The Costs of Independent Publishing

In the interests of transparency, here is a breakdown of some of the costs of self or independent publishing.  Not all of the costs are necessary, but they are representative.

  • ISBN numbers – $100 each if purchased individually or else you can buy 10 for $250.  You need one for a print book and a separate ISBN for an ebook.
  • Barcode – $25 each.  You need one for a print book, but not for an ebook.
  • Website admin – About $150/year per site.  We use Bluehost which is fairly inexpensive and user-friendly and our websites are pretty barebones, but the costs do add up.
  • Business cards – $30.  You need them to pass out when you go to conventions or readings or anywhere and, please, don’t print off your own.  It looks really sad.  Don’t believe the ads, they are going to jack up the price on shipping.
  • Library of Congress Control Number – Free.  Woohoo!  Finally something free.
  • Cover art, layout and design – Between $150 and $500.  Really, you can spend as much as you have here.  This is where you should spend though.  Despite the proverbs, people do judge a book by its cover.  A crappy homemade cover says you don’t care much about this book so you probably didn’t get decent editing or really take the time to make sure the ending made sense. Did you ferret out the plot holes or spend the time to make sure your characters are consistent?
  • Bookmarks or stickers – $100 for 250.  These you tuck into books that you sign at conventions or give to reviewers or whatever.  You don’t need 250, but it is hard to find a place that will do a small run and not charge $3 per piece.  If you know of such a place, please speak up down in the comments.  PLEASE.
  • 50 advance print copies to give to reviewers or for giveaways on Goodreads – $350.  This is variable.  This was about the cost for us to print 50 copies of DCT going through CreateSpace for a 388-page paperback book.
  • Shipping of print books to reviewers – $100 to $200.  Again, this is a variable cost and since we are still in the review investigation process, we don’t have hard numbers.  Plenty of review sites, particularly ones that cater to self or independently published books, have a way to upload an epub copy so the cost is minimal. On the one hand, the more books you send out, the more potential reviews are out on the Internet creating buzz about your book.  On the other hand, there are tons of review sites that consist of one person reviewing 20 books a year to an audience of 50 readers and getting hundreds of free books sent to them by publishers and writers.  It’s a sweet gig for them, but not for you. Choose wisely.
  • Paid reviews – $149 to $425 each.  Publishers Weekly charges $149.  Clarion Reviews charges $335.  Kirkus charges $425.  BlueInk Reviews charges $395.  They take two to four months to get back to you with these and they don’t promise to be enthusiastic about the book, but they are established names and supposedly their reviews are worth more and will generate  book sales.  The Return On Investment of these reviews is debatable.  We are doing some test scenarios on these paid reviews and will report back on the results in a few months.
  • Advertising – $200 to A Million Gazillion Buckaroos.  Again, we are investigating various advertising streams and computing their ROI and we’ll get back to you all on that, but an easy and common route is to set up a $200 ad campaign on Goodreads.

So there is that.  I did not include the costs associated with hiring an editor or the costs associated with going to conventions to promote the book.  Primarily because I got depressed thinking about it.

You can expect to spend $1,000 to $3,000 and that’s not even being excessive about it.

And they still refer to self-publishing as ‘vanity press!’  Like you have any pride left after going through the hassle and expense of all that, hoping that you will make enough back in book sales to at least cover the publishing expenses with maybe a little money left over for a cheap bottle of Scotch so you can drink (and cry) while adding up all the time you spent lovingly writing the book.

Now here is a basic scenario for book distribution and the one that we actually used for DCT so as to have a baseline for other distribution scenarios:

1. Print-On-Demand trade paperbacks for Amazon, Amazon Europe, Barnes & Noble,  and independent bookstores through CreateSpace.

Once you get through the formatting hassle (which will make you want to beat your head against the keyboard repeatedly) it takes a few days for the book to be available on Amazon and Amazon Europe.  It takes a few months for Barnes & Nobles and other brick-and-mortar stores to get the book in, should they decide to order it.

List Price: $14.99

For Amazon Sales, Author Royalties: $3.49

For Amazon Europe Sales, Author Royalties: $1.95

For B&N And Brick-And-Mortar Sales, Author Royalties: $0.49

2. Ebooks for Kindle through KDP.

The nice thing here is that once you get through the annoyance of formatting your document for their software, the book is live within 48 hours on their site.  Also, the royalties are the best I have found so far, assuming they don’t steal the money and blow the country.

List Price: $4.99

Author Royalties: $3.44

3. Ebooks for Kobos, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Sony Reader Store, and the libraries through Smashwords.

Formatting is nontrivial.  It takes about a week of jumping through hurdles and waiting for the book to go live on Smashwords and several weeks to filter to other distributors.  They pay authors any profits on a quarterly basis.

List Price: $4.99

Author Royalties: $2.99

So, yeah.  The distributors take the bulk of the list price. It’s not a happy fact, but it is a fact.  Also, this is why print books cost so much relative to ebooks, not accounting for that weird price-fixing thing some of the big publishers were doing.  This is why author percentages can seem so ridiculously small.  Publishers are taking a percentage of the minuscule profits in return for relieving the author of the financial risk and time burden of the publishing process.  Reducing the overhead and streamlining the process is our biggest hurdle in forming a publishing company.

Under the above constraints, a book would need to sell at least a thousand copies just to break even.  One thing that seems to be successful is to hold a Kickstarter campaign to cover the one to three thousand dollars needed to get the book in print.  That way royalties are straight profit and your significant other won’t make you sleep on the couch until your spine is permanently borked for blowing perfectly good money on a dream after you locked yourself in your room for a year to write the book.

Just thought you might be interested.  Cheers!