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As a highschool and even college student, I thought self-publishing was free. Sure, I’d have to pre-order books and there would be a cost to the physical copies (Amazon was not a thing), but it would be a tiny investment.
And I wondered why people went the traditional publishing route where you’d need an agent and publisher. It could take years of work shouting “notice me” before anyone picked up your novel… if anyone would pick up the novel. Then,you’d have to share the money, and you’d share rights to your story. These people, who don’t know it or love it like I do, might demand changes they don’t understand the implications of based on what they think readers want… do they know the readers or the trends… can they predict what will trend by the time my book prints?
With self publishing superior in every way, I didn’t understand why traditional publishing even still existed. But here’s part of the truth: self-publishing costs more time and money. Believe it or not, those large publishing houses DO something, and today I wanted to talk about the dollar cost to self-publishing.
1. Editing. So some writers get around this cost by not editing. I read a lot of Kindle Unlimited books and as a reader I CAN TELL when someone doesn’t edit, and it takes away from my enjoyment. I DON’T want to diminish anyone’s story experience, so I edit.
This was my first book, and I didn’t have a bottomless budget. I skipped the substantial edit (justified this by saying my betas, my writers’ group, and my major in creative writing had enabled me to skip this step) and just did a copy edit. This saved me $1,000-$1,500. But it was a $1,000 investment right off the bat. My editor, Kristy Gilbert was amazing. After getting a copy edit from her, I could see the value for a substantial edit and I want to budget in the substantial edit for future books.
A little insight into the editor’s pricing. They charge by length of the work you want edited and how much work they believe it will be to bring your book up to par. The more self editing you do (at least on the sample you send them) the lower your price point will be. This is one of many reasons people suggest aggressive self editing BEFORE this point.
2. Cover Art. Again there’s debate on whether cover art is valuable. Some writers make their own with stock images to varying degrees of success. There is research that indicated a strong cover will help generate interest. It’s like dating, you might learn someone is kind and funny through talking to them, but there’s something in their appearance that compels you to talk to them.
Plus, a strong cover can make its money back in other ways. T-shirts, book marks, mugs. Slap that artwork on all over the place and sell it (assuming you own the rights to the art which most designers will arrange for you).
While I’m not selling any merch, my cover art is all over my social media and posts. It’s quality and versatility has helped me edit Roxi into pics and otherwise promote my book.
The art work can cost as little as $20 and as much as $2,000. Check out Rocking Book Covers post on the price ranges for covers and what to expect to get for those price points. It helped me figure out where I wanted to go with pricing.
For me, I chose a $500 “mid-range” option and I love the cover. I think I will always want to work with J. Caleb Designs. He was amazing.
3. A copyright for your work. Again, some people opt out but I recommend it because you can’t get your book in the Library of Congress (or any other library) without it and that was a major goal for me. It’s $80 and a couple months of waiting.
4. A website. The overall cost varies I ended up with a $100-ish dollar option. My team bought, set it up, and maintains it so I haven’t had to look at this.
There was someone who offered to set up a website and take author photos for me and they priced it at about $700, so this element can be a big chunk of budget.
5. Author photos. The professional picture that goes on your book jacket, website, or author profile. While this can cost money to get professionally done. I have a Nikon D5600 (photography is a hobby of mine and fun fact: my Flickr account is the 3rd thing that comes up if you google my name) and a very cooperative husband. For me this element was free, but it could run an author between $100-$500.
6. A social media management software. I haven’t bought into a plan yet. But it seems to be between $25-$120 a month depending on what you need and what you want to do. I’m considering it, but I haven’t bought in yet.
7. Advertising the book. On Amazon, Facebook, or Twitter.
8. A team to help promote your book. I did some research on HOW to promote a self-published book and I’m blessed enough to have amazing friends and family who are helping me work through all the promotional stuff. For me this has been free, but this could be a major budget consumer.
9. Publishing the book. I went the Amazon route, so I’ve only paid for proofs, but some people use an independent publisher where they have to pre-order the books and that can be $3,000 investment depending on how many books one orders and what the company charges.
For me: I need to make $1,600 in sales before I break even. At the current pricing model, it’s about 478 books to break even. It’s more realistic for me to believe I published at a loss than to think I could sell 478 books. Opening weekend I made about $40 and that felt like a lot of money to see back.
Self-publishing is an uncertain investment into the future. I have decades to make back the original investment, but I needed to save up the original lump sum— which was enough to make a good down payment on car—so I could publish anything and start this journey. So when you see that independently published book and think "man they went the easy route," remember there was a lot of effort and money that went to bringing their book to market and they must love what they do to take such a risk.
Talk to me. Did you know about all these costs to publishing a book? Are all these steps required? Do you prefer traditional or self publishing? Did I miss any steps? What are the most important steps to publishing in your experience?
Check out my book Follow Me: Tattered Veils and if you're inclined please leave a review. Every review really helps me.
Looking for more book goodness? I launched a Youtube channel filled with recipes and excerpts from Follow Me: Tattered Veils. Watching, liking and subscribing to this channel is a great free way to show support for my writing ^_^.
I also have an ongoing podcast digging deeper into different elements of Follow Me: Tattered Veils. Listening to and sharing these insights also helps me find an audience who's most interested in my book.