Friday, November 9, 2012

Review: No Bulls**t Guide to Self-Publishing by Jennifer Ciotta

This blog is not just about alternate history. Some of you  have heard in previous posts that I started this blog to practice to my writing and to learn a thing or two about the publishing industry. Since then I have gotten the opportunity to talk to many talented writers and dedicated fans of the genre. So I have no issue posting about topics related to writing and research (ex. see “Daily Life In…” History Real or Otherwise by Matthew Quinn).

I have also learned a lot about self-publishing. In the past self-publishing was a road less traveled by aspiring authors. It was cost prohibitive, with the author having to put up thousands of dollars of their own money to print books which they had to then market and distribute themselves. This was not a course for those with doubts about their novel. Unless you thought you had a bestseller on your hands, you just remained patient and kept mailing out manuscripts to publishers.

The rise of the e-book, however, opened up a new market for self-publishers. Gone were the days of your garage being filled with unsold copies of your book, now you send your manuscript to Amazon or Smashwords  and they distribute it for you according to the price you set. Plus you get up to 70% of the profits! It is ridiculously easy to publish a book these days...and sadly it has become a bad thing.

The No Bulls**t Guide to Self-Publishing by Jennifer Ciotta (author of I, Putin) highlights this fact. Without the threat of massive debt hanging over an author's head, aspiring writers are putting less effort into publishing their novel then what they would do a decade ago. Beta readers are close family and friends who don't want to hurt the author's feelings, editors are not hired and cover art is created by the author during their spare time using MS Paint.

Those hoping for a step-by-step guide on self-publishing will be moderately disappointed. The Guide reads as a short memoir (37 pages) of Ciotta's discoveries and mistakes made while publishing I, Putin. She shares her insights on the whole process, making the Guide feel like a splash of cold water on your face, waking you up from your dreams of being a self-published millionaire. I myself felt this when reading the section on formatting. Hoping to find an easy to understand explanation on how to format an e-book, I instead realized how difficult it can be to learn HTML and for my own sanity I should just pay someone to do it for me.

A sample budget included in the Guide puts the costs an author should spend on their novel as up to $3000. Sounds like a lot of money, huh? Almost a return to the dark ages of self-publishing? Publishing a book, however, should not be easy. Reviewers like me deduct points for typos and bad cover art, simple things that can easily be taken care of before the novel ever reaches the public. Perhaps if you are friends with an English teacher or a whiz at Photoshop, you can avoid paying for their services, but if I were you I would seek out a professional.

I don't think the Guide is meant to discourage any of us from writing, but instead provide a sobering reality on the self-publishing industry. I recommend picking it up and at $0.99 you are not exactly breaking the bank by reading it (just add it to the costs of writing your book and make sure you let your accountant know come tax time). Ciotta includes good recommendations for sites and services she used when publishing her book that will no doubt help you.

Just remember: a good book will cost you both time and money writing, publishing and marketing it. It is the story you whipped up one weekend which will be a dud.

* * *

Matt Mitrovich is the founder and editor of Alternate History Weekly Update and a volunteer editor for Alt Hist magazine. His fiction can be found at Echelon PressJake's Monthly and The Were-Traveler. When not writing he works as an attorney, enjoys life with his beautiful wife Alana and prepares for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.


  1. With $3,000 put into the creation of a standard size novel (100-120K words) you're probably in the ivy league of self-pubbers. But in general I'd agree with Jennifer: put some effort into what you publish. That comes with costs. You can limit these costs, sure, but unless you're a genius like Da Vinci there will be things you simply *cannot* do yourself. Self-publishing, if you take your craft seriously, never is for free.

    1. I don't have my Kindle on me to write the exact amount, but I will admit I rounded up to factor in the marketing and other costs that Jennifer admitted she did not add to the budget.

    2. War Blogger, Thank you for your comment! LOL, you are right about the Ivy League of self-publishers; however, just so you know, my book is a novella at 59,000 words. I love when you say nothing is for free. It's so so true!

      Mitro, The number is right on the money, just rounded up a bit, but $3000 is the budget. Yes, and you are correct; I am a book manuscript editor, so I did not pay for editing, which is a large expense.

      best, Jennifer Ciotta (author)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.