Because things had been so peaceful in Romancelandia lately, I thought it was about time I inserted myself into a random Twitter argument, because I just love the aggro. And what’s the latest nonsense that sent my blood pressure sky-high? The allegation made by…oh, somebody I’d never heard of before they were retweeted into my timeline…that self-published authors should always hire cover artists and editors.
Not so controversial, you might think, but wait! There’s always room on social media for someone to talk bollocks.
When I asked something like, “And if a writer can’t afford to pay cover artists’ or editors’ fees, should they just not publish at all?” I was told by a bunch of…well, arseholes…who steadily shat their privileged opinions all over my notifications, that no. Poor people shouldn’t publish at all.
Several writers — more than is healthy, to be honest — have told me on Twitter that, if you cannot afford to pay for a quality piece of cover art and detailed, stringent edits, you should give up (for now, at least) and save your pennies until you can afford to outsource the work, which is the most privileged, elitist bullshit I’ve read in a long time.
Why? Because it’s gatekeeping. I don’t care what anyone says; it’s gatekeeping to effectively say “Poor people shouldn’t publish their work until it meets some arbitrary standard I choose to set.”
A lot of the objections I read online seemed to equate self-editing or homemade covers with rushed-out pap full of typos and plot holes, and slapped-on, badly-Photoshopped cover art, which is an insult to the integrity of self-published authors who are genuinely doing the best they can, with the resources they have.
I’ve self-published fourteen books, and of those, eleven have homemade covers. Why? Because I can’t fucking afford hundreds or thousands of dollars to pay someone else. Now, as someone told me on Twitter this evening (Monday as I write this, although this post will be scheduled for 9pm Tuesday my time), “There are some premade sites which are relatively cheap.”
Of course I wouldn’t know this already, having only been published for a decade.
[Edited to add: Which reminds me, glory be to mansplaining in the highest, for the chode who assured me that if I worked hard enough, maybe one day I could have a story published.]
Plus, the key is ‘relatively’ cheap. Relative compared to what? Other cover artists who charge thousands? Added to which, this alleged cheapness only applies to one-off covers. When it comes to series or author branding, the cost jumps up. I did those eleven homemade covers because I could afford a few bucks for several stock photos, and wanted to give my backlist some sense of uniformity. (Blurry effect on the photos, a very slight colour wash, similar font styles.)
Now, when it comes to editing, the costs are even higher.
Because of that, I edit my own books. Well…of those fourteen self-published books I mentioned earlier? Nine were previously published at various publishing houses and so had already been edited. I reissued them after a spit-polish and a bit of a buff. Five of my books were all-new and yes, I edited them myself. Given the choice between paying the household bills and spunking away money I don’t have on hiring an editor, I’ll go with buying the groceries, thanks. Asda doesn’t accept goodwill and “But I’m a starving artist!” excuses in exchange for food.
Interestingly, the only review I’ve seen in which I was dinged for ‘bad editing’ was for a novel which has been through two publishing houses and was edited at both, according to their individual house styles. Mind, during this review I was also accused of churning out fanfic of a TV show which I’ve honestly never watched, so it just goes to show how wrong people can be. This same book was accused of being riddled with typos — after being through edits at two separate publishing houses, mind — which later turned out to be nothing more than the UK spellings of various words, as opposed to the clearly more acceptable US versions.
You can’t win.
I’ve been told to not publish until I’ve ‘saved up my pennies’, to give up my daily coffees and to put that money towards ‘professional’ covers and edits, because mmm-hmm, I just love being patronised, especially by people whose books I’ve never heard of before. First up, despite their denials, telling someone not to publish until they’ve attained a certain income level to plough back into their work is gatekeeping. And yes, if I may say so, poverty-shaming. Who the hell are you to tell anyone they shouldn’t publish until they’ve saved up a set amount of cash you find acceptable?
And when it comes to being counselled to give up my daily coffee? I don’t fucking drink coffee.
Yes, yes, I know it was a metaphor for anything we buy on a regular basis, and which we don’t really need. My expenses, however, are already cut down to the bone. I’ve been open about the fact I’m a minimalist — a combination of choice and necessity. I do, however, still treat myself to things occasionally because without the occasional treat, life would be miserable.
Oh, and if you think the poors shouldn’t have nice things? Fuck you.
Now, where was I? Oh yes, treating myself occasionally. I could forego my occasional bag of Fruitella sweets, or that pretty notebook on sale in Home Bargains for a pound, and if I did? How long would it take me to save up £500 for a ‘professional’ cover?
Oh, only about a fucking decade, you steaming bucket of arse-gravy. And meanwhile, I’d have lived ten fucking years without anything to make me smile, but wait, I don’t deserve nice things, do I? Because…well, I don’t know. Because some walloper on the internet said so, I guess.
Don’t be so fucking ridiculous.
Christ, people are stupid. But you know who isn’t stupid? Jenny Trout. I interviewed her earlier about the first couple of editions of her bestseller The Boss and when I say ‘interviewed’, I mean I DM’d her with a few questions on Twitter in the vague hopes it would drive traffic to my blog and make complete strangers online like me because their opinion matters to me so very, very much.
Please like me, poverty-shaming elitists. I couldn’t bear it if you didn’t buy my books with their knocked-up-in-Canva covers, because of my twisted belief I should have food in my kitchen cupboards and the ability to switch the heating on at home.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Jenny Trout. Her bestselling book by far is the first in the utterly filthy The Boss series (written as Abigail Barnette), and I asked her a few questions about it because I’ve been aware for some time that the first edition was self-edited, with a homemade cover.
1) How did you go about creating the first cover for The Boss?
I took a photo of the lid of this antique silver bowl, doodled around with the picture in a free photo editor, and slapped the title on it.
2) How long was it before you changed the cover to something a bit more professional?
Very quickly. Within the first month. When I saw how much The Boss made on debut at $0.99, I felt comfortable “splurging” on stock art for it.
3) What sort of re-investment from your initial The Boss earnings did that take?
Basically, the money I reinvested was for that stock photo, which I converted to black and white. The covers for that series are all made by me, and they’re all very simple, black and white, one photo. It’s given them a distinct look; you’re not going to confuse them with anything else on the market. So, I started with a standard licensed stock photo and upgraded to an extended license once the book blew past 200,000 when it became a free ebook.
4) Compared to your next best-selling book, how much better has The Boss done?
The Boss has moved more copies because of word-of-mouth and the fact that it’s now totally free. When The Girlfriend came out, it didn’t matter that cover was yet another pattern from the inside of a weird antique in my house. People were hungry for it. The first and second books in the series both started out with weird bowl covers.
5) I’m nosy…and I want to shut up those wallopers who say you shouldn’t publish until you can afford ‘professionally-made’ covers. Are you willing to give us some idea how much The Boss made when it was first published?
It sold 2,000 copies within an hour of going up at $0.99, and in its first month, I made in the low-to-mid five figures…I don’t make that now, LOL. But even if I hadn’t been able to afford those covers and editing, I would still have gone on with the series. Because I believed in it.
The Boss, the first book in the series, is free to download on Amazon US and Amazon UK. (Other countries’ Amazon sites to but gimme a break, it’s nearly 4am as I type this; you want me to wipe your arse as well?)
Jenny’s website is, so she claims, a one-stop procrastination shop. And it’s here. So there.
Now, if you’ll excuse me…my Scarlett senses are tingling. Someone’s being a dickbag on the internet, and I must avenge my people…