As many are aware, traditional publishing isn’t the only route to getting published. Indie and self-publishing are also very viable options for getting one’s words to the hands of readers. Despite the stigma surrounding self-publishing, it does not mean a book is less than par or poor quality (unless the author wishes it to be so).
No matter the route an author takes to get published, there are a number of ingredients involved in publishing a book, and leaving some out–or accepting poor substitutes–will affect the quality of a book. Such things include, but are not limited to, editing, a professional book cover, a good blurb, and proofing.
Either way, traditional, indie, or self-published, it costs money to publish a book. So I decided to put together a list of ways to be frugal as an indie/self-published author, and save new writers from throwing away money on their journey to becoming published authors.
1. PLAN AHEAD.
This is not always as easy as it sounds. There are a lot of factors to consider when getting a book published that it is very easy to let things slide, especially if one doesn’t know better. I would suggest all those wanting to self-publish to study the industry, note the trends (especially in their genre) and learn as much as they can before they even attempt publishing.
Some things cannot be compromised on if you want to succeed as a new author, and a study of the industry beforehand will help you better allocate the bulk of your resources to the more necessary costs.
Planning ahead not only arms you with information on the things you can do yourself, but it also gives you the time to compare prices on the services you need to outsource.
2. MAKE A BUDGET.
I guess the difference between this and planning ahead is that here, one must actually put money aside for these necessary services. It is difficult to advise an estimated budget for a book because the price of different services vary. So I will draw from my own experience as a fantasy author.
Putting money aside for a project starts with knowing how much the project will cost. A rough figure would be anywhere between £2,000 to £3,500. This is a comfortable budget for self-publishing a novel of about 80,000 to 110,000 words.
Sounds like a massive figure? Let’s break it down:
- Editing – £1,840 at 0.023p per word on an 80,000 word manuscript.
- Book cover design – £200 to £600 on a professionally designed cover
- Typesetting & formatting – £50 to £200
- Proof copies – £20 to £80 depending on how many
- ISBN assignment & Legal deposits – free ISBN assignments are available on some publishing platforms.
- Author copies – £50 to £200 on the initial investment, depending on one’s purpose for them.
As one can see, we soar quickly past the £2,000 mark with only the first 2 items on the list. Putting this money aside beforehand helps ease the burden of publishing, especially when one is publishing for the first time.
P.s. I have purposely left out marketing from this list.
3. BECOME A FEROCIOUS SELF-EDITOR.
The cost of editing varies. For instance, getting a 60,000 word manuscript edited would cost far less than if it were 110,000 words. The cost of editing also depends on the type of editing needed.
Educating oneself and developing one’s (self)editing skills through practice will go a long way to cutting down the cost of editing and the number of professional edits needed. Many classes and free material exist on types of editing and how to self-edit, so I will not go into detail on the topic.
I would also advise the would-be author to run their manuscript by a more experienced writer willing to give them constructive feedback. Some writers I know offer this as a paid service on their website, but there are many who are more than happy to do it for free.
One will find, in the latter cases, that the more experienced writers may be constrained by responsibilities that do not include the novice writer or their dreams to get published. It would serve the novice writer better to give a few chapters to be examined and take from it the key corrections made, then simply apply those to the rest of their manuscript.
This will not only save on the cost of editing for needing fewer types of edits, but will develop your skills as a writer long before you present your finished manuscript to an editor. This also (thankfully) gives the editor less work to do on your book and will ensure they get back to you promptly.
4. INVEST IN A GOOD COVER.
There is a difference between a nice cover and a professionally designed cover. In most cases, readers can tell the difference. And while there is no shame or problem with starting with what you can afford, if and when you can afford a professional cover for your book, my advice is to get one.
People judge books by their cover. It’s a fact. A lot of analysis and basic human psychology goes into designing a book cover, from the choice of colour and font to the minutest details of the layout and individual elements, and there aren’t many who can make these parts sing in perfect harmony that will offer this service cheaply.
A good cover is an investment that will reap returns in the long run, and I would advise that it is an element one should not compromise on, especially at the beginning of their author career.
It is possible to get cheap cover design services though, but the market is saturated with con artists and novice designers who may be good artists but do not know the first thing about designing a book cover, that it is hard and tedious to navigate as a novice.
One simple solution is to reach out to indie/self-published authors with book covers you like (covers that actually bring in sales, as taste is a matter of personal preference, and not always market preference) and find out where they got their covers made.
Most are willing to divulge such information, especially if it is a cover they are proud of.
Get Covers is a company that also provides nice covers for next to nothing.
5. CHOOSE THE RIGHT FORMAT FOR YOUR BOOK.
Are you going to publish an ebook only? Will you have paperbacks? Or hardbacks? or audiobooks?
These are questions you must answer before publishing. Each format comes with its own costs and profits, and deciding which to go for is important before you begin.
Ebooks and audiobooks are read/listened to more than print books (though many would like to disagree), but many still like to have print copies of books with ‘pretty’ covers, if only for their aesthetic value.
If you decide to go with different versions, offering something special in each version is a good way to attract readers to it. For instance, on audible, you can include an audiobook discount with ebook purchases. In her ebooks, Elise Kova offers links to other free books and stories, and in Caitlin Lambert’s What Lies Above hardbacks, she includes extra (cut out) scenes at the end. I’ve also adopted the idea, and in my YA fantasy series, Age of the Anathema, the new series covers for my hardbacks will have illustrated nakedbacks.
Choosing the right format for your book also does more than offer fun incentives. It also determines, to a large extent, the profit you make on printed copies. There is a reason why some sizes are called trade sizes and are more popular than others. It will cost almost the same to print a 400 page book whether your trim size is 5″x8″, 6″x9″ or 4″x6″. This cost depends highly on the size of the parent sheet used by the printers.
The bigger the trim size, the more words can fit on the page, which means the less pages used, and the more royalties you make. There is a science and psychology to typesetting though. The margin size and average number of words per line make as much of a difference to the reader’s experience as the number of lines per page.
Striking a balance isn’t easy, but I will always advise that you do not compromise on the quality of your reader’s experience for the sake of a few bucks. If this means using more pages, then do so. If not, consider cutting your word count down some more, or breaking up your story into multiple books. There is a reason traditional publishers use word count guidelines.
In conclusion, indie and self-publishing will always require an investment, but how much that investment will be (and whether it will continue to cost you in the long run) is what matters. It is possible to save costs on indie and self-publishing if you choose to be smart about it.