What Goes Into Making a Book

Books are not easy to create.

There seems to be a myth out there that runs something like this: it takes absolutely no effort to create a book. I think this myth came about because reading is a passive experience. Reading is also quick. Depending on how long the book is and your reading pace, you can finish a book within an hour to a few days. So if something seems easy on one end, we’re apt to believe it was easy on the other end, too.

Therefore, some people conclude that books aren’t worth paying for. I’ve been publishing romances since 2009, and the most common feedback I get is about price. I get stuff like, “You’re breaking my bank”, “I’m on a limited income and can’t afford to buy books”, “Unless you’re a New York Times Bestselling author, you aren’t worth paying for”, “I love your free books and wish there were more of them”, “This book has been out for a year. Isn’t it time to make it free?”, and “Why aren’t you in KU? I can’t get your books unless you’re in KU”.

Some (not all) of these people have the audacity to turn around and post pictures on social media about their new car, their vacation, their Starbucks drink for the day, the new movie they just saw at the theater, etc. These particular people have the money. I’m not the only author this happens to. Other authors go through the same thing. For some reason, other stuff is worth buying, but an author’s book isn’t.

It doesn’t help that there are videos and posts out there teaching people how to read any book they want for “free”. Essentially, these videos and posts promote a read-and-return scam. So instead of using an online library, which is totally legitimate, these people opt to use a retailer as a library. When someone reads a book from an online library, the author has been paid for the book by the library. When someone reads and returns a book from a retailer, the author gets paid nothing. The same is true for audiobooks on Audible. I stopped putting audiobooks on Audible for this reason. (Though I still claimed my books on there to prevent thieves from getting their hands on my content.)

Yes, KU is legitimate. Authors get paid per pages read, but to be in KU, an author can only be on Amazon. (At least this is true for us indie authors.) Kobo Plus and Scribd are legitimate places to read books under a subscription model, and best of all, they don’t require authors to only be on Kobo or Scribd. Authors are free to be on other retailers. The exclusivity clause in KU is why I am not in KU. KU has shut me out from using their program. But I am on Kobo Plus and Scribd. I’m also at online libraries. I have a way for people to legitimately get my books without buying them. And these places exist outside the US.

I don’t know if people don’t realize this or if they are just trying to get a free book, but when people complain that I put a price tag on my books, all it tells me is that these people don’t value the time and money that went into creating my books. I didn’t just snap my fingers and the books magically created themselves. Every book took work and money to create.

Today, I’m going to share what it takes to create a book.

You need to write the thing in order for it to exist.

I don’t use ghostwriters. I don’t use AI. Every book I write is from scratch. This means I have to sit and think about what I’m going to write before anything gets on the page. I have good writing days and bad writing days. A good writing day is when I wake up ready to write, and the words just flow naturally from the mind and onto the page. This is a no-effort day. I only have these days about 20% of the time. Most of the time, I know what I want to write, but I have to struggle for 30 minutes before the words start to flow. If someone interrupts me during these 30 minutes, I won’t get anything written that day, and a lot of people don’t see writing as “work” so they will interrupt me a lot.

I consider myself to be a fast writer. I have published 6-8 books a year since 2009. This doesn’t count the other genres I’ve dabbled in. I have just over 100 books total now. But that doesn’t mean writing those books was easy. There’s rewriting. There’s stopping the story to figure out what comes next. Then there’s times when I had to swap scenes around and then revise those to make them fit in the story. I might not have put in an 8-hour shift of doing physical labor, but it’s still tiring to write for 3-5 hours a day (five days a week) and then turn around to do the non-writing part of this business. If you totaled up all of the time I put into this writing business between writing and non-writing tasks, I work about 50 hours a week.

Some authors are faster than me. Some authors are slower than me. But we all put in time in order to create the book. The reason some authors use ghostwriters and AI is because creating a story from scratch is harder than it looks. There’s a lot of work the brain has to go through in order to connect the dots from the beginning of the book to the ending of the book. And these dots need to be connected in a way that entertains people.

After the writing comes the polishing process.

I go through every book one time before I send it out to an editor. It takes me about 2-3 weeks to go through this. Sometimes it takes me a full month. I like my work, but I can only handle a chapter or two a day because editing is tedious. I have to look at everything that’s wrong with the book. Also, sometimes I have to listen to any previous books that led up to this particular one. I’ve learned long ago to go through any connecting books to make sure I’m not running into consistency issues. This is all why it takes me so long to go through the initial edits.

Then I send the book off to an editor, and I give the editor a month to work on it. For people who wonder if I use an editor, yes, I do. I am not the only person who goes over my book. I try to make every book free of errors, but something always seems to fall through. I have read plenty of traditionally published books (and even watched enough movies and TV shows) where errors slipped into them. Errors happen. All an author can do is their best. All an editor can do is their best. I’ve been “cold called” by a couple of editors in the past, and even THEY missed something. No one is perfect, and quite frankly, I’m sick and tired of people acting like authors never take the time to have their books edited. Most of us do take the time. It’s just that no one ever finds every single thing. Ironically, those complaining about the error they found often write their comment with an error in it. /rant

The cover is either made by the author or made by a cover artist.

Hands down, the cover artist will do the best job unless the author happens to be familiar with making covers already. If the author creates the cover, that will take time. The author will need to find the pictures, get the right fonts, and then put these all together. This can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of weeks. If the author needs to keep tweaking the cover, it can take weeks. (I’ve done this, and it is exhausting.)

I prefer to either hire a cover artist or buy a pre-made cover. This takes the time off of my back, but it does put the time onto someone else. When working with a cover artist, the author has to describe the book, mention what they want on the cover, and clarify the genre. Sometimes the author will submit pictures they already found to the cover artist, but sometimes the cover artist will search for the pictures. Then the cover artist will come back with some mock-ups. This is where the author will either pick one they like or suggest something else. This whole thing can take up to a month. Usually, it’s a week or two, but cover artists have lives of their own, so you have to work with their schedule. This is why I get the cover before I even write the book. If you go the pre-made route, you can eliminate the mock-ups and the “describe your book” process, but even then, you will have to make some touches to the cover or tell the cover artist your title and name. So there’s still some time, but this time is not very much.

Formatting comes next.

Now comes the part where you format for the ebook. If you do paperbacks, you need to format for that, too. I format for paperback while writing the book to save on time. The only reason I do paperbacks these days is to send the book to the US Copyright Office because of the non-ending harassment from Amazon to constantly prove my copyright to them. I create the ebook next. (I think most authors create the ebook first.) To create the ebook, it takes about an hour to format. This is, by far, the easiest part of the process, but I’ve been doing this since 2009 and I format in the simplest style possible to best fit all e-readers. Some authors like to get fancy in their formatting. The fancier you want to get, the longer the formatting will take.

Making the book costs money.

You need money if you hire a ghostwriter, buy an AI software writing program, hire an editor, hire a cover artist, buy pictures and/or fonts for your cover, buy a pre-made cover, and hire someone to do the formatting (whether it’s for the ebook, paperback, or both). If you don’t want to upload the book yourself, you’ll need to pay for that, too.

On average, I spend $300-$500 to create a book. This is why those emails from people who complain about the price of my books is so irksome. I paid a lot more than $0.99-$3.99 to even MAKE the book. Most authors pay way more than their asking price to produce their books, too. The truth is, authors need to make money with their books in order to keep writing more books. Most of us aren’t independently wealthy. Most of us are on a budget. Most of us are struggling to make ends meet. We need people to buy our books so we can pay for food, keep a roof over our heads, and keep our lights on. My internet alone is $85 a month. I need the internet in order to upload my books to the retailers, to communicate with editors and cover artists, and to maintain a blog and website.

Also, authors don’t keep the total price of their book. When you buy a book for $2.99, the author doesn’t get all of that. The retailer gets their cut from that price. Essentially, the author pays the retailer for having their book on the retailer’s storefront. Typically, the retailer’s cut will be about 30-40%, but it can be more depending on the country, the retailer, and the price of the book. If authors sell direct from their website, the cut will be a lot less, but most people want to buy from a retailer. If someone buys a paperback, the cost of printing the paper and cover will be combined with the retailer’s cut. Some might balk at a $14.99 paperback price for a romance book, but I only see about $2-$3 of that amount for the US and less if it goes overseas.

Then after the retailer takes their cut, the taxes come in. Authors are self-employed. Retailers don’t take taxes out for authors. Authors need to figure out their tax burden and pay the federal and state government (at least in the US) themselves. I hire an accountant for this. That accountant costs me money, too. Some authors figure out taxes themselves, but I am not a numbers person, so I hire out. Some authors don’t make enough to even pay taxes, which means they can’t cover their bills and groceries from their book income. They need another source of income to make ends meet. Contrary to popular belief, most authors aren’t making a ton of money. By the time most authors pay to make the books, the retailer takes their cut, and the taxes are removed, they are doing good to stay afloat. (And I didn’t even discuss ads or other promotional opportunities authors pay for in order to get people to even realize their book exists.)

Support the authors you enjoy.

The bottom line is that it costs authors plenty of time and money to get these books out there. If you have an author you appreciate, the best way you can thank them is by buying their books. Words of praise are nice, and we certainly love hearing them, but we also need the money if we are going to be able to keep writing more books. I know some authors who quit writing because they had to use their time to make money by getting another job. If I ever get a “traditional” job, I’m not writing anything because I won’t have time for it. (I barely have time to write as it is.) I understand why these authors dropped out of writing. Authors need financial support in addition to the emotional support.

About Ruth Ann Nordin

Ruth Ann Nordin mainly writes historical western romances and Regencies. From time to time, she branches out to contemporaries romances and other genres (such as science fiction thrillers). For more information, please go to www.ruthannnordin.com or check out https://ruthannnordinauthorblog.wordpress.com.
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5 Responses to What Goes Into Making a Book

  1. Man, you’re preaching to the choir on this one. So many people don’t want to pay money for art. And art takes talent, time, and money. Some authors never get back the money they put into a book. I often pay $5.00 for an ebook, especially if I know the author is good. And I have never returned a book. Instead of balking at the price, maybe someone should give up their Starbucks treat one day. I paid $5.00 for a large bag of tortilla chips today. I would rather pay $5.00 for a book if I had to choose. I’m an avid reader, and books are very important to me. And I appreciate authors so much for taking the time to write these wonderful stories.

    • I’ve only returned one ebook, and it was one my kid downloaded without me knowing about. To this day, I don’t know how the kid found that book on the Amazon Kindle store. LOL In a case like that, I understand why someone would return a book. But there’s this trend being promoted on TikTok and You Tube where people treat Amazon like a library. In a writing group on FB, one author said someone left a review praising Amazon for their easy return policy where she can read any book she wants (like the author’s) for “free”. The author was greatly upset with this review, and I don’t blame her. I think most readers don’t return books, but there is that segment out there that not only believe it’s perfectly fine to do it but is teaching others to do it, too.

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