Thursday, February 18, 2016

To Hire Help Or Do It Yourself

By Marcy Kennedy, @MarcyKennedy

Part of the Indie Author Series

One of the most frustrating parts of indie publishing is how conflicting the advice can seem. One of the areas where I’ve frequently noticed this advice dichotomy is in whether or not we should hire out the non-writing work involved in our business.

Some people will tell you to do as much as you can yourself to minimize costs (allowing you to “earn out” quicker and bring in profits). Others will tell you to hire out everything you can because you’ll end up with a more professional product and have more time to write.

So how’s an indie supposed to know what to do?

How we handle it will depend on our individual situation. Anyone who tells you that their way is the only right way is…well…wrong.

We can ask ourselves some questions to figure out what solution is the best one for us.

Do we have more time or more money?

Everything is going to cost one or the other. If we don’t have the time to learn a new skill, then we’ll have to pay someone else who already possesses that skill. If we’re short on money, we’ll have to spend more time, even if that means we produce our books more slowly.

I think this goes a little deeper than that though. How much are your hours worth?

This was one of the factors that convinced me to hire a cover designer rather than continuing to struggle with putting together covers myself. I looked at how much I earned per hour from editing, which is my version of a “day job” that I do alongside my writing. It turned out that I was losing money by working on my covers myself. By taking on an additional editing client in the time it took me to create a cover, I could pay a cover designer and then some.

Do you have the skills?

We have to be really honest with ourselves here, and that isn’t always easy. But we need to do it because we should be striving to produce a product that readers can’t tell apart from a traditionally published book.

Part of the reason my attempts at cover design took so long was that I just wasn’t any good at it. All the hours I spent were resulting in merely mediocre results, and they weren’t getting better with time. On the other hand, formatting books (both print and ebook) came easily to me. I was able not only to learn it quickly, but with every book I do, I’m getting faster, learning new tricks, and improving.

While a lot of people like to repeat the mantra “you can learn anything thanks to Google,” that’s not entirely true. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes we can improve through practice and study, and sometimes we can’t. There’s no shame in that. We’re individuals. If we’re spending hours trying to learn something and showing extremely slow progress, then it’s probably time to hire help.

Do you enjoy doing it?

The more we enjoy a task, the less likely we are to procrastinate, the more likely we are to produce a high-quality product, and the quicker we’ll be at it. So I think enjoyment does play a part when we’re deciding what to do ourselves and what to hire out.

I have the skills to copy edit. I used to offer copy editing services. But I hate it. I love formatting my ebooks. I find looking at those lines of code soothing and fun.

While I could do both or I could hire both out, I don’t copy edit my work myself. I do choose to keep formatting because it’s part of the indie process that I truly enjoy.

If being an indie involves spending a lot of time on tasks we hate, we’re adding that on top of all the other stresses and reasons we might have to quit. The easier we make this on ourselves, the better chance we have of continuing long-term.

And remember, what we decide now doesn’t lock us in forever. We should regularly evaluate our situation. At different points, we might take back a task or give a new one away.

Do you have any other tips you’d like to share about making the decision to hire work out vs. do it yourself?

Marcy Kennedy is a suspense and speculative fiction writer who believes fantasy is more real than you think. Alongside her own writing, Marcy works as a freelance fiction editor and teaches classes on craft and social media. She’s also the author of the Busy Writer’s Guides series of books. You can find her blogging about writing and about the place where real life meets science fiction, fantasy, and myth at

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  1. Hi Marcy,
    While I've spoken my lengthy piece about these issues in my 5-lesson course on fiction writing (my blog), it's probably worthwhile to repeat my simple rule: DIY is for the things the author is good at; everything else should be left to the pros. I'm good at editing and know my personal clunkers, so that's DIY for me (but I still have volunteer beta-readers). I'm no artist, so I hire a cover artist. I don't have patience or want to spend time on formatting, so I hire an expert. Same for PR and marketing, beyond social networking (what I'm doing now).
    After 21 books (3 more in the works for 2016 and 2017), I've about reached my limit, though. I'm thinking about finding an online publisher who will take on a few series for a share of the royalties, and just serializing new books on my blog. Book sales are flat, with notable exceptions (Weir's The Martian, for example). After 10+ years, it's become a real slog. Lots of freedom in this new indie world, but it can be depressing too.

  2. Great post, Marcy and very relevant to me this year as I have a number of projects I'm polishing up to create a back list and self publish. My plan this year is to learn as much as I can about the whole process by doing things myself. My aim is to understand and gain new skills, I've always been a bit of a have a go myself kind of person, and I do enjoy all the elements, so far. I'm lucky in that I have a very supporting husband who is good at proofing and offering very constructive advice if I get stuck. I don't have easy access to the funds to hire out these processes at present but if I did think that I couldn't do it then I would have to rethink things. The only thing I'm not doing this year is the social media and marketing angle, that's my project for next year, when I have a good back library to shout about, hopefully.

  3. So glad you included the enjoyment aspect in this. You are so right about that!

    Let me add another possibility, trade services with another author. I'm an excellent proofreader (if I do say so myself), but one cannot proofread one's own work (you see what you expect to be there, not what is there). So I trade proofreading services with other authors who are also good at it. We do a lot of this at the small press I run, misterio press.

    Also, I'll put in a plug here for your Busy Writer's Guides. They are great!!!

  4. I agree that if one enjoys and is good at designing covers or formatting, they should do it. Thank you for another informative post, and thanks, Janice, for having Marcy here again. :-)

  5. My approach has been to try to do everything myself, but to be ready to involve a professional as needed. E.g. for my cover design, by trying to do it myself I learned a lot, which meant I could see a bit deeper into what's involved. For me, finding a professional was definitely the right choice, given my meagre artistic talents! But what I learned helped me appreciate a good designer and also (I hope) made it easier to understand their side and to work with them.
    An even bigger win was paying for a professional editor: I think the trick here is to find a good one. I'm over the moon with mine, so we'll be together for the long haul as I continue to write more books.
    Right now I'm learning lots about marketing (since I know so little), but I'm undecided how that will go.
    I'll just add that although there's so much to learn beyond the actual writing, the time and effort does drop right down as you (if you!) learn the dos and don'ts.
    But you have to accept that you're quite likely to make some bad mistakes while learning, and some can have long term effects. So there are risks involved.