How to Self-Publish an eBook or Print Book and How Much it All Costs
Ready to publish your own book? Fantastic! As you might guess, this post covers self-publishing both for Kindle and other ebooks as well as print books. This is a comprehensive post covering everything from formatting your book, launching your book, as well as book marketing.
Good News vs. Bad News
The good news- no great news is that there’s never been a better time to be an author. Especially if you’re a first time author or someone who is in their “next chapter” (sorry) and wants to follow their writing dreams. The internet and the rise of indie publishing has made it possible- even easy to get published.
Now for the Bad News: Self-publishing, while not difficult can be hard. It is a long haul – in some cases writing the book is the easy part! But: you can do it. This post will offer a guide as to the costs of self-publishing along with major areas you that deserve your attention.
To make it a little easier to follow, I am going to address the major self-publishing topics and divide each into Ebook publishing as well as Print publishing. (For the purposes of this post and since it is friendlier to first-time authors, print publishing will address only print-on-demand.)
Here are the major areas of self-publishing and the approximate costs associated with each. Careful: don’t just skim this and take it as gospel. Read this thoroughly and decide for yourself what you need. Also, at the bottom of this post I am going to make my recommendations what you really need based on my successes and FAILURES!
Writing, Editing, and Formatting Your Book
Writing your book, you could say, is free. (There- we’re off to a great start!)
(Unless of course you’ve hired a ghost writer- which is not that uncommon.)
What about editing your book? How much do book editors cost?
Well, it depends on how long your book is, and what type of editing you need.
There are different types of editing (evaluation or line-editing, copy-editing etc.) and each has its own cost. You can find average rates from the Editorial Freelancers Association. But broken down, the pricing becomes very similar whether it’s by the page or by the word.
My book was 52k words and I opted for both an evaluation (to know whether or not it was even worth publishing) and a full copy edit.
The cost for the evaluation was $500 (2.75 per page)
The cost for the Copy Edit was $.03 per word totalling around $2k.
Here’s an idea of what those edits looked like and how thorough they were:
I go over the whole process in this post about finding an editor.
This was and still is in my mind, money well spent.
Formatting Your Book
Since formatting your book is a bit different for eBooks and Print, I’ll discuss these separately:
Formatting your Ebook:
For Kindle, there are extensive instructions on their website here to walk you through the process of uploading a Microsoft Word document and having it translate into the Kindle 8 language. It is a bit tedious but if you’re familiar with Word it is entirely doable.
Of course, you don’t need to use a Word doc, Amazon supports other platforms. Below is a screenshot of all of the different formats you are able to upload to Kindle:
If you would rather have Amazon do it for you that is available for a fee. Also, you might consider having someone do it for you on Fiverr.com, a website where you can hire all sorts of freelancers to do work like this as well as graphic design and even coding.
However to make it even easier we come to:
Scrivener is awesome. Go here to register to win a free copy.
For Smashwords the book needs to be uploaded according to their style guide. (Smashwords is an ebook distributor that distributes ebooks to the world’s largest ebook retailers. Other than Kindle, it is really the only other eBook platform you need. ) Smashwords also advertises formatting services here.
Note: Using Scrivener’s compile can also be used to get your book ready for Smashwords, so there’s no need to use a service or do anything special. Once you have your document ready, compiled, and exported to Word, it will be ready for Smashwords. Smashwords also supports .epub files and professionally designed .epub files. Although according to them, most authors are best served using a Word doc.
$0 to put a book on Kindle
$0 to put a book on Smashwords
$49 for Scrivener
$79 + formatting for Kindle using their services
$40+ formatting for Smashwords using their links
How to Format your Book For Printing Hard Copies:
It’s a little trickier here, but not much and with a little help, you can do this on your own. Depending on which publishing on demand site you use as well as the size of the book your choose, there will be formatting guidelines. Then I would highly recommend that you outsource this through fiverr or a similar site like Updesk.
Or buy a ready-made template from Joel Friedlander’s The Book Designer.
They have many templates available- depending on the genre – and the costs are very reasonable. They are formatted in Microsoft word and you can use Scrivener to compile your book to Word.
I found the templates to really elegant- and for an amazing price. The packages come with custom fonts and designs by professionals that make your book look like a real book! Once you get the hang of it, it is simply copying and pasting your document into the template. Then, you only need to save it as a PDF and upload to Ingram and Create Space. They will inform you if there are any issues with your book.
Note: I did have one issue formatting the template. But it was only a problem with the page count. They didn’t match- so I had to make sure that page breaks were in the right places, so page 1 was on the right side of the book and page 2 the left as you turned the page.
If you are not a techie or are too scared, The Book Designer also has variety of formatting and oversight services. But trust me- I am a total hack when it comes to Microsoft Word- and I figured it out!
$57 for a Book Designer Template
$0 to set-up your book on Create Space
$49 to set-up your book on Ingram Spark
Hold it – What about the cover? How do I create a cover for my book? And what is my cover going to cost?
Covers are very important. They separate you from the rabble. And for many libraries, they are important. You can spend a few bucks here to hundreds if not thousands for a professional designer.
My advice? Find a cover style you like. Look through your genre and others on Amazon. Pick one, or even narrow it down to a few and then head over to fiverr.com. Pick a highly regarded designer – search for Kindle cover or Ingram cover- and take a look at their work. (Note: some do both eBooks and Print books but mine did not- I used two designers.)
Give the designer you pick your examples and set them to work. These guys can be good, but in many cases I have found they are not going to spend tons of time being creative- hence the need to give them ready made ideas. For the print-on demand cover, you will need to give them the specs of your book- size, pages, etc. and the specs from the publisher.
Or, a slightly more expensive option, but better in quality is 99 designs. Tim Ferriss, the author of the 4 hour book series used this service himself for the 4 Hour Chef. You’re in good company using these guys.
Fiverr: starting at $5 but I paid about $75 for both sets of covers with multiple revisions.
99 Designs: $299-$1299
Launching Your Book and Initial Promotion!
Congratulations! You made it this far! Now’s where the fun starts and you get to see your book sold!
Because I’ve written a really comprehensive post on launching your ebook and getting it to #1 on Kindle and because a lot of this bleeds into marketing that I will discuss below, I am not going to spend a ton of time here.
Don’t worry! The post mentioned above will give you a very clear understanding of launching your book on Kindle, and the marketing discussion below will outline all of the ways to market your book.
So, I will just mention this – there are book promotion sites out there- some good some not. Read all about them and try and find reviews of their services. However, having used a couple, I think you are very well off to read my post above and use the info in the book marketing section below. But, I will leave you with these tips:
Here’s My Handy Dandy Kindle Launch Timeline:
Should I make an Audio Book ? How much does an Audio Book Cost?
Short Answer: No. Audio Books are expensive! You can count on about $200 per hour of your finished product read by a professional.
However, there is a market for this, and fans are pretty rabid…
My suggestion? Record it yourself- you can even youtube yourself reading it. Don’t laugh- one famous book promoter I read said that authors are “much more interesting than their books.” Remember this when we discuss marketing below!
Here’s a great example: The author of the Book Thief, Neil Gaiman has very popular videos of his entire book on youtube. They are enchanting. (So much so, that he is in demand to read for other authors!)
You can do this fairly cheaply using Audacity and a good microphone. Here’s one many podcasters recommend. At the very least these videos will expand your platform that we will talk about below. So for a very small amount of money, you can get your book out there to- perhaps a minority- but a vocal one at that! This is a very helpful blog post that discusses a sort-of middle ground that you can do yourself!
How Do I Market My Book?
Wow. This is almost a blog post unto itself!
I am going to assume that you want to – or need to due to budget – market your book yourself. But even if you don’t, you need to TAKE OWNERSHIP of marketing efforts. Even if you hire out. Even if – bless you – you are traditionally published.
However should you want to outsource your marketing there are companies that will handle this part of your journey for you. Sites and companies like book baby, standout books, and promotions guru Tim Grahl all feature marketing services and there are more on line.
I have two observations about these:
The first is that many of these services offer things you can do on your own, whether by yourself or outsourcing certain aspects of the plan, like obtaining reviews.
The second is many of these offer website and blog building services – building your platform – that is indeed a very important part, but in my mind separate from other marketing activities.
If you are going to enlist a service – find out what it is they are offering and how much it’s all going to cost. These services can get expensive.
So, let me reframe the question: How do I market my self-published book on my own?
I break this really big pie into several pieces that I will discuss in depth and offer some tips:
Publicity and Press
Reviews and Blurbs
Book Platforms and Channels
Discount Sites and Giveaways
Selling to Libraries
Selling to Bookstores
And One Thing Not To Do!
Advertising Your Book for Sale:
I am no expert here, and I have read that certain genres, romance for example, have success here. But based on my experience, I would highly recommend against wasting your money advertising.
Because I really don’t think it works. Especially if you’re a first time author or don’t have any blurbs or heavy-hitter recommendations for your book.
Trust me, I tried:
First, I tried Facebook advertising. I boosted posts. I did an official ad campaign. For a month. I didn’t just try it for a few days. I reasoned (rightfully) that I could target specific groups, age demographics, parts of the country and their interests. The results?
Zippo. Not one sale.
A couple hundred bucks down the drain.
Undaunted, I reasoned that people on Facebook weren’t necessarily looking to buy books. So, I reasoned that since my book was a humorous memoir, I would find a blog to advertise on that fit my style and had tons of traffic. I found one of the bigger blogs out there ( I won’t say the name because I don’t want this to reflect poorly on the site.) This blog belonged to an author of bestsellers and received website traffic of about 100k visitors per month!
I took out an ad – $300-$400 for this particular ad placement and waited.
I got tons of traffic!
I lowered the price just for readers of the blog ( I had a special landing page for this ) Nothing. I ran the ad for 2 months. Zip.
So, I’m sorry but advertising is not a place where I think you should spend a lot of time or $.
Publicity and Press:
What’s the saying? There’s no such thing as bad publicity? I’m sure you’re not looking for negative publicity or press but are probably wondering how to get someone to write about you?
I have two tips here. First, the sooner you can get started the better. If it’s before your book is out – even better. Because I am going to encourage you to “dig your well before you’re thirsty.” Here’s what I mean: find some columnists, bloggers or reporters you like, or might write about your book and follow them. Reach out to them via email or social media and compliment their work (genuinely I’m sure!) Or, if you have a certain expertise they can use offer it up. Then once you have a relationship – even a small one- the likelihood they will listen to you will be much greater.
Second: Check out this software: just reach out. This is a spiffy little program that allows you to search by topic and see who has written on your topic. Then, you can send them an email using the programs template through the software and it will supply the appropriate email address. If the address is wrong, you click that the address is a bad one, and they will email you the proper address! Very cool.
By all means, do one. I don’t put too much stock in these, and wouldn’t spend a bunch of $ on a press release service with a bunch of bells and whistles. But, the info will be indexed on the internet and be out there. So it can’t hurt. If you do want to use a fancy service- make sure that you can do some advanced targeting. Some services have a database of reporters by industry and publication allowing you to target them better.
Reviews and Blurbs:
Ok, now we’re getting to some of the more successful strategies. Reviews, it can’t be overstated are very important. For Amazon, and Goodreads- hell, all online channels, reviews are huge. Encourage your friends and family to review your book and make it simple by sending them emails with the link to Amazon in them. See Below:
For Amazon, you can also seek out top reviewers and offer to send them a review copy. This is allowed. I would offer a pdf, or you can mark your book down to $.99 buy a few copies, and then mark it back up. Then send them the link. This is another area where KDP select is important – it gets your book into a lot of hands encouraging at least some reviews.
But, even more than this, I think you should consider purchasing a review through a well-know service like Kirkus. I did not and I regret it still and am having my book reviewed. The reason I say this is that after studying my book’s sales, there has been very little effect by price changes at all. But reviews? Yes. It leads me to believe that people are far less worried about wasting a few bucks than wasting their time.
If you are a knew author a Kirkus review lends credibility. And, they send you your review privately so you can choose whether or not to publish it. Yes, it’s pricey- about $300 but, take the money you saved by not advertising and get a review.
Likewise, blurbs are key. If you know anyone famous or well-know in your category, ask for a blurb. Or play the 6 degrees of separation game. I did – a friend of a Facebook friend – and had a celebrity read my book and loved it. (Relief!) We’re are now working on crafting a blurb for the cover.
Book Platforms and Channels:
This may sound like a no-brainer, but you should have your book available on as many channels as possible: Amazon Kindle, Create Space, Ingram or other Distributor, Smashwords for other ebook platforms. After all- you cannot sell your book, if a customer can’t find it.
Discount Sites and Giveaways:
This is a biggie. We have already discussed the power of Kindle KDP Select. But what about other ways to give your book away for free or at a discount?
Consider a Goodreads giveaway. These readers are hard core. You can give your book away on a Goodreads give away contest. Don’t worry- you can select the number of titles you want to give away. But, you will need to mail the books out to the winners once Goodreads sends you their names and addresses. Make it fun- personalize the books. Send other things that might make your book still out to them. I sent the book, some bookmarks, and since I had discussed a restaurant I owned in the book, some recipes from the restaurant.
You should run your giveaway for a month. Unfortunately it is only for print books. I had 768 people sign up for my book and I gave away 20 copies
Free to sign-up
The cost of your book
For me: $11.00 average per giveaway.
However there are some other discount sites that worth serious consideration. These sites like bookbub, book gorilla,and the fussy librarian, send information about your books to their email lists and offer your book at a discounted price that they ask you for.
Because of how massive some of these email lists are, they really get results.
Unfortunately – these can be expensive as is the case with bookbub, and hard to have your book accepted. But if you are, studies show that you will make back your $ in sales and get your book out to a very large audience.
Selling to Libraries:
I’m not sure about you, but this didn’t enter my radar until very late. But consider this: approximately 40% of the public will enter a library this month while only 5% will enter a bookstore!
The downside here is that this can be a real slog- and I would consider outsourcing a lot of the grunt work like compiling library information including the acquisition librarians. After that it is a matter of getting in touch with them (email is fine) and telling them about your book. Amy Collins of New Shelves has a great Selling to Libraries course that you can find here! (The course covers everything you need to know on how to sell your books to libraries- a potentially huge market. I would also highly recommend you subscribe to her email updates..)
$80 for the PCIP page
The cost of outsourcing or obtaining the library’s information
Postage or the time to get in touch with them
The cost of any copies you mail out.
Selling to Bookstores:
Depending on the bookstores, this can be relatively easy. And for some, almost impossible.
First let me pour water on your parade: it is difficult if not impossible to sell to airport bookstores, Costco, and big box stores if you are a first time or self-published author. Unless you already have huge sales. Don’t take it to heart. Just consider this:
Bookstores are in the business to sell books. Period. Not necessarily to find great books. They want books that are popular and will sell. A librarian once told me that the difference between a bestseller and another book is not necessarily about quality, but about the marketing muscle and buzz around the book.
So, concentrate your efforts on Indie and small bookstores. Some authors claim that you can actually call a bookstore, let them know you have a book out, give them the ISBN # and let them know the distributor and they will order it. It’s that easy. I have never tried that so I cannot vouch for it.
But what I have done is something like this:
Go into the bookstore and ask for the acquisitions person. Introduce yourself and tell them about your book. Bring your sales sheet. They might readily say they will look into your book. But- better bring 6 or 8 copies. They might offer to buy them from you and will ask for a standard discount. Link If so, great. But what I do is bring them 6 copies and offer them for FREE. Then, for them it is pure profit. They do not say no to that. Remember your goal here is exposure. Just count this as a marketing expense.
For Barnes and Noble, they have on their website specific instructions how to handle submissions, just follow it to the letter.
You might also consider Googling the top grossing independent bookstores and sending them 4-6 copies or so.
But that bring me to the One Thing not to Do. Do not send your book to a bunch of celebrities hoping they will read it. They will NOT. In fact, they will trash it due to liability reasons and stalking reasons.
Don’t believe me? Check out the Amazon review I got from a celebrity’s assistant:
Although he ended up liking the book (!) This whole enterprise was a waste of time, money and paper….
OK! We’re in the Home Stretch!
Now let’s talk about platform : What is a Platform? How do I build an Author’s Platform? And how much does it cost to build a platform?
First, let’s discuss what a platform is and why an author’s platform is essential. A platform, in essence, is a following. Nowadays that translates into a few things: website and blog traffic, social media following, and the biggie: a email mailing list.
Many articles and people in the know state the traditional publishers won’t take a chance on a new author unless they have a large platform.
Why? It’s simple: built-in customers.
Take the singer Jimmy Buffett for example. Jimmy Buffett has millions of fans who follow his work. So, when he takes a chance on a new project like a book, or a broadway show, he knows that he has an automatic number of sales before having to attract new customers.
How do you build an author’s platform? Let’s break it down by the pieces:
Author website and/or blog:
Websites and blogs can be really simple or really complicated (and really expensive) depending on the bells and whistles. However a basic blog is pretty cheap and easy to set-up. The major blog players are WordPress, and Squarespace among others. Here’s What I recommend and the fees associated with each:
Buy your own domain, rather than have it hosted for free on WordPress.org. You can see if your domain is available here. In most cases this will be your authors name.com Once your find out your domain is available it is very cheap to purchase. And you can do so from your website hosting service – which is the next step.
Hold it: What does that mean?
It’s pretty simple really. Your website is a bunch of files that need to be store somewhere and accessed. Your hosting service hosts those files.
Next, you need to sign up for the actual hosting package. You can get shared or dedicated service- depending on your needs and budget. I would compare prices and reviews for each. Some super cheap sites, might suffer from slow service and outages so be careful.
Once you sign up for hosting, you can then purchase your domain and download WordPress.
Next, I recommend looking for a “theme” for your site. This is basically the architecture and what the site will look like. There are free themes and paid themes. Also, once you have a theme, if you need help getting it set up, you can once again turn to fiverr and find specialists who can carry out some of the programming for you.
You basic site should have a certain number of pages: things like your book information, a page for your bio, etc. Then you can add posts yourself thereafter. These are articles you might post, funny essays, videos, images etc. depending on your genre.
There are a host of other things associated with getting traffic to your blog like search engine optimization (seo) that is too large of a topic to address here. But, I would install the Yoast plug-in for seo (free) to help you with the main items like page title, description, keywords, etc.
But The main thing for your blog to drive traffic is quality content and self-promotion. It takes effort, and time. You need to post quality things, and do so regularly. (As is the case with social media that we will discuss below.)
And, you need to set up your blog to convert, or entice readers to join your email list. Some simple ways to do this are forms that ask for a readers email in return for notifying them when you have a new post.
Sumome is a free plug-in that allows you to install forms on your home page and elsewhere to help you grow your email list. It’s really easy to install and customize and have all of the emails sent to your auto-responder.
If you are collecting emails, you will need an email auto-responder. Think of it as your blog’s email program. You collect and send emails through it rather than your outlook or gmail. Depending on your budget (again) and your needs, you can use a variety of services, the first of which is free for a certain number of emails.
This really should be all you need for now, but there are other services available and the newest one, convert kit was developed specifically for bloggers and is very reasonable. You can check these out and compare:
I will get more into traffic driving strategies and list building as well in future posts, so please sign up here : see what I did there ?!?
Hosting: $2.95 per month and up
Theme: Free and up. (You can find a nice theme for about $30)
Yoast SEO Plug-in: Free
Auto-Responder: : Free to $29 per month and up
By now if you haven’t heard of social media, well, uh, you might want to talk to any adult under the age of 80. I’m kidding. I’m sure you don’t really need a long discussion about social media, and the major platforms. So, I’ll just offer some advice and tips:
So Having it all to do over again- assuming $ is not an object- or maybe a medium sized object, let’s take a look and reassess the budget we started with and see what the whole thing will cost.
If you can afford it, here’s my advice:
Cover: $299 (99 designs)
Formatting : $57
Launching: $75 (free book giveaway automation discussed here)
Publicity: $65 per month (just reach out- cancel after a certain time)
Marketing : $1800 (cost of your books, postage, ISBN, PCIP, Bookbub and Discount sites)
Platform : $20 per month
For a Grand Total of $4796 + $20 per month.