Monday, December 27, 2010

The Costs of Professionally Self-Publishing Your Book

Today, my guest is Mary Babic, PVVA, Professional Author's Assistant and Owner of A Writer's Assistant.  Mary is sharing her expertise about:

The Costs of Professionally Self-Publishing Your Book

Especially if you self-publish, you will want to set up a financial model.  While no one can tell you with any certainty how many books you can expect to sell, you can be precise about what you will spend to get an idea of how many books you must sell to break even and then turn a profit.

More important, you need to consider opportunity cost.  The time away from your business that you spend authoring a book will be time away from clients.  But it is time invested in the intended return of more and usually larger client projects once you are recognized as an author.

It is a reasonable strategy to decide to break even on a book (or possibly take a loss) on your first book on the basis of book sales alone.  Your real financial gain may be to your primary business, and your book may be one method of marketing for that business.

Big chain stores and have significantly changed the publishing industry over the past decade.  The good news for the consumer:  Books are less expensive and more readily available than ever. regularly discounts 30 percent off the retail price of books.

Where does this 30 percent come from? It comes directly from the publisher’s profits and ultimately from the author’s royalty. It is estimated that only 10 percent of books published are profitable to both publishers and authors.  Because this leaves about 90 percent of books that either break even or lose money, publishers have had to decrease their costs in order to stay in business.  Cost reduction usually takes the form of offering fewer services to authors, especially first-time authors. Unfortunately, they are essential services that formerly helped increase the odds of success. For instance:

·        Publishers now give surprisingly little editorial guidance.  Writers must be able to communicate and organize their ideas in a marketable way, a skill relatively few authors have developed.

·        Writers face the significant hurdle of having to market their books. Even if an author writes an outstanding book and isn’t a promotions expert, the book may only sell a few hundred copies. 

Because publishers are no longer able to help bridge the gap between author and reader, the author must be able to do it all or have the budget to hire the help she needs.  Of course, this assumes she can find the right people. The learning curve is so high for a first book that most writers end up frustrated. If they’re willing to tough it out, though, they may be more successful with a second book…or they’ll never try again.

The Costs of Publishing a Book
Book publishing costs arise from three areas, and the costs can be substantial in all three whether you traditionally publish or self-publish. Here’s the story on each cost area:

1. WritingIf you publish with an established publisher, they may pay for most of the editorial costs, but you may still be responsible for some.  For example, you will still spend money for book proposal coaching if you need it or for someone to write the proposal for you.  You may also want to hire your own editor before you send the manuscript to the publisher.  You pay any costs associated with permissions and indexing.  In addition, if you make too many changes once the book has been designed, you may be asked to shell out more money for some of the corrections.

2. PublishingIf you publish with an established publisher, you won’t incur the costs of production.  But if you self-publish, you must consider the expense of book design and layout, book cover design including back cover copy, prepress production, indexing, proofreading, and printing.  After books are ready for sale, there are the charges of carrying inventory (unless you use a print-on-demand process), packing, and shipping (although shipping costs are ultimately passed on to the purchasers).

3. MarketingEven if you use an established publisher, you will be responsible for most of your own promotions and any travel you do to represent the book.  For the vast majority of books, a publisher will allocate a budget of $1,000 or less for marketing the book, and that just isn’t enough.  The publisher may also do some collaterals—bookmarks, event posters, one-sheet flyers—but generally very few.

Here is a rough estimate of the expenditure to produce a professional-quality soft cover book in which you do most of the writing and you self-publish:

    • Expected editing costs:.......................................... $2,000
    • Self-publishing production, book interior
      design, and layout:............................................... $2,500
    • Proofreading: ........................................................ $750
    • Indexing: ............................................................. $500
    • Cover design, listings, print prep: ............................ $3,000
    • First Printing:  ....................................................... $600
      (200 review copies at $3 per book,
      high-quality, on-demand)
    • Collateral materials for book events:........................ $2,000
    • Small book launch publicity effort:
      press releases and follow-up to trade journals
      and targeted media, some local speaking
      and exhibiting: ...................................... $3,000 to $5,000

You can expect to spend from $10,000 to $15,000 and up to self-publish a book and do some modest marketing.  Additional outlay may be incurred if you desire additional help. And, of course, you can spend a lot more at each stage of the process if you don’t find a high-quality professional to work with the first time and have to redo some of the original work.

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  1. >> regularly discounts 30 percent off the retail price of books. . . . Where does this 30 percent come from? It comes directly from the publisher’s profits and ultimately from the author’s royalty.<<

    It doesn't work that way with independent self-publishing.

    If I publish a book with a $20 cover price, Amazon pays my printer (Lightning Source) $16.

    Amazon typically discounts my books by 10%, so it sells a $20-list book for $18.

    Even if Amazon sells it for $14 (below cost), they still pay the same price to my printer, and I make the same money.

    I pay about $5.50 for Lightning to print and ship a 300-pg book to Amazon's customer.

    Deduct the $5.50 from the $14 that Amazon pays Lightning, and there's $8.50 left for me -- a much better profit than the $2 royalty a self-publishing company would pay me.

    Michael N. Marcus
    -- Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series:
    -- "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults),"

  2. Michael, thank you for sharing your experience and information. This is clearly writers need to consider when making a decision about publication.

  3. WOW! Those numbers are pretty overwhelming. I've followed blog posts of a few people who have self-published, but I didn't realize the costs could be so high.

  4. Susanne, it would be interesting to hear from others who have successfully self-published.