self-publishing costsA lot of people ask me how much it costs to self-publish work. The misguided idea that self-publishing costs ridiculous amounts of cash is one that has been drilled into our skulls through years of dominance by the major publishing houses, and the apparent unattainability of a good publishing deal to all but the most fortunate and godly of writers. If you can’t get a publishing deal the traditional way, then the alternative has to cost a bucket-load, right?

Wrong. In fact, self-publishing costs nothing. Seriously. If you don’t want to spend a penny on your work, then you don’t have to, and you can still put a book out there. I’m not recommending this route, because I believe that anything you care seriously about requires a little investment, but nothing that can’t be made back.

Why do people believe the myth that self-publishing costs loads?

I think there are a variety of factors at work here. Firstly, a lot of the major publishers want people to believe this myth, and keep on believing it, because it benefits them financially. Simon and Schuster launched a well publicised ‘self-publishing’ service not so long back, with prices up to $500 for packages not even including professional editing/formatting.

Simon and Schuster are well aware that people can self-publish and market their work without any costs of the sort, but this whole idea that somehow a publisher’s golden seal of approval, even without professional editing/design, means a more ‘legitimate’ book, is still fixed in the heads of many. These are the people who vanity services like the one mentioned prey on.

My advice for a new author planning to self-publish, somewhat tempted by the shiny ‘Published by…’ badge on the side of their book? Well, first, save your cash and put it towards a professional proofread or some cover design. A shiny badge is not worth it, seriously.

Secondly, if you’re still desperate not to have your own name credited as the publisher, set up your own publishing company. The legalities and technicalities vary for different countries so I’m not going to go there, but I took this route simply because I think ‘Higher Bank Books’ sounds more professional than ‘Ryan Casey’. It’s your choice, though. Google it. Do some research.

Okay, enough waffle – how much does self-publishing cost, really?

Excuse the slightly digressing intro. I tend not to plan blog posts, so they can really take a life of their own. I think it’s an important point to make though before breaking down the self-publishing costs, because really, self-publishing costs as much as you want it to.

Here’s what I spend money on. I’m going to be as open and honest as possible. If I miss something/you think I’ve missed something, let me know in the comments.

Editing – £400ish per novel (varies depending on word count, etc)

Cover design – £150ish per novel (I design my own short story covers)

Marketing  and promotion – £20-30 every 90 days or so

Website theme – £25 

Proof copies – £20 (I ordered way more than this with What We Saw, but beginners learn their lessons)

Website hosting – £2-3 per month

Formatting – £0 (the only cost was 4-5 hours of my time)

Publishing – £0

Free marketing opportunities – £0

Blogging – £0

Etc etc etc etc – £0, £0, £0 and £0

See a pattern forming here?

Sure, I’ve probably bought a few books on publishing and writing advice on top of those figures, but other than the costs of editing and design — the main costs of self-publishing — time is without a doubt the biggest cost.

I just want to quickly focus on a few of those pricing points in particular. Firstly, editing and cover design. I do invest a lot in them because I feel they are necessary investments. I could waste thousands of pounds (if I had them) on silly marketing and promotional opportunities, but without a good cover and a well-edited book, it would be worthless.

If you care about your self-published book, you’ll care about what I call the Holy Trinity of Independent Publishing: editing, cover design, and formatting. You want to be a professional, right? You want a book out there that’s indistinguishable from all the traditionally published books? Then you invest in those three. It will pay off over the years. Maybe it’ll take one book, maybe it’ll take ten. You have to find that out for yourselves. But with every release, you’ll be learning.

Just a word on why I don’t spend money on formatting: I taught myself, and so can you. Guido Henkel has a fantastic guide to eBook formatting that admittedly takes several hours to work through, but it saves me hundreds of pounds every time I format eBooks. That’s hundreds of pounds extra profit, or hundreds of pounds to further invest in editing (although I’d lean towards the former). The sooner you start making pure profit, the sooner you can become a professional author.

As for why I only spend 20-30 bucks on marketing every three months or so… well, I think marketing a single book is pretty pointless.

Marketing and promoting the hell out of a book is counter-productive when your audience don’t have many more books of yours to buy. Sure, you might nick a nice few launch day sales, and that’s fine, but instead of tweeting about your book every day, or spending money on tweeting services every week to get yourself into more debt, why not spend the time working on your next book?

I only spend £20-30 every few months to help promote a book during KDP Select promotions. I do this because I’ve spent more in the past and seen minimal to zero impact on sales. Sure, awareness might rise, but isn’t cold hard cash the main thing?

Just keep writing. Tweet when you want to tweet. Blog when you want to blog. Market when you want to market. But yeah, write most of the time. The costs of self-publishing might sometimes seem difficult to keep track of, but as long as you’re writing work of a good standard (read a few writing craft books), you only really need to worry about that Holy Trinity: editing, cover design and formatting.

How much do you invest in self-publishing? What, in your opinion, makes a book ‘professional’?

Image courtesy of Glikò via Flickr