What does it really cost to self-publish a book? I thought this question had been answered for me when an author came to visit my high school to talk to a group of students who were interested in learning more about patenting and publishing. She was a romance novelist and had self-published over twenty of her own books, some of which were sold in popular airport bookstores.
She explained to us that while self-publishing costs more upfront, she was ultimately able to make a larger profit because she had more control over the money she made off her sales. Usually, writers who commit to large publishing companies keep less than half of their book’s profit. But I want to explain the process, because self-publishing is not for everyone, nor should it be. How does an author become confident enough in his or her work to make such a time-consuming commitment?
According to Tom Harris, a writer for the website “How Stuff Works,” which is also the home of my favorite podcast (“Stuff You Should Know”), self-publishing is essentially the same thing as running a small publishing company. You may have to get a business license and even a bank account. You may also have to come up with your own name, logo, and perhaps a website. But before you even start setting up your business, the first step to self-publishing is making sure you have a sellable product. Research websites and fan bases and see what people are buying and where and for how much. Be confident enough in not only your writing, but also the book’s design, genre, target audience, and so on.
To keep yourself on track during the writing process, you should set your own deadlines. Hiring a developmental editor can help motivate you to have a specific amount written for a set date. Developmental editors help you to plan and structure your work; they give you useful feedback about the track of your book. The author, however, ultimately has the final say, unlike with some larger publishing houses. Once you have completed a manuscript, you could hire a copyeditor to get some professional feedback on your work before sending it into the world.
As Tom Harris explains, “For your work to be a viable book that can sit on bookstore and library shelves, it needs a few additional things. Before printing, you need to: Get an International Standard Book Number…Get a Library of Congress catalog number…Get a European Article number…Set a price.” Include details like an author bio and endorsements or reviews on the back cover to give your book a more professional look.
Once your manuscript is complete and ready for printing, decide whether you want to publish your book electronically, in print, or both. The first step for either option is to create a digital copy through computer software which isn’t so difficult to find and manage nowadays. Your next step would be to do some research on book manufacturers and, when you find one that appeals to you, ask for a quote, just like you would ask for a quote from your editor.
Finally, once your book has been printed and it’s ready to be sent out into the world and shared on Facebook profiles and showcased on Instagram and retweeted on Twitter, you must complete the process by marketing your work. “There are a few major marketing steps that are nearly essential: Fill out an Advance Book Information (ABI) form at BowkerLink.com before your book goes to press…Send advance information and copies of your book to Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal…Pick other suitable publications and send them books for review” (Harris). There are also book and lifestyle bloggers who recommend great reads to their followers; you may want to contact these people (usually via email) and offer to pay them to advertise your book (which you would obviously send to his or her P.O. box, free of charge) to their audience. Giveaways on social media usually seem to have successful outcomes, too. I’ve seen ads for books everywhere, from podcasts to music streaming websites to Tumblr and Pinterest posts. There are endless opportunities, but only so much money, so choose your advertisement outlets wisely and according to your target audience.
So, what is the real price of self-publishing? The answer: a lot of hard work, but when done correctly and efficiently, worth the time and money and pressure. Of course, it is not for everyone, and sometimes signing a contract with a publishing company can make one’s career as an author soar. But evidently, a self-published book that does well on the market is obviously a great option for an author trying to get a foot in the door of the literary world without wanting to commit to a large company. Plus, once you self-publish one book, you may find yourself content with the process and willing to continue your career on a more individual level, much like the romance novelist I was fortunate enough to learn from several years ago.