Miscellaneous advice on self-publishing

From Rick:

This week going to give you some tidbits of advice and a couple of worthwhile articles to read.

USING SONG LYRICS IN YOUR BOOK—an important reminder—

You cannot—I repeat you can NOT—use song lyrics in your book unless you have written permission to do so (and you’ll probably have to pay a lot more than you expect for the privilege). If you use song lyrics without permission, you risk being sued, probably for more than it would have cost you to pay for the rights in the first place.


The reason I bring this up is that in TWO of my recent editing jobs the authors committed this sin. As the article above says, you can mention song titles, but be sure it’s the title only and not a full line of lyrics. One author quoted several lines of lyrics, while the other used a line (not just the song’s title) for at least one chapter title.


The next article comes from Kris Rusch, who has opened the eyes of writers with truths about the publishing industry that previously no one dared talk about. Why were these dirty little secrets never talked about before? Some contracts had nondisclosure clauses, but the biggest reason was the threat of being dropped by one’s publisher. Although Scott and I have had only brief experiences with a traditional publisher, many of the bad things that Kris points out were in our contracts.


When it comes to contracts, one thing I’ve not seen much discussed is that most contracts give a publisher the ability to cancel the contract on a whim. How is that possible?

You’re probably believe that contracts are binding to both parties, unless one party violates it or commits a breach of contract. Well, they are unless there’s a clause that gives on party an easy out.

One clause I’ve seen gives the publisher the right to cancel the contract if they consider the work “unpublishable.” The contract also gives the publisher the sole power to make such a determination and therefore it gives them the power to cancel a contract at virtually any point prior to a work being published—and they do not have to justify their decision.

You and I, being reasonable people, would assume that “unpublishable” means that what the author turns in is so bad that nothing will help it. But didn’t the publisher see the manuscript before accepting it? Not always. They may have seen part of it, or they may have accepted it based on changes being made so it becomes acceptable to them. If the author doesn’t follow through with those changes or refuses to, the publisher could consider it unpublishable from their perspective.

In truth, this clause is used as a catch-all—and an easy out for the publisher. Perhaps the market changes (in the publisher’s opinion) between the time the work was accepted and its planned release a year or two later and your particular type of story (again in their opinion) won’t sell well enough. Or what if the author gets a little pushy or becomes less cooperative than the publisher expects (the author doesn’t roll over and play dead when so commanded). Maybe the author asks too many questions and annoys someone at the publishing house. All of these reasons (and more) can cause the publisher to arbitrarily decide that “the work is unpublishable,” and that author will be gone.

How do I know this? Well, my second novel had been under contract with my publisher for over eight months when they decided they no longer wanted to publish it and exercised that clause. I was never given a reason.

Kris Rusch points out in her article so many obnoxious little clauses in publishing contracts that one like this would be the least of an author’s problems. An author’s real problems occur when the publisher keeps the work and publishes it because that’s when your woes truly begin.

If after reading Kris’ article you still want to go with a traditional publisher (even after being warned), then none of us can help you. We might pray for you, but don’t count on it because you chose to ignore sound advice and you knowingly put the noose around your own neck.


All right, enough of that depressing topic. Let’s switch gears to a more pleasant one: Services for self-publishing.

When I talk about services, I mean things like editing, cover design, and formatting (for the e-book and print book). Most authors should be able to learn how to do their own formatting, but if you don’t have the time, then these services can be had fairly cheaply for $100 or less in most cases. If you’re quoted more than this for a simple book (as opposed to something like a textbook or one requiring special formatting), then you’re likely paying too much. I’m assuming that your manuscript is reasonably clean in the first place. If it’s a mess, then expect to pay more.

Editing services range widely depending on the type of editing you need. Basic proofreading and simple cleanup will cost less than major editing for content. Some services charge by the hour; others charge by the word or page. Those who charge by the hour are covering all bases to allow for messy manuscripts versus clean ones. With hourly rates, you’re also at the mercy of the editor’s speed and efficiency (and honesty in logging the time).

I prefer charges by the word because that tells you exactly what to expect. That’s how I charge, but I will also look at the manuscript first to determine whether it’s messy, and I’ll either decline to edit one that’s going to require substantially more work than my rate allows for, or I’ll let the client know that I’ll have to charge a higher rate. Even then, it’s a word-based rate because I don’t want my customers surprised by being charged more than they expected.

Here’s a good article that will give you an overview of “standard” rates.


For the most part, I consider some of these to be high or excessively high. Just because you pay more does not mean you’re getting more. For example, a friend of mine recently had his short story (around 5000 words) edited. He paid something like $60 for it. When the story came back, it still had numerous errors in it, 5 or more on a page in some places! That’s unacceptable.

Be sure that whoever you choose to edit your work will not only do the job properly, but will stand behind their editing. Any reputable editor should offer to edit a few sample pages. If not, consider a different editor.

Even more important is the style of editing being done. Another author friend had a sample edit done and asked me and a couple of others to look over the edit. What I found appalling was that the editor in places had actually changed the voice of the writing. No editor should ever do that except to make the voice consistent. This editor did the opposite.

The responsibilities of any good editor are these: the customer expects the editor to correct most, if not all, of the errors (no editor is perfect, though), and the customer expects his or her writing style to be preserved. The editor can certainly recommend style changes, but no editor should undertake to make extensive changes arbitrarily or without the author’s consent. If an occasional change is necessary to preserve the style and voice, then the editor should add a comment on it.

I’m sure I’ll find some editors disagreeing with my position, but editors need to realize that they are NOT the writer. An editor should never overstep the boundaries for which he/she was hired. Check out the following:



Finally, let’s briefly discuss book cover design services. As with editing services, you’ll find a wide range of prices. Unlike editing, which is somewhat straightforward, book cover design is not, and not all designers will completely agree on what makes for good vs. bad designs. I will be getting into this in future blogs, but when hiring a designer, two things are essential in my opinion.

(1) Make sure the designer has done covers in your particular genre. A designer who does mostly romance covers might not be a good choice for a horror novel. Look at the designer’s work and be sure you like the work he or she does first.

(2) Has the designer won awards or have his/her cover designs been commented on favorably by other professionals? Here’s where I find the Book Designer’s monthly e-book cover award very helpful.

I’ll leave you with two articles regarding design choices:




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