Updates on recent work, and topics in writing and editing

Hourigan & Co. author’s self-help book at the Golden Globes

Cover of Stop Sabotaging Your Confidence, by Dr Vesna GrubacevicToday self-help author Dr. Vesna Grubacevic let us know that her book Stop Sabotaging Your Confidence was recently presented to Golden Globe Awards attendees as the only book included in this year’s gift bag. We helped Dr. Grubacevic publish the book in 2014, doing the interior layout, design commissioning, and print and electronic publishing for her, as well as coaching her through the independent publishing process for the first time. You can read more about the gift bag inclusion in Vesna’s article on her own website.

This marketing achievement, which sees the book put into the hands of major Hollywood stars, is a great milestone for Grubacevic, whose book is an outstanding, easy-to-follow guide to improving self-confidence by eliminating common self-sabotaging behaviors and thought patterns, based on solid research and proven methods.

As you can imagine, we’re very excited for Vesna and can’t wait to her how her book continues to perform on the world stage. If you’d like to know more about how we can help you follow in Vesna’s footsteps and achieve your dreams of becoming a published author, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Work with an editor using Markdown and Draft

At Hourigan & Co, a large proportion of our projects are either books for self-publishing authors, theses and papers for academics and graduate students, and small business websites.

These projects have one big thing in common: they are all complex documents that involve a lot of structure. Arguably, all documents, even some of the smaller ones like this post, benefit from being thought about in a structured way.

Many people, including myself, have spent many, many hours doing their work in Microsoft Word. It tends to be installed on the computers at our schools and offices, and then because it’s what we’re used to, it ends up on our home computers, too.

But Word has a couple of crucial flaws:

  1. It has so many features it’s confusing and distracting
  2. It doesn’t make it easy to write with structure
  3. It wasn’t built for collaboration.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at alternative tools. And the best that I’ve come across are Markdown and Draft.

Writing with Markdown

Markdown is a very simple syntax for writing structured and formatted documents in plain text.

Document structure is actually very simple. There aren’t too many parts to the average document. There are ordinary paragraphs, different heading levels, bold and italic emphasis, block quotes, lists, and when we look at the web, we have links as well.

Markdown gives you a way to show these structural elements using symbols you could find on a typewriter. There are no buttons and no keyboard shortcuts. You don’t even need a mouse (though it typically helps).

Here’s what Markdown looks like:

# Heading 1

An ordinary paragraph needs no special markings.

All you need to do is separate paragraphs with a blank line.

## Heading 2

### Heading 3

> Block quote. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit.
Pellentesque pretium elementum eros, ac dignissim purus volutpat et.


* bulleted list item 1
* bulleted list item 2

1. numbered list item 1
2. numbered list item 2

[link text](

<!--- Comment. -->


and here’s how it looks when you convert it to HTML or rich text:

Heading 1

An ordinary paragraph needs no special markings.

All you need to do is separate paragraphs with a blank line.

Heading 2

Heading 3

Block quote. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Pellentesque pretium elementum eros, ac dignissim purus volutpat et. Integer eleifend, odio id tincidunt rhoncus, orci lorem faucibus orci, sed euismod sapien lectus sed erat.


  • bulleted list item 1
  • bulleted list item 2
  1. numbered list item 1
  2. numbered list item 2

link text

Notice how the comment doesn’t show at all? When you’re typing in Markdown, you can leave comments to others and they won’t appear in the output.

Tools for writing with Markdown

You can write Markdown in any program that will take text input, even Word, and cut or paste it into any other. It’s still Markdown. But some programs are better suited to it than others. Generally, these programs are called “text editors”.

Some are simple and distraction free, like Byword, iA Writer, and WriteMonkey. Others have a wider range of features and are aimed at programmers, like Sublime Text and Atom.

When you’re trying a new process like this, having to install new software that can be daunting. That’s where Draft comes in. It has a lot of the same great distraction-free qualities of editors like iA Writer, but since it’s online, you can try it easily.

Collaborating online with Draft

Using an online writing tool has another advantage: it makes collaboration easy.

  • You can share documents written in Draft by sharing a link or emailing it to your collaborators.
  • You can leave a comment on a document by pressing Ctrl+/ or Cmd+/, and it will be emailed to everyone you’ve shared it with.
  • A special view allows you to see and accept or reject edits other users have made.
  • By pressing Ctrl+R or Cmd+R, you can switch to a preview mode that shows you how your document looks when exported to HTML or rich text.

You can learn more about what Draft can do by reading its online manual.

Draft isn’t the only tool like this: Google Docs is also great for collaboration. But Docs tries very hard to copy Word so users will find it familar, and that’s not entirely a good thing. Draft is something very different, and better suited to producing structured documents like books, theses, and websites.

Hourigan & Co. is looking for an assistant!

It’s a mostly well-kept secret that Hourigan & Co. has been looking for an assistant for a while now. This is a long-term search—we’re looking for a very specific and exceptional kind of person, for whom this could represent a real career and lifestyle opportunity.

We’ve recently become extremely busy—which is great!—making this search a little more urgent than it has been. If you or anyone you know fits the description below, please do get in touch.

The opportunity

Hourigan & Co. is a growing editorial consultancy based in Melbourne, Australia. Its director, Ben Hourigan, is looking for an ongoing working relationship with a superior English-language editor with native-level English ability, from a developing country (e.g. the Philippines, India), where the compensation offered will represent a significant earning opportunity. For the right applicant, we hope this has the potential to become an engagement offering close to full-time hours and/or compensation.

What we do

Our clients are businesses, organizations, and people seeking transformation of their raw material into high-quality work of a commercially publishable standard. These clients have included several high-profile Australian and international businesses, as well as many self-published authors and small businesses.

Typical tasks we undertake include:

  • editing (including substantial rewriting and fact checking)
  • proofreading
  • document formatting (especially theses)
  • e-book publishing using Markdown and LaTeX
  • site deployment and content management using WordPress
  • design commissioning

We give extensive feedback to authors during the editing process, and aim to be coaches and mentors.

Who we’re looking for

Ideal qualities for a successful applicant include:

  • A strong work ethic, self-discipline, and commitment to meeting deadlines and time budgets.
  • An orientation to independent learning: if you encounter a problem, you research the solution before asking others for help.
  • Comfortable working online and communicating exclusively or almost exclusively by email, instant-messaging, and project-management software (e.g. Basecamp, Trello).
  • A bachelor’s or higher degree in the humanities, with a high average grade (80%+). Masters’ or other higher degrees are looked on favorably.
  • Previous experience (in-house or freelance) or accreditation as an editor.
  • Familiarity with use of style guides and manuals (e.g. Chicago, Strunk & White).
  • Maintenance of a personal writing practice, ideally in fiction or creative nonfiction, including a publication history.
  • A love of reading.
  • High literary and visual aesthetic values.
  • Detailed knowledge of using Word for writing and editing, especially the effective use of heading styles and find and replace.
  • Familiarity working with e-books and technologies for formatting long documents as plain-text and/or code (Markdown, LaTeX, HTML).
  • Flexibility to work in US and British English.
  • An always-on internet connection.
  • Mac user.

Note that you do not need all of these qualities to apply. The key attributes are strong writing and editing ability, a love of language and literature, and a willingness to learn, particularly about the technology-related aspects of the work. You will receive instruction in and support with these aspects if you need it.

While experience with code-based writing technologies is not essential, it is essential that the editor have a willingness to work in a text editor (e.g. Sublime Text, Textmate, Notepad++), learn about code and markup languages, and to do work on the command line. While Mac users are strongly preferred, Linux users are also invited to apply. Windows-only users need not apply unless they have prior experience with Markdown, LaTeX, or a Unix command line, or a strong motivation to learn these technologies.


Rates may range between USD 10 and USD 20 per hour depending on skills and experience.

What you should do next

Applicants should find out how to contact us on this site, then send a résumé, a cover letter or message addressing the ideal qualities listed above, a description of their computing environment, and examples of past work. Only applicants who reach the next stage will receive further contact.

How much does it cost to edit a PhD or master’s thesis?

How much does it cost to edit a PhD or master’s thesis?

One of the most frequent search terms leading visitors to Hourigan & Co., as well as one of our most common client questions, is how much does it cost to edit a PhD thesis?

You might want to sit down for this, because the answer is usually some version of “more than you think.” The first thing to remember is that a PhD thesis (or even an MA thesis) is a long piece of work—it takes time to read and even longer to edit. Editing a PhD thesis will usually be no less than a full week’s work, and often the process can continue for several weeks if we have queries for you or your supervisor asks you to make further revisions. In the meantime, us editor types have to eat and pay our rent and so on. Trust me: nobody is getting rich off this.

Here’s the short answer: editing a PhD thesis could cost you between $1,800 and $3,600. An MA thesis could cost you between $750 and $1,800.

When we do a full edit of a novel or a similar book-length work, we often charge around $600 (in Australian dollars, but it’s roughly equal in USD) to edit each 10,000 words. For a full edit of a thesis, we charge the same rate per 10,000 words, so a full edit of a 60,000-word PhD thesis could be up to $3,600. A master’s thesis of 30,000 words might be up to $1,800.

This is a significant investment, and for some graduate students who are from non-English-speaking backgrounds, it’s worthwhile spending this much on getting their degree. We’ve even had one Chinese-speaking client here whose PhD examiners required him to get a professional edit before they would pass the thesis.

The good news is that most PhD or master’s candidates won’t need this level of work done. When I talk about a full edit, I mean that we not only correct mistakes in spelling and grammar, but rewrite poorly worded or ambiguous sentences, point out obvious factual errors, offer commentary on methodology and standards of argument, format the thesis to departmental requirements, and check that the referencing is correct. This can be a lot of work, especially if the author isn’t a confident writer.

But for PhD students especially, it’s expected that your graduate studies will involve a significant amount of education in academic writing. You’ll redraft multiple times on your own and with your supervisors, and after a long candidature you should already be a pretty good writer.

As a result, what we recommend to most graduate students is that we do proofreading and formatting. For this we charge $300 per 10,000 words, so a 60,000-word thesis would cost $1,800.

In this process, we correct errors only (no rewriting for clarity or style), check that your citations and reference list are written out correctly, and format the thesis to your departmental requirements, putting on a little extra polish from our expert knowledge of typographical conventions.

We actually find that formatting is one of the areas where students need the most help with their theses. Microsoft Word doesn’t make it that easy for the average user to format a document consistently over 30,000 to 60,000 words, and we will usually spend three to four hours on formatting alone. For most students, the result is a dramatic overhaul of their thesis’s appearance, which makes it much more attractive and readable.

Here’s a few final tips:

Things to watch out for

  • Be wary of low-cost editing. Often these edits will be performed by staff whose English is non-standard (e.g. in India or the Philippines), or the price will not give the editor adequate time to review your document thoroughly and attend to all errors and formatting and referencing issues. At Hourigan & Co. we have seen many clients that paid for an edit elsewhere and then had to pay a second time for us to correct the remaining issues.
  • Don’t forget that the word-count you need to give to your editor includes your bibliography or reference list, and your appendices, if you want these to be professionally formatted and error free like the rest of your document.

How to help your editor and keep costs down

  • Make sure your entire thesis, including appendices, is contained in a single document.
  • Use heading styles to mark chapter and section titles.
  • Tell the editor up-front which English you are using (US, UK, Canadian, Australian), which style guide you are using (e.g. APA, Chicago), and where they can find your department’s thesis formatting guidelines.

Do you need our help or have a question? Contact us today.  

This year’s books from Hourigan & Co. authors

In 2014 Hourigan & Co. has established a new niche in serving self-published authors, and with the year almost half over we already have several projects out.

We’re overdue for a site update to show off what we’ve been working on this year, which includes a range of business-oriented projects as well as our books. For the moment, it’s time for a short post on the self-published works we’ve helped put out this year.

Our aim is to help self-published authors create better books by giving them access to professional-grade services including editing, cover design, e-book production, and print typesetting.

The works below all follow our model of assisted self-publishing. In exchange for a fee, we provided all the services each client specifically required to get their book published in the formats they wanted. For those publishing in print or e-book format at major retailers, or through their own website, we took them through setup of the necessary accounts and uploaded files on their behalf. We also give ongoing mentoring to many of our authors on sales and marketing, as well on the writing of their forthcoming projects.

Unless otherwise mentioned, we didn’t necessarily proofread or edit the projects below—many of our clients come to us with manuscripts that have been edited elsewhere, and in some cases ask that no changes or corrections be made.

In the list below I’ve given Amazon links to all titles. All the books we help our clients self-publish are also available on iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and a range of other retailers.

Here are our books for the first half of 2014.

Dr Vesna Grubacevic, Stop Sabotaging Your Confidence

dfw-vg-ssyc-cover-ebookThis self-help book written by a Melbourne NLP practitioner is one of the most complicated projects we’ve ever done. We took this all the way from manuscript through to production, doing a final proofread before commissioning illustrations and a cover design, typesetting the manuscript, which was highly structured and included a large number of tables and workbook sections, and creating and publishing e-book files for a range of platforms.

For this one we worked on an extremely tight deadline of only six weeks from start to finish, working a few twelve-hour days at times to make sure Vesna had the e-book published and a bulk order of print copies on her doorstep in time for her to promote it at a series of conference and trade-show speaking opportunities.

Grant Finnegan, The Seventh List

dfw-grf-tsl-cover-ebookFor Grant Finnegan’s debut action thriller, set in and around Uluru, we took an edited manuscript through to print and e-book publication. We’re especially pleased with the dynamic visual presentation of this book, which sports a high-impact professional cover and numerous interior illustrations by the author. Grant also engaged us to commission the design of his website, which presents a unified brand identity consistent with The Seventh List’s cover.

On top of all that, Grant’s book is a great read. Particularly for those who share his love of the thriller genre, including fans of his favorite authors (which included Matthew Reilly and Clive Cussler), The Seventh List is well worth checking out.

Anna Kurz Rogers, The hCG Protocol Companion

hCG-ScreenCover-1600-2560This 13,000 word book by diet coach Anna Kurz Rogers is one of our standout commercial successes. We edited Anna’s manuscript and produced PDF and e-book files for publication on all major retailers. We also created a website for the book that allowed Anna to sell the book directly to customers using an amazing online service called Payhip.

Selling the book to existing networks in the community for her specific network, Anna defied the accepted wisdom that first books don’t make money quickly, racking up thousands of dollars in sales within the first few months. We were stunned by how popular the PDF format was with Anna’s customers, and began offering PDF sale facilities to all our clients thereafter.

Following from the success of The hCG Protocol Companion, Anna engaged us to slightly revise the book, and the Changing Habits organization where she works as a diet coach asked us to produce a special, branded version of The hCG Protocol Companion to be provided exclusively to their clients.

Stuart Harrison, Follow Your Heart

FYH5x8inCover-FINALThis short e-book of around 8,000 words is the story of yoga teacher and life coach Stuart Harrison’s journey of overcoming his personal troubles and shortcomings to seize deep fulfillment in life and love.

For this project, we edited the manuscript, typeset a PDF version ready for screen and print, and produced e-book files. We also reconstructed a low-resolution cover into a format suitable for upload to major retailers. It is now available for free at one of Harrison’s own websites as an incentive to supply your contact details.

Michael Johnson, Keep It Clear

Cover-newKeep it Clear distills the wisdom and experience life coach Michael Johnson accumulated over a fifteen-year career in many industries. For this project, we edited the manuscript, typeset a PDF for on-screen reading, and produced e-book files for publication on all major retailers.

Realizing our authors’ dreams

Hourigan & Co. continues what is so far my ten years’ experience as an editor and publisher, and as a self-published novelist. With a background in creative writing, publishing, and literary studies, I originally imagined we would publish mostly novels—fiction being the most glamorous and talked-about part of independent publishing just as it is in traditional publishing.

I’ve been surprised, then, that many of my most motivated and successful clients work in the broad field of self-improvement. We have diet and life coaches distilling their expertise for a wider audience, a real-estate agent explaining how ordinary investors can build a property portfolio, and a PhD-qualified NLP practitioner giving expert guidance on self-confidence. And on top of that, we’re occasionally invited to take part in great fiction projects like the Seventh List.

What links all these projects together is that they represent our clients fulfilling their dreams of becoming published. This allows them to present their work to a worldwide audience so that they can begin to grow a readership and develop as authors through interaction with their fans. In what remains of 2014, we’ll be helping still more independent authors start and build their careers.

A letter on sales and return on investment in self-publishing

Good news from Hourigan & Co. in 2014: self-publishing is booming. There’s huge buzz around the topic, market share is on the rise, and the stigma formerly associated with “vanity publishing” is now turning into the glamor of being “independent.”

We help authors achieve their dreams of being self-published, in a way that allows them to keep control of their work and revenue by ensuring they have their own publishing accounts. We call this “assisted self-publishing.” The assistance part varies: as I’m an editor of over ten years’ experience, editing and proofreading manuscripts is the core of our service. But we also do:

  • professionally typeset print interiors
  • print on demand
  • e-book production
  • cover design
  • upload of print and e-book files to publishing accounts
  • marketing advice and assistance
  • website creation

All of this is charged at professional rates, and we find that the typical self-publishing project (which involves some combination of the above services) will cost the author around $2500. This represents many hours of work for us, but it also represents a substantial investment for the author in their writing career.

One of my clients, who I’ve spent a good deal of time mentoring through the process of writing and (soon) publishing his first book, recently wrote to me and let me know that as he has been through some tough financial times, he needs to be sure that he would get his money back from this investment. Like many authors do, he has high expectations for sales, revenue, and reputation, and he wants to know that he’s going to get there.

If only there were such certainties in life! Things worth having seldom come to us without hard work and struggle.

Yet, this client is thinking in exactly the right way, by wondering how he’s going to get a return on his investment. I want my clients to be successful so they keep writing and come back for more help. I stake my reputation on the quality of my service, and I also need my clients to stay in the game.

So, I sent this writer a 4,500 word email, which turns out to have been full of important information for any aspiring independent author who’s approaching a business like mine to help them with the process. It’s somewhat rambling, covering multiple topics as it does, but in many ways it captures some of the most important advice that I could give a self-published author about how they should set their expectations and how they can make money from their work in the long term.

Here are the highlights! I’ve cleaned them up so that they’re more generally applicable.

Beginning the letter

Hi, X,

Thank you for your honesty. I did wonder if we’d come up against this question of return on investment (ROI). First let me say that I’m sorry you’ve been in trouble, but glad to know that you are making the best of it by continuing to write and drawing inspiration from the experience.

If you’re ever in need of personal finance advice, I recommend checking out the Barefoot Investor and signing up to his free newsletter, which is full of good common sense more than anything else. I pay $300 a year for a subscription to his Barefoot Blueprint, mainly for the dividend stock picks. That might seem like a bit of a tangent, but I want you to know that with good discipline and planning, you will be okay in the long run, and also that you’re quite right to account for every penny.

The pitch

Now comes the part where I convince you that it’s worth spending your money on our assistance.

I’ll start by attacking the question of return on investment, which is key. It’s important for you to know that I can’t guarantee you anything in terms of sales, and that you should be very skeptical of anyone who says they can. I’ll be as straightforward with you as you have been with me, and say that shifting thousands of copies as a self-published author (or even a traditionally published author) is hard work—but it can be done.

In terms of the value I can offer you from your $2,500, many of the key things aren’t the sort of thing that you can break down into a list of key features. But I’ll do my best.

First, my work is focused around the editing that I do. While I do take a lot of pride in the production quality of my e-books, print interiors, cover designs, and websites, it all starts from this: in terms of working a profound transformation on your book, you will be hard-pressed to find other editors who can do the job that I will do.

Here’s a testimonial that author Michael Johnson wrote to me after I edited and helped him publish his book Keep it Clear:

Please accept these words: You are awesome. I love it beyond words. It is perfect in every which way. I do not know how to say thank you. I bloody love what you have done. With all of the information I have given you. I would hug you right now lol but lets not go that far lol 🙂 Thank you so much Ben. I could not have done a better job even If I tried. This is by far the best way anyone could have explained this. Like I said, I am so very glad you are my editor. Thank you so much.

Next, I’m here for you as a coach and mentor, if you want me to be. On a personal level, I feel like it’s the right thing to do; on the business level, my goal is to make you satisfied with the outcome so that you keep writing and come back to me with another book (as a few of my authors are planning to do). I don’t bill for any of this stuff, like all the letters I’ve sent you, but I’m always looking out for “my” authors, and here to answer any of your questions.

Here’s another testimonial from Grant Finnegan, whose novel The Seventh List is now available for preorder:

Thanks for your thoughts on this personal side of my life and your words of encouragement, it shows that you are like me as far as forming good working relationships with people you do business with, this in this day and age is a good thing, it makes all the difference.

An important thing about this is that I have skin in the game. I’m living the writing life, and I’m motivated to keep researching, experimenting, and learning about how to make it work. At the moment, my key focus is marketing, and I’ve been going back to some of my authors with advice on how they should adjust some of their practices for the best results. Just recently I’ve repositioned the categories of my novels so that they’re both on top 100 lists and I can claim “Kindle Bestseller” status in my marketing materials, and this morning I’ve (with her permission) put in a category change for Anna Kurz Rogers’s The hCG Protocol Companion so that she can crack a top 100 list too (she’s a gun at marketing her books, so she’s really excited about this).

[Note: As of writing, The hCG Protocol Companion is ranked #18 in its category, “Diets > Healthy”.]

Finally, I’ll just explain again (I think I might have done this before), the way I view what I do for you in a self-publishing sense. My aim is to make you self-sufficient, with your own publishing accounts, so that you

  • get involved in the process (with my assistance),
  • learn about it,
  • keep as much of your revenue from sales as possible,
  • and aren’t dependent on me.

For your next book, you can do it all yourself, get another editor, or do whatever you like, and nothing will be put out of order—because everything belongs to you.

Getting serious about return on investment (ROI)

You’re right that your book will be one of millions out there. More specifically, let’s say you were self-published, I recall there’s about 200,000 new books per year that go out through Smashwords alone. To make that a little less discouraging, be aware that many of these aren’t genuine books: a large proportion of them have some combination of the following traits:

  • are less than 10,000 words (not a real “book”, by any stretch of the imagination), often less than 5,000
  • have hideously unattractive, poorly-designed covers
  • aren’t proofread, edited, well-written, or well-conceived

If you approach this professionally, you start out a little ahead of the pack. But the odds are still stacked against you. It is hard work to be successful! Don’t let me or anyone else varnish that for you.

So, let’s say you invest $2,500 in an edit of your 50,000-word book, which with me includes e-book and print production. On top of that you spend another $550 on a professional cover design with us, which I strongly recommend if you’re self-publishing, and which will take the total up to $3,050. If you were considering traditional publishing after the edit, your best shot at getting your money back all in one go would be to then submit that edited MS to agents, and also to some publishers that take direct submissions. You will be waiting probably at least six months to get a serious response (i.e. an acceptance), if you get one, and maybe 12 months or more to get any money back. Your advance is likely to be no more than $5,000, as a first time author, and it’s also likely that will be the only money you ever see from the book. Additional royalties will be in the order of 20c to $2 per copy sold, once you earn out your advance, depending on format.

This is why a lot of authors are going the self-publishing route as a first preference. While the millions and billions to be made (for a very small few) are all in the traditional publishing sphere, you might say that the average result for a self-publisher is better.


  • you will be published
  • your royalties might be $2 a copy even on a $3.99 book, which lets you potentially shift more copies—and then you only have to sell 1,525 copies to get your $3,050 back. On a $9.99 e-book royalties are about $7, which means you need to sell 436 copies to make your money back (definitely achievable over time).

But if traditional publishing is part of your dream, I definitely would recommend taking some time to go through the submission process, knowing you can come back and self-publish later if you don’t get the result you want.

There are also authors who decide to “graduate” to traditional publishing after building a reputation in self-publishing. Big names in the US are Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey, who accepted big advances to go traditional, and in Australia Darrell Pitt recently signed a multi-book deal with Text after a start in the self-publishing world.

Since you are planning to write not one but two books, you are also setting yourself up for success. So glad I don’t have to convince you to do that! Successful self-publishers are universally agreed that you must write prolifically to give yourself the best chance at making money out of writing. I’d view these three books as essential reading for self-publishers:

I especially like Gaughran, as he gives a lot of very practical advice, and champions the value of a professional edit (at rates in the same ball-park as what I offer). I’ve found that Let’s Get Digital and its sequel, Let’s Get Visible, allowed me immediately to go on and do things to improve the visibility of my own books.

Making money on copy sales

There still is a chance that you could make your money back on copy sales. Anna Kurz Rogers made her investment of about $2,500 back in just over a month, mostly from PDF sales using the Payhip facility I set up for her (see her website at, and the book is still selling. Let’s say there’s maybe a 20% chance that this could happen quickly for you, if you are very systematic.

Anna is selling primarily to online communities for her specific diet, and her network of clients as a diet coach. Community here is the key word: she’s already part of what marketers might call a “tribe”, and she can pitch her work straight to them. Developing this kind of “platform”, which can take some time, is a crucial part of becoming a successful author.

I know it doesn’t seem especially glorious now, but setting up a mailing list initially seeded with friends, relatives, colleagues, and clients, as I suggested, is pretty much where we all start. If you read Gaughran and Platt and Truant, you will see that they agree on the importance of mailing lists in the long term. Eventually there will be more than friends and relatives on there.

Your best shot at making your money back

In my experience, those self-published authors who are most satisfied with their experience, and the most likely to make their money back, are those who are not relying on copy sales for revenue.

Sounds kind of paradoxical, doesn’t it? The best way to make money from being an author is not to rely on money from selling copies of your books? Really?

Actually, I long ago read marketing guru Seth Godin saying something similar to this, and proceeded to ignore it. Then it became my life.

Here’s a list of “my” most successful authors.


I don’t make much at all from copy sales, but by getting out there and doing the work, and learning how to do my own production at a very high standard and using innovative methods, I built a small business that allowed me to quit my job. What kick-started it all was a stroke of luck: my website was ranking well for searches for “self-publishing Australia” or something similar, which led to an interview and a huge photo in Fairfax newspapers across Australia one Sunday in January 2013.

I’d been freelancing for years, but this opened up a new line of work in helping others to self-publish—which brings us right up to the present moment! The income from what I do is exceedingly modest, and I have to work very hard to win clients, but so long as I am alive, free, and out of debt, I count this all as a huge success. I’m happy doing what I love for a living, and I’m building a business and a public profile that I own, instead of working on a boss’s dream.

Mark Reister

My first self-publishing client. Kudos to Mark—he stuck with me while I was still working out how to do everything. Mark’s book How to Buy Unlimited Investment Properties is a dream project for him, and although he will one day make his money back from copy sales, in the meantime he’ll have more than made it back from his real estate business.

Having a book out allows Mark to further position himself as a property investment expert. His print books are a great piece of marketing collateral, and they will continue to win him extra business until the day he retires. Mark has been on one top-100 list, alongside books by Donald Trump and Robert Kiyosaki.

Mark started out with me (Nameless Books) as publisher, but as my business model has changed, I’m shifting him over to using his own accounts. He told me a few days ago he’s substantially through writing his next book.

Anna Kurz Rogers

Anna works as a diet coach; her main motivation was to distil the knowledge she’s gained in her years of experience into a form that could be more easily shared with many others—to give her message greater reach. She started out with the motivation of helping people, with sales and profile-building a secondary benefit, and happened to do very well with sales as well.

I haven’t checked in on her dashboard recently but I expect she’ll be at least a few thousand dollars in profit by now, on a 13,000-word e-book (The hCG Protocol Companion) that will continue to pay off for her in sales and as a diet coach.

There might be a lesson in there for you—the edit component of Anna’s book was only $800 because of the length, and she used the rest of her spend on a website and so on. While I wouldn’t recommend cutting your book to save money, there is a road open for you to perhaps write a few shorter works focused on very specific topics.

Most of Anna’s sales revenue has been from the PDF/ePub/Mobi bundle promoted on her website and sold through Payhip. For this bundle she gets 95% of proceeds ($9.50 on a $9.99 book). I also expect her to crack a top-100 list once her category change goes through within the next day or so. (Update: As mentioned above, the book started out at #18 in its category.)

So what I would like you to consider, for the sake of your own success, is how in the initial stages of your writing career you can find additional ways to help your writing make money for you. This is part of what the Barefoot Investor might call “building a side business”—which is one of the things he advocates people (especially young people) do to build their income and their ability to invest.

One thing that you have on your side (and all authors should aim to) is that you already have a good job. For a few years before I started writing and freelancing full time, I was in a similar position. With two jobs, while I worked very hard, I managed to save about $60,000 (not very much, I know) in the space of three years by living off my day-job income and saving every cent I got from my side business. Having that behind me gave me part of the security I felt I needed to have a go at striking out on my own.

It’s up to you, of course, to decide what shape any business based on your writing may take, but in your case, you might be able to make additional money as a:

  • life coach (you can even do this online: have a look at Google Helpouts)
  • motivational speaker

Other authors might make money from performances, consulting or other professional services—and their ordinary careers.

Also consider whether there’s any way that you could play this into your existing career. Can you leverage being an author into a higher-paying position? Could you write another book with professional slant and go on to offer training seminars? One of my clients and friends started a side business a few years ago teaching people a professional skill in courses he sells on Eventbrite. He recently told me that in March 2014, he made … I won’t goad you on with a dollar sum, but let me say it was a very substantial amount of money, and I’m flabbergasted that he made it out of something that he started just as an experiment. He’s currently trying to get me to try something similar in my own business.

This is just to inspire you to think more broadly, and to suggest that often the most immediate earning opportunities from being an author are not from book sales themselves. Big successes can happen, but typically they will do so only when you are at least a few books into your career—think of J.K. Rowling, for instance. Harry Potter didn’t really kick off in a big way until book three.

Okay—that’s probably enough pitching for now! There’s a huge amount of information in there, so do ask me any further questions. I hope it’s enough to sell you on the value of the service, and of me looking after you in a more generalized sense. Do write back and let me know your thoughts.

(That last bit goes for you, too, reader. Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts or questions you’d like to share. I’d love to hear from you.)

—Ben Hourigan

Where’s the vanity in self publishing?

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There’s no “I” in vanity. Oh, wait…

Tonight I was at a professional function for editors. Catching up with a friend and colleague about what she’s been up to, we swapped stories. She has a book out with a print publisher that’s been doing well in some local sales rankings; I’ve recently been in the paper talking about my experiences of self publishing and assisting other independent authors. I mentioned a client I was working with on what’s going to be a beautifully typeset print-on-demand (POD) title, and she said to me, “so it’s vanity publishing, really.”

Now, I hesitate to get riled up over a friend’s relatively well-intentioned and probably slightly unthinking words. I take heart knowing that it’s not entirely on my own behalf that the remark made me so angry, but on behalf of a client who’s worked hard telling a story.

A few weeks earlier, after my newspaper appearance, I was talking to a prospective client about helping him publish his work when he asked me, “is this just vanity publishing?”

Well, what is vanity, anyway?

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines vanity as “excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements,” and it’s this kind of definition that everyone has in mind when they talk about “vanity publishing.” Vanity is an undesirable personal attribute, and the insinuation in calling a work vanity published is that the work is of inferior quality, rendering it beneath the interest of readers, critics, and traditional publishers, and that the author is putting it out in the world in a deluded attempt to further inflate their overestimated self-worth.

It is vanity to write for self-aggrandizement, and there are, I admit, many writers or aspiring writers who are chiefly interested in writing and publishing as a means to fame (as I once was). Even sadder, there are as many who are so seriously deluded that they believe self publishing a hastily written book or two will almost certainly see their lives transformed by a hailstorm of cash and adulation. A noble few of these will persist long enough at writing that it will transform them—that it will so enflame their souls, deepen their sensitivity, and sharpen their insight and their eloquence that they are ruined for the ordinary world and will be cursed and compelled to live as writers evermore because there is no longer anything else that they can be.

Can this be vanity? Returning to the dictionary, we find another definition: “the quality of being vain or worthless or futile”. And there must be nary an artist, especially one who has struggled to make a living or who has suffered the cut of a harsh review or the pain of working a dayjob when they know their true work is to be making things, who has not felt all their labor is for nothing and that now, at last, it may be time to quit and to settle into what seems the easy and comfortable life of a mere drone.

But to give in and call this vanity is to submit to two of the most poisonous ideas of our age: that you and the work you do are to be judged by

  • how much money you make
  • how many people are looking at you

To view life and human activity in this way devalues so supremely the individual and local experience that it could well be described as among the greatest threats to human dignity alive in the world today. To be sure, there are worse things—repressive, body-hating theocracy for one—but this is way up there. It is mathematically impossible for everyone to be in the wealthiest 1% of the population, or in what may well be the 0.00001% or less that are celebrities (this article’s highest estimate of the number of famous people in the world is 30,000 out of almost 7 billion), and to be fixated on wealth and celebrity as the main criteria of success in life is to deny the worth in the vast majority of human experience which does not occupy its rarified “heights”.

Getting back to the business of self publishing, is it vanity to walk this low road? This is the road of those who’ve decided that they’re not going to be dependent on a traditional publisher giving them permission to put their work into reader’s hands. It is the road of those who (I sincerely hope) are ready to admit that the work is hard and often thankless, but it is worthwhile for its own sake and there is nothing to do in life but whatever you can.

To say that this is vanity is to deny the deep spiritual truth that is at the heart of some of the world’s great books of wisdom:

“The wise man lets go of all results, whether good or bad, and is focused on the action alone.” (Bhagavad Gita, trans. Stephen Mitchell).

“Abandon all hope of results.” (The lojong slogans of Geshe Chekawa)

“Complete your task, seek no reward, make no claims. Without faltering, fully choose to do what you must do.” (Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching, trans. Jonathan Star).

“Vanity publishing” is a slur aimed at writers who, without the permission and investment of a traditional publisher, have chosen to do what they must do, which is to write and not to keep their work in a drawer where it is no good to anyone, but to release it into the world and risk its doing harm or good. Its continued use is for the sole purpose of retaining all esteem for an industry that is losing its power, for the writers it has made stars and millionaires of, and for the writers who believe it may still make stars of them.

If you ever find that slur aimed at your activities as an independent author, get angry. There’s no need to make a scene, but know that the phrase “vanity publishing” exists for the purposes of cutting you down. Reject the idea that your work or your life is vain. Hold in yourself the consciousness of your own indestructible worth, and the absolute necessity of fulfilling whatever destiny or doom has befallen you. Live, and write, and publish. Do all this for its own sake, and never give up. In this way, all ceases to be vanity.

(Image: “Mirror” by Sam Howzit [CC BY 2.0 2010].)

Homogeneous vs. homogenous

Watch out: if you ever find yourself writing homogenous, you probably mean homogeneous.

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary:

Homogeneous means “of the same kind, alike … consisting of parts all of the same kind.”

Homogenous is “an old fashioned term for homologous,” which means “having the same relation, relative position, or structure.”

This one of those tricky distinctions many writers are unaware of, and an instance where an editor’s specialist attention can ensure absolute correctness and precision.

From #

The Versailles Memorandum

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Today’s big story is that Osama bin Laden is dead.

If you’re already feeling a pang of loss at the West’s major enemy now being kaput, keep a look out for our new thriller out this month.

The Versailles Memorandum, by noted liberal intellectual Peter Saunders, is a dystopian future history where significant portions of Western Europe have come to be ruled by Sharia law. In it, bin Laden survives to becomes the president of the Islamic Republic of Arabia in 2017, and continues to terrorize the West.

The novel, Saunders’ debut, will be available for the Kindle and other mobile devices on the Amazon store later this month, with an iBooks release to follow.

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