The question above is neither rhetorical nor psychological: it’s practical. It’s not an existential question about how much you really want it but how much are you willing to invest in time and energy. It’s a matter of money: how much are you willing to spend to get your book out there. And in what form?
As the era of self-publishing moves from curiosity into an accepted standard, an increasing number of writers are going this route. And while self-publishing has some clear advantages over traditional publishing, for most first-time writers it is a recognition that the longstanding publishing process—secure an agent, who helps you get the book over the finish line, then finds you a publishing house, which includes a gifted editor—isn’t within reach. And so they start familiarizing themselves with the world of self-publishing.
This blog will outline two broad approaches (and two budgets) to self-publication. (NOTE: This blog covers publication only. We’ll address marketing and PR in a separate post.) The first approach is the route I’ve gone for my three novels. It assumes (in my case correctly) that you lack the time, desire and expertise to produce and market your own book. The second approach is for those who, for personal or financial reasons, want to go it on their own, to, in essence assume a number of roles: publisher, editor, PR agency, etc. We’ll examine each approach, with an emphasis on the hard costs associated with each.
OPTION A: Get the Pros Involved
A Project Manager: This, for me, is the best money I spend. Cheryl knows the publishing world inside and out, knows the KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) rules, knows how to negotiate the legal and financial components, etc. A short list of her services and areas of expertise include:
- Manuscript Editing
- Book Cover Design
- Paperback, Hardcover and eBook
- Copyright Application Filing
- Library of Congress Catalogue Number (LCCN) Application Filing
- KDP, IngramSpark, Lightingsource (or any other printing company as requested by client), Interior and Book Cover File Upload
- BISAC Guidance
- Amazon Categories Guidance
- Keyword Selection Guidance
- ISBN Assignment and Detail Completion
- Book Pricing Research and Guidance
- Copyright Permissions (Referral if needed)
- Publishing Consultation
Collateral Book Marketing Materials
- Book One-Sheet
- Short and Long Biography Formatting and Editing
- Book Description Formatting and Editing
- Press Release Creation
- Book Cover Graphics and 3D Book Cover
- Website Design and Hosting Setup
- URL Selection Guidance
- 4-5 pages with Branded Color and Graphics
- Social Media Buttons (Links)
- Newsletter Subscription Box
- Website Maintenance, Updates and Troubleshooting
- Social Media Account Setup
- Author Central Author Page
Social Media Maintenance
- Setup of Buffer or similar app
- Create Posts specific to each Social Media Platform (including graphics)
- Create Content specific to each Social Media Platform
- Create Schedule of Posts per Social Media Platform
- Upload and Schedule Posts
Amazon Author Page
- Upload and Format Bio
- Upload Author Photo
- Update Book Shelf (with all formats of all available versions of each book)
- Add Blog Feed URL
- Add Videos
- Add Events
- Add Author Bio
- Add Author Photo
- Add all books in all formats
Additional Social Media Marketing Services
- Setup Amazon Marketing Services Campaign
- Create List of Keywords (analyze list for popularity)
- Setup Facebook Ads
- Content and Graphics Creation
- Setup Goodreads Giveaways
- Setup Goodreads Advertising
- Research Book Reviewers (specific to book genre)
- Create Book Review Contact Email
- Send Book Review Requests
- Send ARC file as requested
- Maintain List of Book Reviewer Contact List
- Research Virtual Book Tour Services
- Get Pricing for each Tour
- Provide guidance for virtual book tour selection
- Provide all materials necessary to virtual book tour for setup and completion of tour
TOTAL COST: $3000 (BY THE TIME THE BOOK IS OUT THERE AND GENERATING $$$)
Editing: This isn’t going to be a primer on the different types of editors (development, line, copy, etc.). Arrogantly or not, I’ve foregone a development editor in my previous books. (NOTE: I’m using one for my next one, because it’s got a more complicated plot and structure, so my experience is limited to line and copy.)
Here’s the obvious question: do I need an editor? The same can be said of proofreading. On the first question, the logic might be; you know your book better than anyone else, so why can’t you be your own editor? And for the second one, while you probably will admit you’re too close to your book to proof it, isn’t that what your reader friends are for?
To both questions our answer is no. My first novel didn’t use an editor and relied on friends to proof. And it showed. Readers (luckily mostly friends) caught a lot of mistakes—simple ones, but one embarrassing one, where I called a character by the wrong name. I wound up looking amateurish.
Costs: Editing for novels two and three was about $3k each. This involved multiple versions and back and forths. Money well-spent, in my opinion, but if money is an issue, establish a budget up front and make sure it’s something you can live with.
Proofreading: In my case, essential. I can’t proof myself. It was only $600, so I’ll use this guy going forward.
Design: Here I have a slight cheat: my daughter, Maya, is a gifted graphic artist. So, with input from me, she’s designed my covers. Then we hand it over to our interior book designer, who makes everything fit and work together. His charge for working with Maya’s cover art was $800.
Interior book design: Besides editing and proofreading, having a professional prepare the interior layout of your book is a must. It will give your book a professional look and ensure that layout guidelines (starting new chapters, page numbering headers, etc.) are observed throughout. A good designer will also help with type, leading, spacing, kerning—all little things that add up.
A good designer will also know how to prepare your book for the different print-on-demand services. And keep in mind that ebooks are formatted completely differently than print books.
Costs: Print $1100; e-book design $300
Getting an ISBN #: $125
File processing fee from IngramSpark: $50
So here’s the rough costs for Option A:
Project Management: 3000
Cover design (2 people) 1000
Interior design: print 1100
Interior design: ebook 300
IngramSpark fee: 50
OPTION B: DIY
If you’re financially constrained or just want to learn the self-publishing route on your own, here is a bare-bones budget:
EDITING: $0 (You’re your own editor).
PROOFREADING: $0 (Or whatever you need to pay to get a friend (and this should be someone you trust, also someone who’s kind of anal about typos). Let’s say $200
COVER DESIGN: Crowdsource your cover using sites like Canva, Upwork or Fivrr. You should be able to get a decent cover for $200.
INTERIOR DESIGN: if you are well schooled in Word you can produce a file to convert to PDF and upload to KDP. KDP and IngramSpark have all of the requirements listed on their websites. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. Professionals use InDesign which is made specifically for book layout. And there are the kind of freebie apps such as Digital2Draft, Atticus, Vellum, and a few more. Again, cost: $0.
BEING YOUR OWN CHERYL: This is where I salute Cheryl and all the things she does for me that I might, with a bit of training and a lot of discipline (that I lack) might be able to do for myself. But if you’re going to do this as cheaply as possible, you’ll need to become familiar with the following:
- ISBNs: Print books must have an ISBN, ebooks however do not. Beware of opting for the free ISBNs offered by KDP, IngramSpark, Draft2Digital, etc. You can buy one ISBN through Bowker (MyIdentifiers.com) for $125.
- Meta Data: Become familiar with BISAC categories (and the difference between them and Amazon categories), keywords, costing strategies.
- Build your platform. There are cost-effective ways to build and maintain your own website. Become skilled in the different social media platforms. Become a blogger and make sure you know how to target and reach your audience.
Nutting it out, here’s what we’ve got:
Project Management: 0
Cover design (2 people) 200
Interior design: print 0
Interior design: ebook 0
IngramSpark fee: 50
Whichever choice you make, bear in mind that, once you’re book is out there, it’s going to be in major competition with a ton of other books, many of them published the same day yours is. So if you want your readership to extend beyond family and friend, you’ll need to promote it. Which is what the next blog will involve.
By Tom Hogan and Cheryl Callighan