Self-publishing is something of a misnomer, given the various ways that authors can publish books outside of a traditional publishing relationship. In particular, we might consider two modes of indie publishing, do-it-yourself and team publishing. DIY is for authors who go it entirely alone. Authors who seek to make their projects team efforts may engage others to help them with various aspects of publication, whether those teams are groups of freelancers and friends or companies that have formed for the purpose.
Are there benefits to indie authors to outsourcing different aspects of their projects, especially those that emulate the services provided by traditional publishers, or are authors better off saving their money?
The 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author survey asked self-published authors whether and what type of services they hired to help them with their projects as well as how much they spent overall on bringing their latest self-published book to print. The survey sample considered in this blog consists of a voluntary sample of 2,197 self-published and hybrid authors who responded to our questions about their most recent self-publishing experience. Since the survey is voluntary, it may not represent the population of self-published authors. However, the extensive survey interviews provide insights into what services our sample of indie authors favors and how particular services relate to earnings.
Just under half of the self-published authors surveyed had hired someone or contracted with a company to help them self-publish their last book. Among those who hired services, the median expenditure was in the range of $500- $999, and the median number of services used was 3. The most popular service outsourced by authors was cover art.
The survey questions don’t tell us the quality of the services authors received or provided themselves. In my own experiences seeking contractors for different aspects of publishing my serial thriller, I found a range of prices. For example, I found cover artist bids that ranged from $35 up to $1800 and formatting bids from $75 to $700.
What is the difference between the low end and the high end of the spending range, and how much impact does it have on sales? On a limited budget, which, if any, services make the most sense to employ?
Using the information provided by the 1,927 authors who reported their earnings from their most recent self-published book, we find that authors with higher incomes are more likely to have utilized a team publishing than a DIY approach, to have utilized more services, and to have spent a considerably greater amount of money in bringing their books to market. Authors earning higher income were also more likely to report hiring services that were most likely to be provided by traditional publishers, namely professional cover art, editing (independent of or in addition to proofreading), and marketing and promotion.
Of these, the greatest differences between those that had no income and those that earned $10,000 or more from their latest book related to cover art and editing. Among authors making no income from their latest book, 22% contracted cover art, compared to 52% of those making more than $5,000 and to 63.6% for those earning $25,000. Similarly, under one fifth of authors earning no income from their latest self-published book hired an editor to help with content development and/or copy editing (e.g. line edits) compared to 38.5% of those earning more than $5,000 and to 50% of those earning $25,000 or more. Authors with higher earnings on their last self-published book were also more likely to have contracted for marketing and promotion, although with less impressive differences between groups in the percentage utilizing these services.
These cross-sectional results do not demonstrate causality, only correlation. They show that authors across the earnings range adopted a team approach, such that hiring a cover artist or editor is no guarantee of earnings success. There are likely myriad other factors that determine sales and earnings–for example, genre, number of other books published, etc.–in addition to the quality of the services employed. Moreover, the results do not provide us with information on how much authors invested in each type of service or which ones might yield the greatest payoff. It may also be that authors with prior sales success were more likely to invest more in producing subsequent indie books.
What the survey results do demonstrate is that authors with higher income were more likely to adopt a team approach than were authors with lower or no income from their last self-published books. To me, the results suggest the potential advantage of working with a team to produce a professional package.