Talk to most indie authors about how much it will cost to self-publish an ebook, and they’ll tell you not to quit your day job. Self-publishing is a long game, and while you can – and many do – eventually make enough money to write fulltime and quit that day job, it doesn’t usually happen overnight.
To Self-Publish an eBook Requires Investment
We can argue the pros and cons of self-publishing versus agent and traditional publisher all day. It will cost less out of pocket to go with a traditional publisher, but it might take an extra 5-10 years to be picked up by one. So while it can cost more out of pocket to self-publish an ebook, it also gives you the ability to move forward immediately and not live in query limbo for years. There are a variety of costs involved in self-publishing. Depending on your skill set, some of them you may be able to do yourself, but many you will need to outsource. And some you absolutely should outsource (editing, for example) if you really want to achieve success.
The ROI of Self-Publishing
As with anything else you do in business – and yes, self-publishing is a business – you need to make sure your investment is going to pay off. Now, how you calculate that payoff might be different. For some people, simply being a published author is the payoff. For others, it’s a business model that requires profit to exceed investment. There is math involved, along with projection and planning to self-publish an ebook. And for most fiction indie authors, the first ebook is often a loss leader and real profits are not made until the second and subsequent ebooks come out.
Cost of Producing Your Self-Published eBook
There are several costs required to self-publish an ebook. You can write virtually anywhere – pen and paper, Microsoft Word, Google Docs. You can use a laptop or even your cell phone. Some writers choose to invest in writing software like Novlr, Scrivener, or LivingWriter. You can even hire a ghostwriter. But because you can write without any investment, let’s consider the costs without including writing software. There are several other production costs you will need to consider:
Editing and Proofreading
Hiring an editor and proofreader (or an all-in-one editing service) is one of the most important investments you can make. Yes, some authors do successfully edit their own works, but they are few and far between. You need a good editor and proofer to:
- Identify plot holes and verify facts throughout your book.
- Recognize character errors in description from when they are introduced to later in the book.
- Assist with story flow and enhanced language for stronger storytelling.
- Catch spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors that writers miss simply because they’ve stared at the manuscript so long.
How Much Do Editors and Proofreaders Cost?
When you’re investing in an editing and proofreading service, you will find a wide variety of prices. There is no other service for authors in which the adage “You Get What You Pay For” applies more. Ideally, you’ll find an editor who will partner with you for an extended period of time over multiple ebooks and help you define and develop your style and voice – or at least get to know your style and voice well enough to preserve it throughout the editing process.
Cost can be per word, per page, or flat rate. Average rates are .08-.12 cents per word, $9-18 per page, or a flat rate based on the total project. So an average novel of 120 pages might cost $1,500-$2,000 for a great editing job, and it will be worth every penny.
Choosing the Right Editor
Your chosen editor should fit within your budget. They should be familiar with your genre, and be able to meet your needs and your timeline. However, unrealistic timelines can result in poor quality publications. We’ll talk more about that, but one of the benefits of self-publishing is that you are in control. You are not working on a publisher’s deadline. Therefore, you can give your ebook the time it needs to be done properly.
Formatting Your eBook
When it comes to formatting your ebook, you have several choices. You can do it yourself, but this can be time-consuming and prevent you from focusing on writing. You can use online or downloadable software, but you may discover imperfections in automated formatting that require manual adjustments. Or, you can hire a formatting service. Some all-in-one editorial services include formatting in their service or offer it as an add-on. Before you format your ebook, determine where you’ll be distributing it and what format(s) are required by your distributor.
There are three main formats for ebooks – .pdf, .mobi, and .epub. In most cases, .epub is the most widely accepted format. However, there are times when you’ll need either .pdf or .mobi – and for widest distribution, you may need them all. Sometimes, the cost will be higher because of the complexity of what you are publishing. Most ebook formatting services will require that you request a quote. On average, you can expect to pay from $50-$250.
The Costs of Marketing Your eBook
At minimum, every indie author should invest in a website. While you can shirk on the investment by choosing a “free” website builder like Wix or SquareSpace, it is almost always worth the investment in terms of ROI to invest in a hosted WordPress website. It can be a basic website, and you may not even have to pay a developer to build it for you if you have enough skill to build a simple site using a pre-built theme. But there are optimization tools inside WordPress that will do some of the heavy lifting for you in terms of making your ebook more visible. As well, WordPress is compatible with all of the major ecommerce programs through which you can sell your ebooks directly from your website.
You’ll need to purchase a domain, which will cost around $15. Try to get your name or your name plus the word author, like samsmith.com or authorsamsmith.com. You’ll also need to pay for hosting your domain. Choose a host that includes the security certificate as part of their hosting package, like Skystra. Hosting will cost $200 per year, depending on the type you choose. Beyond hosting, you’ll also need to consider ads – through social media, banner ads, Google ads, and other sources. We’ll talk more about advertising and marketing in future blogs.
The Cost of Selling Your eBook
There are costs involved in selling your ebook, too. You will need to pay a per-sale fee to your distributor or pay a percentage of your royalties. As well, you will need to account for taxes you will pay on royalty income.
Distribution costs are usually a percentage of your royalties. Amazon takes a 30% cut of your royalties if your ebook falls within the parameters of its pricing guideline. Otherwise, it can take up to 65%. SmashWords, Nook, and Apple all have 30% models in place without the price restriction. This means you don’t have to pay anything up front. Instead a percentage is taken from the sale of each ebook. While it may not seem like a lot of money, losing 30% of your profits on each ebook sale can become exorbitant. There are subscription models available, in which you pay a flat monthly rate for a bracketed number of book sales. This is the approach EditionGuard takes with distribution pricing.
Determining the value of each distribution method depends on how much marketing you do, how high you expect your sales to be, how much of the marketing you can do yourself, and whether or not you’re going wide with your distribution (i.e., not contracting with a single distributor).
This discussion of the costs of being an indie author is not to deter you from moving forward. In fact, we think the future for indie authors is brighter than ever. We have seen not only a surge in indie author success but a shift toward recognizing that traditional publishers don’t make a book better. The idea is to give you all of the tools you’ll need to be as successful as possible in your endeavors. Yes, you want to be an indie author who knows how to self-publish an ebook, but you also must treat this effort like a business, especially if your goal is to someday be able to quit your day job and write full time.