While I have a great mix of clientele in my freelance editing projects, I work primarily with self-publishing authors, and many of these are publishing for the first time. Some of these authors are at the starting line, with the goal of building a profitable publishing career. Others simply have a great story to tell and are finally getting around to putting it in print.
My conversations with new authors vary almost as much as the individuals and their unique stories, but there are some basic questions common to every new self-publishing author.
If you’re planning to self-publish a book, here are 6 things that will get you up to speed and on your way.
When you self-publish a book, you become a publisher.
Yes, you are an author/artist/creator, but when you take the step to turn your story into a finished product — a book — you’re now assuming the role of publisher as well, which means you need to think like one. A publisher is in the business of producing books and selling them to make a profit, which allows them to produce more books (and keep the lights on). Like any manufacturer or producer, a publisher will be concerned with:
- Producing a quality product people will buy
- Managing costs so the product actually generates a profit
- Adhering to smart business practices
- Developing a good marketing and/or sales strategy
- Providing good customer service
Publishing a book takes money.
Authors who published books through traditional publishing (find an agent, agent sells book to a publisher) often don’t see all the costs associated with taking a story from a Microsoft Word document to a finished book sitting on a shelf (or on a Kindle). But producing a quality product people will buy does require an investment, and the smart author/publisher will budget appropriately.
Here’s an overview of the costs you should anticipate when publishing a book:
- Developmental editing, if you need it. Expect to pay at least $0.10 (ten cents) per word for developmental or substantive edits.
- Copy editing (and you will need this). Expect to pay $0.02 to $0.04 for line or copy editing. Several copy editors I know charge $0.06 per word. Proofreading services will be in a similar range. When you do the math, this means editing for an 80,000 word novel will run $1,600 to $3,200.
- Cover design. You can have a book cover designed for as little as $5 on fiverr.com (not my first choice for you), but expect to pay $300-$400 for a quality cover from an experienced cover designer.
- Formatting. If you know how to format books to meet print and ebook publishing specs, you can save a chunk of change here. If not, I highly recommend using an experienced pro — they’ll make your life easier. Expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $200 per format. This means if you want a print book and an ebook, your formatting cost will be $200-$400.
- Inventory. Most authors I work with do live events as either part of their marketing or a regular part of their business/brand (nonfiction authors), and sell books at these live events. Print books will cost anywhere from $2 to $5 a copy, so 100 books for a live event will be an investment of $200-$500 — with the potential, of course, to generate profits much higher than that!
The list above covers the basics of producing a book. There are, of course, many other ways to invest in your book, such as marketing and promotion, publicists, paid reviews, and expenses for live events. But these “extras” are optional, of course, and costs for each will vary — widely.
People DO judge books by their covers.
If you’ve already pulled out your calculator and punched in the numbers from above, you may already be trying to figure out where you can cut costs. If you’re tempted to go the $5 cover route, please let me talk you out of it. Because people do judge books by their covers, and poorly designed covers scream “Amateur!” Which discourages sales, which diminishes your profits, which leaves you no extra cash to produce the next book.
If you’ve never given serious thought to book cover design, once you’re done reading this page, go spend a little time on Amazon. Pick a genre, then do some browsing. If you’re unsure where to start, begin with “science fiction in books” and compare the covers of Hugh Howey’s Wool series to other covers you’ll find about five pages in.
Editing matters. Repeat: Editing matters.
This is the other step where some self-publishing authors choose to scrimp, but again, I implore you not to skip this step. Because editing matters. If you’ve got a friend who was an English major in college, or you have a good friend who’s an English teacher, by all means hit them up to read through your manuscript and flag any errors. This is an excellent first step, because the more errors you can correct before you hire an editor, the easier it will be for your editor (and may save you a few dollars). But a good copy editor will correct for much more than just misspelled words and proper subject-verb agreement.
Consider three big reasons why proper copy editing is a good investment. Reason #1 is that you want to produce a quality product people will buy. Reason #2 is if you’re planning to build a base of loyal fans, you’ll show them respect by producing a quality book. Reason #3 is that readers are savvy and don’t like reading books littered with errors. When they stumble on one, they’ll go straight to Amazon and write an honest review, warning other prospective buyers. Those reviews can’t be undone by you, the author, even if you correct the errors in your book.
Producing a book takes time.
Self-publishing is, without a doubt, a speedier way to bring a book to market than going through a traditional publisher. However, expect at least your first project to take some time. (Once you’ve got a few books under your belt, you’ll find it gets easier, and faster.) The editing process alone can take several months, depending on how much work your book needs, and your editor’s schedule. And even the formatting stage can take a few weeks if corrections or adjustments need to be made.
If you’re targeting a specific date for your book launch, allow plenty of lead time.
The devil is in the details.
At this point you may be saying, “Piece of cake! I’m ready to publish my book.” Yay! But before you go out buying new Sharpies for your book signing, be prepared for the many smaller — but still significant — details that are part of book production. These include, but are not limited to:
- Book formats (which ones, how many)
- Trim size
- Cover price
- Book categories
- Book blurbs and endorsements
- Cover copy
- Marketing copy
Is your head spinning yet? If so, stop and take a deep breath, because the self-publishing process is a fun and exciting journey. And, it can be a smooth process if you do your research and approach the starting line with some solid knowledge (and a protein bar).
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