Despite what you may have heard, self-publishing isn’t free, or even cheap. That’s assuming you want to publish a quality piece of work.
It’s worth keeping in mind that, like splattered spaghetti sauce on your Sunday best shirt, it’s tough to wash out the stain of bad reviews, or unhappy customers who flame you online. People pay close attention to reviews. So get it right the first time, or prepare to pay dearly to assuage your customer’s ire, once they’ve purchased your book along with an assumption of receiving a quality product for the price.
So what are the costs you should be prepared to pay to self-publish? Let’s take a look at the basics first and then we’ll discuss some frills you can consider if you have money to burn.
- Copy-Editing – seriously, even if you’re an English Lit major, you still should not edit your own manuscript. Send it to an unbiased professional. For a 200-300 page manuscript, expect to pay roughly $2-4 per page, single spaced, with about 200-250 words/page. Some copy editors still prefer double-spaced manuscripts, but that only doubles your cost. If they are using Microsoft Word, and most do, the review editor built into the program works just as well on single, as double-spaced. You can pay more, or less, for copy-editing. But, generally, you will get a decent job done in this price range.
- Creative Content Editing – this is sometimes referred to as substantive editing. Whereas a copy-editor checks for spelling, punctuation, syntax and other such vital details on a sentence by sentence level, a creative content editor looks at refining and polishing your work. It’s a good idea to have a seasoned veteran review your manuscript to help you with story elements, plot, characterization, dialogue, order of scenes, point of view, voice, setting, word choice, sentence construction, syntax, and pace—anything that will polish and improve the strength of the manuscript. There is a fair bit of art and opinion involved with this level of service, so it’s important to find someone who not only has proven credentials, but who will listen and collaborate successfully with you. Your costs can run anywhere from $30-100/hour. Generally, you should also plan to have this level of editing done after several copy-edit drafts and rewrites.
- Cover Art and Page Illustrations – sorry, but I’m going to drag out that tired old sock of a saying: “Never judge a book by it’s cover”. This doesn’t mean you don’t notice a book by it’s cover! Writers usually don’t have graphic design as their second major. There are plenty of surveys and opinion columns out in the Blogosphere, not to mention common sense, to substantiate the simple premise that attractive packing sells better than crappy packaging. Ergo, get a professional to help with your book cover and an illustrator to help with any needed freestyle picture illustrations. The cost for book cover graphic designers can run $100-500 per cover for eBook and front and back print cover designs. Anything under that, you could probably do yourself and if over that range, it’s probably because you need original art or painting of characters, etc. Clip-art is cheap and so are photo library services. There are lots of hungry graphic designers out there too. Best to find one who has proven cover designs that sell. Definitely ask for portfolio samples and then look them up. If a book is selling well and still uses their cover design, it’s a pretty good bet it’s working.
So, those are the essentials. You can publish your book in any number available online retail catalogs. Amazon is the world’s largest online retailer, but there are lots of additional quality on-demand book publishers online to choose from these days. But, as you may have read in our earlier posts already, your work is only beginning once you publish yourself. Next, YOU have to drive customers to your online bookseller. If you don’t want to do that, or don’t feel qualified to promote and market your books, you’ll need to purchase that service as well.
Most on-demand publishers can provide these services for you, but it will cost you thousands of dollars upfront and there is no guarantee they will get your book on the New York Times Best-Seller list. Actually, the NY Times doesn’t recognize self-pub titles at all – YET. For many self-pub authors, finding indie book promoters and marketing specialists who focus on a smaller client base for a small cut of the net sales is a better way to go.
This brings us to The Frills section of added costs to self-publishing authors.
- Promotion and PR – the internet is rife with companies who are capitalizing on growing list indie authors looking for ways to elevate visibility of their books in a market awash with new titles. Most on-demand and online publishers offer these services. Expect to pay anywhere from $500-5000 for a new title press release, all the way up to more comprehensive PR consulting services. Is it worth the money? Hopefully. Factor in the average eBook price of $5-7, with 70% royalty of $3.50-4.9o and…well, you can do the math. At the upper end, you’d need to sell over a 1000 books just to break even. On the other hand, that’s not a lot of book sales to expect when using a premium service to promote your titles. For authors with a number of titles published and already doing a respectable volume in book sales, using a premium promotional service can really pay off by availing themselves of more sophisticated brand marketing strategies. If you are a single title author, just getting started, you might want to weigh your options carefully before you plunk down that kind of cash.
- Marketing and Advertising – people often confuse this category with Frill #1. They do compliment each other and most ad agencies advocate for using both. The costs can be broken into a number of advertising categories: Banner Ads, Per-Click, Print Ads and Mailers. Heck, if you really want to go wild, there’s always giant billboards and sky-writing. Marketing refers to defining who you’re selling to, best-means strategies, designing the advertising layouts and copy. Per-Click ads, if well placed, can be a great strategy, especially since you can set a budget limit for almost any amount. Keep in mind, these services charge for visitors clicking on your advert, not for purchasing. Cost-wise, marketing and advertising costs can be a real sink-hole if you’re inexperienced. Direct-mail marketing, for instance, often relies on response rates of around 2%. On lower cost products, like eBooks, it can really rack up your expenses for very little initial return. Again, a better strategy for authors with a defined brand and a number of titles already selling in the market.
- Everything Else – there are innumerable ways to spend extra money getting your book in front of the right prospective buyers. Things like printing copies to take to trade shows, renting display booths at trades shows, seeding local bookstores with copies to sell on contingency, placing ads in local circulars, mail inserts and stuffers, paying people to buy and write reviews on your book, etc. Depending on your subject matter and audience you want to reach, no reasonable strategy should be off the table. Some words of advice though: have a plan, stay committed, stay in it for the long term and stick to an affordable budget. In other words, don’t mortgage the house.
It’s wonderful to hear about authors achieving overnight success. However, it’s usually not won overnight and success is relative. If you love to write – write and keep writing! The money will follow. Just don’t quit your day job until it does.
~ StarWand Publishing is an indie author publisher and promoter. Visit us at: www.starwandpublishing.com.