Today let’s look at the next level of ambition, the author who decides to publish and seriously attempt to sell books in an economical way. Let’s call this publisher the Online Self-Publisher.
9 Cost Categories for Online Self-Publishing
- Company setup—It’s more likely this self-publisher will formally organize her company, probably as a sole proprietorship. She’ll pay attention to costs and have some way of accounting for sales and expenses, doing it herself. Taxes are getting complicated so it’s probable our publisher will need tax help at the end of the year too. All these costs are due to the added complexity of selling book wholesale and retail and the effect on your personal income and tax liabilities. At the beginning you may have an offsetting loss on your taxes since your business will likely spend more than it takes in just to get your book ready for publication.
Total: $100 – 300
- ISBNs—You’ll definitely need ISBNs since you can’t sell through online merchants like Amazon.com or BN.com without one. The question now becomes: how many ISBNs to buy?
One ISBN will cost you $125 at the myidentifiers website run by Bowker to sell these oh-so-precious numbers. But if you plan on ebook editions and, in the back of your mind you’re thinking that if this book sells, you’ve got another one you could follow up with, you need more. Ten ISBNs will cost you $250, but you’ll be prepared for a couple of years of publishing to get you going.
- Manuscript preparation—The Online Self-Publisher will likely do as the DIY self publisher did, and do all manuscript preparation themselves.
- Editing—The Online Self-Publisher knows that editing is important, and will try to find an editor to help organize, or to “polish up” their manuscript. Although some authors will use a fuller range of editorial talent, starting with developmental editing, typically the limited budget of the Online Self-Publisher will dictate a light but thorough review of the manuscript by someone who has at least has professional editing experience
Nothing is more difficult to estimate in the book process than editing. Recent books I’ve worked on have ranged from 45,000 to 227,000 words. Some are challenging in their language and aspirations, others are intended to be casual and conversational. Each author brings different communications skills to their books. Some books need a lot of fact checking, or have copious notes sections that have to be painstakingly formatted. Each of these factors influences the time it takes to edit the book, and therefore the expense.
Let’s say our self-publisher finds an editor on a writing forum, or through a writer’s group, or through a service like elance.com. And let’s also stay with my model book, a 65,000 word, 200 page 5.5″ x 8.5″ trade paperback. This will give us at least a framework for what the editorial cost might be, $700-1,500.
We can add to this the cost of a basic proofreading. In many cases the Online Self-Publisher herself, or a friend, will proofread the book. In my experience it’s unwise to skip this step. $0 – $500
- Design—Online Self-Publishers know that a book that looks decent will be more appealing than one that looks like your nephew did it in Apple Works. She will budget for a cover designer but will probably skip an interior design, preferring to stay with the DIY model in the interest of saving money. At a minimum, the publisher will have to learn to submit files to the Print on Demand provider, or pay someone to do it for her.
Total: $200 – 500
- Review program—Reviews for the Online self-publisher will typically be limited to online reviewers, where a PDF of the book can be submitted at no cost. But it’s also likely that he will run a small review campaign offline as well. Prepublication reviewers, specialty media, local newspapers and any trade associations are likely candidates for review copies and a DIY media kit. Due to the expense of packing, mailing and digitally-printed books, this can add up pretty quickly. Lets assume 24 books split between reviewers and authorities or other authors who might supply blurbs to help in promotion.
Cost of one book: $3.50. Add a Jiffy bag: $1.79. Add media mail postage: $2.38. Oh, and something for the rest of the paperwork that gets sent with review copies: $1.00. That’s a total of $8.67, or $208 for 24 copies.
Total: $200 – 300
- Platform building—In addition to the free resources for building her author platform, our new internet marketer may also consult with a search-engine optimization expert to help with online visibility, or opt for custom work to be done on her website or blog. Remember, this will be the main hub of her business, and she may even install some ecommerce capabilities to be able to take orders directly on her website. Making excerpts available, capturing names and email addresses for mailing lists and other tasks are commonly outsourced to freelance technicians. Our budget should account for some mix of these tasks. Let’s make it an estimate, since the options are extremely broad.
Total: $200 – 500
- Proofing and Reproduction—Like our DIY self-publishers, Online self-publishers will use digital printing through print on demand suppliers to manufacture their book. However, some of these publishers will have moved from author services companies like Createspace to a more manufacturing-oriented and economical supplier like Lightning Source. There are setup costs associated with this move, and some fees you would not have to pay the author service companies. However, if you expect to sell any quantity of books you will quickly make up this expense in the savings on per-book prices. We’ll also include an initial order of 50 books to the publisher for direct sales and other promotional uses.
Total: $300 – 400
- Fulfillment—Book sales through online retailers require no fulfillment expense on the part of the Online self-publisher. Using a fulfillment service to pack and ship orders is far too expensive for the quantity of books sold, so the Online self-publisher will likely do her own fulfillment. Hey, she bought that big box of Jiffy bags for the review campaign, remember? Here’s where we use the rest of the box.
Let’s Add It All Up
The Online self-publisher is serious about putting out decent books and trying to sell them using lots of tools at her disposal. Adding our nine categories, we have a total of $1,950 – 4,250. This is a significant business expense but, considering that you are starting a new business and simultaneously developing a new product and the means to market it, I would come to a different conclusion.
By far the largest investment of the Online self-publisher—or any of the other self-publishers, for that matter—is the time and effort it takes to put this whole project together. The time to understand enough about the parts to have some idea of how they fit together. The time to research, meet and talk to people, to work on all the incidental projects that come up in the course of the publishing journey.
This is truly what will make or break the publication of your book. The commitment you make and the actions that come from it are far more important than the money you will invest, and will go farther to determining the success of your book.
Total Online self-publishing cost: $1,950 – 4,250
Takeaway: Online self-publishers can produce quite acceptable books at a reasonable cost. While there may be inconsistencies and a lack of finesse in the book interior, a diligent self-publisher should be able to turn out a book of decent quality to sell online.
Image: Flickr.com / derek&kristi