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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Back Cover Copy = Torture!

For me, writing back cover copy is a lot like the first time I met my wife. 

At first glance, I automatically wanted to meet her. But, without any idea of what I wanted to say, I didn’t want to get shot down either. My first words would determine everything.  

Those of us who are indie publishers or self-publishers understand how crucial it is to make a positive first impression. Misspelled words, grammar errors, and crappy copy are automatic death knells to book buyers. 

I want my readers to feel like I did about her, to be drawn in by the outer package enough to get to know the inside. Ironically, what she told me I said (minus the verbal fillers and the genuine awe at her beauty) is advice I follow when I’m trying to write copy for my books.

  1. Authenticity. She told me I didn’t try to “kick game” but I was honest with her. Readers appreciate honesty, directness, and the absence of fluff. She didn’t get the impression that I was selling her. . .even though I was selling myself (not literally!) 
  2. Brevity. I didn’t try too hard or say too much. From what I’ve read over the years, 125 words is pretty standard. If you’re having difficulty meeting the word count, give the sentences punch by restructuring verb clauses, eliminating adverbs, and cutting down on excessive prepositional phrases.

In addition, testimonials from other authors don’t hurt, but they are certainly difficult to get. Any authors out there with other “tricks of the trade” they like to share, feel free to do so.

KDP Success: No rhyme or reason

I’m a fan of Ecclesiastes 9:11:  “I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”

It reminds me that no matter how many marketing books I read, courses I take, people I hire, or things I do — to a fair degree — timing and opportunity play into success as much as all of those aforementioned things. I believe God orchestrates that timing and opportunity.

You however, may not. But, you have to agree that if you hopped on Apple stock when it first went public (timing and opportunity), you’d be a lot better off than you are now.

For example: I have enrolled my first novel, The Lost Testament, in Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program several times since its 2010 release. Each time, my sales haven’t gone above 1,000 on the free download days.

However, on its most recent day, it sold almost 6,000 copies. I didn’t do anything different this time — no marketing collateral, extra scheduled tweets, or promotion on my social networking sites. I set the date and let it ride.

What does this tell you? Should I write a book on how I didn’t do anything special and ended up with the biggest free download date in the history of Great Nation Publishing? Unfortunately — and any experienced publisher will tell you this (if they’re honest) there’s no magic bullet. You can always position yourself well to win the battle or the race, but in the end, aren’t you at the mercy of timing and opportunity?

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!

Selling that makes sense

My wife and I used to have a Multi-Level Marketing business. Yup, we were in one of those. But, I did learn one, valuable thing from it: the need to create methods of making passive income. Passive income = money you can make in your sleep.

I met a self-published author once who insisted she “liked the hustle” of carrying her books around and selling them. Which is fine. But, if you’re like me, and do this full-time, you can’t afford to hustle every day.

What if your wife has a health emergency? Or, heaven forbid, you want to take time off? Those two things happened to me in the span of three days. That time is irreplaceable, which is why your time should also work for you.

Call it boilerplate, but, if nothing else, ESPECIALLY if you’re self-published, your book should be available in both paperback AND digital formats. I’ve spent countless hours curating a list of reviewers, and most of them still want paperbacks. It doesn’t make sense not to do both.

Think about it: if your book is only a paperback, you cut off digital sales. Why would you do that? You don’t want to make more money and expose people to your writing across the globe?

Amazon’s KDP Select program opens up the possibility of your writing reaching England, and German, France, Spanish, and Italian-speaking countries. I’m not knocking her hustle, but I’m thinking she’s not doing it over there simultaneously.

Likewise, publishing on Smashwords’ Premium Catalog would put her book in the Apple iBookstore, Kobo, etc. Throw in Pubit.com for the Nook, too. Once she published digitally in all of these places, all she has to do is check back and see how much money she’s made.

Conversely, to an indie publisher or a self-publisher, an exclusively digital book does not make sense in the long run. It means no signings to expose yourself to new readers. If you’re a speaker, it becomes increasingly difficult to convert your audience to a digital sale, versus something they can see.

Digital only also cuts off the ability to be shelved, or carried on consignment, which are two ways to generate passive income. A benefit of paperbacks (most times) is the hustle because it’s instant income. At worst, it takes 30 days for you to get it. Selling your e-book online means you won’t see that money for up to three months. Even if you’re not in the game to make money, you’d like to make some eventually, right?

Nope. She wasn’t feeling me. Hopefully, you are.

B

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.

How to plan a book wedding

I wanted to help plan my wedding. OK, not the flowers or colors. I didn’t pick the bridesmaid dresses. With some things, I asked “how much?” and passed off to my future bride. But I had a hand in the important things.

Planning your book release is a similar process. Start with choosing a relevant date. For example, I donate a portion of the proceeds from my first book to Relay for Life, which occurs in April. That enables me to push it in September (Prostate Awareness month — which is when I released it), October (Breast Cancer Awareness month), and April.

If your novel is a beach read or page-turning romance, release it prior to summer. Coffee table book? How about the holiday season? Coffee table books fit in stockings and taste better than fruitcake.

Next, have a launch party coincide with your release. You can do something as small as an intimate gathering at a library with small refreshments, or rent out a facility and cater it. Invite the media, book club members, and those who will support you.

With those in place, plan your deadlines backwards. According to Michelle Johnson at Lightning Source (the printing company for indies like me and about 30 POD publishing companies), books take up to six weeks to trickle down through online distribution channels (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.) Give yourself an extra week, just in case.

You will need a proof (an example of what your book will look like when it’s finished) to examine for errors. This is like the final fitting of a wedding dress — something you don’t want to skip. Take a week for this, which gives you time to receive it in the mail, read it, and correct errors, if necessary.

Unless you design book covers for yourself, lead times for cover design are a month, adding four weeks to your timeline. You can do this simultaneously with your editing, which takes a month as well. Interior design takes two weeks; when it’s finished, the spine of your cover will have to be adjusted.

Interior design (2 weeks) + editing and book cover design (4 weeks) + proofing (1 week) + distribution (7 weeks) = 14 weeks total. If you have a finished manuscript in hand that you intend to self-publish or indie publish, you’re looking at April.

Maybe you’re like a relative of mine who does not want to wait 14 weeks to get married (he’s wedding a woman, not a paperback). A shorter timeline means he will have to pay out the nose to do things quickly. You have the same options; most vendors and some self-publishing companies offer expedited services, but they’ll cost you. 

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.

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.

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