When I decided to go the self-publishing route, I made a list of every possible expense item. I researched my options, concentrating on the cost of each item. Ask my wife, I’m a cheapskate. Should I pay for a line-by-line edit? Do I try to format and publish without help or use an AuthorHouse or iUniverse? What marketing tools will I need? Will there be extras required such as business cards and bookmarks? What about the expense of purchasing my books for book signings?
I found so many program offerings. I can’t possibly discuss them all. Suffice to say, the cost ranged from literally zero to over ten thousand dollars. I’m not technically savvy. So, zero was out. Ten thousand dollars isn’t in the realm of possibility. No, I decided on seeing if I could do wide-distribution, both eBook and paperback, for a thousand dollars or under.
The more I can do myself, the less I’ll spend. I chose a package from Book Country, a division of Penguin. New York publishers are buying or creating printing companies to grab a share of the Self-Publishing market. The cost with Book Country to-date is worth the return.
A huge decision was line-by-line editing. On a thousand dollar budget for an 81,000-word novel, a line-by-line edit is far too expensive. I had some resources to my advantage. A dear friend, who is a grammar specialist and avid reader, helped me. A text-to-speech program that read my novel to me identified errors, and my patience, editing repeatedly, factored in. The book is as solid grammatically as I could make it.
Research Permissions and Obtain Them
Not all that says free is free. I couldn’t see a neat photo online and decide to use it. I had to get permission. There was heavy research involved to find out what I could use free and what I couldn’t. My book cover and my book trailer were excellent examples. A free photo has limited use. So even using a free photo website, I had to be prepared to spend money.
If a photo was just going in a YouTube trailer, I paid the contract price for limited use. There are standard contracts, extended use contracts, and multi-user contracts. The globe and gold bars photo I use in the trailer costs more than the other photos, because I use it on the book cover, my business cards, and bookmarks, as well.
I used Mahler’s 1st Symphony in my trailer. Mahler’s been dead for a century, surely he won’t mind. Ah, not the case, production companies have copyrights. Performing artists have copyrights. You have to submit your intent to use their work and receive permission. All totaled, I paid right at one-hundred dollars to clear all of the copyright agreements. I have peace of mind. I did the right thing.
When I self-publish, I have the responsibility for everything. I can’t point the finger and say, “The publisher missed the word ‘form.’ The word should have been ‘from.’” Sorry, not the publisher’s fault. The buck starts and stops with me.
Read the contracts and know your rights.
I created everything I could myself. Then I picked a package that provided the rest. I needed to know my rights. What do I own the rights to do? What rights does the publisher own? Like, can I set my own prices?
I have a friend who went with a recognizable POD publisher. That publisher set the price of the paperback and the hardcover books. My friend had no say. She was priced out of the market range and had difficulty selling her books, except for the meager few free copies she was sent. Who is paying $22.00 for a paperback and $33.00 for a hard copy today? She has changed publishers now, but that’s a hard lesson to learn.
In my case, the calculated the publisher’s cost, plus shipping, as a zero profit figure. I was then able to price both my eBook and paperback with a reasonable margin. However, pricey extras will kill you. I compared one (they shall remain nameless) publisher’s low-cost option to their first step-up program. The difference was $800. What did the author get for $800? The author’s book was made available in an overpriced hardcopy book, one-hundred copies of promotional materials, and the Look Inside the Book feature on Nook and Kindle. You can design and have all the promotional materials printed for around $160. Many publishers offer the Look Inside the Book feature at no charge. Remember, overpriced hard copies don’t sell.
I shopped around. Read the whole contract and all the instructions before I signed up. How many books do I have to sell to earn the extra $800.00 in profit? The add-ons can go as high as $10,000. It’s only money. Right?
The pluses of self-publishing:
Advantage 1: Your book will be available in a matter of weeks, not a couple of years. Unless you are a celebrity, you will search for months, maybe years, for an agent. The agent is not a magic genie. He or she may never sell your book to a publisher. Once the book is sold, you will get in line with the publisher’s schedule, an average time of another year to publication.
Advantage 2. Timeliness: If you’re writing about a hot topic or in a hot genre today, will that genre or topic be so hot two to three years from now? One month, I think you’re safe. Three years, you’ve missed the bus. Fact: eBooks have changed the ballgame. Today, to publish in one month is a reality.
Advantage 3: Control and Rights: A well-researched, self-published author retains the rights to the product and its uses–foreign sales, movies, and television. Note: The percentage of self-published books made into a movie is minuscule. The author controls the content and the cover design. There is no editor demanding you rewrite whole sections of your book.
Note: This could be a real negative if you’re a lousy editor. lol
Self-publishing has vastly improved over the past decade. The quality of the printed books, the formatting, book cover design, and feel, give self-published books the look and the pricing of royalty publishing. Depending upon how much you can do for yourself, you should reap a greater profit.
Niche books sell the best. Non-fiction religious books have a nice built-in appeal. Books on self-improvement do well. How-to books can be winners. In fact, books on self-publishing are among the biggest self-publishing sellers. Fiction writers have to be able to find and reach their audience. Unfortunately, this is a huge problem, since genre writers can find each other far easier than they can find readers. Hence, we receive and delete thousands of emails a month trying to sell each other our stuff.
If you are a serious author, you must have patience. Don’t expect to sell a thousand copies the first month. In 2006, Publisher’s Weekly estimated the average book sold 500 copies in the first year. With today’s economy, the average has dropped to closer to 250, and less than 3000 in its lifetime. Put your book out on the market and market consistently and persistently.
Okay, if you are consistent and persistent, self-published authors have an advantage. The publisher can’t Backlist your book for poor sales. Typical houses pull novels off the shelves after eighteen months. A new author needs more than eighteen months to build a following, a platform, and generate a readership. The lifespan of a self-published book is unlimited. Score a point for self-publishing. Don’t give up.
#1: Market everywhere and in every medium you know how to use. Self-Publishing is not for the shy. I call this shameless marketing. Authors tend to hold back, fearful to promote themselves. If you are uncomfortable marketing, don’t self-publish. Having said this, marketing to other authors is a useless endeavor. Don’t you cringe when some author you don’t know asks, “Follow this link and like my author page.” Reach out to readers—not authors.
#2: The rising cost of printing hurts the pocketbook. After publisher and distributor costs, the author typically receives 30 percent of the net. The more pages in the book the higher the printing cost. I priced my paperback at $14.95 to hit a reasonable percentage after everybody took his or her cut. Any higher would have priced me out of the market.
#3: Don’t believe the myth that being on the bookshelf at your major bookstores means you’ll make more money. First, self-published authors rarely have their books in bookstores. The industry requires certain standards be upheld. The ability to return unsold books looms large. Your publisher won’t print a book until it’s sold. The bookstore won’t stock books unless they can return them. A few POD companies offer a Book Buy Back program. You pay for the cost in your contract with the publisher–$600 to $800 dollars. What if distributors and bookstores ignore your book anyway? You are out the money. Your best avenue for both eBooks and paperbacks are Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, Kindle, Nook, Sony, and like venues, not bookstores.
#4: I’m sorry folks. Readers still believe self-published books are inferior in quality. With the exceptional training and coaching available today, the quality has improved I believe honest reviews by our peers is necessary. Example: A friend of my published a book. Three months later the book had twenty-plus five star reviews.
Does this happen in the real world?
James Patterson never got twenty-plus five-star reviews. My friend admitted having friends and family review the book. So there you go. I’ve rated twenty-three books on Goodreads. I gave five stars to four books. Self-published authors need to give honest reviews for each other and the industry. If we don’t improve our quality, the perception will continue and rightly so.
#5: Let’s end on an upbeat. A nice author advance from a traditional publisher used to be a major reason not to self-publish. Not today, this perk has grown smaller and smaller. When offered, the advance is likely to be a $1,000 against future sales.
Again, Amelia, thanks for letting me contribute to you blog.
Now for shameless marketing. To buy my international thriller, Room 1515, click on one of the links below.