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Self-Publishing on a Shoestring

30 August 2013

From The Huffington Post blog:

When you first enter the world of indie-publishing, things can get confusing, fast. The learning curve is steep. And now that companies have realized how lucrative it can be, self-publishing and vanity imprints are springing up like wild mushrooms, working hard to convince people to spend between $1,000 and $25,000 with them, to publish their book.

. . . .

I’m a big believer in not spending more than you absolutely have to, to publish your book. Especially when you’re starting out. You never know if the book is going to take off or completely bomb. And the more you spend in up-front costs, the more sales you’ll need to turn a profit.

When I looked into indie-publishing, I kept an eye towards being frugal. I had no idea my book would become an Amazon bestseller, and be downloaded over 150,000 times. All I knew was that I needed to find a happy medium between going broke and putting out a professional product.

So, I published my first book for a grand total of… want to guess?

I’ll give you a hint: Not $25,000.

Not $1,000.

Not even $500.

I published Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead for a grand total of $125. Yes, my hopeful indie author, it is possible to publish a book for next to nothing.

. . . .

I quickly realized that if I took it the traditional route, I would be looking at years of submitting and submitting and hoping before I ever saw a penny. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fry up hopes and dreams and serve them to my kid for dinner. I tried, but they kept floating off the plate. Hopes and dreams are the original empty calorie meal. All fluff, no substance.

. . . .

One of the moms at my daughter’s preschool was an illustrator who worked for traditional publishing houses. Unfortunately, she was way too expensive. And when I tried to do my own cover, it looked amateurish. So I started researching and found a whole world of artists and cover designers who specialized in creating low-cost covers for indie authors.

Then I downloaded free formatting and marketing guides from Smashwords and learned how to format and market e-books, on my own.

. . . .

I hired a low-cost cover designer and downloaded stock art for her to use. It cost me $75 for stock art and $25 for the cover designer.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post


63 Comments to “Self-Publishing on a Shoestring”

  1. No professional editing cost.

  2. My short stories cost around that:

    $50 cover art
    $5 for a BW interior image
    ~$50 for editing (~10,000 words)
    $35 copyright application.
    $25 for prints (1 for my shelf, 1 for the editor, 1 for the artist, 2 for the copyright office)

    Editing for my novel (64,000 words) cost substantially more (<$300)
    $10 for a photo off of bigstock (I made the covers myself)

  3. Yes, it is possible to pay nothing to publish, providing you do all of it yourself.

    The one thing you want to make sure is that every aspect of the project is at a pro level.

  4. This article points out the one essential step that those who overpay for services always skip: Research.

    Ignorance is expensive as hell.

  5. No brainer. The most I’ve ever paid, total, is $100. And I think my books look pretty damn good and my formatting is outstanding, thanks to the likes of J.W. Manus.

  6. It’s still better to go the full traditional publishing route, because George R.R. Martin – A Feast For Crows can ensure that a full range of services provided by the best professionals in the George R.R. Martin – A Feast For Crows will produce the finest results.


    (for those who don’t get the reference)

  7. I don’t understand how people come up with figures like this. Am I the only one who is paying for editing? Is there a pool of editors who are willing to work for free? Am I the only one who feels that copy edits is important?

    Help me out, fellow PVers.

    • I pay for editing. No matter the number of beta readers and my own going over, there are always errors.

    • It’s called bartering, Shawn. I’ve editted, proofed and formatted for other writers in return for cover art and marketing assistance.

    • Hi Shawn. In a previous incarnation I was an actual editor for an actual university press. I do my own editing– my son is an actual editor who does my proofreading on occasion.
      As an actual editor, he charges between $200-$800 depending upon the length of the work to be edited.
      So yes, if you can’t edit your own work it is a great idea to invest in a good editor and a good formatter.

    • I agree, Shawn.
      Everyone – Joanna Penn, Jane Friedman,… all the big hitters, insist you need competent and professional editing, or you are going to end up with mush.
      Suzan, I think it is terrific that there can be bartering for services, but some of us don’t have the skills in cover art or marketing to barter with. (I happen to have skills in cover art- being a graphic designer) – but I’m speaking for many author contacts/friends who don’t have that skill available.
      Still – it is VERY encouraging to know we do not need to pay thousands of dollars to put out a professional piece of work. I am close to finishing my first novella, and have a full novel in its second draft. Thank you for the information!

      • I just wanted to point out that there are some other big hitters (in fact, I rarely ever hear about the two you listed), such as J.A. Konrath, Kris Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith, Hugh Howey that I have not heard suggest to get “professional” editing or you’ll have mush. Mostly I hear, “Trust your creative voice and know when good enough is good enough. If the story doesn’t work, rewrite from scratch or write a new one, but don’t try to fix it.”

        My personal philosophy is somewhere between the two.

        • Thanks Liana – I will check those names out. You might enjoy Joanna and Jane. They have fabulous information and have helped me a great deal with their writing tips and self publishing and author platform information. I now have a website, blog, twitter page and face book page, – all within a month because of their blogs and books.
          Jane Friedman was the former publisher of Writer’s Digest for over a decade. She’s a treasure trove of connections. Joanna Penn is a self created author and self publisher. Her tips are also treasures. Can’t recommend them enough.

      • Shean,

        That’s only my experience because I suck at marketing, but I’m pretty good at spotting everyone else’s typos. 😀 Figure out what you’re really good at, then begin networking. TPV is an excellent place to start. Eveyone here is pretty darn helpful. Folks like Jaye Manus have very informative blogs.

        • Being a graphic designer you would think I would shine at marketing – but it is a whole different monster. Bleh. I’m learning though. As I mentioned, Joanna Penn has a fantastic book that really spells it out – it’s called How to Market a Book and only $6.00 on kindle. Absolutely a godsend to me.
          Grammar and spelling – another monster. I wish I had those skills, but you can only cultivate what you can. maybe if we were all vampires we’d have time to master all the skill sets Lestat did ;0. I’d go for concert pianist too! Ha!

    • I pay around $400 for editing, and I would never skip that step.

      My costs:

      $400 editing
      $0-$40 stock images for covers (not all my covers have used stock art)
      $25 Expanded Dist on CreateSpace
      $35 Copyright registration

      Everything else, I do myself.

      I hope now that the article writer is making decent money on her books, she’s paying her editors. People deserve to be paid for their work, even if they are friends. I don’t know any professionals (artists, formatters, or editors) who would work in exchange for a mention.

      • I couldn’t agree more, India. It is wonderful and a blessing to have friends who will help you out in a pinch when you are just getting started. I have an english major friend who is willing to be a beta reader of my finished work this fall. But I have every intention of rewarding her well, once I have the funds to do so. It’s all about paying-it-forward, or backward, or however you can reward and thank those who help you.
        And India – I just checked out your website – you write similar genre that I do! Going back for a closer look! I love finding sister-writers! So inspiring! Thank you for your tips. Looks like CreateSpace is a must. I have had it recommended many times. I will also look into copyright info. I haven’t had that come up yet in my research. – Thanks!

      • I hope now that the article writer is making decent money on her books, she’s paying her editors. People deserve to be paid for their work, even if they are friends. I don’t know any professionals (artists, formatters, or editors) who would work in exchange for a mention.

        I agree that they deserve payment, but I disagree that all want it. My editor is amazing and I offered to start tipping her at least and she didn’t want it. Of course, we edit for each other, and we’re both ruthless.

        • You are lucky, Liana! And cheers to your ruthlessness. If I had more honesty in my critiques I think I would grow in my skill by leaps and bounds!

          • When searching for professional level betas, I always suggest evaluating these factors:

            1) You love THEIR writing. It’s clean, it’s amazing, you aspire to match it. They are amazingly good at language and grammar.

            2) They love YOUR writing—without any changes. If they only love it if you change it, they won’t edit: they’ll backseat write.

            3) They understand the difference between style and grammar. Fix the latter, not the former.

            4) They are familiar with both literary and commercial fiction and know what makes a story work regardless of where you drive it.

            5) They have some overlaps with you in the things they love about language and literature. Otherwise, they’ll probably try to get you to change something that doesn’t improve the story for your actual target audience. You want your beta to be IN your target audience so they can respond as your ideal reader.

            Any time I’ve been close to a beta/editor relationship that doesn’t have these things in place, the relationship always goes sour somewhere.

            • Agreed, Liana,
              Great points!
              My beta reader is all of the above. Very fortunate to have her.
              I write fantasy, and when ever I answer the age old question “what genre do you write?” – I usually get a glassy eyed look or an expression of sympathy when I reply “Fantasy” LOL. But I love it. It’s in my blood. Simply cannot write anything else. At least until I get what’s in my head out on paper. And there is enough material to keep me writing for years! LOL

              • ‘…whenever I answer the age old question “what genre do you write?” – I usually get a glassy eyed look…when I reply “Fantasy”…’

                Chuckling with you. Same experience here, except usually a blank look from the person asking (often the parent of one of my children’s friends). I’m like you. Love fantasy and, so far, not motivated to write anything but speculative fiction.

                • Ha, I just finished a batch of beet chips – my first experiment in making them myself instead of buying them at the market. I will have to try making Kvass. I am very into healthy eating, and the realization of just how poisoned our food is – GMO’s and pesticides have ruined our health. Most of us just don’t know it. The pro-biotic benefit looks great!

                • Cool! I like your slogan: winners don’t give up. Persistence is my middle name. Yours, too, perhaps? Good luck with the kvass. Curious to know whether I’ve found another kvass afficionado. 😀

    • Copy editing is vital. I have my wife do it, and I spent 22 years as a newspaper copy editor, so it’s my hole card.

      For my novels, I am looking out for a developmental editor.

      And as for people like Joe Konrath and Dean Wesley Smith, I would suggest reading their stuff first. I was deeply disappointed in two of DWS’s works (his Men in Black novelization and a recent Poker Boy short story). I can see how they can be entertaining, but after spending decades reading all kinds of fiction, I’d rather spend my time with the heavy hitters, like Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Jasper Fforde, Tom Holt and the like.

      • I envy everyone who has editing skills. If I had to do it over, I would have gone for my degree in english instead of graphic design. But… it pays the bills :). We all have to go down the path we are given.

        Where is my damn crystal ball anyway? That thing is always so murky!

        • Shean — I have an English literature degree. I am not a good editor. You probably chose the right path.

      • I love Kris Rusch’s fiction, not DWS because I’m not in his target audience. He writes great for the genre he’s in.

        Both of them take the same approach.

        I learned the whole editing/betaing morass from fanfiction where some authors are amazing in one pass, and some are awful without their beta. My stories are the same. I’m all over the map on what I need. Some are a mess and must needs be redrafted. Some need a one-big fix item. Most just need a proofread.

        But my beta is for one purpose and one purpose only: my readers love my work but have a hard time understanding me because there is sooooo much worldbuilding in my head. My beta helps me locate where communication broke down, gives me her impression as a reader (she’s in my target audience – literary style genre fic), and then cleans up the grammar/spelling slips.

        In short, the editor’s job is to help YOU get what YOU want your story to be. So I’m in between.

        But how they publish has little to do with how they write.

    • Shawn,

      As you gain experience your editing costs should go down. IF you pay attention to what the editor is telling you. Ask them where you are getting in the way of your own storytelling. Study your copy edits and I guarantee you’ll see the same errors or clumsy bits being flagged over and over again. You can teach yourself to stop dangling modifiers or lapsing into passive voice or running sentences into the dirt. You’re as capable of using a style manual, dictionary and Google as any editor.

      You’ll reach a point where all you need is one other set of eyes to catch the goofs copy fatigue has blinded you to. It needn’t be an expensive set of eyes either.

      Most indie writers don’t have the cash on hand to pay what a NY editor charges. So they need to get smart and work hard to achieve a level of skill where do not NEED the type of services a high priced NY editor charges.

      • Thanks Jaye,

        I will keep that in mind – I look forward to learning what a dangling modifier and passive voice is.. I think.. ;0 I do know what a run-on sentence is. So I’m ahead of the game! LOL

        I’ve also bookmarked your site and will check out your tips on formatting. I use scrivener, LOVE IT – and I am fortunate enough to be working on a Mac, so the formatting issues should be at a minimum.

      • This.

        With enough practice and basic grammar instruction — as well as a few hundred thousand words under your belt — you can actually copyedit 80% of your own writing. The other 20% can be handled by a competent beta reader.

        I speak from personal experience.

        However, the developmental editing is another can of worms. Thus far, after eight books, I’m inclined to believe that practice makes perfect even in this grayest of gray areas, and that basic storycraft can also be perfected solo.

    • Thank you so much for the responses, all! I love this community.

    • I’m paying for editing, and it’s one thing I won’t skimp on. The other is my cover art.

      I don’t pay a dime for typesetting or ebooks, though. I can do those myself.

    • I belong to a darn good writer’s group. We go over each other’s stories pretty rigorously. Plus I’ve been lucky enough to have several career writers rake through various stories and have learned TONS from them. As Jaye says, after a while, you get a feel for what work needs to be done.

      As far as story, frankly, in my experience and opinion, that’s all the the eye of the reader. I’ve read many popular novels that people rave about that I think totally suck, so I just figure my taste in stories is different. I have to feel confident in my writing and storytelling ability and hope to find readers who resonate to what I write.

  8. Editing is all over the board in terms of cost and quality. And a good edit is worth paying for if you can afford it. As a former magazine editor, I try not to edit my own novels or even those of friends (other than general takes on story structure and so on). A distant editorial voice can make you think more clearly about what has worked and hasn’t. I think it is less of an issue for short stories.

    • Agreed Ed,
      Sometimes you can get too close to your work and to friends, and it can hurt rather than help.

      I can’t imagine submitting my work without being edited. It will be my first novel. How horrible it would be to submit something you wrote from your heart, only to have it shredded by your readers because of unskillful or no editing. I’m so thankful for all of the published writers out there who have offered their experience tips!

  9. Hi Ed,
    I belong to a writer’s guild, and the president there has told me I will most likely spend about $700- $800 on editing an average size novel. And that is just the first edit, there are line edits, over-all edits, – I can’t even list all the specifics you can get into. Does anyone have editors they can recommend – or is this more of a (google on your own) topic? I will be ready to send my manuscript to an editor by the end of the year, so I’m searching now.

    • I can recommend my editor, Susan Helene Gottfried at http://westofmars.com/susans-editing-services/

    • Hi Shean,

      That is a pretty high quote, frankly. Most copy-editors charge between $200-400 for an edit.

      It’s important to know WHAT you are looking for in editing. Story structure feedback/content editing generally costs more. I don’t pay for that since I have a fantastic critique partner and a number of beta-readers I trust. Plus I trust my own story sense, and have had that affirmed even in the traditional publishing process. (My debut novel got NO content editing and only light copy editing and went on to final for a prestigious award in its genre.)

      I have a friend who is a grammar guru and also a writer (Captain Grammarpants on FB, check her out!) and we trade our skills.

      So the only editing I pay for is copy-editing of the complete MS once I’ve done all my editorial changes.

      I buy stock art (usually around $6-10) and use the free GIMP program for my short story covers. I hire cover designers for my novels, and pay a little over $200 for a cover, including full POD wrap-around.

      As India does, I pay for CS expanded distribution and copyright filing.

      Good luck on your publishing journey!

      • Good to know, Anthea.
        I haven’t settled on an editor yet. But I have been collecting recommendations., You are also very fortunate to have a terrific critique partner. Cherish him/her!
        I will check out captain Grammarpants – (too funny).
        I’m a graphic designer, as well as my husband, so I’ve got the cover…umm covered. – LOL.
        I’ve never heard of the GIMP program. Writing that down for future research!
        Thanks for the tips!

        • As a graphic designer myself, I’ve tried GIMP and if you learned Photoshop first it is going to drive you crazy. The big bargaining point is that it’s free. It is getting better, but you’ll probably be comparing it to PS all the time. I have an old copy of Photoshop CS2 and I’d rather use that than relearn an image editor at this stage.

  10. I’m currently publishing a series of short stories that will become one novel — 10K-20K words each. They’re in the sci-fi genre.

    I pay $300 for a custom cover. Covers are important in my world.

    I have 3 or 5 beta readers for story sense. I don’t really want anyone messing with my style, and I am rather dedicated about perfection (though I don’t actually achieve it). I’m an English major, a former freelance writer (where I was edited by others) in print and online, I’ve done editing and grammar and typo run-throughs for others for years. I have a law degree, and another graduate degree. I don’t pay anything for editing.

    Sometimes I pay $60 for formatting, sometimes $120, depending on the book. Sometimes (at the beginning, and now again since I can go directly in Word) I do it myself.

    So my cost is typically $300 plus $120; $420 in total per short. I consider that Rolls Royce level quality, and that’s what I need to succeed. I write about one a month now, and I make mortgage money.

    My last short, just out three days ago, cost me nothing. The cover was a gift from a pro artist and I loaded it directly from Word. It’s selling! But then, I’ve been doing this for more than two years (self-publishing) and writing novels for more than twenty.

    [Edited for a typo I spotted just after pushing the button…]

    • “I pay $300 for a custom cover. Covers are important in my world.”

      Covers are crucial. I keep reading how important they are. Funny isn’t it, how you sometimes need to be drawn back into witnessing your own habits, and view them from a distance. How many times have I been in a bookstore, scanning the shelves for something to read. No.. not just a “something”. A treasure. We are always looking for treasures. Something captivating and magical to take us away from ourselves. What do I look for? An interesting cover. Interesting title, and then.. you read the back for a description… the deal maker.

      Once again, you are another fortunate soul, Patrice. Editing seems to be the major cost factor in publishing our novels these days. Grats on your new novel. I hope I am where all of you are in another year, giving advice from “experience”!!

      All of you have wonderful and professional looking websites. I feel fortunate to have found this place of published authors and hope to learn a lot more from you. 🙂

  11. I’ve gone from spending zero up to roughly $.94 Canadian per book. The last is because I looked around stock art websites and invested in some images at a good price. I know what I’ll need for cover images for the next two years, so I bought bulk and it worked out to forty-seven cents per image.

    Most of my covers need a background and a figure, so I use two images per cover. It’s not as much fun as doing an original painting, but it’s faster.

  12. I really appreciate this article. The myths circulating that you need thousands to self-publish are having a very negative impact.

    It’s really important to pass on good information about costs – and I’m talking not only about the article, but all the helpful comments here.

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