Friday, August 9, 2013

A Publishing ‘High-Low Project’

A dedicated viewer of HGTV and budget-conscious person, I like to watch the High Low Project with Sabrina Soto. During each episode, Sabrina and her assistant decorate a space with high-end furnishings and trimmings, then recreate it on a shoestring budget. Bottom line: You needn’t spend a lot to look like you broke the bank. And you can apply this same idea to publishing.

Recently, I reviewed a manuscript for a potential client. Her intriguing story needed work, so I gave her a sample edit—and a bid that didn’t fit her budget. The writer lamented the fact that she might not be able to afford the professional help needed to publish the quality book she wanted.

Many writers fail to count the cost before they begin. They also fail to explore options that may whittle huge expenses into affordable services. How can they create their own high-low publishing project?

Join a writer’s group, but be selective. Visit them. Are they a good fit for you and your work? (Check out both local and online groups.) Listen. Ask questions. Which writers self-pub? Who edits their books? (If they don’t use editors, run the other direction. This group doesn’t value their time, work, or intended audience—they won’t value yours.)

Search for an editor early in your project. Do you need one to help you through the writing process? Or are you comfortable with one who will edit your finished manuscript? Interview potential choices. Ask for references; check them out. Talk about your work and your goals. Does she listen and offer relevant, positive suggestions; or does she tell you how she sees your project? Request a short sample edit of your work. (It should be free.) This will identify the editor’s technique and provide insight into what your working relationship will be. Is her pricing fair? Does she reduce her charge if your manuscript is clean? (Check out standard editing rates here.) Walk away if you’re uncomfortable with anything. You and your editor must “click” on all levels for the sake of your book.

Join online groups in your genre that will help you in your writing journey. For example, "Murder Must Advertise" is a great interactive group monitored by Jeffrey Marks. As the name implies, it caters to mystery and suspense writers. (Go to Yahoo Groups. Then type "Murder Must Advertise" in the search window.) Excellent groups also exist in other genres, but you need to search online for them.
  • What do you envision for your cover? Unless you’re an artist with publishing experience, you should get names of designers from group members or online. Cover design pros should have a web page with multiple examples of their work. Many excellent designers charge very reasonable prices; check them out. Ask for references. If they don’t want to share this information, they might not be right for you.
  • Interior design requires different skills. You can hire a professional to do it or get a good layout program, study books with eye-catching interiors, and learn to do it yourself. One possibility is Adobe InDesign, a great program that can be “rented” on an annual basis from Adobe and charged monthly to your debit or credit card. Because book layout can be pricey, the Adobe Creative Cloud is a good alternative.
  • Look online for others. You also need to check the requirements of your printer to be sure your program meets them.
  • Use beta readers. Request a general overview as well as specifics about dialogue, character and story development, flow, etc. Also, you might exchange manuscripts with fellow writers and critique one another’s works.
  • Compare self-publishing with services offered by local or regional publishers. What’s the cost difference? Do you need to register your publishing company with your secretary of state? Who will do your printing? Ask for samples of books they’ve printed. Do they offer POD? Get prices. Be sure you aren’t required to place an expensive minimum book order.
  • Create a sharp, inviting website. Sign up for Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, Pinterest—whatever is getting the most traffic. Support writers and others whose offerings interest you. They may support you in return. 
  • Add up the costs of the professionals. If the total shocks you, consider your options. Can you barter with one or more providers?  Offer six months of housecleaning to your editor? Care for the yard of your cover artist? Then take on whatever elements you can do yourself—and learn to do them well.
Do you see a learning curve here? Embrace it, follow it, and give it your all.

How do you afford needed professional services on a limited budget?

Linda Lane
and her editing team help writers to improve their skills. Writing should be fun, but it should also be good. Visit her at


  1. Another perfectly timed post!

    I just signed on with an editor and when I first got a quote from her for services, I, too, had a heart attack when I saw the sticker price. But a few months later, I came back to this editor, ready to commit. As Linda said, we clicked on all levels.

    I have done exactly as Linda has suggested. I put together a "Cadillac" version of my budget, considering ALL of the expenses to publish my book and will be launching a capital campaign on Pubslush (like Kickstarter or Indiegogo but exclusively for books) in October. Depending on how successful the campaign is (see the positivity?), I will then look for ways to trim my expenses. One way I have already done this is by hiring a local woman to do the cover design who has been slowly developing her graphic design business. I've had beta-readers and have a writing partner who holds me accountable and provides excellent feedback. I am sure that through these two things alone, I am handing over a tighter, cleaner manuscript which should yield lower costs. (Crossing my fingers!)

    In this new age of publishing, I think authors need to adjust their expectations and think of their book - their writing careers - as a small business. You have to invest not only time, but money - just like any other business. I think this shift also helps keep the daydreaming of being an immediate best-seller, overnight success, at bay.

    Back to work!

    1. Red Shoes Writing, good for you! Because you're wide awake and counting the cost, you have a much more realistic chance of living your dream. I wish you much success!

      P.S. The next stop on your journey will be marketing. We'll address this topic and share some innovative ideas in a future post.

  2. I have been fortunate to have my friend, Carol Atkins, edit my stuff ... but, alas, she is gone ... so, for my next project I'll be scouring the BRP for a victim ... just a heads up, so you can start generating your excuses now, even though you'll probably all be retired by the time I get this thing done!
    FYI, I'll be off line for the next couple of weeks on my annual tree-hugging expedition ... but, before you start celebrating, I'll be back at the end of the month. Cheerio.

    1. Christopher, I'm certain a number of us would enjoy working with you. I think I mentioned before that I visited your website and found it intriguing. We'll miss you while you're gone, but look forward to your return. You keep us smiling.

  3. I rely on my critique group and my years of typing medical reports (with an expectation of 99% accuracy). I also use all of the steps outlined in Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers. I find I need to refresh my memory with each project by going through each layer again. The process can't replace an editor, but it helps if you can't afford an editor.

    1. These are all good steps, Diana. Have you ever considered asking an editor to barter? I've been known to barter with clients who can't afford to pay for my services. If they have demonstrated a good sense of story and other attributes that make them valuable as beta readers or even proofreaders, we may strike up a deal if they agree to review my own manuscripts. Of course, I pick and choose and don't do it too often. :-)

  4. Sage advice, Linda. I've found that the commodity that's the most difficult to budget realistically is time! When starting out, it's impossible to know how long your journey to "ready" is going to take. If most would budget ten years they'd be in a realistic ballpark, but no one likes to hear that. :-/

    1. That is so-o-o-o-o true, Kathryn. My first book took 5 years, and it still needs work. The second was 2 or 3 -- don't remember which now. Unless one of them becomes a sudden best seller, I'm probably making pennies (or less) per hour. This is not a promising return.

  5. Good advice, Linda. I like the idea of trading editing jobs. I've done that in the past, as I don't trust myself to edit my own work.

    1. This is a win-win, Maryann, and a great solution for folks who don't have big dollars to pay for edits.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.