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The Cost Of Self Publishing
Self Publishing Realities
These days, it is easier and easier to self publish a novel. Pretty much anyone can do it, and writing talent is not a prerequisite. If you go ebook only, you don't have to worry about print runs. If you do want print, you can use digital printing and have each book printed only when a customer orders it. The thousands of dollars a print run costs are eliminated from the equation.
Because of this, there are thousands of self published ebooks available through distributors such as Amazon and Smashwords. New authors find themselves buried in the pile. On top of that, self publishing has a terrible reputation.
Most reviewers will not touch self published titles, both because of perceived poor quality and because some authors have been known to go ballistic over bad reviews. There is often an assumption that the only reason to self publish is because every publisher and agent on the planet rejected the book.
The key to escaping the stigma is to have a quality product. However, having a quality book will cost - in terms of money, time, or both.
The largest cost for a self publisher is editing. The one thing the majority of bad self published books have in common is that they were not edited.
Although self-editing is an important skill, having another set of eyes over a book is vital. Even with that extra set of eyes, problems can appear - grammar errors, typos and continuity issues are all found in books by major publishers. Yet, it is far, far harder to find your own errors and much easier to find somebody else's. Editing your own work places you too close to the work emotionally and blinds you to its flaws.
There are two options for editing. One costs money. The other costs a lot of time.
Option #1: Hire a freelance editor. For a novel, this will cost you anywhere from $800 to $1,200 depending on the experience of the editor and the amount of work the book needs. The better your self-editing, the less time the editor will need to spend on your book.
Option #2: Learn to edit yourself. Wait, didn't I just say that you shouldn't edit your own work? Well, you shouldn't. Option #2 is that you learn to edit, then do an edit exchange with another author, in which you edit their book in return for them editing yours. If you can find a writing partner who's editing style suits you and are willing to put in a lot of time, this is a good option. However, you should also think of the value of your time and price this option out accordingly.
Even ebooks require cover art. This is displayed on the distributors' website. In some ebook formats it is also included with the book. One of the largest mistakes self publishers make is to put together covers out of clip art or use 3D modeling software to make them. These covers often look amateurish. Just because you can write doesn't mean you can do design - the two talents are completely different.
There are three good options for cover art:
Option #1: Hire an artist to do it, either for money or for other considerations. It is possible to get competent cover art for under $50 if you look hard enough on DeviantArt and find somebody who has talent, but lacks experience. Professional art can, however, cost as much as $500. Some artists sell pre-made covers, which can be cheaper, but may not fit your exact desires and needs.
Option #2: Make a cover out of a photograph. You don't need much design talent to do this. You do, however, need a photograph that can legally be used for commercial purposes. The safest route is to take the picture yourself (and make sure you are standing on a public right of way when doing it or have the landlord's permission). You can turn your photo into a cover by using any good graphics program - I've even used Picasa. Pick a suitable font and make sure that the color of the text stands out against the photograph. This does not work for all books, however. If you want a person on your cover, you will have to find a willing character model to pose for it (I don't recommend posing as your own character - it would make you look like an amateur and far too in love with your own MC). Sometimes you can find people willing to do this for cheap at conventions.
Option #3: Do an abstract cover design. If you have any design talent, you can do it yourself. Otherwise, you can hire somebody to do it. For non-fiction this is a great option and I have seen some very nice abstract covers done by independent authors at cons. However, if you have to hire somebody, it will probably cost as much as a drawn cover - I really recommend this choice only for people who are trained in graphic design.
Conversion is the process of turning your novel manuscript into a document ebook readers can read or into the format a digital printer needs to make a book. Because of the ebook format wars, conversion has to be done multiple times.
Most professionals charge $150-$200 per format to convert a novel length manuscript. Although it pales next to editing, it's still a serious chunk of dough.
This is the one part of the process I recommend all writers who intend to self publish learn to do themselves. Most ebook distributors make conversion easy. Smashbooks, for example, uses conversion software to convert your manuscript into all the current ebook formats. However, for it to work, the manuscript has to be very carefully formatted. It takes the average writer, once they have done it a couple of times, 1-2 hours to convert a manuscript for Smashwords. (Sounds a lot until you look at that $150-$200 per format).
Amazon also offers conversion software that will turn your book into Mobi (the format used by Kindles). Again, this requires a fair amount of pre-work on your part in terms of correctly formatting the document and then converting it to HTML so the conversion software can read it. Their instructions also assume that you have Microsoft Word (not Open Office, NeoOffice or any other word processing software).
Doing your own conversion is honestly the best way in the current state of the industry. Likely, software developments will only make it easier.
Not all distributors require that your book has an ISBN. However, an ISBN is needed to distribute books via Sony's distribution channel and, more importantly, through iTunes. (Amazon and Barnes & Noble do not require ISBNs).
ISBNs are, in the United States, ordered through Bowker. Bowker charges, as of October 2012, $275 for a pack of ten ISBNs. (So, 10 ISBNs costs you $27.50 each. This goes down if you buy 100 or 1000 and large publishers may get even bigger discounts when they buy 10,000 ISBNs at a time). ISBN orders take about two weeks to process.
Distributors will often provide you with a free ISBN on request (they buy them in huge numbers and consider them such a minimal expense that they can afford to simply give them away). However, this means that the distributor will show up as the publisher in wholesale catalogs.
If you only ever intend on publishing one book or are otherwise unsure whether you're going to throw yourself into self publishing, then get an ISBN from the distributor, or avoid the channels that require one and don't bother. (Some people think you should never use a distributor ISBN). If you think you are going to be serious, then order your own ISBNs under your name or imprint. This will disguise the fact that the book is self-published when it shows up in catalogs and may get more readers to try your books. ISBNs cannot be transferred, but you could consider going in with some writing buddies, coming up with an imprint, and having somebody order them under that name. Of course, at that point, you're well on the way to making a writers' co-op.
Making the assumption that you hire somebody else to do editing and cover art, but do your own conversion, the cost of publishing a book therefore ranges from about $850 to about $1700.
Think about this figure before self publishing. It's a venture that should be entered into on the assumption that you will not get your money back. Most self published writers sell only a handful of copies. Which also suggests something else - that this is not a venture you do for the money, but rather for the fun and enjoyment of writing and publishing.