How to Control Your Self-Publishing Costs
So you’ve chosen the self-publishing route, and as a responsible author-entrepreneur, you’ve no doubt set out to create a detailed self-publishing budget for your book.
Unfortunately, you’ve discovered you don’t have unlimited money, and are facing some tough choices. How do you control your costs without compromising your vision?
In this article, we’ll show you some effective ways to reduce your self-publishing costs—and warn you away from some unsafe ideas that could do more harm than good.
To begin with, let’s examine your budget situation.
Know Where You Stand
I’m going to assume you’ve set a maximum budget for your project, and that you have an idea of the cost to publish a book. You should therefore know the relationship between your budget and your expected costs.
If you’ve got room to work with, great! You can use this article to check for any extra savings that might allow you to shift more of your budget to promotions or future books.
But if you’re feeling the squeeze, start by calculating how much you need to save. Then, you can use this article to identify the safest ways to save that money, without compromising your book’s potential.
As you read, keep in mind your audience’s quality expectations. Each genre or category has its own standards. Don’t do anything that would bring your book below your audience’s expectations.
Book Editing and Proofreading Costs
Editing and proofreading can easily take up 40-50% of your budget, making this a tempting target. But savings here are not always easy to come by.
You should banish from your mind any thought of not paying a professional editor. No matter how good you are at self-editing, you can’t see your own blind spots. Use a professional, but prepare your manuscript well, so that their time and effort produces the most possible value for you.
And please don’t even think of using an automated correction tool for your final edit. The technology simply isn’t there yet—you’ll end up “incorrecting” passages that were actually correct as-is. Check spelling, of course, but leave grammar and phrasing to the humans.
So, with those ground rules in mind, what can you actually do to reduce your book editing costs?
- Keep a list of any errors your beta-readers report. Before sending your manuscript to your editor, correct those errors, and search your manuscript to see whether you’ve made the same mistake elsewhere.
- Learn to self-edit effectively. By removing distractions such as repetitive tics or basic errors, you help your editor to focus on finding problems you can’t see.
- Avoid unnecessary rounds of editing or proofreading. Keep your audience’s quality standard in mind, but don’t get caught up in perfectionism. Internalize this truth: widely promoting a book that contains a handful of trivial errors is a better business strategy than weakly promoting a book whose text is flawless.
In the end, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to save a lot of money on your required editing. It’s simply a less flexible cost than others—so let’s move on and look at some of those.
Book Layout Costs
Your layout needs and costs will depend a lot on the type of book you’re publishing, and so will your cost-cutting decisions.
If your book is a visual product (for example, a recipe book), you should be very cautious about cutting any corners on your layout.
For books that are primarily text-focused, understand that layout isn’t so much about aesthetics as it is about readability. Font choice, line spacing, margins—many aspects of your layout, if done wrong, will make your book unpleasant or even difficult to read.
Because layout is a specialized technical task, your options for cutting costs are limited—but you do have a few:
- Use an automated layout program, if appropriate. If your manuscript contains only running text (for example, most novels), you can safely use an automated layout program with a professionally-made template and get acceptable results for both e-book and print (but do resist the urge to tinker with the results).
- Ask your designer to provide a no-frills design, if that will lower the price. Fancy chapter graphics or other custom design are pleasant, but never necessary.
- Publish in fewer formats at first. If your audience is strongly focused on either e-book or print, you can publish first in the main format, making other formats available afterward as demand justifies it. For example, a hard sci-fi novel can safely be published as an e-book first, since that’s the preferred format for that audience.
- Merge your hardcover and paperback layouts. If you’re publishing both a hardcover and paperback edition (which is a decision you should scrutinize), you can potentially use a single interior layout for both formats if they have the same or similar trim size. Ask your designer about this possibility.
Saved anything yet? If not, don’t fear—we’re about to enter more fertile territory.
Book Cover Design Costs
Authors have a strange relationship with their book covers. For something that has the same business purpose as the sticker on a tin of sardines, the intensity of emotion involved can be surprising. (Alright, alright, I’m teasing—barely.)
My point is that you need to approach your cover from a business perspective. It’s a piece of advertising, it targets a specific audience, and it needs to convey a specific message. Have you taken the time to identify that audience and that message? If not, how will you instruct your designer, and how will you know when you’ve got the right cover?
And have you surveyed other covers in your genre, so you know the stylistic conventions? Avoid any temptation to use a style that’s cheap but doesn’t fit your genre. Your buyers will be confused, and your sales will suffer.
With those cautions in mind, here are some safe ways to cut costs on your cover design:
- Buy a pre-made cover. Only do this if you’ve thought hard about the message your cover needs to convey. Otherwise, you’ll end up making compromises to convince yourself this approach is workable. If you do find a pre-made cover that truly fits your book, ensure that you’re licensing it for exclusive use.
- Commission a cover based on stock photos. Assuming a photo-based cover is appropriate for your genre, stock photos are an inexpensive way to get a striking, detailed image. Make sure your designer composites or manipulates the image in some way, to reduce the likelihood of your cover being (legally!) cloned.
- Go with a less-detailed design. Authors, especially of fiction books, often ask for too much detail on their covers. Talk to your designer about ways to pare down the level of detail to save costs, especially if your cover features an original illustration. Even better, allow your designer to provide their own ideas—conveying a message with only a few visual elements is part of their skill set.
- Avoid custom photography or illustration if you have other viable options. These are the two most expensive sources of cover imagery. Only use them if required in your genre or central to your book’s marketing.
We’ve now covered the production side of your expenses: editing, layout, and cover design. What about cutting costs on distribution and marketing?
Self-Publishing and Distribution Costs
The rule here is simple: any choice that reduces the reach of your distribution is a bad one. Always maximize your availability by distributing to all retailers with significant market share, and in all formats that are in demand with your audience.
However, there are two quick ways you can save a little on your distribution costs:
- Don’t buy more ISBNs than your immediate need. Of course, if you can get a large bundle cheaper than individual ISBNs, you should do that. But don’t buy a hundred-pack for hypothetical “future use”.
- Don’t pay for a bar code. These are supplied for free by most distributors, and there are also free barcode generators on the web.
Book Marketing and Promotion Costs
Marketing and promotion is individual to each book, and so are the opportunities to reduce costs. We can’t anticipate your unique situation, but let’s examine a few tips that apply universally.
First of all, remember that your goal is to generate awareness of your book. So avoid any big mistakes that “save” money by crippling your marketing:
- Relying solely on word of mouth. Maybe you’ve heard that “a good book sells itself”. Unfortunately, that’s a lie. Don’t sabotage your hard work—plan and expect to spend money on promotions.
- Relying solely on local legwork. Selling books in person can be invigorating and builds positive relationships. But keep in mind that your audience is global. You need to reach the 99.9% of your readers who don’t live in your neighborhood, and to do that you’ll need to invest.
- Paying for shady shortcuts. For example, paying for social media followers or likes, paying for Amazon reviews, and so on. These scams are worthless, and worse, they can get you banned from the very platforms that are vital to selling your book.
Okay, so you know not to make those big mistakes. Is there any other universal advice for controlling book marketing costs?
- Never pay for promotions you can’t measure. Book marketing is a long-term game of finding the right promotional methods and fine-tuning them. Without measurement, you can’t make those decisions rationally. You’ll end up spending randomly, and that means waste.
- Only pay for tangible results. Always ask yourself, what impact will this ultimately have on sales? Don’t get caught up with abstract or intangible concepts like “buzz”, “exposure”, or word of mouth. The best way to get people talking about your book is to get them to buy it, so look for promotions that have an obvious pathway to generate sales.
- Don’t spread your money too thin. Many promotional options require a certain investment to produce results—or to get sufficient data to know whether they’re performing. Rather than trying everything at once, concentrate your money on the most promising options and evaluate their performance.
Save Money and Make Money
If you’ve made some tough sacrifices, but your expenses still exceed your maximum budget, don’t push ahead in denial or make damaging cuts out of desperation. Instead, make it your mission to find creative ways to raise the remaining funding for your book.
Hopefully, though, this article has helped you to trim your self-publishing budget to something you can afford, or even better, free up additional money for promotions or a future book.
These decisions aren’t easy. One of the best things you can do to get feedback on your plan is to join a community of other authors.
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