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The Process of Publication with Zack Argyle

Self-publishing offers authors an avenue to share their stories on their own terms, however it is not without its barriers. A key barrier is the difficulty of clear information about the process of publishing. There is a lot of disparate, often contradictory, information out there regarding how to publish a book. This lack of clear information affects people’s choices regarding timelines, platforms, budgets, and more.

The most consistent source I have found for helpful advice has been reaching out to authors who have been there. As an introvert, it hasn’t been comfortable reaching out to strangers, but every author responded to my questions and gave me the best advice they had to offer. The people in this community are interested in seeing each other thrive.

At first, I thought I would document my process and share it, which I still may do, but then I thought, why not reach out to authors who have been there before and share their wisdom?

The amazing Zack Argyle, author of the Threadlight Trilogy, and Founder of the Indie Fantasy Fund, agreed to answer my questions about the publishing process in the first part of an ongoing interview series.

Q: First-off, can you tell us about your projects. How many books have you published, what are they, and where can people find them?

My first series, an epic fantasy trilogy called Threadlight, was completed in August of 2022. While the ebook can be found only on Kindle, the print and audiobook versions are available everywhere.

Q: There are many different types of editing, all of which can be very expensive, especially in genres known for their high word counts. What kind(s) of editing did you invest in? How did you find your editor? Have you had positive experiences?

For each of the books in my series, I paid for a proofreader (a different one on each book) to go through and clean up the grammar and catch mistakes. Unlike many popular indie authors, I have never paid for developmental edits. However, that is not because I have not done developmental edits. After finishing a first draft, I do at least 2 rounds of my own developmental edits, and then hand it over to a team of 4 alpha readers, including my wife, who are tasked with providing feedback about the story and characters. After receiving their feedback, I go through and do a final developmental edit and then copy edit to clean up verbiage. When I’m happy with that, I pass it to my proofreader to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

Q: Self-publishing only works if people know where to find your work. How did you build your online presence (social media, website)? Which platform(s) do you focus most of your attention on?

To be honest, I do not believe that having a social media presence will significantly affect your ability to be successful (make money) as an indie author. Far more important is writing to a specific market (e.g. Dragons, LitRPG, progression fantasy), newsletter building, and learning to effectively use both Facebook and Amazon ads. I know indie authors making six figures who never step foot on social media. That said, I enjoy Twitter the most, as it does a great job of breaking down barriers between readers and authors.

Q: It has been said over and over, deciding to self-publish is deciding to become a business owner. Did you start a legal business to manage taxes? Did you open up a P.O. box or setup any other resources to manage your business?

For me, I still have a demanding day job that I enjoy, and so being an author is still treated as a hobby (to my readers’ dismay). I have not set up a business to manage taxes, nor created any kind of “publishing arm” to make my books look more legitimate. I do, however, have a P.O. Box, which is helpful for invoices and returns when selling signed books out of my home.

Q: The cover is always the first thing people see, and it can be a major cost for indie authors. How did you go about choosing an artist? Did you have to hire a separate cover designer?

This is the most mandatory expense, in my opinion, for indie authors, and it’s important to have the right expectations going into it. Most popular illustrators will charge $1,000-$2,500 for a single illustration. That is a lot of money. But notice I said “popular”. For the Threadlight series, I went on Artstation and reached out to probably 2 dozen different artists to find out their pricing. When I found Omer Burak Onal, who had never done a commission before, it was very lucky. He charged me far less than he should have, so I ended up paying him more than he asked. If you have the time to scour the internet for lesser-known artists, you can save quite a bit of money. But they’re also a bit of a gamble on the quality that you may get.

On the designer side, I have been using Photoshop for 20 years, and so I was able to do the cover design myself. That said, I think it only turned out okay and will be using a proper designer for future books.

Q: How did you go about formatting and producing your ebooks, paperbacks, and, if you have them, hardcovers? What company or companies print/sell your books? Why did you choose to publish through the platforms you chose?

For formatting, I use Vellum. It makes creating ebooks and physical books incredibly simple and intuitive, and comes with a range of clean options for free. On the production side, I have my paperbacks uploaded to both Amazon KDP as well as Ingram Spark. The beauty of Ingram is that it makes your books available worldwide and to bookstores should they choose to stock your books. For the hardcover, I use Ingram exclusively (which also publishes to Amazon), because they have a beautiful matte jacket that I love. Amazon does not offer jacketed hardcovers.

Q: One of the keys to get readers is to work with reviewers. Can you describe the process of making and sending out Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs)? How did you connect with reviewers? Would you suggest investing money in sending out physical ARCs or stick with eARCs?

Financially, it makes little sense to send out many physical ARCs. There are a few influencers in the community that can have an outsized impact on your sales, and you probably want to cater toward their tastes (physical/audio/etc). But for the majority of reviewers, stick with ebooks. That said, it’s also “fun” to ship out physical ARCs, and reviewers do love it. So if you’re planning on writing more books, it’s a great way to build long-term relationships.

Q: Everything writers do to create their books can rack up quite an expensive budget. Did you invest in any paid blog tours, cover reveals, or paid reviews?

I did a blog tour, and it sold a handful of books, nowhere near enough to recoup the cost. A BookBub featured deal is the only paid service I think really makes a significant difference. Cover reveals should not cost you anything. Find a blog you love and reach out. Especially if you’ve built a relationship with them previously, they’re most likely to be happy to host a reveal, particularly if your cover is awesome. Lastly, don’t pay for reviews; that’s sketchy.

Q: Most indie authors don’t have the ability to produce audiobooks, especially during the initial release of their books. How did you produce your audiobooks? If you worked with a production company who distributes your audiobook and pays you in royalties, how much control did you have over the production?

I was fortunate enough to have the up-front funds to invest in making an audiobook. I found my narrator through ACX and then worked with him directly for books 2 and 3.

Q: Pricing for indie books has quite a range. How much did you originally price your books for? Would you have taken a different strategy if you could do it over again? Do you ever have sales and/or free book giveaways?

I have kept my books priced at $2.99 for most of their life, except for a short period after their release when I keep it at $4.99. I have heard that changing between those two prices has no effect on sales, but I’ve been too lazy to test and verify that! I have had good success with $0.99 sales, particularly for the earlier books of the series at the launch of the later books.

Q: The big question for a lot of authors considering self-publishing, especially those on a tighter budget, is how much will it cost? How much did you spend on your debut novel?

Some of the costs you can expect to pay:

- Cover Design = $500

- Illustration = $800+ (only if you want custom artwork)

- Copy Editor = $600 (varies based on book length)

- Narrator = $3,000 (varies based on book length)

Q: Where can readers find you and your books? Can you tell us about your latest and/or upcoming release?

You can find me everywhere! I love being part of the community, sharing book reviews, etc. I spend most of my time on Twitter (@SFFAuthor) and Instagram (@ZackArgyleAuthor). My most recent release is Bonds of Chaos, the third and final book in the Threadlight trilogy. I’m also the founder of the Indie Fantasy Fund, which offers annual grants to help indie fantasy authors through the many costs of publishing. Thanks for having me!

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