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Resources for Writers

How Much Does it Cost To Self-Publish?

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Article by Catherine Ryan Howard ©.
Posted in Resources (, ).

How much does it cost to self-publish? This is one of the questions I’m asked most frequently by would be self-publishers.

Unfortunately there’s no cut and dry answer. It’s like asking how long is a piece of string. You can get a book of yours for sale on Amazon.com by the end of the week for less than €10, but if you want to sell any copies of it, you might have to spend a hundred times that or more.

Let’s take a look at where a self-publisher has to spend money, where they can save money and where they shouldn’t bother spending any money at all.

Self Publishing Packages

Many self-publishing companies offer full service packages that require you to do little other than hand over your finished manuscript – they’ll take care of everything else, from editing to printing the finished copies. I personally do not recommend that self-publishers go down this route. You are essentially paying someone else to project manage your self-publishing project when you could easily do it yourself, and I have yet to come across a company offering better editing, typesetting and (especially!) cover design services than you could source yourself, for less.

Save, skimp or splurge?Save! Self-publishing companies charge upwards from €1,500 and with the likes of CreateSpace, Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords you don’t need their help. You only need three things to effectively manage your own self-publishing project: time, the internet and a good To Do list. Moreover if you do it yourself, it’ll feel even better to hold that finished book in your hands (or download it to your Kindle!). Especially since you’ve an extra thousand euro or so in your pocket.

Editing, Copyediting and Proofreading

You absolutely have to get your work edited, copyedited and proofread before you release it out in the world. No exceptions. No, really – NO exceptions! Not spending money on these services is the most expensive thing you can do in self-publishing, because once a reader notices that your book has errors in it – and, helpfully, writes about it in an Amazon review – your sales will grind to a halt. Many writers seem to think that having their book critiqued by their writers’ group and going through it a few times looking for typos is the same as paying a professional editor to knock their book into shape. It’s not. Trust me: once you get this done to a book of yours, you’ll never make the same mistake again. If you want to earn money from your books and preserve your integrity as a writer, you cannot skip this step.

Save, skimp or splurge? Splurge. This is the most important element of your self-publishing project. Prices vary widely, put I’ve paid around €400 for a copyedit and around €700 for a combined copyedit and proofread, just to give you an idea. When budgeting, €10 per 1,000 words is a good rule of thumb for making up your sums. Shop around for the best quote but be wary of deals that seem to good to be true – they probably are! Only work with editors who people you trust referred you to, or who have gleaming customer testimonials.

Formatting

Once your manuscript has been polished, copyedited and proofread to within an inch of its life, the next step is to format it. To make a paperback on CreateSpace or Lulu, you must download one of their MS Word templates and then lay out your book as you wish it to appear, i.e. page numbers, chapter headings, etc. To make an e-book with Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing or Smashwords, you need to format your manuscript in a very specific way (or “optimise it for e-book conversion” as I call it) before uploading it.

Save, skimp or splurge? Whether or not you’ll be saving or spending money at this stage depends entirely on your levels of technical ability and patience. Formatting guides are widely available – there’s even some articles by me here on Writing.ie about it! – and if you feel confident using MS Word, you should be able to do it and do it well.

Cover Design

I believe that your book’s cover design shoulders the responsibility when it comes to changing a potential reader’s mind from hmm, that looks interesting to I’m going to buy this book right now. Think about all the information a book cover can relate in little more than a moment. It doesn’t just tell you what the book is about or what genre it’s in – it gives you clues about whether or not the book is likely to be any good. If you have a great, professional-looking cover you are more likely to sell copies because of the simple fact that a professional cover sends the message that you are a professional self-publisher. Call it unfair or unjust, but the reality is that you do have to prove you’re a step above the rest. A good cover is the best way to do that.

Save, skimp or splurge? Surprisingly, skimp. A professional cover designer can cost thousands. Unless you have already successfully self-published a number of books and are guaranteed that a loyal readership will run out and make your book an instant bestseller, that’s just money down the drain. But on the other hand the worst thing you can do is use the free cover creation software available on sites like CreateSpace and Lulu. What you need to do is somewhere in between the two: conceive of a cover concept yourself, rely on stock images (as opposed to original elements) and then get a designer to turn it into a PDF for you. Andrew Brown of DesignforWriters.com offers this exact service – he’s the cover designer I use myself. Depending on your needs, budget for somewhere between €150-€300 for this.

Publishing

What are the actual costs involved in publishing your book? These are fixed. To get your book for sale on Amazon.com through CreateSpace, you need to order at least one proof copy. For an average sized paperback, this is about €5 plus another €5 for the cost of standard shipping. If you want to sell it on other sites, such as international Amazons, Barnes and Noble, etc., then you’ll have to pay around €30 for their “ProPlan” upgrade (and then about €3.50 per title annually after that). There are no upfront costs involved in self-publishing e-books.

Save, skimp or splurge? Well you have to spend this money, but it’s hardly a splurge, is it? €10 to get your book for sale in the biggest online bookstore in the world? I don’t think so …

Promotion

So now that you’ve got your book ready for the world, you need to let the world know about it. This is the one area where you don’t need any money – or hardly any money at all. All you need is your imagination. Never before has there been so many ways for writers to promote their work for free: blogging, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, reader sites like Good Reads and Library Thing, forums, writers’ groups, your Amazon listing, Amazon Author Central – the list goes on. The only thing I really spend money on is review copies, and postage to send them out. But even then I only send out a small number of review copies to “high-impact” sites and blogs. Book trailers can be made for free using programs like Windows Movie Maker and iMovie, with music bought cheaply from royalty-free music sites where a single song (and the license to use it) can cost as little as €10.

(c) Catherine Ryan Howard