I got a very vague email from Barnes and Noble’s PubIt! program today. The tone of the email is cheery, but all I see are flashing ominous lights. Call me paranoid, but whenever a “new phase” or “improvement” comes along from a major retailer, it rarely benefits indies; not in the long run. Amazon KDP seemed great at first, until it de-valued ebooks even further and made readers expect freebies. Whatever PubIt!’s new program/improvement/phase is, or how wonderful it seems at first, I’m keeping my expectations low.
Not every author who self-publishes wants to make a living as a writer. Some may have extremely modest expectations for book sales, and that’s fine, but what every self-published author should want is to break even on their investment.
Relatively speaking, self-publishing can be a fairly cheap venture. I shudder when I think about the money I spent trying to pursue traditional publishing avenues–paper and ink, professional printing costs, postage fees, etc. And in the end, I had nothing to show for that investment. When it comes to self-publishing, you should set up a plan for how you will spend your money in order to move units.
My budget for the release of WAKE was less than one thousand dollars. This figure includes the cost of getting it into print as well as the marketing budget. You can absolutely self-publish your book on a similar or smaller budget.
Expenses to Expect
1. Editing and/or copyediting
These can be done by the same person or different people, but editing and copyediting are the most important steps to preparing your book. It’s the difference between a quality product and a crap book full of errors and inconsistencies.
Find a freelance editor you like and negotiate a fair rate. You should research editors for your type of book to get an idea of what the industry standard is in terms of fees. Or, you can take advantage of a la carte editing services from providers like Lulu.
2. Production Fees
Does your printer or epublisher of choice charge a flat fee or a per-book fee to print/produce your product? Factor that into your budget–after researching your options and deciding which is the best service for you, fees included.
3. Cover Art
If you are a visual artist and designer, you might be able to save a few bucks here. Designing your own cover is an option, but if you don’t have the expertise or inclination you can hire out the task. There are freelance cover designers advertising their services all over the web. Find one whose style and price you like and negotiate a rate.
Or, you can take advantage of template-based cover design options from providers like Createspace and Lulu. The downside to these is that your cover will never be completely original, which can make branding your book(s) difficult.
If you do design your own cover but you’re not a photographer, you can buy stock images from sites like iStockphoto and GettyImages. It is important to look at your printer’s specifications for cover images before buying. Be sure to purchase an image that is the correct size and dpi.
3. Author Photo
It’s not necessary to have a photo of yourself in the back of the book with your bio, but it adds a nice touch. An author photo can be produced fairly cheaply at home using a digital camera, but if you want to use a professional photographer, factor the cost into your budget.
4. Flap Copy
This is the teaser/synopsis on the back cover of the book or inside the cover flaps. It’s written with marketing goals in mind and since it is the first thing a potential customer sees, it needs to entice them to buy. If you don’t want to write your own flap copy, you can hire the task out to a freelancer or get it from your printer.
It’s possible not to spend a dime on marketing, but the project triangle does apply here. The options of the project triangle are Good, Fast, and Cheap. You can only pick two. If you want good and cheap marketing, it will be slow going and so will your sales. If you want good and fast marketing, it won’t be cheap. If you want cheap and fast marketing, if won’t be good quality. Weigh your options carefully.
There are several ways to market a self-published book. Do some research, look at the examples of other self-published authors in your genre, and decide what’s best for you. Keep in mind what you’re willing to spend.
Will you have a website? A book tour? Book signings at brick-and-mortar locations? All these things are good at establishing your platform as an author and getting the word out about your book, but they cost money. Look into the costs of web hosting and decide if going with a free service like WordPress or Blogger isn’t better for you. Research how much you’ll be spending to do a book tour or signing compared to how much you stand to make in book sales.
When you’ve established a rough budget, calculate how many books you will have to sell in order to break even, accounting for a 60/40 or 70/30 royalty split, which will vary by your choice of publisher.
Let’s say you’re selling an ebook for $2.99 and your royalty split is 70/30. Your investment is $600. To break even, you would have to sell 287 ebooks. Before moving forward, consider if that is a sales goal that you can meet on your current budget, within a reasonable amount of time.
I read a lot of self-published author blogs, and have noticed one or two making the same complaint in multiple (and usually unrelated) posts. It’s the blogger equivalent of persistent bellyaching.
The complaint is that Amazon has found out that the author(s) have held a sale or giveaway on their personal website/blog/another retailer’s site, and lowered the price on Amazon without asking the author’s permission.
If you read your contract with self-publishing services, you won’t be surprised when things like this happen. I have yet to come across a service that does not include a clause on this theme in its terms of service:
Publisher will, at all times, ensure that the eBook List Price:
- Is no greater than the eBook’s List Price at any other retailer, website, or sales channel.
This example is taken from Pubit!’s terms of service.
Read your contract carefully with each self-publishing channel you employ and make sure you understand it fully. That way you won’t look silly complaining about it when you fail to uphold your end of the bargain.
Retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble are trying to run a business. They don’t care that you’re trying to promote your blog with a sale or giveaway; they care about offering their customers the lowest possible competitive price, as any good business should.
Remember: even though self-publishers have to run every aspect of their own book-selling venture, it’s not all about you.