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Indie Publishing: Unveiling the Costs

Time to discuss one of the most dreaded subjects for many indie authors, money. How much does it cost to publish? How can you save money? What's worth the cost and what isn't? Even if you don’t expect to make much (or any) money from sales, it can hurt to burn a hole in your digital wallet. So, let’s get down to it.

Indie Publishing: Unveiling the Costs

Keeping costs down when self-publishing is essential for several compelling reasons:

Self-Funded: Self-publishing authors like me invest our own money. Most of us don't have big budgets like big publishing houses, so finding ways to not spend are vital.

Recouping Costs: You won't necessarily earn back what you spend. Publishing gets more competitive every year, which means book prices keep falling. With millions of new books every year, many readers have come to expect 99-cent or free books, meaning it's harder to dig yourself out of a funding hole.

Tradeoffs: With a limited budget, spending more in one area means you can't in another. So, keeping initial costs low, may help you down the line.

All of that being said, quality costs money. A low-quality book with a generic cover and a bunch of typos won't win readers or drive sales. Too little is sometimes too much.



EDITING

Every literary creation benefits from the alchemist's touch of a skilled editor, whether that's you, a family member, or a professional. Quality editing ensures your manuscript shines, and while it may come at a cost, the investment can occasionally be worth the polished gem it produces. For more details, see my post on working with editors.


Editing Tradeoffs

Per Page: Editing costs vary widely.

  • Proofreading | $0.01 to $0.03 per word.

  • Copy Editing | $0.02 to $0.05 per word.

  • Developmental | $0.04 to $0.10 per word.

Length: For a hundred-thousand-word book, editing can cost thousands of dollars, which is impossible for most indie authors (including me).

Experience: A seasoned editor may provide more value, but not always.

Expedite It: Take your time. If you need an editor to get it done ASAP, you'll pay a premium.

Detail: If you just want a quick glance, it won't cost as much, but won't be as useful either.

Language: Translation is a different animal, one I know nothing about, so no comment.


Free & Low-Cost Options

Critique Partners (Free) Your writer's circle should provide advice and guidance throughout the writing process, which provides base-level developmental editing.

Beta Readers (Free) Engage beta readers. Some gems will find smaller developmental or grammatical issues.

ARC Readers (Free) Some attentive advanced copy readers will spot typos.

Grammarly (Free) This web extension helps find grammar and spelling errors. Careful though. I don't pay for the premium version.

Services ($100-$1000) Marketplaces like Fiverr and Reedsy abound with professional editors of all kinds. Some starting editors may cut a deal to get established.

Multiple Programs (Free) Copy your manuscript back and forth between Google Docs to MS Word. They’ll find different issues.



COVER DESIGN

Whether you like it or not, people judge books by their covers. An eye-catching design influences readers by telling them about your books genre, story, and story quality. (Learn more) Here are a few important factors to consider.

Cost Range ($0-$2000) Depending on the route you go, it can be free because you or a friend draw and design it to thousands of dollars because you hire someone with a reputation.

Experience: Like editing, the more seasoned the artist, the more they will charge. In my opinion, an artist's reputation won't sell more book. But, if you are less concerned with recovering costs and more interested in a beautiful piece of art, go for it.


Free/Low-Cost Options

DIY (Free - $300): With affordable design tools like Canva, you can save money. But, be careful. Many online images require a license fee, so be careful.

Royalty-Free (Free) Sites like Unsplash and Pixabay sometimes offer some of their images for free. Be careful, because some licenses only apply to digital copies, so they won't work for paperback and hardcover books.

Creative Commons (Free) Some images have Creative Commons Licenses, which means anyone can use it for any purpose. Google Images has a CC filter.

Paid Stock Images ($50-$2500) I have a subscription to Adobe Suite for non-book-related reasons, and get free licenses as part of the package.

Drawing Apps: (Free - $600) There are a variety of apps like Procreate on iPad ($10) to help you draw your own cover.

MarketPlaces: ($50 - $2500) I commissioned pieces for DAY AFTER INFINITY on Fiverr for $100. I then used Procreate ($10) to change it for my purposes. Some people use 99-Designs.

Artificial Inteligence (Free - $120) Some authors accept the use of AI tools to generate images for their covers. Other authors view this as theft, just like AI authors ripping off other novels. You have to decide for yourself.



ISBNs

Acquiring an ISBN is like obtaining a literary passport for your books. While some platforms offer free ISBNs (Kindle Direct Publishing) for digital copies, obtaining your own ensures greater flexibility across retailers and publication form (paperback & hardcover). Here’s my take on ISBNs.

A single ISBN from Bowker (in the US) costs $125, while a pack of ten only costs $295, which is less than the cost of three. If you want three book formats (Kindle, paperback, and hardback), you’ll need three separate ISBNs, so I went with the 10-pack.

International authors need to register in their own country. Check out this list of registrars by country.



FORM A COMPANY

You have the option of creating your own business to act as your publisher, which has advantages that I'll discuss in another post. This comes with additional challenges and costs, which depend on where the business is. For a Limited Liability Company, it isn't that expensive, often around $100. Read more here.



AUTHOR COPIES

Ordering author copies is akin to creating a personal stash of your literary treasure. It allows you to promote and ship books yourself. These can be useful for author talks, for obtaining reviews, and as great gifts.

Cost Range: They usually come at cost or wholesale price. You don’t pay the higher price that customers pay, so if you can sell them in person or through your website, you can make a profit.



MARKETING

Getting your book noticed requires strategic marketing and promotion. Costs can range from minimal to extensive, depending on your approach. I’ve written several posts about marketing strategies that have and haven’t worked for me.

The amount you spend is up to you. How much fuel do you want to add to the fire? In marketing, you may launch your book to success, or burn up your money. Some of it is skill, some of it is instinct, and some of it is just luck. I spend $3 to $5 a day and recoup my costs, but just barely and only after losing a lot while learning.

Factors that influence your spend include where you advertise (Amazon, FB, I don’t recommend Twitter/X) or whether you hire a professional service to market for you which can be $100 per month to $10,000 per month. (I never used a service because I've heard horror stories.)


Low-Cost Options

Social Posts (Free) Finding creative content and engaging new and loyal followers takes time and effort, and not a small amount of creativity. (You can find me on Twitter/X, Threads, & Facebook)

Newsletters (Free) Some people find newsletters helpful. It can be hard to get people to sign up for your newsletter, and I've never had many people read the ones I wrote.

Blog Posts (Free) If you're reading this, you know my view on blog posts. They take time, but they help me hone my writing, albeit in a different style.

Podcast Host (Free-$1000) You may want to invest in some recording equipment, but some podcasts use Zoom via wireless headphones. There is free software like Audacity and PodBean as well as free hosting like Spotify.

Word of Mouth (Free) If your friends, critique partners, beta readers, and ARC readers rave about your book to friends, that will translate into sales. This can be a difficult ask, but it's an important one.

Cross-promote (Free) Swap reviews with other authors. Share their works on social media, newsletters, and blog posts. I recommend the Kirk Rogers Series for sci-fi fans. See how easy that was? You don't have to give 5-star reviews, but I find it much easier if I really enjoyed the book.



BOOK FORMATTING

One thing that we often don't consider before we publish our first book is formatting. It is a little more complicated than printing out a Google Doc or MS Word file, though you definitely can use MS Word to format your work. Soon, I'll write a detailed post on formatting.



EXAMPLE COSTS

Here are a few examples of budgets. Think of these as rough drafts. Change things up. After mid-level spending on my first novel, I dropped back down to a more basic level for the next three.


Bare Bones: ($10-$30)

  • DIY or Amazon Cover Design (Free)

  • DIY Website ($10-30)

  • DIY Interior Formatting (Free)

  • One Free ISBN from Amazon (Free)


Pinch It: ($175+)

  • DIY Cover Design (Free)

  • DIY Website ($10-30)

  • DIY Interior Formatting (Free)

  • TWO ISBNs (One free from Amazon)

  • Five Author Copies ($25)


Basic: ($375+)

  • Partial Cover Design ($50)

  • DIY Website ($10-30)

  • DIY Interior Formatting (Free)

  • Ten ISBNs ($295)

  • Ten Author Copies ($50)


Medium: ($875+)

  • Commission Cover Designer ($200-$500)

  • DIY Website ($10-30)

  • Interior Formatting Software ($150)

  • Ten ISNBs ($295)

  • Ten Author Copies ($50)


Premium: ($1,225+)

  • Commission Cover Designer ($200-$500)

  • DIY Website ($10-30)

  • Interior Formatting Service ($200)

  • Ten ISBNs ($295)

  • Form Company to Publish ($100-$300)


All In: ($3,200-$10,000)

  • Commission Cover Designer ($200-$500)

  • Website Service ($100-$300)

  • Interior Formatting Service ($200)

  • Ten ISBNs ($295)

  • 100 Author Copies ($500)

  • Editor(s) ($1000-$9000)

  • Form Company to Publish ($100-$500)



IN CLOSING

As you weigh how much to spend, remember that balancing quality and financial considerations is an art that can lead to a rewarding outcome. Whether you choose frugality or strategic investments, I hope your self-publishing path is filled with happiness and success. Upward and onward, my fantastic author friends.



RESOURCES

  • Consultants: Fiverr, Task Rabit, Reedsy

  • Apps: Atticus (What I use), Reedsy, InDesign (Expensive), Vellum (Mac only)



FAQ

Q1: Can I self-publish without spending any money?

A: Yes. While self-publishing can be done with almost no costs, you might get what you pay for (no eyeballs on your words). Sometimes, free is too expensive.


Q2: Do all self-publishing platforms charge fees?

A: Most self-publishing platforms are free to use, but they may charge fees for additional services like expanded distribution or enhanced marketing features.


Q3: Can I make my book available for free on self-publishing platforms?

A: Yes, many platforms allow you to set your book's price as free for e-books. You can also do promotions that make your book free for a short period of time, creating FOMO (fear of missing out).


Q4: Are there hidden costs in indie publishing?

A: While some platforms may charge fees for specific services, the main costs involve professional services like editing and cover design, which require human time.


Q5: Can I recoup my expenses through book sales?

A: It's possible, but not guaranteed. Effective, low-cost marketing and reaching your target audience are essential for recouping costs and generating profits.


Q6: Should I invest in advertising for my self-published book?

A: That’s a personal question. Are you prepared to put the time in? Advertising can increase visibility, but it takes time and experimentation to find a cost-effective place to attract your audience. And, when you figure it out, the advertisers will change their algorithms.


Q7: Are free ISBNs from self-publishing platforms sufficient?

A: Yes. Free ISBNs from platforms like Amazon are suitable for specific distribution channels but may limit your book's availability in other outlets. Obtaining your own ISBN allows you to publish on multiple platforms.


Q8: Can I negotiate editing and cover design costs with professionals?

A: Sometimes. Professionals may be open to negotiation, especially if you're a first-time author or they have few to no reviews. Let them know you’re working on a budget. Clear communication is key.


Q9: What's the difference between hiring a freelance editor and an editing service?

A: Freelance editors work independently like you, while editing services often have a team of editors. The choice depends on your preferences and the level of support you need.


Q10: How can I minimize costs?

A: Consider a DIY approach for non-essential tasks, utilize the free resources mentioned above, and focus on the things you need the most help with. Try trading services with other authors.


 

As always, I appreciate your support of indie authors. In the name of putting myself out there, here are a few of my works.



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