Not too long ago, self-published authors were collectively admonished about the need to invest in their work. Hiring quality editors, proofreaders, cover designers, and formatters before attempting to sell a book was the constant mantra of industry experts. While some hapless writers continued to slap their Word docs up on Amazon and hope to snare a few readers, authors who took their careers seriously made the proper investments.
Around that time, a number of startups emerged, all billing themselves as eBay-like marketplaces for author services. Many of those startups have shuttered their virtual doors, while a few that produced meaningful connections between authors and publishing service providers have managed to thrive. But that hasn’t stopped newcomers to the game from trying to continually undercut the concept of paying for quality work.
“When I first began finding clients through online freelance postings, the self-publishing industry was a different place,” stated one editor who did not wished to be named. “Authors who had done their homework not only knew how much editing might cost, but they also knew enough to have sent their work to their writing group for critiques or even beta readers before declaring it ‘ready’ for editing. Now, I find new job postings almost daily requesting full edits of an 80,000-word book for $100.”
That’s one of the double-edged swords of self-publishing, of course. An indie author without a solid backlist and sales to go with it may not be able to invest thousands of dollars for a full suite of services, but that doesn’t change the income needs of those who are expected to do the work.
“I love spending time with other local authors, but conversations about finding editors and cover designers have become heartbreaking,” said Andrea Patten, award-winning author of The Inner Critic Advantage: Making Peace With the Noise in Your Head. “Poor quality isn’t good for any of us. If we don’t support talented, experienced editors and designers, all that will be left are those who are willing to be the lowest bidder.”
There are a handful of sites that serve as more than just an online “Help Wanted” board, of course. Those sites have managed to remain in business largely because they devote a lot of time and effort towards education about the publishing industry, while also ensuring that both the authors’ and the service providers’ needs are considered.
At the same time, there’s a roundabout way of looking at this problem: authors themselves are expected to work for free, so why not the publishing services providers?
“Charging $100 for editing services isn’t much different than selling a book for .99 cents. Authors are told to do that all the time,” explained M.L. Doyle, who writes about women in the military. “Free book promotions, giveaways, permanently free books as if a price less than a dollar is too much to expect for something you’ve slaved over for months. Unfortunately, supply and demand controls prices in the world of book publishing. There are millions of us out here trying to scrape a living together, and until you have a customer base that demands your work specifically, your prices have to be competitive.”
Ebook pricing, indie book pricing, and author services have all been the target of speculation for years, and it seems as though no permanent solution is coming soon. What is reasonably certain, though, is that startups who promise quick work for pennies on the dollar are sure to produce exactly those expected results.