On why you might want to research that stock photo

Mar 19

Hi-dee-ho, neighborinos! So today I want to take a break from the usual whining about book progress, and talk a little bit about the more superficial side of book publishing. No, literally, the superficial. As in, existing or occurring at or on the surface. Yep, I’m talkin’ ’bout covers.

Now, I’m very fortunate to have someone in my life who is both a friend and a faaaabulous graphic designer, with an aesthetic that matches my own almost perfectly. My girl Cassie from Back to Her Roots did the cover design for Terra, and I’ve heard pretty much nothing but positive feedback about it.

And you can see why! I know I’m a bit (okay, a lot) biased, but I absolutely love this cover. The textures, the ratios, the typography… I think it just looks really great. And one of the things that I love most about it is that it maintains a degree of uniqueness, in a world where there are literally thousands of book covers that all look the same.

I mean, it’s not a bad thing to model your cover after things that people like. And this certainly isn’t a singularly unique cover, since, yes there are about eleventy billion young adult covers that feature a girl on the cover in some capacity. Maybe she’s in a prom dress, maybe it’s a close-up of her beautiful modelly face, or maybe part of her face is cut off, like Terra’s. But I haven’t seen a ton of covers that follow the kind of “divided into thirds” thing that this one has going on, with the awesome textures that are both beautiful AND story-relevant. And even if everything else were essentially the same as other covers, I know that I can feel confident that no other book will ever be able to completely replicate my own. And that is because of the cover model herself.

Some of you may already know this, but my brother is actually a professional photographer. Not only that, but his fiancee (my future sister-in-law) both shoots with him, and models for him. So when it came time to decide who to put on the cover of my book, I had it pretty easy. I didn’t need to scour the interwebs for a stock model in the right pose or with the right hair color or what have you. I was able to get a photo that was not only free (heh), but I knew would not be replicated on another cover… EVER.

See, it’s recently become starkly apparent to me just how many of the same stock photos get circulated around the book cover world. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing–people like what they like, and if they liked a model couple on one cover, it stands to reason they might like them on another–it certainly doesn’t do anything to help you distinguish your book from the rest. This is why, if you are using or planning on using stock photos of models for your book cover, I urge you just to do a little research beforehand. Otherwise you run the risk of turning a potential reader away because they’ve seen it all before.

Still need convincing? Not to fear, I brought examples!

The Lux Series by Jennifer L. Armentrout is a very popular YA sci-fi (well, sci fi in that it has aliens, but is still set in our contemporary world) set of books, which feature a pair of models representing the two main characters. They look pretty great together, so I can see why. And apparently, so did all these other people:

The examples actually go on much further. There’s even an entire Goodreads list dedicated to sussing out all the many, many covers that same couple is featured on, and last I checked, the list was over 60 titles long! Crazy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for covers that feature a hot couple but… I mean, c’mon, guys.

I’ve only found one replication of the coupl efrom Tammara Webber’s self-pubbed sensation, Easy, so far. That said, when the guy is as distinctive looking as the one on this cover (or at least has as distinctive hair, haha), it’s impossible to miss. At first, I thought that Vacant by Evelyn R. Baldwin was tied into Easy in some fashion, when in fact they are two completely unrelated works by two completely unrelated authors.

With my last example, I actually can’t find the second work that I recently saw which features this same fierce warrior chick, but I KNOW it exists. Anybody know of the book I’m looking for? For a while it was showing up in the “Customers also bought this…” list on Terra’s Amazon page, but it isn’t there anymore. Regardless, the covers are almost identical, mainly because the model is so distinctive. Even though I remember her being is in a different pose on the second cover, I definitely thought that the two books were part of the same series until  saw they had different authors (the titles are also somewhat reflective of each other, if I remember correctly).

I think the examples pretty much speak for themselves. I just think that, especially for self-published authors, who already have a hard enough time getting readers to take our books as seriously as “real” books, we owe it to ourselves to do the appropriate research before putting our blood, sweat, and tears (or our money, for someone else’s bloo, sweat, and tears) into our cover deigns. I do know how hard it is to find the balance between appealing to what people want to see, without copying what’s already out there too closely, but I also know that people absolutely, 100% judge books by their cover.

So, on that happy note, happy cover designing! 😉

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On the true cost of self-publishing

Dec 30

Hi dee ho everybody! I hope you are all enjoying your final days of 2012. As a sobering New Year’s treat (pun totally intended), and inspired by Lena’s guest post which detailed all the work that goes into self-publishing, I’ve decided to get down to the facts with you kind people. Terra has almost broken even in terms of the monetary investment that I’ve put into the book so far, so I felt it was an apt time to discuss exactly what that monetary investment was. After all, I’m nothing if not honest with my blog readers (as those who read my personal healthy living blog can attest). And I did a lot of research into what self-pubbing would actually cost me prior to taking on the task, so I feel it’s only fair that I pass on my own experiences as well.

Right from the get-go, I will tell you that the total amount of money that I have spent (thus far) on Terra comes to a grand total of $1,064.97. Not a fortune, by any means, but for a decidedly UNrich 20-something, it was still definitely an investment. It helped that the costs accumulated over time, rather than being a sum I had to pay at once, and that a lot of the things I paid for were one-time items that I won’t need to pay again for book 2. However, I also have to acknowledge how very, very lucky I am to have a lot of VERY talented and generous friends, who helped me keep costs drastically down, too.

For the sake of ease and understanding, I’ve broken up that cost into five distinct categories, and I will explain what all was involved that added up to that final sum.


For any of you future self-pubbers who may be experiencing heart palpitations at the thought of forking over a grand or more to get your book into the hands of the public, fear not! I spent a grand total of $0 on the actual writing. Crafting my book was, for all intents and purposes, free! Of course, if we were to assign a monetary value to my TIME, then of course it wasn’t free-free. But we’re talking strict dollars and cents here, so we won’t worry about that. I”m also very fortunate that I do have a separate day job that allows me to pay the bills, and thus do not count any potential lost income by having only writing as my job. All you really need to start writing your great American novel is to actually sit your butt down in front of a keyboard and start typing. No down-payment needed.

Total cost of writing: $0

Possible cost of writing: $0 – however much you might be losing out on if you prematurely quit your job to become a writer, hahaha.


This is one of those categories where I must (I must, I MUST!) acknowledge how very fortunate I am. See, I am lucky enough to have a very close friend who is ALSO an absolutely fantastical editor. And no, that’s not a mistyping of the word “fantastic” because I literally meant fantastical. As in, I’m not sure how she exists in reality, because she is surely some sort of magical editing creature sent from the heavens. Aileen Brenner put so much loving and tender care into Terra, and infused her literary prowess and wordsmithing into every page of the book, and she did it for the cost of a couple of dinners and a very fun, Hannukah-themed thank you basket that I gifted her at our celebratory dinner. So yes, she basically did it for free.

The kind of editing that Aileen provided for me would easily cost many, many hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of dollars if you were to source someone on eLance, or a similar website. I say this based only on the amount of time she dedicated to the book, since many freelance editors charge by the hour. So my experience was absolutely blessed by the frugality gods, and I fully appreciate how lucky I am for that.

I did hire a copyeditor to give the book a final read-through and catch any strictly grammatical/typographic errors that were present. Again, however, I recognize that I am very fortunate, because I also was able to use a friend for this. A blog reader from my other blog reached out to me, working as a technical editor for her dayjob, and offered to edit Terra for me. She edited the first-draft for free, and then we agreed on a (exteremely reasonable, I’m-taking-total-advantage-of-you) price for the final draft read-through. She only charged me $75, but I paid her $100 because she’s awesome and I know how easy she was letting me off.

Depending on whether you hire an editor, get a friend to edit, or choose not to have an outside editor at all, the cost for editing will vary a LOT.

Total cost of editing: $100 (Plus additional $$$ in dinners/thank you presents as Aileen’s “payment,” but for our purposes here, we won’t count those.)

Possible cost of editing: $0 – $2500


it’s cliche, but true. People judge books by their cover. Thus, there are few things more important to your book’s success than getting the cover, interior layout, and other aesthetics to be as attractive as possible. For some talented individuals who have sweet Photoshop skillz and are able to create these items themselves, then you are very lucky. While I was able to teach myself via the great tutor that is Youtube to design the interior layout of the paperback book in Adobe InDesign, my Photoshop prowess is certainly not up to a professional standard. I had two pretty distinct ideas for the cover, and so went with a two-pronged approach by beseeching both the help of an incredibly talented (and, again, generous) friend, and by outsourcing on eLance.com.

This is where I ended up with an extraneous cost. If I had just stuck with what I knew, which was how incredibly talented my friend (and fellow blogger) Cassie is, I would’ve have even needed to bother trying out my other idea for a cover. As it was, however, I did end up paying $125 for a cover that I never ended up using. Oh well, you live, you learn. Cassie designed an incredible cover for me for free, other than the costs of the stock photos I had to purchase for her to manipulate, which were $59. I was able to have my brother (who is a photographer) take the photo of the main model on the cover, so that saved me some money there. And as mentioned, I did the interior layout myself. Cassie also graciously designed all the blog batches and banners/headings for me, because she is a rockstar.

If you have the ability to everything yourself, including using your own photos and whatnot, you can spend $0 on design. However, if you pay someone to do everything, you can easily work your way into the multiple hundreds.

Total cost of design: $184

Possible cost of design: $0 – $500


So the cool thing about self-publishing is that it’s pretty much free. Long gone are the days when you need to order 10,000 copies of your book and house them in your garage to mail off one by one. Print on demand services like CreateSpace (what I used) allow you to upload your book templates and have them printed as they are ordered. Technically, this can cost nothing at all. However, if you want to have a physical proof of your book to ensure that everything looks how you want to, then you will need to pony up the money to purchase those before you approve your book for publishing.

I ended up getting a little overzealous in the proofing process, and ordered tons of proofs before the final book was even ready. This is definitely a cost that I’ll save on in the future, but given that it was my first time, I just couldn’t resist ordering multiple copies of the book to get my hands on. In the end, I ended up ordering FIVE different rounds of proofs before the book was even fully ready. Each book costs a little over $4.00 to print, plus shipping, so I ended up spending $92.48 in total for 16 physical proof copies. I know, I’m a crazy person. Luckily, many of those ended up being sent out as ARCs, but again, this won’t be a duplicated cost next time (well, probably, hahaha). CreateSpace also offers a digital proofing process, so you don’t have to order ANY if you really don’t want to. But I would still always recommend ordering just one to make sure everything (colors, bleed, etc) came out perfectly.

Total cost of publishing: $92.48

Possible cost of publishing if you’re a normal personal: $0 – $10

Marketing & Miscellaneous

As you can see from above, pretty much all of the costs so far have been pretty minimal. I was pretty surprised by all the random, miscellaneous costs that cropped up throughout the process. There were a lot that were unrelated to each other, so let me go ahead and just list them out for you.

Website domain name (5 years): $40.85

LLC incorporation fee: $100

Bowker ISBNs (10): $250

Bowker barcodes: $50

Purchasing author copies (25): $122.50

Kindle paperback: $9.99

Kindle ebook: $4.99

Shipping materials: $21.50

Shipping: $88.66

So, here is the breakdown of where the rest of my money went. Firstly, I do have this website set up, and I purchased the domain name (the actual gretchenpowell.com part) for 5 years. Then there was the cost of incorporating Hopewell Media, LLC, my publishing shell, and the costs of ISBNs, which are actually cheaper when purchased in bulk. (1 ISBN is $125, 10 is $250, 1000 is $1000.) Then I also had to purchase the barcode to put on the back of the paperback book, which is $25, but I bought two so I already have the barcode for book 2. Then there’s the actual finished author copies, and the shipping costs that it took to send them out to readers, reviewers, and the people who helped me make this book a reality.

Luckily, this is where the majority of my one-time costs came in. I’ve already purchased my ISBNs for the entire series, I won’t need to pay another incorporation fee (just the annual renewal fee, which is less), and my website is totally set for the next 5 years. I’m also a dummy and it took me a long time to figure out the cheapest way to mail things (media mail, NEVER first class!), hahaha. I also purchased a copy of the book for full price through Amazon and on my Kindle to ensure the process didn’t have any hiccups, but I don’t think I’ll need to do that again.

If you were to only pay for the cost of ISBN and barcode for a single book, you’d be looking at $150 flat, but you really should get those things if you’re serious about publishing. Everything else is pretty much optional though, considering you can set up a blog/website for free, you don’t HAVE to create a publishing LLC (I did it for legitimacy and legal reasons), and you don’t HAVE to purchase copies for yourself/mail them out (but then again, why wouldn’t you?) Some other costs that might come into play are registering your copyright (you don’t HAVE to do this, as your work is automatically copyrighted when it is created, but you can register it for extra legal protection. I think it’s like $20 or $30 — I have not done this yet) and you might also end up purchasing more of your own author copies than I did (I probably will order more).

Total cost of marketing & miscellaneous: $688.49

Possible cost of marketing & miscellaneous: $150 – $750

So! There you have it. A thousand smackers invested, but a heckuva of a lot of things to write off on my taxes this year. 😉 Of course, your individual experience with how much self-publishing costs could be very, very different. But at least you have this one author’s glimpse into the reality, thus far, eh? Haaaaappy new year!

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Guest Post: Lena Horn, Author of Forgotten Fox

Dec 29

Hi all!

So today I bring you a guest post from fellow self-published author, Lena Horn! Lena and I went to college together (and actually met in creative writing class, fittingly) and she wrote and self-published her first novel, Forgotten Fox, while Terra was still deep in craptastic first draft status, hahaha. Lena graciously gave me a lot of guidance (and a general place to vent about the frustrations of eBook coding and whatnot) while I was going through the publishing process, and now has written up a post for you all about her own experiences. This is actually a great overview of the entire self-publishing process, and has inspired me to write up something similar based on my own experiences (including a cost comparison of how much self-pubbing really costs). So keep an eye out for that soon!

And now, without further adieu…

Lena’s Recipe for a Self-Published Book


50,000-90,000 Words
1 Editing Processor
1 Cover
Various formatting
A Pinch of Punctuation


1. Arrange the Words neatly on the Paper, adding bits of Punctuation where necessary.
2. Find the Editor and allow him/her to thoroughly process your Paper and Words.
3. While the Editor is working, decorate the cover with pictures, a title, and your name.
4. Once the Editor is finished, put the newly processed words, with the Paper, inside the cover.
5. Profit.

That’s it!

Well, actually… I take that back, my recipe was actually a bit different. The ingredients you really need:

A little bit of money
And a bunch of slightly more technical things I will list for you below

There is a great stigma against self-published authors and I did not want that title at first, but I realized there’s much more to it. Self-publishing was not my last ditch effort to get published, it was my choice. And I knew that choice had to come with a commitment to make a book worthy of publishing.


As such, I spent a lot of time perfecting my story and my writing. Like… this many drafts –>

Ingredient: Editor

And I got myself an editor afterwards since, well, even professional authors have one! This was probably my only large expense. It took 6 weeks and when I got my manuscript back… I almost fainted. My editor had cut about 30,000 words and the pages were just red. I went through it, making changes, and when I finished, I read it and let my mom (she’s a harsh critic…) read it. We both realized, to my dismay, that something had been lost, and after a depressing slump, I went back to work on it. It took extra time, but the book came out stronger for it. Having had an editor, I did learn a lot about writing, more than… dare I say… I learned in college.

Lessons I learned about having an editor:

You want an editor you can have a conversation with about your book.
The editor should LOVE your book.
The editor (and you) should strive for perfection.

Ingredient: Copyright

Next, I put a copyright on my work. Also highly recommended and the process is quite easy and pretty cheap (like $35). You worked hard on it. It’s your idea and your story. Protect it!

Ingredient: Publishing Company

turtle2I opened up Turtle House LLC, my own publishing company. Why? Well, for one, legal protection. And two, it makes taxes and keeping things organized much easier. Plus I plan on publishing more than just one book. I do recommend doing some heavy research into what it means to have your own company. You want to know what rights and responsibilities you have and the legalese can get quite confusing.

Ingredient: ISBNs

I used Bowker’s Identifier Services to grab my own ISBNs. I knew I could do it cheaper by getting ones from Amazon for free, but those come with restrictions. I still wanted to be able to distribute my book wherever I want, like Barnes & Noble or other bookstores. This gives me more rights.

I also learned that each format of the book (paperback, ePub, mobi, hardback) will need its own ISBN. So I just bought a pack of 10 ISBNs since that’s cheaper than buying 3. Yep.

Ingredient: Printer and Distributer

I think I did some pretty good research into every potential (at least the big ones, and a few smaller ones) places that would print my book. CreateSpace, Lulu, and Lightning Source came out at the top, but since CreateSpace is an Amazon company, it made sense that they would take less of the royalties away if I used them to distribute to Amazon (which is pretty much a must nowadays!) Lulu had nice prints, but they ended up being far too expensive.


For a 300 page book, B&W Interior, 5.5” x 8.5” trim size.

CreateSpace: $4.45
Lulu: $7.20

That’s just the printing cost. Now remember that you want to distribute it elsewhere so you’ll have to bump up the price just to make a little money. Use Lulu to distribute to Amazon, and they’ll BOTH want their cuts, same with CS + Amazon combo, but with Lulu you’ll have to put a greater retail price just to get the same royalties.

Lowest printing cost, highest royalties, and good quality books: CreateSpace.

Ingredient: eBook Code

If you have a Nook or Kindle you’ve probably come across a book where the formatting was screwy. The sentence stopped halfway and started on another line is one I’ve seen a lot. Too much. When I started coding my book, I didn’t want those hiccups. I wanted to be more professional than the professionals! It can get tedious, and downright frustrating. This is one area you could consider outsourcing, especially if you don’t get along too well with computers.

But I love computers. I hug computers for fun, I’ve built my own since I was… um… well, like 9 I think? So this, to me, was a moment where I said, “Challenge accepted.” You know, before realizing what I was up against and whining about it and then sitting down and spending a week Googling what I was actually doing.

Ingredient: Book Cover


I was really really really lucky to have a family friend who is an awesome photographer/videographer give me a fox photo he took. For free! He’s awesome. I used this photo as the basis for my cover. If I had a spare $500-1000 around, I would have loved to hire an illustrator, but I’m on a tiny budget, and I used most of it on that editor.

Most people judge books by their cover, at least to get the first impression, and I wanted to make a good, professional impression. It took a lot of tinkering but I’m quite proud of the result (especially considering my poor Photoshop skills). The first reactions I got from people were that they didn’t realize it was a self-published book. Yay me!

Ingredient: Friends and Family

It’s really important to get feedback, especially on things like editing and cover design. So ask your friends, your family, a total stranger on the street what they think. Okay, careful with those strangers. But really, if you have friends, acquaintances that know how to use Photoshop or Illustrator? Ask! It can’t hurt to ask and self-publishing is a huge undertaking. Yes, you can do it alone, but you will come out with a better result if you utilize people with the skills that you may not have fully optimized yet. 🙂

Then there’s marketing! But that’s a whole nother post.

So, just remember these things:

If you’ve written the book, you’re already a lot further than most people!
You CAN do it, no matter your proficiency with a computer or your knowledge of the process.
Google (or another search engine of your choice) is your best friend
Use your friends, and also say thank you!

Stay foxy my friends!

You can check out Lena’s blog at http://blog.GeorgeTheFox.com and purchase Forgotten Fox on Amazon.

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