Friday, August 16, 2013

Ack! You spent HOW much to self-publish your novel?!

It was the winter of '84. Snow, snow and more snow. Even some ice, too. It was an excellent time for plopping down in front of the old Selectric typewriter to hammer out my first novel ... sorta.

From December of '84 through March of '85 I pecked and poked away on that wonderful beast of a typing machine before an early spring -- and the tall grass that comes with it -- forced me outside and behind a lawn mower. How far did I get? Close to 200 typed pages (double-spaced, mind you!).

About that same time I asked a fellow aspiring writer if he wouldn't mind taking a look at the book. As we talked about plot, characterization, theme, etc. we also talked about how to get the book published ... once it was fully written, of course. Finding an agent was discussed. Drafting query letters also came to mind. Now remember, this was early 1985 when the technology to "self-publish" centered around the utilization of expensive but somewhat-effective copy machines. There were no personal computers and therefore no digitized literature ... at least not available to the common man. Obviously, then, the only way to publish a novel was for it to be accepted by a publisher. The cost of hiring an agent, etc. along with the warm weather of spring forced me to tuck those type-written pages away for future reference.

Now flash-forward 20 years ... to 2005. That was when I began to sacrifice some of my computer-gaming time to draft Betrovia. And by August of 2011, the first book of the trilogy was done! So what did that cost me? For the most part, nothing. I formatted the thing myself (following Amazon's Kindle Digital Publishing guidelines), edited/proofread it myself (relying on my own editing/proofreading skills). I gave Createspace (Amazon's paperback division) $25 to enroll Betrovia in the Expanded Distribution plan. I designed (if that's the best word for it) the cover for the ebook and used Createspace's FREE! online cover-creation process to finalize the shell for the paperback. What did I know about launching a book, about publicizing its release, about advertising it once it was avaiable for purchase? Not a thing. And besides selling about 60 paperbacks to friends and family that Fall, very few ebooks were purchased via

So, to get to the point of this blogpost: what is a reasonable budget for publishing a book? Let's see what the folks who populate the Writers Cafe want to say.

(As a way to organize their thoughts, I've divided them into two groups: the Cheap Route and The More-Expensive Route.)

Cheap Route
"Zero. Ziltch. Nada. Nothing. Be a designer. Cover free. Yes! Who needs a website? It's on Amazon. Massive site anyway. Get your mates to read through and point out mistakes. Editor free. Spend years reading and writing to make your craft as good as it can get ... hours and hours, year on year, working out what sound like a pile of dunces ... and what sounds and flows well ... well it's your own ... time ... oh, hang on a minute. Cost is in the craft. Oops."

"It can cost as much as you want it to cost.  However, at the minimum:
$35 - Copyright Registration
$10 - ISBN through Createspace
$25 - Createspace Extended Distribution
The rest is variable.  You can trade for editorial services or just find some really anal first readers.  Cover art can range from $0 if you take a picture yourself to hundreds or thousands.  Formatting for print is a small learning curve, but not too hard.  Formatting for ebook is just a couple clicks with apps like Scrivener. Doesn't cost much unless you let it. ETA - Oh yeah, and you'll need to pay for a proof copy of your paperback, around $10 with shipping. Again, not much."

"Your cover is what attracts attention FIRST! Not your writing, not your formatting, your cover can make people pick up your book first. Later, after the reviews come in, word-of-mouth and those reviews will sell your book. You should spend as much on cover design and creation as you do copy-editing (and the publishers typically budget thousands of dollars for covers, far more than they pay their copy-editors to do the book).  And they spend many hours coming up with the designs they use. Yes, you can do it cheaper. And a lot of those cheaper covers look exactly that way, cheap. If you can find a very good cover at a reasonable price, grab it."

"For ebook only, usually $20 for stock art. Maybe more if I want a new font I don't already own. All other costs are monthly overhead (cs6, website, mailchimp). Maybe if I wrote in a genre outside romance I wouldn't do my own covers (especially if I did SF or Fantasy). No beta readers, editors, proofers, or formatters. I'm not sure there's a single title in my catalog that went live having had more than just my eyes on it. I did consider getting a formatter for the Createspace interior file and cover. When I was told I wouldn't get a copy of the base PSD/ID files (HUGE PET PEEVE OF MINE), I decided to try it myself. No sweat and I am satisfied with how they came out. Saved minimum of $150 (interior files) times 3. I don't think the time involved in performing these tasks was more than I would have spent managing someone else doing it. Totally think marketing/PR $ is a waste (beyond my mailchimp auto-responder fee and my monthly web hosting costs). Of course, before I self-published my fiction, I wrote, edited, formatted, marketed and published for a Fortune 500 audience."

"For novels, my budget usually looks like:
Copy-editing: 150-250 (depends on length of novel)
Cover: 30-325 (depends on genre)
Paperback formatting: free to 80 (I do my own ebook formatting and the paperback formatting is generally 30-50 but sometimes higher)
Everything else I do for myself.  For my short stories and such, many of them sold to magazines or anthologies, so I got free editing. Or I use my husband because he catches 98% of typos in shorter works (I could use him for longer works, but I feel that's putting too much on him and want him to read for enjoyment and to give me bigger picture feedback on the novels). Generally my rule on a book is that if I have to sell more than 100 copies to earn back what it cost to publish it, I've probably spent too much."

"For each of my 24 books I spent:
$35.00 for cover art - mostly from Book Cover Art
$150.00 for editing
$0.00 for author picture, took it off an old one I had
$0.00 for website, Google is free
$0.00 - do my own, a word doc works just fine
$200.00 in three years for advertisements that didn't do much.
$0.00 - blog"

"I'm lucky, because I get stuff like editing and cover design done for free. If I had to pay for it, I'd be out of business. (I do my own formatting. Takes like two minutes.) Most of my stock photos also come for free because reasons. Although sometimes I do have to pay for it, and I never spend more than 10 bucks for a stock photo. For my paperbacks I will buy the $10 CS ISBN. Otherwise, my only expenses are my yearly business fee ($50) and my webhosting, which I already paid for for other reasons. Except now it's a tax writeoff. I put out sometimes up to six titles a month, so I have to be as cheap and as economical as  possible. Paying more than $20 bucks a month is just not feasible for me. And I believe that my system works just fine for me, and for other people I help, so I would say that those figures in the OP are really, really high."

"All my money goes to feeding my family publishing – Under $50
Developmental edit  – free (Workshops, friends, class)
Copy editing - free (friends, family, fans, numerous time doing it yourself while constantly improving)
Cover Design – $0 (Public Domain photos, spouse as photographer, GIMP)
Book formatting and layout – free (I've gotten pretty good at this)
Printing – $33 (Print on demand, optional $25 expanded distribution, $4.00 proof, $4.00 shipping.)
ISBN – Smashwords/Kobo/Createspace free.
Author photo – free (Your Facebook profile picture is fine)
Marketing – free (Rely on social media and friends and family only)
Website – free (Use free WordPress option(or Blogger))
Mailing List - free (Mad Mimi for me)
All other labor - hugs (for the emo bunny minions)"

I spent $35 to register copyright, and about $12 in postage submitting my novella to a magazine which publishes novellas. I have almost recouped my costs. My husband and I made the cover in photoshop. I know of a guy who wanted to publish his first novel in print only, and in addition to the cost of an initial print run he wanted to hire a publicist for $5,000 or $10,000. All together he was looking at upwards of $30,000 in expenses. I think he didn't make the jump. I'm a lot more comfortable being out $45 or so than risking tens of thousands of dollars, but for my next self-publishing venture (still probably a year away, but maybe less) I plan to shell out for a line/copy editor (at about $25/hour) and possibly some professional cover art."

"If you do it right, $0. I've done 22 for $0 (both eBook and paper). But I'm lucky - I do my own covers and my editor works for sandwiches. We'll I guess I'd have to add up that up (okay $100 sandwiches). And no ... she's not my husband."

"I'll give you an ACTUAL 'budget publishing' plan - Under $80.00:
Developmental edit  – $0.00 (find some volunteer beta-readers)
Copy editing – $0 (Trade copy-edits with another trusted author, and also be a decent self-editor to begin with. Obviously not everyone can do this, but it is done.)
Cover Design – $5 or less (License a photo or two from a place like iStockphoto or someplace, then do-it-yourself)
Book formatting and layout – free (Do it yourself using Scrivener or other free tools or even Draft2Digital)
Printing – free (use CreateSpace)
Expanded Distribution of Print Book via CreateSpace - $25* (*a luxury that can be cut, but a good luxury to invest in)
ISBN – Use the free ones provided by CreateSpace and Smashwords; use a free ASIN on Amazon or BNID on Nook)
Author photo – free (have a spouse or relative use your Galaxy S3 or S4 and make sure it's nice. Crop it and refine as needed in GIMP)
Marketing – free (rely on book blogger sites that accept ePub, .mobi and PDF files and don't require a physical copy)
Website – free (Blogspot and Wordpress work just fine, so the only investment is your time. Or maybe $10-12/year for a custom domain name)
US Copyright Office registration - $35 (this is one expense that I never go 'budget route' on because I actually know what's fact and what's myth about copyright registration... It's one luxury no one should cut. My total? $65 to $77. Sure, you're trading away a lot of credibility if you rely on a proofreader who's not good (but paying for someone isn't a guarantee of high quality, either), or if you can't proofread anything yourself, or if your cover design skills are subpar. But assuming you can pull some proofreading and basic cover design skills out of your background and experience, as some of us can... It's a LOT easier to turn a profit with a budget that doesn't even exceed $80. Am I suggesting one NEVER pay for pro editing or pro covers or pro formatting? NOT AT ALL. But if you have a decent skill set, AND have way more time than money... my only point is that you can spend WELL below $500 (about 13-16.5 percent of that, actually) and have a lot less overhead per book to overcome. I typically spend more. My three published books so far have covers I paid for and proofing I paid for, but I still spent a lot less than $500 per book. Probably around the $250 to $300 range, roughly. **NOTE: If one foregoes printing, and debuts their book as an eBook only, that $65-$77 can be trimmed back further. Don't need the $25 for Expanded Distribution if you're not doing print to begin with. So that'd cut the costs down to $40-$52."

More-Expensive Route
"Often, it's the covers that give the self published author away. The thing is, it doesn't matter if you're self published or trad published, what matters is if you're well published. And doing things on a shoestring, or all on your own because you can't afford to do it another way, is the WRONG way to do it. Doing it cheap because you have the skills, or have people with the skills to do it for free for you is FINE. Self publishing is not DIY publishing. You need to wear the hat of the author and publisher. If a publisher offered you a contract and told you, 'Oh, by the way, we don't have money to hire professionals, so I'm going to be the editor, and graphic designer and marketer...'  I'm pretty sure you'd run for the hills. I would. I can't think of anyone who has all those skills. Again, I'm not saying you HAVE to pay for it. If you can barter, or trade, or beg, or negotiate... heck, all the power to you. But most people can't do that. I pay for professional cover design because I'm not an artist. I pay for professional editing because I'm not an editor. And something to remember: Editor, is not an entry level position. It isn't a title you get from getting a degree in English, nor is it a title you get because you were pretty good at proofing work for a friend. Editors have specific skills that they've acquired through continuing education and professional training. They've worked under editors, and developed those skills. They're the ones who know when conventions have changed. It's not about knowing if it's 'who' or 'whom' because sometimes 'who' is technically wrong, but correct for the manuscript. Also, I like to think of editors like doctors. They're specialists. You don't find a line editor who does science fiction novels as well as children's picture books. Something to remember: your competition isn't other self published authors. Your competition is all the books beside you on the shelf. Most of those are trad. published."

"For editing and proofreading, cover and formatting, I budget a grand. Audiobook will cost you about $2500 unless you use the royalty share option, which you'll deeply regret if it sells well. The dumbest $2500 you'll have ever saved. Marketing, probably $500 to $1000 over the life of the book. All in, call it couple grand for the ebook. If it sells decently I'll recoup that within the first couple weeks. And before everyone starts in on how not everybody can sell that many in a few weeks, consider carefully that I used that exact budget when I figured it would take me a year per title to recoup it (assuming I ever did). My theory was that there might be a reason that well-edited, well-packaged, appropriately marketed books sell better than poorly or non-edited, badly packaged, poorly or non-marketed books. I frankly don't get the immediate gratification notion that you'll make your investment back quickly (no other business works that way, so why should one of the most competitive on the planet?). And I know, I know, not everyone can afford to invest in their work, and we'd all be poorer for it if we weren't lavished with their precious snowflakes in a glutted market. Personally, mmm, not so much. I find it just an excuse to cut corners, but hey, everyone's got an opinion."

"Developmental edit: Trusted beta readers
Line/copyedit: $600-$800 (generally $30-$50 an hour) (this is for two passes)
Proofread: less than $200
Formatting: $100 to $400 depending on what I'm after
Cover art: $450.00
LSI set up: $75
Total: $1500 to $2000"

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