So there is an article circulating that first appeared on Bloomberg News but has been syndicated by several newspapers. The article is, for lack of a more tactful term, full of horse crap. It reads as if it was written by a high school student who was given a class assignment, did a quick Google search, and then rushed through the essay the night before it was do. Seriously, it is really poorly written.
But weâ€™re going to pick this thing apart, point by point.
First things first: The words. Over the years, says Michael Prescott, who self-published Deadly Pursuit, a few readers have complained of spelling mistakes. A good editor might have found those errors.
#1. Repeat after me: ALL BOOKS HAVE ERRORS. There is no published book I have ever seen, trade published or self published, that is 100% error free. Typos happen. Commas get spliced. If you look hard enough, you can find errors in any book.
#2. Most people donâ€™t notice spelling errors when reading unless the errors actually get in the way. The human mind has this amazing capacity to â€œout-correctâ€ when we are reading and fill in the blanks. Most people just donâ€™t notice a handful of typos unless they are actually themselves trained proofreaders or if there are so many typos that it is getting in the way of the story.
#3. Many readers will say a book â€œneeds an editorâ€ because the casual reader is not trained to give literary criticism. â€œNeeds editingâ€ is a stock answer for when folks know something is off, but canâ€™t put their finger on it.
Editing costs CAN add up. Particularly if you are using both a content editor and a proofreader. Many indies, however, know how to mitigate this expense by making good use of beta readers and peer critiques. Also, there is an entire cottage industry of freelance editors and proofreaders who work specifically with indie authors at affordable rates. Depending on your genre and the length of the work, it is not uncommon to find quality editing services for a few hundred dollars.
Covers that pop
An e-book design must "pop" as a thumbnail image, since that's the first thing a buyer sees.
$200:Price Barbara Freethy paid for a book cover design (that was not used).
$1,600: Price Julia Pandl paid for an early book cover design ($200) and interior design ($1,400).
The most I have ever paid for cover art was a little over $300, and forget paying for...eh hem...interior design. That is the MOST I have ever paid. Curious what $300 buys? Check out the cover for Post-Apocalyptic Blues. Not a photo-manipulation. Not a pre-made. Not a stock image. An original illustration made specifically for my book. Granted, the artist and I have worked together for years and she gives me special rates. Our check out the creepy cover for In Our House: Tantalizing Tales of Terror. Our the striking photo image we used for the cover of Return of the Dead Men (and Women) Walking.
This is particularly true in some of the most popular genres, like romance and chick lit, where the cover needs to â€œpopâ€ less and simply look professional and conform to the expectations of the demographic. Again, there is a supportive industry of cover artists who cater to indies, offering a variety of pre-made and stock covers for affordable rates. On average, I spend $100 on a cover. And interior design for a typical fiction book? Unless you have a lot of complex layout issues and tables, this should be a nominal cost. Certainly nowhere near $1400 (or even a quarter of that!).
The printed book
While printing a book won't get it on the shelves of major bookstores, you can feel it and, yes, give it to friends. You will likely be able to sell it for more than an e-book, though you'll probably sell fewer copies. If you want to improve the chance of getting your book into bookstores, you could go through a distributor such as SCB. It can also help to find an agent to help pitch your book to a traditional publisher.
$8,800:Cost to print 1,300 copies (240-page book) with shipping â€” Julia Pandl.
There is this technology that has been very popular for the last, well, DECADE or so. Itâ€™s called Print-on-demand. POD technology, unlike traditional offset technology, requires no huge set-up and allows you to print books only as needed. One of the most popular services, Createspace (an Amazon company) can produce a standard trade paperback (6â€ x 9â€), 240 pages, black ink, for under $4 a copy. And you can print them one at a time. If you use Createspace, your book is automatically made available on Amazon. And with their distribution plan ($25) your book becomes available through almost all online retailers.
Yes, it is difficult to get a print book on physical bookshelves. And at this point we wonâ€™t get into the reasons why (and how to get around them) because they are not relevant to this specific conversation.
Insofar as the part about printing the book in order to find an agent: I donâ€™t know a single publisher who accepts bound, finished, published books as a submission. I also donâ€™t know a single agent (real agent, not a fly-by-nighter) who actively looks for books that have been published and bound. The majority still want unpublished manuscripts. Printing your book wonâ€™t help you. (Though selling large quantities on your own mightâ€¦but if you are selling large quantities on your own you donâ€™t need an agent and may not even be interested in a publisher!).
Keep in mind that there are many versions of e-readers, from the Kindle to the Nook, and you'll need software that will format your manuscript for different devices. Author Michael Prescott worries that even with the software, chapter breaks drop out and bold words disappear.
$39: Cost of software that formats your book to upload to Kindle, Nook and iBook
For most standard books (no illustrations, tables, or excessive formatting), all you need is a decent word processing program. Amazonâ€™s KDP program will automatically format your Word file to mobi format for you. Smashwords, a popular digital distribution service, will convert your file for free into mobi, epub, and a half dozen other formats. Unless your work requires a lot of manual formatting help, you can skip spending any money of software at all.
Your book's ID
Books need International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs), 13-digit codes provided by the ISBN agency, Bowker. If you want to sell a printed book, you need an ISBN.
$125: Cost for one ISBN â€” Bowker.
#1. Only a couple of retailers still require an ISBN for ebooks. So if you are primarily selling ebooks, you donâ€™t need an ISBN.
#2. For the few that do require ISBNs, some of the services like Smashwords provide free ISBNs when they distribute your book. Even for print, many of the POD services offer free or discount ISBNS if you distribute through their service.
#3. The ISBN is not as important for indies as it is for trade publishers. Customers donâ€™t pay attention to who is listed as the publisher (i.e. ISBN owner) for a book. How many readers even know the name of the publisher who prints the books from their favorite authors? An ISBN is simply a serial number identifier for your book. For most indies, it doesnâ€™t matter who it is registered to.
If you intend on seriously targeting brick and mortar stores and libraries, you may want to invest in a block of ISBNs (you can get 10 for $295). But unless you plan on investing a lot of time marketing to bookstores, you can skip this investment.
With e-books, sending out advance reader copies is as simple as emailing a PDF; reviews can be uploaded to a book's website. There are reviewers out there who, for a fee, will read your book and write a review. Some authors create fake accounts and give themselves high ratings while assigning lower ones to rival books. There are legit reviewing services (below) â€” the review, though, may not be what the author hoped for.
$550: Price to get a review â€” Kirkus Indie Reviews.
No, no, andâ€¦umâ€¦NO. You do not pay for reviews. Legitimate reviewers do not charge a fee. And I donâ€™t care what Kirkusâ€™ reputation once was. Today, their reviews are not legitimate. Kirkus Indie is a farce, much like Clarion and Foreword Magazineâ€™s little money-grabbing review services. Many organizations charge indies for things they give for free to trade publishers, not because they are trying to help indies, but because they think indies are stupid.
A review from a book reviewer should never cost more than the actual cost to send him or her the book.
Let the world know
Many self-publishers don't bother to create marketing materials. Some hire a public relations professional. Other authors turn to social media. There's plenty more you can do, including:
$2,300: Website for a book, including PayPal link â€” amount paid by Rick Spier, author of The Legend of Shane the Piper: A Novel Memoir.
$45:250 color bookmark business cards â€” Staples.
$100:Press release printing â€” Staples.
$300: Facebook advertisement â€” Facebook.
$1,000: Direct mail â€” Julia Pandl's cost.
My website is through Yahoo! Business. I pay $12.95 for hosting, email, and the whole kit and caboodle. Many indies use Wordpress blogs which cost nothing. If you spend $2300 on a website, you are a special kind of crazy.
Insofar as the rest of this, did we travel back in time to 1984? Who sends printed press releases? Better yet, who is still ACCEPTING printed press releases? Who is sending direct mail for a book in this day and age? This list is just silly.
Yes, you can have legitimate marketing costs, but I say â€œlegitimateâ€ because these examples are just nonsense and donâ€™t reflect how most ebooks are promoted. Most indie promotion is, frankly, more labor intensive instead. Building a presence on sites like Goodreads, building a Twitter following, conducting a virtual book tour, and other activities that get you to interact with readers. You can also end up spending money on online display ads on book blogs and reader sites, but even these are often priced between only $15-$50.
My typical cost to get a project going, from start to finish, runs between $300-$500, and I am on the higher end of most indies because I also operate a micro press and have additional expenses the typical indie does not. The point being, this article makes it sound like it costs a year's wages to bring a book to print, when in reality the typical indie can get a professional grade ebook published for a few hundred dollars and some elbow grease.