For prospective novelists, self-publishing is so often seen as the accessible option – the path that any old keyboard warrior can waltz down to arrive at authorhood.
But accessibility doesn’t necessarily mean affordability. While it may be more difficult to pick up a contract with a traditional publisher, those that do have trust-fund-baby levels of financial backing. The publisher assumes the bulk of the risk, paying for the writing, editing, publishing and distribution of the book in return for a high percentage of the profits.
There are no such trust-fund-tykes in self-publishing. Instead, you assume the risk. While you as the author will enjoy a large slice of the profits, you also have to provide the capital to bring the book to fruition. But how much capital are we talking?
Working on an average first novel length of 80,000 words, here’s what you can expect to fork out.
No matter how much of a grammar Nazi you believe yourself to be, no matter how perfectly you think your storyline plays out, no matter how natural your dialogue sounds when you read it aloud; every writer needs an editor. The greatest wordsmiths in history needed editors. Are you better than Bill Shakespeare? In fact, the greats usually needed 3 editors.
- Content Editor: These editors look at the big picture – the plot and characters. They’ll read the entire manuscript and give an in depth analysis of the perceived strengths, weaknesses and inconsistencies. They’ll suggest large-scale changes to structure and plot points. They’ll often tear your heart in two.
- Copy Editor: Copy editors simply look for spelling, punctuation and grammatical mistakes, without any regard for the story proper. There they’re too insure a sentince lyk thus doezn’t happn.
- Line Editor: Line editors are somewhere in the middle. They concentrate on prose – word choice, sentence flow and paragraph structure. Is the dialogue natural? Have you been over-reliant on certain descriptors? Do you keep dropping the c-bomb for no apparent reason?
Rates range from $0.02 per word/$25 per hour up to $0.08 per word/$65 per hour. You may be able to find an editor who can do more than one aspect of the editing process, which could cut down costs. You could also take a risk and only have your manuscript copy edited. This won’t make for a wise investment if your structure or prose is subpar, however.
Content/Copy/Line Editing Cost: $1000 (copy editing only) – $10,000+ (high quality content/copy/line editing)
The layout of your pages has as big an effect on the reading experience as the actual words do. You might love Pinyon Script as much as your first born child, but it does not make for a pleasurable reading experience. Ensuring that your manuscript is expertly formatted is vital.
If you’re a tech-savvy author, you may be brave enough to have a go at DIY formatting, using programs such as Pages, Sigil or Calibre. The smart money is on using an expert, however, and while you can spend upwards of $1000 on formatting, it can also be surprisingly affordable. Damonza offers complete eBook formatting with unlimited revisions for just $199.
Formatting Cost: $0 (DIY) – $1000+ (professional)
3) Cover Design
‘I’ll just design my own cover!’ Excellent! And while you’re at it, flush that money for editing down the toilet and throw your manuscript into oncoming traffic, because that’s essentially what you’re going to be doing anyway.
Your Grandma’s advice of not judging a book by its cover is as well-meaning as it is unrealistic. Your book will be judged by its cover, and those judgements will be all the more harsh if it’s a home job. Again, while there are many cover designers that will charge multiple thousands for a bespoke cover, thankfully a professional cover doesn’t necessarily have to cost an arm, a leg, or really any non-vital body part.
Cover Design Cost: $295 – $4000+ (custom cove)
4) Publication & Distribution
Great news! If you’re happy to publish your eBook through a trusted third party such as Amazon, Apple iBooks or Barnes & Noble, this aspect of self-publishing is absolutely free*!
*This aspect of self-publishing is not absolutely free. You’ll forgo a percentage of the profits in order to gain access to the sales networks that these distributors have. Generally speaking, Amazon offers the best royalties from books sold.
Publication & Distribution Cost: $0 upfront
Marketing makes this capitalist world of ours go round. But there’s no harm in having a go yourself. With the advent of social media, it’s now easier than ever to become your own marketing machine. With some savvy operation you can generate quite a following for yourself on social media, and these platforms also give you the option to invest some very minor dollars in getting your wares in front of new (and extremely relevant) eyes.
For those that want to make a proper fist of this author biz, a professional marketer could also be a worthwhile investment. Paying for 40 hours of a marketer’s time at around $60 per hour will generate some serious publicity for your book, and subsequently open some equally serious doors.
Marketing Cost: $0 (DIY) – $2400+ (professional)
Ask yourself: what do you aim to get out of this book? Is self-publishing a novel simply a bucket list item – the result of a hobby that you wanted to see through to the end? Or is it your first foray into what you hope will one day be your full time career?
If you tend more toward the former, you may be better suited to keeping the spending to a minimum. If you identify more with the latter, a solid investment in your book now could pay serious dividends into the future.
Total Self-Publishing Costs: $1295 (the bare minimum for a professional quality eBook) – $15,000 (a high-end, professionally produced and marketed novel).