Common Services for Indie Authors: Are They Worth It?

I’m in the process of finalizing my first non-fiction book for publication. (So stoked!) I’ll reveal more about that soon, but today I want to explore a topic all indie authors face: where to invest our money.

It’s no mystery that self-publishing requires a financial investment. The last thing any serious author should do is write a book, attempt to edit it themselves, slap on a makeshift cover and send it to Amazon. But we also need to be mindful of that little thing called a budget.

Circulation in business

Most indie authors don’t make huge income quickly or at all through their books—though both are possible. It takes awhile for most of us to break even upon publishing, then go on to profit. (It took me a good year to start profiting from In Her Shadow.) Many companies profit far more than writers from self-publishing, and there can be a fine line between a worthy investment and being taken advantage of.

1. Quality cover design — worth the investment

In some cases cover cheapness really shows, and could serve as the only sign a writer published her own book versus was published traditionally. There’s no shame in self-publishing, of course, but we want our books to be as respected as those on traditional shelves. And folks really do judge books by their covers.

Do your research. Shop around, ask for artist work samples and referrals from trusted author friends whose covers you adore. Go to Google Images and search for your genre, noting which covers immediately grab your eye and attention and what you dug most about them.

2. Contests and awards — sometimes helpful, sometimes a money drain

Some contest companies charge hefty fees and give out loads of awards purely for the sake of their own profit versus celebrating worthy writers. In such contests, virtually everyone wins and has the option to purchase extras, such as award stickers and certificates. They promise exposure on their website, which may have low traffic. While these awards may influence buyers to some extent and sound groovy in your bio, they aren’t known to boost sales over all.

There are plenty of credible contests, which charge more modest fees (say $10, versus $99), care at least as much about about writers and the literary world as personal bank and whose kudos would shine more brightly.

Research contests before entering. Find out important details, such as who is hosting the contest and who the judges are. Any contest that is not transparent about its judging panel may not be worth your time or entry fee.

To learn more, read this Salon article: Vanity Book Awards.

3. Professional editing — hugely worthy

No one can edit their own work well, and writing and editing are completely different skill sets. Again, do your research. Get referrals and make sure your editor is credible. I was fortunate to meet mine at a writers’ conference. After he critiqued a sample of my work, I knew he was the right fit for me and my story.

To save your editor time and you money, do your best to get your book in tip-top form before handing it off. As my novel’s editor—who’s also a prolific author—Mike Sirota says on his blog, “You’ve already put a lot of blood, sweat, tears, time, and coffee into your story, so why dash to the finish line?”

4. Credible editorial reviews — potentially helpful

Kirkus Reviews reviews indie-authors’ books. In this case, the fee, while steep, isn’t wonky or misleading. Traditional publishers pay for these services, too, and at least in the case of Kirkus, the review process is exactly the same. You can submit to Publishers Weekly for free, but your book won’t necessarily be chosen for review. (You can also pay PW’s indie program, PW Select, for a listing in their guide.)

I’m a bit biased, as Kirkus gave my novel a pretty shiny review, but regardless, I like the fact that these publications critique books with a critical, professional eye and are well-respected throughout the literary world. They’re known to be tough on books, which is something I desired. A positive review from either may influence agents and publishers, should you decide to go hybrid or traditional later on, and can add impressive light to your bio.

If you have the funds to submit to Kirkus, consider it. If not, fear not. The review won’t make or break your success as an author. If you get a negative review, you can ask that it not be published on their site and bypass using a blurb or the full review yourself. Steer clear of paid reviews that seem sketchy or unethical; they probably are.

5. Any service that seems necessary, but that would suck our time and energy if we did it ourselves — wise and worth it!

I know me. I am not going to take the time to learn how to format my manuscript for each outlet. It would be tedious, headache-inducing and draining, and my energy seems best spent elsewhere. Like many writers, I wear multiple hats and would rather pay someone.

I’m hiring Jenn Oliver of The Author Sidekick to take care of this for me, and I’m thrilled already. She’s sharp, experienced, enthusiastic and reasonable price-wise. To check her services out, visit

As in life, choose where you invest your time, funds and energy wisely. ♥

Leave a comment


  1. Great tips August, I am writing a new book now. Jenn Oliver sounds amazing. I noted her info! xx

  2. Thank you, August! I can’t wait to work with and am so excited to help bring your project to life! 😀

  3. Reblogged this on Alice White Author and commented:
    Wonderful post from August McLaughlin, wonderful friend and fellow author, about the worthiness of certain services for authors.

  4. Did I say those things? What a guy! 🙂 Of course, you’re one of the best writers with whom I’ve ever worked.

  5. YASSS.

    Cover and editing are huge.

    I was broker than broke when I put my first novel out, but I saw a huge ROI in hiring someone to do my cover, and self-editing, no matter how good you are at editing, is really tough. Since it’s your words, your brain fills in what you meant a little too often and you can miss so much.

    Great tips!

    (And YAY – congrats on this step!)

  6. Great tips, it can be so difficult to figure out where and how to spend your time and/or money!

    • So glad it seems helpful, Alica! We could easily (and needlessly) spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on our books and careers. It’d be nice to have a limitless budget, but luckily, I don’t think we need one.

  7. Very good advice, August. I’m still gun shy concerning paid reviews. It takes more effort and a lot of lead time, but I prefer reviews that are free. It kind of ruffles my feathers to pay for a review, especially when money for most writers is a huge issue. Thanks for your post. Your advice is always stellar.

    • I hear you, Bette! Other than Kirkus, I wouldn’t pay for reviews either. Most of such opportunities seem unethical or risky to me. You’re so right that money is a huge issue for creatives. Thanks for the kind words!

  8. So, I actually took the time to format (re-write the entire thing!) one of my mom’s booklets for kindle…I kind of got in a rythm with it, but it was only about 50 pages. I think I shall look outside myself for that the next time! Great post, thanks August!

  9. Excellent tips! Today’s environment of ‘discovery challenge’ has certainly upped the ante as you point out, and the only way ahead is to hire in the necessary expertise. But even the mainstream publishers actually run ‘virtual’ production operations, hiring in the expertise they need. The only publisher I ever saw that had an entire ‘in-house’ operation was Dunmore Press, the de-facto publisher for a while of New Zealand’s Massey University, and who published an academic book of mine back in 1994. But they were an exception. (That said, there IS an argument for major publishers to run their own warehouse: certainly the publishers who’ve survived here in NZ have been the ones so equipped – Penguin distribute to Australasia from Melbourne, which is awkward for NZ booksellers and certainly put paid to some of my Penguin titles).

    I think, when looked at from this perspective the only real difference between a mainstream publisher and the ‘self-pubbers’ who can reach an audience through online means is one of scale. All other calculations – quality, cost of production, need to generate returns, and so forth – apply.

    All the best for your new book – sounds very exciting.

  10. Thank you for the amazing tips, August. You rock! 🙂 I can’t wait to read your book though!

  11. Reblogged this on Writer's Treasure Chest and commented:
    Let me share this blog post with you. It contains excellent hints and tips when it comes to services for indie authors. The blog is written by August McLaughlin. She is an award-winning health and sexuality writer, radio personality and creator of the empowering female sexuality brand #GirlBoner.

  12. Kourtney Heintz

     /  September 6, 2015

    Great tips, August. 🙂 Have you ever used a blog tour service? I haven’t and I’m curious to see if they are worth the cost.

    • I haven’t, Kourtney. The handful I’ve looked into weren’t very impressive as far as reach and such. I personably prefer pitching to individual sites I’m familiar with. If I learn of a good tour, I’ll let you know!

  13. karenmcfarland

     /  September 7, 2015

    Ack! I have all this ahead of me. Kind of scary. While not ready yet, I appreciate all the tips for future reference. Thanks August! 🙂


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