How much does it REALLY cost to publish yourself?

Mike from Conyers, GA asked me this question a few weeks ago. I gave him my accountant’s answer: “It depends.”

Well, to self-publish a fiction or non-fiction book, you need an ISBN and barcode from here. That’s $125 for the ISBN and $25 for the barcode. If anyone offers to sell you an ISBN for less than $125, it means they will be listed as your publisher, not you. 

For editors, I recommend going here and looking for someone who knows Oxford style. The lowest I’ve seen for an editor is $2 a page. The highest? Just above $4. Make sure they know what they’re doing. This is not a place you want to cut corners. 

My cover designer charges $105 for e-books and $160 for full covers and the interior designer I use charges $60 an hour. For a cleanly-formatted fiction book with little interior art aside from chapter breaks, that would be about $100. Honestly, both of those are way below the industry standard for design, but if you find good people for less, stick with them!  

Lightning Source, which prints most POD publishers’ books, charges $70 to set up a new title (text and cover). 

So, for a 250-page book with $2 a page editing, I’d pay just under $1,000 and retain all rights with no fluff. If you pay more than that, I’d really ask the POD publisher where exactly it’s going.  

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Self-publishing. . .a bit easy?

While sifting through comments on this blog, I came across someone who said “self-publishing is a bit easy” these days.

Argh.

Well, I admit — anyone can write a novel, upload it to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords, or Pub It for the Nook, set a ..99 cent price tag and call themselves “self-published.” As a matter of fact, of the hundreds of thousands of books published last year, I’m willing to bet quite a few of them did just that.

We all want the dream: to write books for a living. It sounds so glamorous — you get that one hit, which sells your backlist, and the next thing you know, you’re rolling in the dough. Very few self-publishers can do that, but it’s more than it used to be.

Anyone can self-publish, just like anyone can dribble a basketball, sing a song, or program a computer. But, not everyone is Amanda Hocking, Kobe Bryant, Christian Aguilera, or Bill Gates.

To me, saying “anyone can do that” is a cop out. Tell me about someone who does self-publishing well, and how they worked their tail off to be recognized — not just write anything by anyone and press “upload.”

Barnes and Noble: The inside details (or lack thereof) of a rejection letter

When I talk about publishing, I use quirky comparisons for effect. For example, my “ketchup and cheese” rule:  just because it’s cheap, doesn’t mean it’s good.

Have you ever bought generic ketchup or cheese? Off-brand ketchup and Heinz have one thing in common — they’re both red. Cheap cheese melts like hot glue, and while I’ve never tried eating Elmer’s, it can’t taste much worse than budget cheese.

For me, rejection letters are like asking out a pretty high school girl and being told “no.” She’ll never tell the real reason why she rejected you. It could be your personality, or your wardrobe, among other things. It’s an unsolvable mystery with no closure.

I recently applied for all three of my books to be shelved at B&N. Shelving is one of the nine streams of income you need as an author. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that this is a discussion you can only have if you are listed as the author of your book(s), and not a self-publishing company.

And yes, I got rejected. I won’t be dating that particular pretty girl anytime soon.

The buyer responsible for religious fiction decided not to stock my books, The Lost Testament, The Revelation Gate, and The Anarchists because: a.) the jackets (covers) weren’t compelling, b.) they did not have good advance reviews in trade magazines, c.) they did not have quotes from other writers working in the genre, d.) they did not have articles/reviews in the “usual consumer media,” or e.) my marketing and promotion plan wasn’t good enough.

How do you determine the poison pill(s) from five, very different reasons? 

What makes a jacket or cover “compelling”? Good art design and engaging back cover copy that will sell the book. But what’s “good”?

To a degree, book selling is science, but it’s also a crap shoot. When a legacy publisher picks up a novel, it’s thinking the book is good enough to sell at least two years in the future (it takes that long to edit, produce and market it). That’s a HUGE risk.

For indie/self-pub authors (some places consider you self-pub if you’re indie), advance reviews in places like ForeWord, and Kirkus (the ones you don’t pay almost $500 for) are hard to come by, as are quotes from authors in the genre. The Lost Testament and The Revelation Gate were endorsed by Christian fiction authors Stephanie Perry-Moore  and Michelle Sutton, respectively. My marketing plan for both was involved.

So, that at least narrows the field to three possible reasons for rejection, right?

The moral of the story is this: these details are not really details — it’s a form letter. The key is to do all of the things they request to the best of your ability anyway, and if you’re not good enough to “date,” there are other shelves in the world. Try becoming a Follett vendor (giving you the ability to be shelved in 800 college bookstores across North America). Also, solicit your local small bookstores. They usually love indie authors.

Hope this helps!

The point of pricing

I’m an advocate of indie publishing, if you didn’t know. Here’s one BIG reason: price points.

Most authors don’t control their price points. If you go through most self-publishing companies, that means you too. Hardcovers, trade paperbacks, and yes, e-books. And it’s about to get worse.

In one of my Facebook groups, I asked the e-reader crowd about their preferences. All of them said anything above $5 is too much to pay. Some wouldn’t go above $4. One mentioned her friends who net $2,000 worth of e-books a month at .99 a pop.

What do you do? I have a self-published friend whose e-book retails for $9.99 on Amazon, which takes 30% of e-book sales – priced above .99 cents – off the top ($3). Her self-pub company takes 50%  of that ($3.50). Her cut is $3.49 minus distribution and taxes, provided she actually sells e-books at $9.99. I tried asking them for specifics, but the company won’t say (RED FLAG).

If the books aren’t moving, she can’t drop the price, and since her self-pub company owns the rights to the digital files it designed, she can’t sell them on her website at a lower price.

You want to give it a go at .99 cents? That’s not a sound business strategy for long-term growth. Thousands of dollars a month is the exception, not the rule. At .99 cents, your royalty rate doesn’t go above 35%, and if they’re not moving for whatever reason, will you drop the price lower?

I sell mine at $2.99 and encourage you to do the same, or close to it. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords all provide platforms where you can publish your work and control your price point. Hope this helps!

Editing: The boilerplate, the bold.

A first-time author once called some of my writing advice “boilerplate” which she could find “on any writing website.”

I can find the lyrics to “A House is Not a Home” on the web, but it doesn’t mean I can sing it well.

My critique of her introduction — that ten pages is too long, even for historical fiction — caused the season of her discontent. I get it: constructive criticism of your book is like getting a call from your child’s teacher. “Little Brian is a problem child. He could use some after-school tutoring at .012 cents per word.”

I told her to cut the froth: very, quite, feel, and a few other words we authors tend to think are important but really aren’t at all. Cramming the introduction of three to five characters into one scene was too much. Imagine a party where you meet five people in the span of ten minutes. Who do you care about and why? What if they leave the party shortly after meeting you?

If you’re feeling particularly wordy, give my “rule of thirty percent” a shot. What’s the rule of thirty? Do a word count on a particular section and cut it by thirty percent. You think to yourself “Brian, I can’t do that. (Enter scene/character/dialogue) is too important to cut.”

Be bold and try it. Reword your sentences to shorten them. Tighten your dialogue to show what the characters are thinking or doing rather than telling your reader what to think. Stop explaining everything and let your characters act it out.  FYI: Your prologue shouldn’t be longer than 3-5 pages. If it is, it should be a chapter, not a prologue. Hope this helps.

Brian Thompson’s passion is motivating and encouraging others to write and to pursue Do-It-Yourself publishing. He is also author of acclaimed Christian fiction thrillers The Lost Testament, and The Revelation Gate. You can read more about Brian by visiting his author site.

On the inside with a book agent

Last Saturday, I joined Nancy Knight of the Sullivan Maxx agency for a workshop. You can read more about Nancy and her qualifications here. If you’ve decided the indie route is not for you, and your dream is to make it to the frontlist of one of the Big 6 (Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins, Penguin, Random House, and Simon & Schuster), here is some information you need to know.

  1. “How long does the publishing process take, from soup to nuts (assuming there are no hitches in editing, design, or production)?” Nancy’s answer: “I’ve seen publishing contracts go as high as 36 months (a.k.a. we will publish your book within 3 years of signing this contract). Between two to three years, and that’s if I sell it tomorrow.”
  2. Nancy’s advice: “The money flows one way, from the publishing house (sales), to the agent (15% of those sales), to the author (royalties between 6%-15% of sales).”
  • “You do not need to be published to be a professional writer.”
  • To query her, write a fiction synopsis (a narrative telling of your story) between 3-5 pages long and include the first three chapters (double-spaced with proper margins). Send them as e-mail attachments, not embedded into the e-mail.
  • “Always be working on your next book. Finish it, then edit it.”
  • “Unagented manuscripts get sold and agented manuscripts are still selling for big bucks.
  • “Editors are your creative partner, not an collborator. Line edits should always make the book look better.

Brian Thompson’s passion is motivating and encouraging others to write and to pursue Do-It-Yourself publishing. He is also author of acclaimed Christian fiction thrillers The Lost Testament, and The Revelation Gate. You can read more about Brian by visiting his author site.

 

Do-It-Yourself: Why I D-I-Yed

About two years ago, I changed my life.

Call it divine purpose or destiny, but I was left at a crossroads with a decision. Either continue teaching, which I loved, or pursue a career writing full-time. Either required 100 percent dedication, and I only had 100 to give.

I tendered my resignation. Some coworkers still think I’m nuts. I did, too. One thing’s for sure: this wasn’t all about me.

With my first manuscript, I ruled out mainstream publishing. Entertainment is the only field I know of where an employer can legally keep 84 to 94 percent of your pre-tax income by claiming “you can do better with us than you could on your own.” Imagine your boss telling you: “Take an 84 percent salary cut. You can (enter your profession) on your own, but you won’t do as well by yourself.”

The math looked like this: my paperback book’s price point is $13.95. At 6 percent per book, that’s 83 cents per mainstream copy. To make my old salary, I’d need to sell 54,216 books. Not gonna happen, at least at first.

With self-publishing, there are good companies that don’t over-inflate costs, charge you for free services, and manhandle you on the back end printing charges. You almost never see advertisements for these places.

Eventually, I settled on do-it-yourself indie publishing. I like the idea of being my own boss, don’t you?

Great Nation Publishing is a business my children can inherit instead of a bill. Again, it’s not all about me.

I’m a bit of a control freak (OK, more than a bit), so total autonomy over my brand appeals to me.  The indie way is less expensive, equally as productive, and way more profitable (long run and short run) than self-publishing. That’s all it took to convince me.

It’s also in my heart to help other authors to effectively do what I do, in case they can’t tender their resignation yet.

Small business ownership is not all roses and candy. I wanted to quit doing it full-time as recently as this summer, when the lure of my old job literally called. I’d be lying if I said a part of me didn’t want to go back, but the majority of me knew it was the wrong thing to do. Again, God had His way and the principal hired someone else. If He hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been here for you.  

Yes, you who says some variation of “I feel like I have a book inside of me” to every published writer you meet. Call it divine purpose or destiny, but you’re at a crossroads where you either write this book or continue to put it off. When you’re ready, I’ll be here to help.

Brian Thompson’s passion is motivating and encouraging others to write and to pursue Do-It-Yourself publishing. He is also author of acclaimed Christian fiction thrillers The Lost Testament, and The Revelation Gate. You can read more about Brian by visiting his author site.

Save time & money: Why you need a publishing mentor

I call myself a “publishing mentor,” and not because I like cutesy titles (I actually HATE them).

Authors interested in indie publishing (ESPECIALLY self-publishing) need information to successfully navigate the publishing process. You could use someone on your team who’s not trying to hawk their wares instead of offering you another, efficient, time-saving way, couldn’t you?

That kind of info costs time and/or money: spend money on the books and take time to learn it, or spend money to hire someone who knows their craft to teach you. There’s no way around both of those factors.

Third option? Spend WAY too much money because you don’t know what you’re doing. Many authors fall into this category.

Take my friend “Matt.” Matt self-published his book with a well-advertised press, who offered him $500 off on a $3,000 publishing package that, broken down to its base parts, should have cost him no more than $1,500. His book retails for $13.95, a price he cannot adjust.

He wanted to start with a 100 copy printing. The company extends him a 45% discount for author-ordered books; that’s 45% of $13.95 ($7.67) though it only costs $3.36 to print. For each book he buys and then sells, he makes a $6.28 profit (45%) while the company makes $4.31 (31%). Why is the company taking a 31% cut?

That’s how many self-publishing companies make their money. Trade paperback books cost .015 per page and .90 cents per cover to print (prices vary with different paper and hardback covers). That’s it. If someone is going to take 31% of your potential income, shouldn’t they have a good reason?

Matt didn’t know that. Depending on how many he orders, he’s taking anywhere from a  16% to 46% loss every time he buys a book and sells it. He knows better now.

After all that, you may choose to self-publish anyway to avoid the hassle of subcontracting work with different people. Indie publishing isn’t THE way to publish, it’s A way.

Let me show you the benefit of either. For a FREE 15-minute consultation about how to maximize your publishing dollars, e-mail me at brian@authorbrianthompson.com.

Brian Thompson’s passion is motivating and encouraging others to write and to pursue Do-It-Yourself publishing. He is also author of the Christian fiction thrillers The Lost Testament, andThe Revelation Gate. You can read more about Brian by visiting his author site.

Start a publishing biz for cheap!

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak at a book fair. Self-published authors and an indie author were in attendance, and most appeared less than receptive to what I was saying.

Building your own publishing business is A way to get yourself published, not necessarily THE way or YOUR way. That said, there are some very general, sweeping principles you can add to what your doing to better position yourself for success.

Successful businesses are built on solid foundations. Solidly establish yourself with a brand name that accurately conveys what your brand is supposed to represent. My company is Great Nation Publishing. We do not bake cakes or event plan; we publish. Our logo has a Biblical scripture at the center (Gen. 12:1-2), so you can expect that my next title will not be erotica.

Be specific with your name and logo, and make sure they not resemble or conflict with an already-established brand.

From there, use what I call the “Magic Johnson Rule.” Johnson is a successful businessman who espouses the belief that you should have an exit strategy for your business before you start it. Pair that with a business and marketing plan: without it, you will be driving a car without a steering wheel.

Lastly, keep it legal. If your trade sees any kind of moderate success, you get notable press, or your local government starts randomly poking around, you could get heavy fines and, in extreme circumstances, sued.

Avoid this by filing your trade name/business name (“Doing Business As” =$0), getting a business bank account (deposits vary), registering to pay sales tax ($0) and a business license (prices vary), and adding in a suite post office box, unless you can use your home address. Post Office boxes for businesses look sketchy to the consumer. It really doesn’t add cost to do business legally, and at tax time, you can take deductions for some of your expenses.

Brian Thompson’s passion is motivating and encouraging others to write and to pursue Do-It-Yourself publishing. He is also author of the Christian fiction thrillers The Lost Testament, andThe Revelation Gate. You can read more about Brian by visiting his author site.

Writing to sell or selling out?

“Booker T. and W.E.B.” by Dudley Randall is a poem describing the ideological differences between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. One advocated conformity to pursue change, while the other bucked conformity to propel change.

It seems to me that conformity/nonconformity is a challenge every artist must take to task: produce what the market demands to increase in influence and then branch out into your own interests? Or, branch out into your own interests and alter the market‘s demands?

Every Tuesday, I meet with a small writing critique group. Our fearless leader raves about her famous author superfriends who pump out four books a year.

Between having social media Tourette’s and being a “solopreneur,” I can’t match that production. Even if I wrote every day, I doubt I could finish four books in one year. It would dilute the Kool-Aid of my creativity.

How do they do it? Jackie says their writing is formulaic. Either that’s a backhanded compliment from her or a direct insult. I can’t figure out which.

Writing a book is difficult. But if it follows a pre-set template, it’s much easier. Formulaic writing sells and has launched many a New York Times Bestseller. It’s the bread and butter of movies, television shows, etc.

Think of how many police dramas and medical programs are currently airing on television. Add in the spin-offs of those shows, and the pilots of new shows hoping to replicate that success.

Do you conform and hope to bank on the popular zeitgeist-of-the-moment, or you innovate and take the chance of being overlooked? There’s risk on both sides.

Urban literature is white hot right now, but the market is flooded with works ranging from the well-done to the undercooked.

Besides, how many times can a good girl go bad or an upstanding man get caught up? Can betrayal, love gone wrong, and difficulty = turning to the streets still captivate your interest?

It seems to me that formulaic writing is not necessarily selling out, unless you have a heart to do something different and delay doing it on the basis on money. Fame, influence, and money can become addictive. If you start out with compromise, who is to say you’ll ever accomplish what your heart desires?

I choose to buck the trend. If you prefer a formula, to paraphrase Mr. Randall, it seems to me that we won’t agree 🙂

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