It Adds Up: The “Real” Cost of Self-publishing

I found this Bloomberg article on the costs that (can) go into self-publishing really interesting. I don’t think it’s 100% accurate in all cases (for example, some of their steps are skippable or there are cheaper options out there), but it is a good snapshot. Just like the article I found about how much you can expect to earn at each “level” of self-publishing success, I felt this article provided a good benchmark.

In summary:

  • Editing: $500 – $1,460
  • Cover art: $200
  • Interior design: $0 – $1,400
  • Book printing: $6.77/book -> $8,800
  • eReader formatting software: $39
  • Single ISBN: $125
  • Kirkus Review: $550
  • Website: $2,300
  • Color business cards: $45
  • Press release printing: $100
  • Facebook announcement: $300
  • Direct mail: $1,000
  • Distribution: $200 up front (plus a cut)
  • One-stop shop: $5,000 – $6,000

Potential total (leaving out distribution and one-stop shop figures): $13,959 – $16,219

Ouch.

Even considering that I wouldn’t do some of the above, or would do them much more cheaply, those numbers are very scary.

If you are self-publishing, what do you expect it to cost? How do you plan on paying for it? Because I seriously doubt most “starving writers” would front even that $5,000 cost, but then, maybe it’s my sensibilities that are off.

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29 Comments

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29 responses to “It Adds Up: The “Real” Cost of Self-publishing

  1. Reblogged this on Robin Writes and commented:
    I’ve seen several references to the article cited here, and IMHO – it’s pretty far off base. NO ONE in his right mind would pay this much! What do you think?

  2. Well, I launched for 0$ out of pocket, although I have spent some money on sending out promotional copies since then. I was very lucky in having a talent pool in friends and relatives to draw upon, though.

    Amazon will provide an ISBN for free, and Calibre is a good e-reader conversion program which is shareware. My website is my WordPress blog, which is free, and I haven’t paid for any reviews.

    Right now I’m relying on social network sites and word of mouth to promote my book. I don’t have huge numbers (not quitting the day job any time soon) but I do have a real sense that the word is getting out.

    • Thanks for your insight. I know you *can* publish for close to $0, but so many “services” now push for potential author dollars, it can feel like a lot of pressure.

      • I think that it’s important for authors to remember that self-publishing is like acting as general contractor for a home remodeling project. There are a lot of contractors who will overcharge for substandard services and get away with it because homeowners don’t know the business well enough to ask the right questions.

        The publishing world is much the same. Much of what is offered to authors seeking to publish their own book is unnecessary or overpriced or both. Before cutting a check for any services make damned sure that you know exactly what you are getting and why you need it, and if the company offering those services can’t give you a satisfactory answer, don’t do business with them.

        And, just like when you’re looking for a plumber or an electrician, the best judge of quality is personal referrals. Just because someone has a full-page ad or a flashy website doesn’t make them reputable. (In fact, it may indicate the opposite. The quality contractors usually get so much word of mouth business that they don’t need to pay for a lot of advertising.)

        This is why it is so important for self-publishers to network. Get to know authors who have published quality work and ask them who did their editing, page design, and so forth. Most of us are very happy to share information.

      • That is a fantastic analogy. I haven’t decide which publishing route is right for me, but having experience of other writers like you is helpful–feels less like I’m inventing the wheel for my own work!

      • Completely agree with Misha, here. You’re right, there is a ton of pressure to purchase all sorts of services (just like there’s a ton of pressure in real life to purchase the latest-greatest-biggest-baddest whatever it is). Small press and self-pubbed authros have to be really careful. Do your research and make sure you really “need” what they’re saying you need (editing and cover art are a must, but the others on your list are negotiable). Then find the best, most reputable service.

      • What resource did you use to find these reputable sources, if you don’t mind sharing?

      • Hi M.E. – Im with a small press, so some of this is a little different for me, although I face the same questions as far as marketing and getting the word out there. I don’t have one specific source I use. Mainly I just Google until my fingers are tired, using a variety of phrases to find what I need. For example, I was recently approached on Goodreads by a company claiming to help market. I Googled all sorts of phrases, such as [Company Name] scam, [Company Name] complaints, [Company Name] books, etc.

        At first all I came up with was their ads (complete with author quotes about their service), but after some digging, I discovered that this “company” is actually an online book seller (out of Canada) of “used” books (no doubt gathered from all the authors – and there seem to be a ton of them – sending them the “two copies” the company requires before they start helping you market). I Google every phrase I can think of to help me get the most information. I never trust “author reviews” of a service, because those can be bought or faked.

      • I think that’s one of the greatest challenge of this “new age” for authors: sleuthing out the truth from the scams. I appreciate your insight. Thank you!

  3. While I appreciate your research, I’d say your numbers are extremely inflated based on today’s technologies. Ten years ago before the growth of Ebooks, I’d say you were spot on for someone who was serious about self-publishing and only had a paperback book as their option. But not by today’s standards.

    While I do agree with your editing and cover art figures (those are good investments), anyone paying upwards of $1400 dollars for interior design is being ripped off. As Misha pointed out, you can get an ISBN for free these days. And who needs to pay for a review? Websites are indeed free these days as well. Business cards can be obtained for practically free as well. Distribution and one-stop shops are also a waste of investment thanks to Ebooks.

    I have self-published three books and haven’t even invested a third of your total figure in all three combined, and yes, I have had decent sales. As Misha pointed out again, proper networking and researching is key here. I learned more and more with each book, and practically invested zero dollars by the third book outside of editing, cover art, and copies for reviewers.

    And I’d pass on my knowledge to anyone who asked. I can show them how to practically do it for free as well.

    • I really appreciate your thoughts, but you’ll have to blame Bloomberg for the dollar amounts. 😉
      I agree they seem awfully inflated–I was anticipating spending $50-$1000 if I went the self-pub route. Since I won this year’s NaNoWriMo, I get five free copies from CreateSpace, so that’s my starting point.
      How much did you spend (editing included) for your first publication?

      • I don’t really count my first publication since I had no idea what I was doing really and that was back in 2003. My biggest investment for my second book was book cover design software ($300) which quickly paid for itself after I opened myself up to helping other authors with affordable book covers. I also invested in a bundle of 10 ISBNs which I split with another author who I share an imprint with ($250 each). When I got to my third book, I paid $300 for the rights to the art I wanted on the cover, and another $300 for editing services. I pay $4.11 per copy for local bookstore stock and copies to send to reviewers. Roughly, $2.95 media mail postage back when I mailed copies out for review if you want to count that too; it is an expense. I think I mailed out twenties copies. And I paid around $30 for bookmarks and postcards using vistaprint.com. I did my own Ebook and print formatting, made my own bookcover, and already had my ISBN. So I think overall I paid less than $1K.

      • Thanks for sharing! That’s very helpful.

  4. I’m doing it all myself (ie, on the cheap), all except the editing (by a professional) and the cover design (which has been done by a fan). But it’s the marketing that kills me. I’ll get great reviews from those that are interested enough to shell out a few bucks for a book, but they’re few and far between.

    I’ve tried paid campaigns, and had one with KBR (Kindle Book Review) where 40,000+ views resulted in 8 sales. Wooo hooo…. $60 to make a couple of bucks from eight 99c books.

    Any sci-fi bloggers I approach seem inundated with too many other review requests, so it’s a lonely road to the marketplace. If you have any insights into indie marketing, I’d love to hear them.

    • I wish I had some info to offer you, but I’m afraid I have seen more stories like yours than otherwise. Despite huge recent successes, I think sci-fi has a harder time of it than, say, romance, where readers seem more inclined to try something new. I’ll keep my eye out, though!

    • Pcawdron-

      Are you enrolled in KDP on Kindle? Yeah, you have to give sole distribution to Amazon for 90 days, but it is often worth it because you get 5 days to offer your book for free. You can split these days up over the 90 days as well. Personally, that’s what worked for me. I got 15,000 downloads over a 3 day promo last summer. This later resulted in quite a few paid downloads and several reviews. So, it’s worth a try.

      Good luck!

      -Shannon

      • How did you conduct your promo? I’m on KDP but have “loaned” 3 books against 60 regular sales, so it doesn’t really work for me at all…

    • Pcawdron, have you tried the paid ads on Goodreads? I love them because you set your amount per click and cap it. For example, I’ll set my amount per click at $.50 and cap it at $25.00. That’ll last me a few days, and I always see an uptick in sales (I do it every couple of months and it always more than pays for itself).

      It also gets your cover/blurb circulating, which can lead to all sorts of opportunities. The first time I did a Goodreads ad (in 2011) my book was discovered by a book club which subsquently named it “Best Book by a New Author,” and even emailed me a badge and snail-mailed me a magnet. That led to other book clubs discovering it.

      More recently, University of North Carolina- Wilmington found my first book on Goodreads and out of 77 books, mine made it all the way to the top 2 spot as required reading for 2013 freshmen (it lost out to a book by Oprah Winfrey’s “O” magazine editor). Well worth the $25 I spent on a Goodreads ad last October, just for the exposure alone.

      • Wow! That’s some great success off a simple ad. I’m really impressed.

      • My rule (because I’m a tightwad ;-)) is not to spend more on advertising in a month than I think I can make back in that month. My sales aren’t anything to brag about – I’m not paying the mortgage with them, by a long shot – but they’ve been steady since my first was published in 2010, and I really think that’s largely because of Goodreads.

      • Man, I love Goodreads! I look forward to utilizing their tools after I get published (traditionally or independently).

      • Good luck, M.E.! Yep, definitely check out Goodreads. I love it both as a reader and a writer.

  5. Melinda, I’ve been afraid of the ads, but with your recommendation I’m going to try the Goodreads ad and see what happens. Thanks so much!

  6. Pingback: Amazon Makes the Best Kool-Aid | jamesschannep

  7. I want my books to look and feel like they belong on the shelf of a bookstore, so for my money you need a professional copyeditor/proofreader, a solid cover artist, and someone who can help with formatting. If you skimp on any of these three, readers can tell. If anything, I think your prices for editing and cover art are a little cheap. The formatting seems a bit high, though… The other expenses, while not as vital, can also add up. It’s important to not sink yourself into too big a hole.

    • Thanks for your thoughts. The range of options is certainly complex, and I think it’s great that authors can now swap figures like this. Bringing the business out of the shadows!

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