Apparently, self-published authors sell, on average, about 250 books. That’s on average, so it means sales figures could be anything from zero to thousands. Even if it was thousands, it’s not going to make me rich. And, realistically, a figure nearer zero is more likely. So I’ll probably make a loss from my writing, once I’ve taken into account all the costs involved in self-publishing.
So what are these costs? There are a lot more of them than I’d thought when I started out but – good news – most of them are optional. Desirable? Definitely, in some cases. I’ve just published my first proper novel – my previous books of short stories and poems were just publishing practice – so I thought it was time for a reality check. What exactly have I paid for and why? What was worth paying for and what did I waste money on? What do I regret not spending money on? What will I do differently next time? Will there be a next time?
There are three general areas of publishing a book where spending money is involved – the writing of the book, the publishing of the book, and the marketing of the book.
I started off cheap. My first book Song of a Red Morning was an extended short story, which I formatted myself, using word, a program I already had, and made the cover art myself using a free image from Pixabay, a free downloaded font and Adobe Photoshop Elements, which I already had. So basically it was free. Since then I’ve given it a new cover and used two images from Shutterstock which cost me roughly £12. (I buy images in blocks of 5 – buying more would have made it cheaper per image.)
My second book, The Man who Loved Landscape and other stories, was also free to produce, in that I found a free image I liked on Unsplash and went with that. Since then I’ve updated the cover, having bought an image from Shutterstock, which cost £6. Otherwise, apart from ordering bookmarks (which I subsequently had to throw out) it was basically free. The same went with my poetry collection. Again, I published it for free then decided I didn’t like the cover and bought an image from Shutterstock, costing £6. No bookmarks for this one.
So far so cheap. But publishing a whole novel involved a load of other costs that weren’t involved in publishing the previous ‘practice’ books.
Writing and editing the book
Craft books: I don’t have that many, but when I added up what they’d all cost in today’s prices it came to £65, although many are available through Amazon second hand. The list includes: First Draft in 30 days by Wiesner, You can write a novel by Smith, Scene and Structure by Bickham, The Writer’s Journey by Vogler, Penguin guide to Punctuation, Editing Fiction at Sentence Level by Harnby, The Emotion Thesaurus by Puglisi and Ackerman, and a few more in the Puglisi and Ackerman series.
Software: I use MS word which I had anyway. Google docs is a free alternative but it’s quite limited when you come to formatting your book (see below). I organise my research and plotting notes in MS One-note (free). There are other options, Scrivener for writing/organising costs £47. Plottr for plotting costs $25 per year.
Developmental editing: In the bad old days when I was querying my novel I received a very enthusiastic response from a potential agent who suggested that I get my book developmentally edited and send it back to him when I’d done that. He recommended a company which is now called Jerico Writers. I’d never heard of developmental editing up to this point which shows how naïve I was at the time, and it seemed a lot to pay, somewhere in the region of £500. (This was at least 10 years ago.) But I did spend this money – and the agent turned it down – bastard! Nevertheless, was it worth it? Yes, I think so. I got a very extensive report and a lot of follow up emails explaining various points. Did it tell me what was wrong with my novel? Yes. Did it tell me how to fix it? Not really. So, would I spend this money again? Possibly, if I could afford it, but it’s a lot more expensive now. However, there are cheaper options. A shorter editor’s report from The History Quill, for example, is less than £1000. But that’s still a lot of money . . . A free alternative would be asking an experienced novelist to read and report on my novel, but that’s a big ask.
Beta-readers: I was dithering about finding beta readers on Instagram for The Wolf in Winter, about the same time I was dithering about getting an editor’s report from the History Quill, when I noticed they provided a beta-reading service. I decided that was a series of short reports from about 10 actual readers of historical fiction would be a lot more useful than one long report from a random editor. This cost me about £350. I got nine reports, mostly quite positive, and I only addressed issues that I either agreed with or that everyone mentioned. I definitely think this was worth it, so I’ll do this again. A free option would be to find beta-readers through Social Media.
Other editing: Line editing/copy editing. Again, this is really expensive since it’s generally based on a per word cost and my book is LONG. I decided that, as a hobby writer, I couldn’t justify this spending, and also reckoned I didn’t need it because I’ve spent my life correcting other people’s grammar and/or making it easier to read. So I decided to do this myself, although I did buy myself a couple of books about line editing and punctuation (included in my costs for craft books), and I bought a subscription to ProWriting Aid (£60) which is for one year only, but I thought that was worth it. I may not renew the annual subscription, because I can buy it for a month and use it to do a final edit. Proofreading is pretty expensive considering it’s likely to pick up only a few typos if you’ve proof-read it properly yourself. I asked my ARC readers to let me know about typos and they all found a few – but not always the same ones! I checked out copyediting/proofreading on Fiverr and the price varied from £1000 – £2000. A copyediting course to teach yourself how to do it costs roughly £500. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
Publishing the book
I’m publishing on kdp. This is free, but other publishers charge a small fee. However, there are lots of other potential costs associated with the publishing process.
Formatting: Again, I decided to do this myself. I think my book looks professional enough if not outstanding, but it was a bit fiddly. I might pay someone to do this for me in future as it’s not too expensive – about £150 – and it would be nice to have fancier chapter headers. Alternatively, there are a few free templates out there on the internet. Reedsy provide a formatting option which I tried but couldn’t get on with. As a paid option, Kindlepreneur have just brought out a promising-looking software called Atticus which I think is supposed to be Vella for non-Mac owners. But much cheaper. I’m seriously thinking about getting this as it’s a one-off fee and includes all future upgrades. $176.40
Proof copies: Essential not only for checking your formatting but your cover. I got three which cost about £25, and since I’m making a hardback have ordered another one which is more expensive at about £12. You don’t need to order proof copies but you’d be mad if you didn’t.
Cover art: They tell you never to do your own cover art unless you’re an artist or designer. I ignored this because I had a very clear vision of what I wanted, reckoned I could do it myself using Photoshop, and wanted to give it a go. I’m still quite pleased with what I did, although I know it could be better. All I spent on this was the cost of a couple of images of wolves from Shutterstock (£12). The background image is my own and the font was free. Would I do it again? Not sure. I can tell that the idea I have for The Swan in Summer will be harder to pull off but I’ll still have a go. I’d love to get a really good designer to come up with covers for all three books. But good designers don’t come cheap and they get booked up well in advance. If I had an inexhaustible source of funds, this would be the first thing I’d spent money on. Free options can be found on Canva.
Internal images: I’d made a map for The Wolf in Winter in Photoshop but it was a bit boring, so I bought the map-making program Wonderdraft to make my internal maps. It only cost about £25 for a one-off purchase. I think the maps I’ve made are OK, but suspect a professional would make a better job of it. Again, maybe for the next edition, or when I win the lottery. A free option is Inkarnate online software.
This is pretty open-ended, and includes a lot of diverse elements:
Author platform: I have a website I don’t pay much attention to. I paid for the Domain name which costs £13.14 per year. Hosting costs £17.99 per year. An SSL Certificate costs £50 per year. Some hosts include this in a more expensive web hosting cost.
Bookfunnel: For the delivery of reader magnets in various e-book forms. $20 a year is the cheapest option but there are more expensive options with more flexibility. I haven’t used Bookfunnel much so I’m not sure if I’ll renew this.
Mailchimp: for Newsletter delivery – free up to 2000 subscribers (I’ll never have that many!) Find out about Mailchimp here.
ARC readers: Not many people signed up to be an ARC reader on Instagram so I went back to The History Quill and got 16 readers, 14 of whom read the book and posted reviews. I also got 4 from Rowanvale Books but only two posted reviews, one of them late. The History Quill was more expensive but more professional. In total I’ve paid about £250 for these two ARC services. (The charge is for processing and delivering the books. The readers don’t get paid so this doesn’t contravene Amazon’s rules.) A free option would be Instagram, especially if you’re writing YA fantasy fiction.
Trailer: I’ve never edited video in my life. I didn’t even know I had video-editing software on my computer (Adobe Photoshop Premier Elements) so I outsourced this to KylieObr on Fiverr. Ridiculously cheap for the amount of effort that must have been involved, and delivered in about 3 days, (about £50). I’ve since made my own trailer, after trying out my video-editing software, so I know how much work is involved. I’ll definitely outsource the trailer for The Swan in Summer when the time comes though. However, it is possible to do your own for free either with your own software or with Canva.
Publisher Rocket software: I’ve read a lot of blogs/watched videos about the importance of getting keywords and categories right if you want your book to be visible on Amazon, and how hard it is to work these things out. Publisher Rocket does this for you (sort of). It cost $97 for a one-off purchase, and it’s been very useful. Necessary? Maybe not, but it certainly saved a lot of time, and will be useful if (when) I decide to do Amazon ads.
Book swag: I didn’t go mad with this, given that the costs of shipping stuff is so high and my book is already pretty heavy. So I had cute mini-business cards made that can act as mini-bookmarks. I also got a few normal-sized bookmarks made, and some character-art post-cards. I made a few fridge magnets just to see if I could – they were OK, but not brilliant. All of these will be useful if I ever do a book signing or have a stall at a craft fair. The mini-cards and character art cards came from Moo Print; you can upload as many different images as you like for the same price as a single image. So I got 100 mini-cards with 10 different designs, and 100 character art postcards with 5 designs. The bookmarks came from Instantprint since Moo Print, bizarrely, don’t do bookmarks. In all I paid about £100 all this.
I need to think about spending money on marketing. Not sure where or how much. There are a few not too expensive marketing services on Fiverr, and some book-review sites might be worth checking out. Then there are Amazon Ads which, at the moment, I know nothing about. Something else for the future. I think it will be easier when I have more than one book – at least that’s what I tell myself in order to avoid doing it now.
The bottom line
In all, I spent £1500 on publishing The Wolf in Winter (so far). Some of that spending is for books or one-off software that I can use in future projects.
But surely I’m making an income from my books? Er … no, not really. The e-book was initially priced at £0.99, from which I made £0.35 in royalties . Later it went up to £2.99 and earned me £2.00 per book. The paperback is £9.99, giving me a royalty of £0.13 To break even I’ll have to sell 750 e-books at the full price. I’ll be lucky if I sell 75. To date I’ve sold just over 50 in total, both formats. So not only is publishing this book not going to make me rich, it’s already actively made me poor!
Still, it’s not about the money, is it?
So, since my relaunch of Echoes in 2018, Publishing Tetarul in 2020 and Mirror in 2021, I’ve sold 120 units and given away about 25 units. So 145 copies of my work is out in the world so far. This does not include the Kindle Unlimited reads. I’ve spent $673 total between the three books. My biggest cost was the ISBN number which was $295 for 10 numbers. Optional, but I want to expand distribution to bookstores and libraries, which means I need to invest in an ISBN. So yeah, in the hole at the moment, but I was in the black there for a few months before I published MoE. Maybe I should break it down by a book by book basis. I think Echoes has paid for itself and then some already.