A Complete Expert Guide to the Amazon Self-Publishing Costs for New Publishers

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From The Urban Writers:

Finishing your first book leaves you feeling like you’ve finally arrived at the center stage. The excitement alone can make your world spin around as you read it once more. It’s understandable when the authors want to rush into the next step.

However, they don’t realize there’s a bunch of sharks waiting out there, waiting to snatch them. New writers must take a step back and consider Amazon’s self-publishing cost and pricing before they allow these predators to grab hold of them.

I was in your position a few years back and I was impatient to get my book out there. I needed people to read my story and listen to my advice. I emailed publishers all over the world with a manuscript, hoping to get a response. 

It was only two weeks before the first shark came at me head-first. This publisher was prepared to take my book, but they wanted me to pay for publishing costs upfront. The quotes started pouring in and I was shocked with the requests!

Suddenly, I felt like I had to sell my soul and those of my kids, spouse, and even my dog just to cover the costs. Figures ranged madly but the average was well over $2,000 from publishers that didn’t even leave a stain on the map. 

This might not seem like Mount Kilimanjaro, but I assure you that this was only the cost to get started. I still had to pay ridiculous commissions on top of this. The sacrifice of my soul wasn’t enough and they only promised me 25% of future sales. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t use the easily accessible internet to find other options like a normal person would. I ended up giving my book to a company that would give me 15% royalties and owns the first 5,000 copies in lieu of printing costs. 

I sold my book to the devil, never mind a shark. They haven’t bothered to promote the book and it became lost in the vast world of available reads. The worst of all is that my book is sitting on Amazon at a price that even I wouldn’t pay. 

My heart breaks every time I see my book without reviews, simply wallowing in the black hole of nothingness. I signed my rights away and have no power to take it back or change the price. I don’t want you to experience the same thing I did. 

Link to the rest at The Urban Writers

PG isn’t familiar with The Urban Writers, which apparently sells various editing, formatting, cover design, etc., services to indie authors. They may provide good services at a fair price.

However, PG is inclined to be a bit suspicious of services that bundle various services that may benefit self-published authors. Invariably, not all the money an author pays is going to the people who are editing, formatting, designing covers, performing social media marketing (which can mean almost anything), writing reviews for hire, etc.

Some organizations farm out the actual work to inexpensive offshore labor, which may or may not provide very good quality.

PG suggests that indie authors keep their hands on the wheel of their career and spend some time understanding what’s involved in formatting an ebook or POD books (hint: not very much, although some people do a better job than others).

KDP provides a free tool called Kindle Create which will do a credible job of formatting a clean manuscript into an ebook. Draft2Digital offers more ebooks formatting options than Kindle Create (and, to PG’s eye, better-looking options). It very generously will allow you to use the formatted ebook file to
publish through D2D or anywhere else.

You’ll want to go through the resulting ebook file to check for any errors. Still, they’re not difficult to fix, either in the ebook file or by going back to your original MS and tweaking the format in your original word processing file, then running it back through the ebook formatting tool.

As far as cover design is concerned, an excellent cover will require someone with a good eye and some design talent, but you can find those sorts of people online or, depending upon where you live, among your circle of friends and acquaintances. You’re looking for someone who knows how to use digital design
tools like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop or an equivalent program and creates the sort of thing you think looks polished.

If a local community college offers classes or a major in design, they’ll almost certainly require students to use current digital design tools. Talented students are usually happy to take on projects for a bit of money to help build their design portfolios.

Cruise through Amazon’s book listings, particularly in your genre, and note covers that you think look good and are examples of the type of cover you’re looking for and share this information with your cover artist.

There’s nothing wrong with working with remote professionals to access the talent you need to provide the parts of a finished book you’re not able to create yourself. Still, PG thinks you’re more likely to get better quality at a better price than you will by sending your money to a website black box and hoping you’ll receive something you’ll like in return.

But, as with all other opinions he expresses, PG could be wrong and is happy to be educated concerning his lack of knowledge about a wide range of subjects in the comments.



10 thoughts on “A Complete Expert Guide to the Amazon Self-Publishing Costs for New Publishers”

  1. I want to add an additional caution to PG’s well-considered take (in general) above:

    If your work is not primarily — indeed, almost exclusively — paragraph-by-paragraph narrative, or includes sensitive-to-context illustrations (obvious example: a pre-engagement battlefield map to show where all the major players were for a novelization of, say, a Civil War battle, not that any NYT bestsellers have ever attempted that or worse yet failed utterly at that), online tools won’t work. Kindle Create especially will not work. So if you’ve got multicolumn material; tables; ordered lists in which it is important that individual items not fall across a “page break”; context-critical illustrations, especially in color; footnotes or endnotes; in short, the trappings of “serious nonfiction” (or an illustrated cookbook!), you’re going to need to budget either time or money for a “real” layout/conversion program. There are excellent shareware/freeware programs to do these jobs (and there’s a high probability that anyone you hire to do those jobs uses one or more of them, because the commercial programs aren’t that much better or easier to use and are… not cost-effective), Windows or Linux or Mac.

    This shark is continually annoyed at “universal” publishing advice that doesn’t fully apply to the majority of “publishing” — nonfiction that includes at least some nonnarrative material. For every aspirant to the Great American Novel, there are half a dozen writing chicken-farming manuals that, on a per-hour basis, are probably more lucrative. (Dubious literary quiz question: A little over a century ago, a writer of chicken-farming manuals provided the exceptional case; anyone care to guess who it was?)

    • A little over a century ago, a writer of chicken-farming manuals provided the exceptional case; anyone care to guess who it was?

      Just a quick guess for the obvious reason: “The Egg and I”?

      As far as publishing books with illustrations and footnotes, I’ve succeeded using Word 2007, even though the artwork has a propensity for jumping around of its own will.

      Recently, I added Affinity Publisher to my layout tools. It’s cheap ($50) and license-free. There is a learning curve to it, but I’ve published two books in my Career Indie Author series and very pleased with the results.

      • ‘Fraid not. Tune in to PBS tonight. (The individual in question is also one of the “exemplars” in the notorious list of fifty-or-so — the exact number and membership has been a moving target as things get demythologized, like the initial assertion that Grisham self-published his first novel — “self-publishing success stories.” And he’s the exact opposite of a self-publishing success story — the chicken-farming manuals were not a commercial success.)

    • excellent shareware/freeware programs to do these jobs

      Exactly. Although I’m rather an odd duck – as a recovering web developer, I do the final layout in straight HTML, going into KindleGen. (Although I use Visual Studio, which is not cheap, there are plenty of just as good shareware/freeware programs.) You do have to use modern methods of layout, though – the old “table” tags that have never worked right ever since Netscape introduced them will get you into a nasty tangle. WordPress has the same issue, by the way, with anything that has even slightly complex layout.

      Battlefield maps – GIMP works just fine to convert a vector drawing to SGML, which worked fine when I tested it on my Fire 7 more than a year ago. (I think it would lock you out of anything earlier, though; I seem to recall that SGML was only implemented with that version of the Kindle renderer.) Lousy battlefield map, by the way, I’m no artist; when I get to that point, I’ll have to hire that out.

      Now, note that my experience only applies to Kindle ebook production. If/when I get to the point of doing POD, I’m sure that I’ll have plenty of late night migraine sessions to get everything where it belongs.

      • Yeah, I learned HTML ages ago and do my ebooks with it through open-source Sigil. My .epubs sail through Amazon KDP with nary a murmur. I love the specificity of HTML.

        Maps and such I do in Photoshop, my old stand-by. I sprang for the whole Adobe Creative Suite years ago and have not regretted it. Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, InDesign… can’t beat top-of-the-line software, especially when owned outright vs. subscribed to ;-).

        BTW, for POD, InDesign is a dream for page layout. What I like to do is design the paperback first to get a good sense of it, and then do the ebook right after.

  2. “…New writers must take a step back and consider Amazon’s self-publishing cost and pricing before they allow these predators to grab hold of them.

    What is this person talking about? Clueless is just the start here.

    [shakes head in disbelief]

    • Bluntly, Harald, “clueless” would be an improvement. At least the truly clueless aren’t wedded to thirty-year-old mythologies that were invalid even then. Do not get me started on “subsidy” and “cooperative” publishing; go read my client’s book Ten Percent of Nothing: The Case of the Literary Agent From Hell and ponder how the only way the Deerings could make their scam work was that getting reliable counterinformation (that was not presented condescendingly) was virtually impossible. That’s just one example.

      A large part of the problem is the culture of secrecy that commercial publishing has lived in since the “modern” industry arose after Congress passed the 1870 copyright statute. Really: How much verifiable information is there on what it takes to be a “bestseller” or in comparing contract offers from different publishers? (And that’s the easy stuff.) Now compare that to the third-party-audited sales figures in almost the entire remainder of the entertainment industry, ranging from theatre to live and recorded music to cinema.

      Lemma: Extreme secrecy and lack of verifiable information is to the advantage of existing players in an economic segment, not to potential new competitors, potential new suppliers, or potential new customers.

    • Oh, my, yes. From the rest of the excerpt, Amazon had nothing to do with their failure. That was made obvious by “at a price that even I wouldn’t pay.” Then they admitted that they gave up all rights on the book – just like with a trad pub contract (even more predatory than that, really, from the sound of it).

      That is not “self publishing” – that is being taken to the cleaners by a smooth talking salesperson.

  3. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who converts ebooks to HTML before publication, no one else I know does. Also, I’ve found that Kindle will swallow errors that won’t validate in epub, so I validate the HTML file in epub first, then publish the HTML file to Kindle.

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