Let’s get real. Publishing is not likely to be a major profit center in whatever business you are up to unless you plan on writing tens of genre (Westerns, science fiction, fantasy, romance) fiction novels a year. Except for a rare few, that’s how people make their living as writers. Publishing has never been a high profit margin business for either authors or traditional publishers, for that matter.
Nonfiction writing that’s successful is usually used as an accompaniment to something else, like your travel agency business, your spiritual workshops, your academic career, your charitable cause, or your business service. Books then become an investment and possibly additional small profit center for your core business.
So, if you want to publish that book, great, but here’s what I’ve gleaned in the cost area from providing some of the services involved in getting published. Short-change these services and, yes, you’ll save money and get that book out the door, but you will be unlikely to develop even the hundreds of readers that may give you a tiny profit over time, as well as the sense that you have an audience for your work.
- Writing: Remember that your labor is part of the cost equation. If you want to make a living as a writer, then your labor should be billable. If it’s not, then you aren’t making a profit on writing. I’m not saying you should sit down to write with the idea that it’s just to make money, but there is both tangible and intangible value in your time and talent. Make sure you are doing it for true love if you are not making any money at it. 😉
- Substantive Editing: Decent substantive editing or ghost writing/coaching (really helping you with the whole structure and storytelling from the beginning) is probably the most expensive investment you’ll make. Good editors and ghost writers will charge around $60 (USD) an hour for their time and talent (rate figures courtesy of the Editorial Freelancers Association).
- Line or Copy Editing: If you know writing already and are good at it, you may be able to skip step 2 and just get your grammar and consistency checked. You can send out your manuscript to friends and relations for a free look-over, but there will be no guarantee that they’ll know what to look for. Decent editing at this level runs from $30 to about $45 an hour, although I like to charge for the manuscript page (about 250 words per double-spaced 8.5X11 page), and I charge anywhere from $2.25 to $3.00 per page depending on how much work it looks like I’ll have to do. So, for a 250-page manuscript (which will be a fairly short trade (9X6)-sized book), you’re looking at $560 to $750.
- Interior Design: This one is quite variable because it depends on how fancy you want to get. Just text and no variations like sidebars with images will be the cheapest, with lots of different-sized images to place being most expensive. Discount places offer interior design (not the cover—that’s separate) for $3 a page, but serious professionals doing design with lots of images run up around $6 a page or more. So, say that 250-page manuscript turns into a 200-page book with pictures, and you’re looking at $1200.
- Cover Design: Again, this one depends a lot on how fancy you want to get with imagery and fonts (really good pro fonts cost the designer money), which will translate into more Photoshop or Illustrator work, etc. And you’ll want to decide how much to invest for talent as well. It’s not just about time or tools for any of these steps. Depending on complexity, you can end up investing anywhere from $300 to over $1000.
- Proofreading: After the book is laid out, you’ll want a last proofread to catch both any leftover typos and any glitches in design (paragraphs not indented properly, headings gone awry, etc.). I’ll charge anywhere from $1.50 to $2.50 per page for proofreading depending on whether or not I was the editor to start with and how complex the design was. For your 200-page book, that’ll come to an average of $400.
- Printing: This one all depends on what kind and how many. I went over to Ingram Spark just now and used their calculator for 100 copies of a 6X9, 200-page paperback with no color stuff, and got a quote of $332.
- Distribution and Marketing: Some of this may end up being your time again, setting up a website, etc. . Or you can invest in help with this as well (professional site design from $500 to $5000, depending). Keep in mind that the distribution cost will come out of your sales gross by making a deal with Amazon.com or another distributor. You’ll end up with a rather small percentage of each sale (less than the old 15% royalty rate from traditional publishers).
Here’s a rough average total for services rendered if you have some writing skills already: $3800. Not pocket change, but not totally out of the realm for a middle class person to invest (much less than a newish car, for example, but more than a good entertainment system). If your book is in support of a business consulting operation or a series of workshops or courses, etc., then you may very well find it profitable in the long run to have your writing be another access point to your message for your audience to take home with them. But before you decide to make a living as a writer, make sure that you are cool with the investment or your books will simply collect dust on your own shelf.
I know that we have a strong do-it-yourself theme going on these days in everything from plumbing (read Home Depot) to publishing, but if you really want to make sure your plumbing doesn’t leak and your book has the quality to find a good audience, you need to invest in professional services, and this expertise will incur a significant investment.
So, get real before you try to get published to make the most out of your story or message.
The Week’s Favs
Createspace.com: Amazon is a bit of a monster, and their path is not perfect, but they do offer a spectrum of publishing services in package form (not sure if the compensation to the providers is all that great), and they provide excellent instructions for giving them what they need if you choose to use other providers for services. I understand that their customer service is pretty good. Amazon does get its money at the distribution end, though.
SkipJack Publishing: So far, some really great tips on self-publishing from Pamela Fagan Hutchins, a serial fiction author. Especially for those of you who are writing stories, she’s a good resource. This week she’s raving about a new marketing tool she found. Sounds pretty good.