One of the most frequent question for self-publishers is: How much does it cost?
Well, how long is a piece of string? It depends where you cut it.
Let’s be honest, writing is not a way to become rich, unless you are either (a) super-talented, or (b) already famous, or (c) very lucky. Like so many others, I thought I could be the next J K Rowling. I’d write and publish my book and then watch my bank balance ratchet up and up and up…
How wrong can I be? Well, pretty wrong. If you are writing a book in order to become a multi-millionaire then think again.
Having said that, it is important to think about the finances involved. It is possible to publish – print – a book for almost nothing. My knowledge is of CreateSpace. Upload your book file online, allow CreateSpace to design your book cover for you, ignore the offer of a proof copy… and you have a book for nothing.
But it would probably also be worth nothing. And then no-one will buy it. And your dreams of being a multi-millionaire are out of the window – as, possibly, is the chance of you earning enough for a coffee at Starbucks.
There are costs that are worthwhile along the way. To my mind, the cost of getting a decent cover design is going to pay for itself in sales. And the costs of a good edit and proof-read will ensure that the book is readable, hopefully encouraging positive reviews. And – above all – the cost of getting a proof copy sent to you must be worthwhile: after all, this is your final chance to review it before the reader buys it, and the last thing you want is lots of comments like, “Why does it leap from page 81 to page 87?” or “If only she could spell Kalingalinga…” (I love that word, just by the way.) And there are further costs if you get a publisher/printer to set the whole book up for you – shop around for the best deal.
No: self-publishing costs, and to get a decent, professional-looking book I’d expect it to cost at least £500, possibly as much as £1000, depending on how much professional editing you get, and how much you spend on marketing (and yes, that is a bottomless pit!).
So, you can spend almost as much as you wish: the issue is can you recoup your costs? The only income is from sales of your book, so you have to maximise the sales and profit (royalties) to get the best income.
How do you price your book?
Well, there’s the dilemma. The truth is that a paperback will only sell if – broadly speaking – it is at the same price as others like it. If you go into a bookshop to purchase a novel, how much is it? £7.99? £8.99? So setting your price at £14.99 will overprice it and it won’t sell. You may make an extra £6 per copy, but if you don’t sell any that is irrelevant. Better to reduce your royalty pay-cheque and make more sales.
But if you really want to make money, publish an eBook. To date I have sold six times as many eBooks as paperbacks. Six! I have pretty graphs to show it. (I am an accountant: it was a happy evening spent with a spreadsheet, a calculator and the Chart Wizard!) The royalty per copy is less, but the sales speak for themselves. Costing just under £2, people are willing to give it a go.
One of the advantages of self-publishing is that the royalties you receive are considerably higher (as a percentage of sales price) than through a publishing house. CreateSpace has a royalties calculator, so you can play around with setting a price and see how much you will sell per copy. But please: keep your pricing within the range of a bookshop! Kindle eBooks offer 70% royalty if priced in the range $2.99-9.99 (though that does also depend on which country it is purchased from). Therefore – so simple this I hesitate to say it – price your eBook in the $2.99-9.99 range. Again, compare with the market for other books like yours, but I’d err towards the lower end of that range to ensure a decent number of sales. As I said above, if it is cheap people are willing to give it a go. (You could sell at 99c, but the royalty would reduce to 35%: it becomes a balance between price and sales volume which is difficult to judge!)
Let me do some quick maths for you. Ignore the possibility of any paperback sales (only to make my sums easier!) Assume you have a kindle book retailing at £2. For this you will receive a 70% royalty – £1.40 per copy. Then Amazon takes a delivery cost from this (don’t ask why: I don’t know, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense given the purchaser simply downloads the file). They charge me 4p/copy, so let’s assume you receive £1.36 per copy, and that there’s no foreign exchange or bank charges to worry about. Therefore, to cover costs of £500 you need to sell 368 copies; to cover £1000 you must sell 736.
In my first year from publication I sold 429 kindle copies of In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree, some overseas sales at 35% royalty. This did not cover my costs (though I am delighted to say that subsequent sales have). Can you begin to see that publishing a book is not a way to get-rich-quick? I am proud of the success of my first book, but all the money I’ve earned has just been ploughed into the production and sale of Beware the Falling Avocados. And the profits from that… will go into the next book.
So, how much does it cost to self-publish? As much as you want it to.
And will you make your money back? Well, that depends on the quality of the book and of your marketing skills. It’s a fine balance.
And you could be the lucky one whose novel is picked up by a large publishing house, or makes it big through word-of-mouth and online sales. Who knows?