadelphia, which meets the second Saturday of the month at the Chester Springs Library. I live in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania with my Yellow Lab, Lily.

8 thoughts on “The Author’s Publishing Jungle

  1. My last book was published about five years ago, and I haven’t tried to publish anything since. After hearing your story, I’m glad I didn’t. Doesn’t Barnes and Noble exist anymore?

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    1. Thank you, Margaret. I’ve been researching publishing options for a year now. The good thing about BookBaby, versus going with an independent formatter or cover designer, is that they appear to be a big company with a lot of back-up if I request changes or have concerns.

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  2. I have read your piece with great interest because I’m contemplating next steps for my aunt’s teenage diary with the working title “Ready to Roll” and my curated blog collection “My Checkered Past.” Both are way under the magical 60,000 word count. Maybe combine the two somehow??

    My bank balance shows I have recouped just under 60% of my outlay for design, formatting, and various types of editing for my memoir. But I, too, am money-conscious and don’t want to spend big bucks this time around. At your suggestion, I will look into “BookBaby.” You have certainly done your homework. By the way, I admire your continuing work with the Women’s Writing Circle, obviously a labor of love.

    As authors without celebrity status, I believe we have to look beyond matching return with investment, which you have reckoned with here. There is intrinsic value in sharing our work, leaving a legacy. You’ve given me much to think about, Susan. Thank you!

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  3. Thank you, Marian. I feel if we spend too much on publishing, it can inhibit the joy of the endeavor, but if we “cheap-out”, and by that I mean trying to do this without professional help, that can have an adverse impact on a labor of love, as well. In the end, we all have to do what we feel comfortable with, but it’s not easy. I still haven’t written that check. As for the 60,000 word ‘requirement’, it annoys me because I believe “The Great Gatsby” was about 40,000 or less words. Also, Julian Barnes’ wonderful novel “The Sense of an Ending” which won the Man Booker was also about that length and described as “a slim and meditative” story by the New York Times. Thank you for the compliment about the Women’s Writing Circle. Believe me when I say that the Circle gives back to me in many wonderful ways.

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  4. I’m the publicist, publisher, operations (that means production etc) for Stella Fosse and her publications.

    On her latest novel, published late 2021 and after doing a lot of research, we ended up with a hybrid. We produce our own manuscript using Vellum (Mac only, but excellent) and distribute “wide”. We use KDP (which is the grandchild of CreateSapce I believe) for ebook and print. We ship ebooks through B&N, Google Play, Kobo and use Draft2Digital for distribution to a wide array of smaller outlets – plus Apple who are a pain to deal with directly.

    We do all our own social media and marketing – and that is a significant, sustained effort. I am doing as much as possible so that Stella can spend as much of her time as possible writing. But that marketing is still a resource hog.
    For print books and distribution to independent booksellers we use IngramSpark which is a real PITA to deal with but there are very few options for distribution of printed matter. Our book cost (a little larger than you word count) was $4.49 per copy (plus shipping). We buy ISBNs in bulk from Bowker (who are the only US supplier).

    We did use a professional cover designer for layout and did have professional proofreading (which even after many checks a beta reads found real issues) though the local (North Carolina) writers association.

    D2D may play a larger role as they expand into print copies and retail distribution. Your per copy cost is incredibly high and will effectively block you from independent (they want circa 50% discount) and, I suspect, anything other than vanity copies.

    Hope this helps.

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  5. Thank you, Graham. You provide a lot of details and info that requires me to do additional research. I agree that the per price trade paperback copy charge through BookBaby is far too high.

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