Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The True Cost of Indie Publishing


Last year after parting ways with a literary agent I greatly admired, I began looking into Indie Publishing. My critique partners egged me on—they knew about the interest at Random House and New American Library my books had garnered, and how the Wall Street meltdown had put publication of many debut novels on hold.

So I took the plunge after reading posts on a zillion Indie author blogs.

If you’ve just completed your first novel and are new to the world of authors, here’s the good news: there are precious few cutthroat novelists in this tribe. Most writers arrive in the world with a chewy, nougat center. They’ll offer advice and tips. If you join groups on Facebook and GoodReads, if you tweet and connect, you’ll receive a wealth of useful information. You’ll also make friendships worth cherishing. In that vein, I’ve decided it’s time to write this post.

I released the e-book of my first novel Treasure Me, in April, 2011. The paperback arrived in November. In several weeks I’ll release both versions of The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge then follow up soon after with my third novel, Second Chance Grill. Needless to say, I’ve learned a great deal about Indie Publishing.

A side note: this isn’t my first foray into self-employment. In earlier incarnations I owned a public relations firm and helped build several companies. If publishing your debut novel represents your first attempt at financial independence, plan to work harder than you ever dreamed and enjoy your successes like never before.

Without further ado, the numbers:

Cover art: Yes, every cliché you’ve heard is true—people will judge your book by its cover. Unless you’re preternaturally gifted in both graphic arts and storytelling, plan to spend $300 to $800 on cover art. You can easily spend more. Select a graphic artist after previewing the gallery of completed jobs on her website. You’ll save money if you choose a designer whose finished works mirror what you have in mind for your page-turner.

E-book Conversion: Anywhere from $100 - $350 depending on the number of versions you request. Bear in mind that if you seek review on book blogs, one blogger might request epub for Nook while another wants Kindle formatting.

Paperback publication: My advice here is based on all those years building companies and freelance writing—I never seriously considered using anyone but Amazon’s subsidiary, CreateSpace. Why? I worried that Amazon’s mysterious sort protocol favored CreateSpace books over the competition, lifting those paperbacks to the top of the heap for easier reader preview.

No, I can’t prove this actually happens. But if I were lucky enough to stroll Amazon’s corporate offices in Jeff Bezos’s shoes, I’d certainly be tempted to favor my subsidiary’s paperback releases. In addition, I knew the quality of CreateSpace books was high—I didn’t want to release a paperback that “looked Indie.” If you decide to use CreateSpace, plan to spend approximately $400.

Publicity: Sure, you can handle this on your own. Consider: if you’re a one-book wonder, you’ll never build a backlist. If you don’t build a backlist, you’ll never earn a living in this field. No, I’m not saying your novels are a sure gateway to financial independence. But it is possible—if you continue to produce stellar fiction that draws an ever-expanding readership.

You’ll easily spend as much time promoting your books as writing them. If you plan to hire PR help, plan to spend $20 - $40 an hour for a qualified professional.

Website: This isn’t a “must-have.” Many successful writers work from a blog to build a following and sell books. My website won’t go live for a few more weeks—it was continually lost in the shuffle as I completed Tree. If you do make the leap, plan to spend $800 to $4,000 for website design.

If some or all of these numbers discourage you—chin up. Consider publishing in phases, with an e-book first. Build a social media presence long before your release date. Do whatever you can to minimize costs as you proceed.

If you have questions regarding this post but don’t wish to comment publicly on my blog, send your questions to christinenolfi@gmail.com I’ll help in any way I can. 

37 comments:

  1. Wow...saw this in my Google+ stream and had to check it out. I'm about to do the very same thing - great advice!

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  2. Very informative, Christine. You've hit the nail on the head. Thankfully, no more ego-filled agents and bland boomerangs (rejection letters). No, eBook is the new wave, and if a novel takes off, then have it printed. Thank you for validating my opinion. Keep smilin'...Lee

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  3. Christine,
    Like you, I lost my literary agent. She quit the agenting biz. She did sell one of my books to a moderate sized pub. I'm not sure what I'll do with the others, but thanks for the great advice. Something to think about.

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  4. Christine, quality information here!

    I Tweeted it and I'll be posting it to my new Editing Services page on Facebook. It's good to hear details of the 'Indie Author' route that's honest and helpful. :)

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  5. Thanks everyone for reading along. Tanya, like you, I wasn't sure what to do when my representation disappeared. I released the e-book of Treasure Me with the thought, "If the reviewers aren't good, I'll go back to square one and find another agent." If you do decide to take the plunge, please contact me directly with any questions you'd rather not list here.

    Lee, I never experienced the ego-filled agent. I found representation twice and received lots of positive feedback from editors. But my books are genre-blends, which make them hard to place. And I am glad I validated your opinion about Indie publishing!

    Rebecca, thanks for tweeting this--love you, lady!

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  6. One thing I'd add: a publicist is even more important these days and I was surprised at the idea of hiring one for $40/hr. $100/hr or more is more like it if you hire a good one. I personally would find a good one in the book business (not a generalist) and would negotiate a fee with him or her. I would also allocate a budget to buying ads on reading sites like Good Reads. If you do a blog tour, plan on spending money on prizes too.

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  7. One more thing: Christine, it would help to add a tweet button or share button to your blog so we can easily broadcast you. This is good info and I came to you via a tweet from someone else. Make it easy for your followers!

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    1. Thanks, Cynthia! My website will be up and running soon--complete with all those buttons-for-broadcast. Btw, just popped over to your website. Must return to read more...

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  8. Great points, Cynthia. Yes, a good publicist can cost upwards to $100 an hour, which is more than many writers can reasonably spend during the publication of a debut novel. I'll post on my experience with advertising once I've had time to gauge the impact.

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  9. Amazing post, Christine, and so informative! I often wonder what I'll do if I ever actually manage to get past the editing stages of either of my would-be novels (starting the blog threw a Texas-sized wrench into the productivity of that part of my life, I can tell you). You've illuminated what a serious and hard-earned business it is to be an Indie author, which is such a vital thing.

    Also, I used to design websites and those numbers are making me question why I stopped! I never charged that much as it was pure hobby for me (I'm self-taught), but it's certainly a good business to be in. Excited for your site's launch!

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    1. Casee Marie, quite a few Indie novelists have reached financial independence by combining fiction with a tech skill--who says you can't design websites and publish your novels? You've already created an Internet presence with your blog, The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower. It's a gorgeous site and I'm betting many of your followers will stand in line to read your debut novel. xo

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  10. Hi Christine,

    I self-published my debut romantic suspense in September of 2010. In the the last 4 month it has sold over 12,000 copies and earned me over $23,000. On the first of January I was able to quit my job and write full time. I'm announcing this to give you my credentials because the costs you list here are much, MUCH higher than the costs I have encountered, or that any of my highly successful Indie friends are paying.

    For example covers- professional quality covers, tailored to your book can be bought for $75-150 dollars. The highest priced cover I know of cost 300.00 and was an original drawing. My cover cost $105.00.

    The going rate for formatting- and this is ONE fee for ALL the formats is $25-35. And yes, this is professional error free formatting.

    Websites: there are a ton of very cheap website hosting places that have user friendly, professional templates. The one I chose was snap pages and costs 10.00 a month. And while it doesn't have the vibe I would have liked, it works for now.

    I would highly encourage everyone interested in Indie publishing to join the yahoo group IndieromanceInk. I can't stress this enough. There are over 600 members in this group. A lot of them highly successful. We have a data base for professional cover artists, editors, formatters and blog tours. We also share effective marketing strategy, as well as failed market strategy.
    It's become a priceless resource to the Indie community.

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  11. Trish, I'm delighted you've posted your costs here! If I've learned one thing in the last nine months since entering the Indie Publishing fray, it's that pricing is all over the map. I chose to work with a graphic designer who is worth her weight in gold because my target audience, women who read contemporary fiction bordering on literary, have an expectation when choosing novels. I wanted a design that "fit" those expectations.

    Please let me know at christinenolfi@gmail.com If you'd ever like to post on my blog about your experience with Indie Publishing. Readers would love to hear your story.

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  12. Thanks for the post Christine. I published by first title in November and agree with all that you've said. My suggestion to people is if they have a limited budget, spend it on the cover, copyediting and formatting. Of course writers need editors, but you can gather a group of authors who you share "beta reader" duties with.
    FYI, the developers of WordPress have a beta version of "Pressbooks" available. It will allow the writer to add test, book cover, etc. then create a digital version for epub, PDF, XML, etc. I've just heard about this so I haven't used it yet, but it's free and it's another option for writers to use to create their digital content.

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    1. Natalia, thank you for posting the information regarding WordPress Pressbooks. It sounds like a wonderful option to help authors save money.

      I couldn't agree with you more about Beta readers--I couldn't work without critique partners who have also published. For those who don't wish to share proofreading duties with a group of writers, a copyediting service is a must-have.

      Thanks for reading along!

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  13. Hi Christine,

    Yes, knowing your audience and their expectations are crucial to successful Indie Publishing. So if your audience expects high quality graphics, that's certainly what you want to give them. My audience expects a hot guy with a gun front and center. *bg Which is fairly cheap cover content wise. I do know of some fantasy authors who easily spend what you are talking about on their covers, because their audience expects an almost oil painting quality to the covers. Still- I would say 90% of self-published authors can buy a professional cover perfect for their genre for under 150.00.

    My production cost last September were $865.00. By far the most expensive was the copy/line editing. (600.00)In contrast the proof editing was only $125.

    Sure, I'll be happy to guest blog for you. Let's push the date back a couple weeks though, I'm right in the middle of something huge right now, but I can't announce it quite yet.

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    1. Thanks again for sharing the numbers, Trish. You've brought up a good point regarding expectations in different genres. And it's good news for many authors struggling to publish independently to learn that cover art can be very affordable.

      Whenever you're ready for a feature on my blog, please let me know. And congratulations on your still-secret news!

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  14. Trish,
    good luck in your venture. As an aspiring novelist of inspirational fiction, your above posts give me hope that I can quit my day job and become an author. However, I've been told that it also involves a bit of luck (in addition to hard, hard work! :)) I wish you the best.
    josh

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    1. Josh, there are no guarantees for novelists. The best way to hedge your bets and achieve financial independence? Write well and create that all-important backlist of books for readers to discover.

      Good luck with your inspirational fiction.

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  15. This must be one of the saddest blogs on indie publishing I’ve ever read. Even if costs were no problem, this is far too much! You CAN produce an excellent novel doing most of the design and editing yourself at a fraction of the cost. As a lecturer I was able to get good software for a tenth of their retail value; however, I’m sure freeware could have done the job as well. The only real investment I’ve had to make was very many hours of learning how to do various things myself. But, now that I’m onto my second novel it all plain sailing. Having read your blog, I’m more determined than ever to get going (when I get the time!) on my blog on how to do all this yourself without too much hassle. See http://corneliswriter.blogspot.com/2011/08/writers-and-writing.html

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    1. Cornelis, there's no question that many authors can and do prepare all aspects of a book for publication. The effort certainly saves money. However, most authors wish to create that all-important backlist. Their time is best spent writing books.

      If a writer has a background in graphic design and the time to create distinctive cover art, that's wonderful. A background in public relations is also a boon.

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  16. For eBook conversion I would recommend trying to do it yourself to save a little bit of money. I was able to format an eBook for a friend that was published on amazon. I found this amazing website that helped me with the conversion. It has everything you ever need to know about eBook conversion. You can find the website here http://www.paulsalvette.com/.

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  17. R.J. I'm so glad you brought this up. I wasn't confident enough to handle my own eBook conversion for my debut, Treasure Me. Even if I had been confident, I was simply too busy completing The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge for release to find the time. Now I'm completing Second Chance Grill for release in several weeks. I'm happy to hand off the conversion work to my PR firm!

    But I wonder: if a writer is adept at conversion, why not swap that work with another writer who requires a Beta read? Both writers would come out ahead, and save money in the process.

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  18. I enjoyed the article. I would add "hiring an editor", to the list of costs. I typically spend $800-$1000. The ebook conversion, I do myself and it usually takes less than an hour to do both the Kindle and Nook versions. I did spend some time learning this skill, but it saves me money now that I know how.

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    1. Thanks for bringing up another important cost--editing. I don't pay for this because I've always worked in critique groups with other published authors but for the writer working alone, a good editing service is essential.

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  19. Nice to meet you on Twitter today! I'll go check out Treasure Me soon (after I get done with the after school, kid, dinner routine)!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Johanna! Please let me know what you think of Treasure Me after reading.

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  20. When is Tree coming out? I'm excited for it and happy for you Christine! :)
    josh

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  21. My latest novella, Off Leash, ebook cost me about $200 total. It is only available in eformat.

    $80 for the cover and a banner.
    $120 for professional editing.

    I formatted it myself. I do all my own PR and I have a Wordpress and Blogger blog.

    I didn't spend a lot of money, but do spend a lot of time.

    :-)

    Jenna Anderson

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  22. I'd like to add an update: As of April, 2012 I have hired an editor, Wendy Reis, to streamline my publishing process. She's already demonstrated her talent on several of my manuscripts.

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  23. Very interesting... But I hope to publish mine a bit cheaper. Am in writing group, and one of co-members is painting a cover for me in exchange for me subbing his 30,000 word text! Hope I like his art, cos have to sub either way... Once I have the picture, it will be on my blog for comments (www.madelineannstringer.blogspot.com). I also am cross-genre, lovely to meet another one. Madeline Stringer

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    1. Madeline Ann, you've hit on several ways for Indie authors to keep costs down: swap work, find a crack critique group and be willing to do PR legwork on your own.

      Please let me know when your book goes live at @christinenolfi on Twitter. Good luck!

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  24. Great Post. I published with iUniverse, and they have amazing prices/packages to meet all budgets and needs. Cover art included, ebook formatting for every type, copyright, see inside (to name a few) cost me around $500 (took advantage of 50% off sale, which comes around pretty often)
    Following your blog, here's mine if you care to follow back, and THANKS
    http://amethysteyesauthor.blogspot.ca/

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  25. Great post, and the numbers align with what I paid as well. Thanks for sharing this and I wish you a ton of success. :)

    Angela Ackerman

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  26. Very good post. I work with Revolution Publishing and you're right on the money with most of your points.

    Just one thing: a good Wordpress or Blogger blog/site can do double duty as a portal for ecommerce and a platform for blogging and connecting with readers. I create both so if there are indie writers on the thread who are looking for someone to help with their sites, I'm at the middle of the price spectrum that Christine quoted.

    http://bladecreative.blogspot.com/ if anyone wants to connect.

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