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An original Henry James manuscript with notes for revisionGuest blogger Kieran Mathers wants his book to look its best. But what will it cost him, and is it worth the risk?

As I mentioned in the previous column, a lot of self-published e-books are awful. This is because they don’t go through the relentless editing process required by most publishers, so things like copy-editing often just don’t happen.

I believe that a lot of readers get put off by this lack of ‘polish’ and I’m trying to avoid that particular pitfall. Sadly, this involves the application of quite a lot of money. As my dad used to say, ‘You’ve got to speculate to accumulate.’ In other words, you’ve got to spend money to make money.

And this is very much a money making exercise. I don’t just want to publish, I want to sell. In the last year or so I’ve realised that writing, while a brave and noble exercise, is also a commercial proposition. Without sales, no-one is going to take any notice of my work.

And I would rather like to get noticed. And make some money.

I'm sure Kieran would settle for JK Rowling's sales figuresSome genre novels sell very well indeed and the likes of Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan are a threatening bunch to go up against. I know I’m not as big as them. But equally, I’m not looking to sell a million copies (though it’d be very nice if I did). I’m looking to sell a few hundred, maybe a thousand.

There is an important reason for me having this rather commercial objective. Since I have to invest, I need a minimum number of sales to actually break even.

The cost of a commercial Copy & Development edit is going to be about £600 and I’ve commissioned a front cover, which will be about £120. That’s an investment of £750 pounds already. The intention is to sell the book for £1.50 and since Amazon is going to take its cut, I can expect each sale to be worth about £1.00. Thus, you see why a thousand copies is the objective – my money back and then a little bit more.

In a perfect world, my publisher would bear these costs but I don’t have a publisher and, at least for The Darkness Embraces, I hope I don’t need one; I’ll take the risk and see how I do. But this investment frightens me a lot.

Pen or scalpel?I’m not great at dealing with pressure and I’m not particularly mercenary. I hope that investing in this book will make it look professional and increase sales, but there is no guarantee. When I talk to people in the trade, they tell me that even a book put out by publishers will only sell about six thousand copies on its first run, and then go out of print. I don’t believe (though I have no research to back this up) that many e-books even sell that many. I don’t think they have the marketing support they need to do so.

So once I’ve finished going over my book with a fine tooth comb, it’s going to be edited for the first time ever – and I think it might be a little bit heartbreaking!

Next time, I’ll start talking about my strategy for getting noticed. Meanwhile, I need a cup of tea. I’ve managed to scare myself…