When you publish through the traditional method (ie: you get an agent, the agent sells your project to a publisher for a cut of sales, and the publisher does everything else for a cut of sales) there are major aspects of publishing that are done for you. These include marketing your finished project and finishing the project. An editor is assigned to you. An illustrator is hired for the cover work. The cover is designed; the dimensions are decided upon; potentially the title even changes. A lot of things go out of the author’s hands to a large degree.
When you publish with an small, independent press (like HCS Publishing!) or when you self-publish, you the author become responsible for all of these things. This is both great, and not so great: great because you retain all control over how things look, what they’re called, and so forth. It gets not so great if you don’t have the industry contacts for marketing, for finding an artist, and for connecting with a worthwhile editor.
I covered flags to look for when asking people you’re close with to edit for you, and vice versa, in a previous post. Ideally, you’ll want to select a professional editor that you don’t have a history with as this will give the editor the best chance to read through with an impartial voice. Your independent house will likely have recommendations. If you’re self-publishing, you will have to look a little harder. An editor, though, is absolutely something you should spend money on as it will make your finished product that much more effective.
Similarly, cover work is critical to the success of a book. Everyone is familiar with the idiom “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but any book-fiend will tell you straight up that they ABSOLUTELY DO. If your eye and your interest are not caught by the cover art, the text, the cleverly positioned blocks of weird colors, then you’re not going to pick up the book to check the back or flip through the first few chapters. It’s as simple as that. Just like with an editor, make sure your selected designer/illustrator has a contract at the ready. Read this contract. Make sure the pricing (and potential royalty chart) is something you agree with and that their style matches the voice of your book.
In my case, HCS Publishing has deals with professional editors, so that part was simple for me. Finding an artist was a little trickier, but I scored mine (Lin Hsiang) through a gallery site called deviantART. I posted in the message boards with a description of what I was looking for, and his art samples jumped out as a perfect match for my story. He was just getting started in major projects back then and cut me an excellent deal on pricing, and when I contacted him this year for Civil Dusk his prices had changed. This is to be anticipated, and to be respected. Expect to pay AT MINIMUM $350-400 for a professionally designed cover, especially if you’re approaching artists on your own. This is reasonable, especially if they do not expect to receive royalties. This is a one-and-done job which you (the commissioner) will continue to use to lure people into buying your book. If you can’t afford to pay that range for something that will ideally represent your project, you may want to exercise some patience and save up until you can. Because cutting corners for this book that you’ve spent so much time to write is just doing yourself a disservice.