Archive for the ‘On Writing’ Category

How much does it cost to publish a book independently?

Posted in On Writing  by John Brown on August 29th, 2014

Is The Guardian right?

Does it really cost $6,000 to publish a book independently?

Is that the price to become Hemmingway these days?

Lots of commenters at The Passive Voice said the numbers were rubbish. Far too high. They said this was yet another thinly-veiled bit of  flimflam The Guardian cooked up to depress indies and send aspiring authors into the arms of the zombie traditionalists.

I actually thought the piece was good.

Why?

Because I like numbers. I did get a Master’s degree in accounting, after all.

But is it just that numbers are sexy?

It’s true the shape of the number 3 can be glorious. 9 is a stunner as well. But the slopes and curves of these digits is not why I like them. Numbers, even if they’re bad numbers, allow you to start thinking about costs. They allow you to question whether they could be reduced. Or whether you’re getting any bang for your buck in a certain category. Heck, numbers allow you to discover whether you’re allocating way too much in one area and far too little in another.

I thought The Guardian did a great job breaking the costs out into categories and starting an examination. The question is: are the categories and amounts political fictions or real?

Comparing My Numbers

One way numbers do all the things I mentioned above is by letting you do comparisons. So I figured I’d compare The Guardian’s numbers with a set of my own. I’ve published four books independently. How do my costs stack up?

Here are the costs for the latest.

Cover: $500

  • $500 for illustration
  • $0 for cover design (I have a friend who is so incredibly generous with his time)
  • Cover for some genres can cost less. Some folks do it themselves. Most of those do-it-yourself covers look awful.
  • The zombie traditionalists can sometimes spend a few thousand. And when they do it right, they get some amazing, AMAZING, work.
  • Verdict: The Guardian’s number seems reasonable, but I’m thinking the range is a few hundred up to a few thousand for something that doesn’t give the average reader worms.

Editing: $0

  • My wife, former technical writer, current language arts teacher, is my editor. There are some other folks I’ve tapped as well.
  • If I didn’t have her, I’d need someone. My experience is that if you yourself are not an editor, and you try to do this, you’re going to end up with a poorly edited book. Even with her experience, we’re still finding it hard, and are working to get the process down. We might outsource this in the future.
  • I’ve gotten reasonable quotes, and they’re all around $600-900. And that’s just for a copy edit. You want other kind of editing, you’re going to pay more.
  • Verdict: The Guardian’s number is high, but not if you tap into a bunch of pros for multiple edits.

Formatting for POD and ebook: $120

  • I do the interiors myself, so the labor is free. If I had to pay, it could run anywhere from $100-$300 or more.
  • I pay a subscription fee for InDesign. If I release two books a year, it comes out to roughly $120/book.
  • I spent $300 taking a class on basic interior design principles. But that was just the beginning. I must have spent 50-70 hours, maybe more, last October and November, banging my head against the wall as I learned this. Luckily, all that thrashing about didn’t result in any medical bills. I’ve had to spend maybe 10-20 more since then learning advanced techniques and keeping the basics fresh.
  • Verdict: The Guardian didn’t even include this.

ISBN: $0

  • I owe my friend; without him, this would definitely be a cost. I’m such a free loader.
  • Verdict: The Guardian’s number is good.

Copyright Registration: $55

  • $20 bucks to mail 2 copies to the Copyright Registration Office
  • $35 processing fee
  • Yes, you do want to do this. For detail on why, see The Copyright Handbook by Stephen Fishman.
  • Verdict: Another miss

Print-on-demand fees: $0

  • I go with CreateSpace instead of Lightning Source
  • Verdict: Another miss

Notice what’s NOT up there that was in The Guardian article: reviews and review copies.

Why don’t I include them?

First, I would never pay for a Kirkus review. I wouldn’t because it appears such reviews mean little to readers. They don’t seem to generate much notice or desire to sample. Here’s what readers report matter to them. Such pre-publication reviews DO matter to store and library book buyers. But, as an indie, I’m not focusing on those channels.  Those channels are in the hands of the zombie traditionalists.

What about review copies?

You don’t need them to publish. All this review business is marketing. And you don’t need marketing to publish.

So what are my totals? I’ve included The Guardian numbers so you can see the differences.

Category My Costs Guardian Estimates
Cover $500 $750
Editing and proofing $0 $4,000
Ebook and POD Formatting $100 ?
ISBN $0 $125
Copyright Registration $55 ?
POD setup fees $0 ?
Reviews - $825
Review Copies - $300
TOTAL $655 $6,000

Whoa! The Guardian estimated a cost that’s ten times what it costs me. But I don’t think that’s a sign of some plot. If I’d paid an editor and cover designer and formatter and didn’t mooch my ISBNs, that could have added as much as $1,000-$2,000 to my total. I have friends who have paid more.

Furthermore, that’s just for the ebook and hard copy. Depending on if you publish an audio edition and how you do it, you could spend another $2,000-$3,000.

What does this tell you? It tells me that the reporter made a good start, but needed to do a bit more digging. It also tells me there’s a huge variability in the costs depending on the skills you and your friends possess. It also shows that this is a business. I doesn’t cost a gazillion dollars to publish. It’s not like the $200,000-500,000 you need to start some food franchises, but you’d better be prepared to fork over some cash and/or a lot of hard work.

In fact, when you consider that last point of sweat equity, the $655 is completely misleading because it does not capture the hours I spent, at least 20-60, doing my part of the cover, editing, and formatting. Nor the time spent by my wife or friends. There’s a huge opportunity cost there.

What’s the value of what I could have done with that time?

It’s for dang sure not reflected in the $655.

Marketing

I didn’t include marketing in those costs above because marketing is its own beast. You can publish and do zero marketing. You can publish and do gobs. And just as with the publishing costs, marketing costs will vary based on what you can do in-house and what your situation is. It costs JK Rowling nothing to get covered in  every news outlet in the land. She sneezes, and we get a report about her. You and I are probably going to have to work harder to get noticed.

There are all sorts of marketing costs. Whatever those costs, marketing has a job to do. It’s got to pay for itself. It’s got to help pay for the cost of publishing. And it’s got to help me meet my goal of winning new readers and compensating me for my time.

There are lots of cost categories depending on what you decide to do:

  • Hard copies you sell at events
  • Travel and lodging required to attend events
  • Hard copies and postage for reviewers
  • Time writing blog posts
  • Promotions with folks like BookBub and BookSends
  • Giveaways
  • Etc.

The bottom line is that I think it’s good to separate these costs from publishing so you can measure their effectiveness against sales. Marketing is about revenue generation. These costs really have nothing to do with producing a book.

Books and Lemonade

I’m going to go off an a tangent here for a second. Some folks suggest that indie authors shouldn’t do much marketing. Especially if they only have one or two books out.

I find no evidence to support the idea that just writing the next book is all you need to do for readers to hear about you and beat a path to your door. It’s true you’ve got to write the next book. You must get new product out the door. Hey, I learned that when book 2 from the publisher fell into a black hole. But that doesn’t mean marketing and promotion are inappropriate,  wrong-headed, or a waste of time or money.

Let me ask you a question.

Let’s say Juanito is a no-name in the lemonade business. He’s just starting from scratch with dreams of becoming a big time lemonader. Who thinks it’s a good idea for him to open a lemonade stand in his back yard? Or better yet, in a closet in his basement? And when folks suggest that the stand might get more business if he lets the neighbors know about it or puts the stand in a place with a lot of foot traffic, who says, no, that’s a waste of time and money–the key to selling more lemonade is whipping more batches up in the kitchen?

In retail, you must get folks to notice your product and then persuade them to try it. Now, maybe you’ve got something going that’s generating all the notice and sampling you can handle.  Maybe you lucked out.

What percentage of indies are in that situation? Raise your hands, please.

What? We’re not all inundated with hordes of readers? We’re not  all swimming in gold? Imagine that.

The fact is that it’s tough to get notice. It’s tough to get people to try. But there are some things we can do to increase our odds. Selling books is a retail business. Retail lives and dies by visibility. Yeah, you need word of mouth. But you need to be noticed and sampled in large enough amounts to keep that word of mouth going.

What would you rather have? 100,000 people all over the country in many social networks (I’m not talking about Facebook) noticing and sampling and talking about your product, or would you rather have five?

In the brick and mortar world, there are lots of ways to get visibility without doing much TV or internet advertising. Ways to get notice include things as simple as signage and a store’s location. For example, you get a ton of eyeballs just situating your restaurant in the parking lot of a big destination shopping mall. You get eyeballs putting a sign on top of a 100 foot pole next to the freeway exit saying “Gas & Eats.” Online retailers get noticed in other ways.

Without blathering on about that (this was a post on publishing costs), let me just say that until customers begin to line up and start throwing hundred dollar bills at me, it appears I’m going to have to do what every other retail business has done for hundreds of years–get my lemonade stand out of the basement and into the park with lots of thirsty kids and moms.

EDIT 8/30/2014

While a number of folks are assuming the article was written as part of some vast conspiracy to undermine indie authors, David Gaughran posted some criticism in the article’s comment section that actually make sense.

DavidGaughran

The reason I’m so annoyed by the inaccuracies in this article is that this kind of misinformation is creates an information gap which allows shady operators to flourish.

Vanity press operators thrive because inexperienced authors think that self-publishing is either difficult or expensive. It’s neither of those things, and articles like this only serve to reinforce this false notion. That’s why I think this piece is irresponsible as well as inaccurate.

Companies like Author Solutions specifically target the most inexperience authors, the ones who know least about self-publishing and the industry in general, the ones who have fallen under the spell of various myths (like that self-publishing costs $6,000).

As a commenter said below, saying self-publishing costs $6,000 is like saying houses cost $10m. You can spend that much, but you don’t need to.

It costs me less than a third of that to publish a book, and I use a Big 5 cover designer as well as an editor with over ten years experience working for traditional publishers. Anyone can look at my books and immediately see that they are produced to professional standards.

You don’t even have to spend as much as I do to get a quality product. If authors are on a tighter budget, they can purchase a pre-made cover design. There are some wonderful pre-mades out there for as little as $40. You will have to invest a fair bit of time combing through the sites to find something suitable, but if you are on a shoestring budget it’s an option.

Same goes for content editing/developmental editing. All manuscripts will need a thorough copy edit, but you can get by without a specific content edit with successive round of beta readers. Again, this will require a time investment – writers usually trade beta reads of each other’s work. But if you’re on a tighter budget, it’s another way you can save money.

This is why this piece is so off. Even going the “deluxe” route shouldn’t cost more than $2,000. And if you don’t have $2,000, there are plenty of options where you can achieve a quality product, spending far less, if you are willing to put in a little time.

There are ways you can save money in other areas too. It’s a waste of money for an author (especially a new author) to buy a NetGalley membership for themselves. Authors can (and do) form collectives to buy a membership between them – often spending just $20 per person. I got a NetGalley spot for a month, for free, by bartering with another author. (I didn’t think it was quite worth $20, by the way, let alone $400).

If you need reviews, there are much better and cheaper ways. Submitting to book bloggers costs nothing (we usually send e-book copies or PDFs, rather than hard copies). Doing an e-book giveaway on LibraryThing costs nothing. Giving out electronic ARCs in advance of your release costs nothing. And all of these are much more effective than giving any kind of money to Kirkus, let alone $425.

But I guess it doesn’t matter how many experienced self-publishers (and editors who work with same) tell you that your figures are off, or that you don’t need ISBNs to self-publish, you are going to stick to your guns.

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Indie Thoughts: Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl

Posted in On Writing  by John Brown on June 17th, 2014

Your First 1000 copies by Tim GrahlDo you know what’s awesome about Your First 1,000 Copies by Tim Grahl?

He bases his advice on tests. Tests he’s performed with other authors and tests he’s performed with his own book.

For example, what’s more effective: advertising and posting our on places like Facebook and Twitter or a mailing list? Do authors really need to have a social presence? Or is that a bunch of bunk?

Tim has tested this question and shares what he’s found.

What about marketing? What’s the best approach to take to win new customers?

I think you’ll find his answer surprising. As a side note, I have to say I find his definition of marketing more insightful and practical than any I’ve come across. And I got a business degree!

How do you set up mailing lists and which ones should you use?

Tim tells you.

What should you blog about?

Tim shares his front-line insights.

What’s the quickest way to find new customers?

Tim discusses that as well. And it’s all put together in his framework or system he calls “Permission, Content, Outreach, Sell.”

If you’re an indie author, I think you’ll want to hear what Tim has to say. There are three books on indie publishing that I’ve found super useful. Your First 1,000 Copies by Tim Grahl is one of them.

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Indie Thoughts: Lessons from Heather Justesen

Posted in On Writing  by John Brown on June 1st, 2014

From Heather Justesen, who writes clean romance.

Two years ago I was working full-time for peanuts (seriously, it didn’t even cover the mortgage–and we didn’t live in a palace.) I quit to write full-time before I went completely insane. By December 2012 I had replaced my c-store income. By April 2013 I earned enough to pay ALL of our bills. Since then I’ve been the primary wage earner for our family, allowing my husband to close the business that was sucking all of the life out of him, and for us to move halfway across the country. He does bring in some money still, but even in my worst month we can pay all of the bills from my writing income. I’ve sold (real sales, not counting freebies) over 60K books in the past eighteen months. I’ve got audiobooks for most of my indie titles and I’m starting to see sales into bookstores. I would have to have one heck of an offer to even consider a traditional publisher’s contract. I’m very happy the way things are.

* * * *

Kevin, don’t lose hope. I have books that sell in the single digits every single month despite great reviews. And I have books in a different genre that sell really well every month (not blockbuster well, not top 100 well, but enough for us to get by on.) I didn’t do it with the first or second book, or the fourth book, I had nine books out before I started to make pay-the-bills money, and most of the money, even now that I have 18, comes from a single series. The others make very little [emphasis added]. Maybe give the genre a twist and try something a little different, but still in your general area of interest. Try a different genre that interests you, or just hang on and keep writing. Get feedback, learn more, and keep working at it. I wrote for nearly a decade before I had a book good enough to be in print (before Kindle really took off, or I had enough trust in myself to go it alone, so it was with a small press.) This is a craft, you can’t learn it overnight and success rarely comes overnight[emphasis added].

Having three books out making six figures a month is crazy good, and definitely not the norm, and yeah those kinds of numbers can be discouraging, but a lot of the other stories here show that it can come. Most people who persevere eventually start to make decent money in indie publishing if they’re doing everything else right. Your covers are pretty good, so try changing up the descriptions and see if that helps. And keep writing.

More on The Passive Voice.

A series, lots of product, and an audience that has been under-served for years.

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Indie Thoughts: Lessons from Marie Force

Posted in On Writing  by John Brown on May 31st, 2014

Some promo tips from mega-seller Marie Force.

I just changed the cover of a book (Maid for Love, book 1 in my McCarthys of Gansett Island Series) that’s been on sale for three years and free for two as a loss leader for a series that has 11.5 books (as of today–release day for book 11). I changed the cover (of books 2 and 3 as well) just ahead of a BookBub ad for Maid for Love. This book has been on BookBub quite a few times since it’s been free and lately, I could expect about 25,000 or so downloads across the platforms after a BookBub ad. This time, the number was closer to 70,000 downloads with a huge conversion to books 2 and beyond. Another thing we did before the BookBub ad was drop the prices on books 2-3 from $4.99 to $2.99 and books 4-6 from $4.99 to $3.99, leaving the front list at $4.99. I realized with 11 books and a novella in the series, it would cost a new reader more than $50 to buy the full series, thus the price break on the earlier books. Both the new cover for Maid for Love and the new pricing for books 2-6 yielded very impressive results. The series has sold more than 1.3 million ebooks since it debuted in 2011 and the last three have been top 10 NYT bestsellers. I was hoping to gain many more new readers from these strategies, and so far, it seems to be working just as I’d hoped it would. I love being able to try these things as an indie author!

Another poster congratulated her and said he’d gone and purchased the book. It was free; why not give it a shot?

Thanks, Bill. Hope you enjoy Maid for Love, and thanks for the congrats. The 1.3 million sales is especially thrilling when you consider that Maid for Love was rejected all over the place. Except by the readers. :-)

Find more at The Passive Voice.

What’s Marie using? A series with a number of titles in it, competitive pricing, loss-leader sampling that sometimes includes a free book, and BookBub.

More about Marie and her books on her website.

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Indie Thoughts: The Kind of Competition Publishers Want

Posted in On Writing  by John Brown on May 31st, 2014

David Gaughran puts it all into perspective.

Since the huge shift to online purchasing and e-books, a common meme is that there is some kind of “discoverability” problem in publishing.

The funny thing is readers don’t seem to have any problem finding books they love. Any readers I talk to have a time problem – reading lists a mile long and never enough hours in the day to read all the great books they are discovering.

The real discoverability problem in publishing is that readers are discovering (and enjoying) books that don’t come from the large publishers. What these publishers have is a competition problem not a discoverability problem.

They have reason to. I had a stab last year at estimating how much of the e-book market self-publishers have grabbed in the US, pegging it at around 25%. The much more rigorous Author Earnings reports have confirmed that estimate, showing that self-publishers had captured 30% of the unit sales on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

* * * *

So when large publishers say that the discoverability puzzle hasn’t been solved online, they are really expressing despair at retailers recommending books not published by them.

And when large publishers say that online retailers haven’t matched the experience of buying in physical stores, they mean that they wish there was some way to relegate all that stuff from small publishers and self-publishers to the warehouse, and have tables piled high with James Patterson and Snooki.

* * * *

The fear-mongers always forget Amazon’s core philosophy: recommend the product the customer is most likely to purchase. It’s interesting to note that this is the exact opposite of traditional co-op: recommending the book that the publisher wants purchased.

While it’s revealing to look at sites like Bookish and consider what Big Publishing would do with retail or discovery, we already know what it does with self-publishing. Exploitative vanity press Author Solutions runs self-publishing companies for HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Harlequin, is owned by Penguin Random House, and is now recommended by Publishers Weekly.

Large publishers want to decide what gets published, what gets distributed, what gets recommended, what gets discovered, and what gets sold.

Amazon – and the digital revolution it instigated – has made that impossible.

Anyone can publish. Distribution has been blown wide open. Large publishers have lost power over what books get recommended and discovered too, with the agnostic approach of sites like Amazon, Goodreads, and BookBub. And large publishers have definitely lost control of what is getting sold: self-publishers have grabbed a huge chunk of the market, and more and more writers are beginning to realize they don’t need a publisher to reach readers and make money.

This is the real reason why Big Publishing hates Amazon. Large publishers face real competition for the first time and they don’t like it one bit.

More at Let’s Get Visible.

Publishers have lost the barriers to entry that used to keep most of the competition out. Amazon set up a totally new distribution channel that has grabbed at least 41% of the book market.

Forty freaking one percent!

And of that 41% percent, it appears self-publishers have about as much of that channel as traditional publishers do.

Think about that for a second.

Almost half of book distribution is now out of publisher control. With no barriers, the hordes are running in to sell their books, pushing publisher books out of the good spots. The number of competitors is growing. And the publishers can’t get Amazon to relegate the riffraff to the back rooms. Can’t get them to feature only their books.

Worse still, it appears lots of readers don’t mind that at all.

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Edward Bear Shares More Proofreading Secrets

Posted in On Writing  by John Brown on May 29th, 2014

Mr. Edward Bear (pseudonym) shared an awesome secret for sussing out quote issues in a previous post. He’s back with a nifty way to help spot spelling issues.  It helped me spot a number of inconsistencies in Bad Penny, which I recently fixed. Take it away, Mr. Bear.

* * * *

Augmented Proofreading 2

Last time, I mentioned checking spelling and spelling consistency, and this note is to fulfill my promise.

To begin with, I’ll admit freely I do not recommend just running a spieling chucker over the text. And yes, I’m using the phrase deliberately. The spelling checker in the program I’m using to write this just waltzed right past it, despite the fact that neither word makes sense in this context. I got started trying to get some mileage out of spelling checkers a while back, when I realized that OCR scanners will work like hell trying to find a word and probably will come up with a word, but it will be the wrong word. Over at Project Gutenberg, they use the term “scanos” as an analogue of “typos.”

The other adversary is consistency of spelling and usage. Examples might include “canceled” and “cancelled” or variant possessives, such as “Jones’” and “Jones’s” in the same text, or simply variant spellings of the same character’s name, such as “Erik” and “Eric.”

So what do I do for these sorts of problems?

What you need is a list of all the unique words in the story, and it’s easy with a dollop of regex. (See the first post on this topic. The one I’ve taken to using is the following:

[^-'‘’\w\d\r\n]

This one I can explain, since I wrote it. :)

What it says is to look for any individual characters within the brackets([]). The leading caret (^) says “Nope, they should not be in this list.” Following that are the hyphen(-), the straight  quote(‘), and the opening and closing curly single quotes(‘’). After that, it’s any character that would normally be in a word (\w), any digit (\d), any carriage return(\r) or any new line aka paragraph terminator (\n).

And what you do with the above is to set Textpad (see previous post again) to replace all of them with a newline (\n) character.

Here’s what the search and replace box in Textpad looks like for this:

Augmented Proofreading image001

 

Notice that the “Regular expression” box is checked. And then you choose “Replace All”.

The result is to turn this:

Once upon a night we’ll wake to the carnival of life
The beauty of this ride ahead such an incredible high
It’s hard to light a candle, easy to curse the dark instead
This moment the dawn of humanity
The last ride of the day

into this:

Once
upon
a
night
we’ll
wake
to
the
carnival
of
life
The
beauty
of
this
ride
ahead
such
an
incredible
high
It’s
hard
to
light
a
candle

easy
to
curse
the
dark
instead
This
moment
the
dawn
of
humanity
The
last
ride
of
the
day

 

For a book, this means what you have as a multi-thousand line long document and LOTS of repeated words. The next step is to lose the repetitions by sorting the list. For TextPad,  you’ll find Tools->Sort on the menu bar, and I generally set the sort up as the following:

Augmented Proofreading image002

This is a case-sensitive sort and “Delete duplicate lines”, of course, gets rid of all the duplications of words like “a”, “an”, and “the”.

For the above text, you get:

It’s
Once
The
This
a
ahead
an
beauty
candle
carnival
curse
dark
dawn
day
easy
hard
high
humanity
incredible
instead
last
life
light
moment
night
of
ride
such
the
this
to
upon
wake
we’ll

34 unique words.

And here’s the payoff for all this funky text munging: Run a spelling checker over this, and it will find typos, of course, but it will also generally complain about most names, which aren’t generally kept in spelling checker dictionaries, and it will also show you words and their variants, nestled fairly closely together. Here’s an example from one of my projects:

Swiss-born
Take
Talking
Tallmadge
Tallmadge’s
Tarelton
Tarleton
Tarleton’s
Tavern
Tecumseh
Tell
Ten
Thames

The spelling checker landed on Tallmadge and its possessive form, but do you notice the “Tarelton” on the list? That’s the time for the Aha!, and you can fix the “Tarelton” form. The same thing applies to possessive variants and any other variant form you find.

As with the last post, I’ll be peeking in on the comments and answering any questions that come up.

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