Publishing 101: Cost to Publish – Part One

Publishing 101: Cost to Publish – Part One

This might be the stickiest of wickets when it comes to discussions about publishing. Because cost is a question that comes up so often, I want to make sure I do it justice. In this post, I want to hit on some basic ideas and then we’ll dig deeper into various aspects and costs in future posts, sound good?

When looking at costs, the first thing we have to do is identify what type of publishing we are talking about. There are three basic publishing options and it is exceptionally important to understand the difference, especially when it comes to cost. Each option has pros and cons. Options for publishing include:

  • Traditional Publishing
  • Self- or Independent-Publishing
  • Vanity or Hybrid Publishing

The Least Out-of-Pocket Expenses: Traditional Publishing

Traditional publishing is often the dream of any writer. It means an editor at a publishing company reads your book and decides it has some sellable merit. Traditional publishers handle everything except the writing of a book. That includes editing, cover design, formatting, distribution, and to some extent, marketing. They do all of this at no cost to the author, but because they incur the risk and the cost, they also take the lion’s share of the profits when a book sells. Traditional publishers often also require a book be submitted to them through a literary agent.

I know what you’re thinking…is there a cost to work with a literary agent? Nope. Agents take on clients for many of the same reasons publishers do: because they believe a book has merit and will sell.

In general, the cheapest way to publish a book is through a traditional publisher.

However, if you want to impress an agent or editor, you may find some value in hiring an editor before submission. Is it required? No, but in the ultra competitive world of publishing, a well-written book will stand a better chance, in my opinion, then one riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes. Authors may want to consider hiring a copyeditor or a proofreader before submission. That cost varies and we’ll get into more specifics in a later post.

Variable Out-of-Pocket Expenses: Self- or Independent-Publishing

Thanks in part to ebooks and print-on-demand technology, self-, or independent publishing has reshaped the publishing landscape. Platforms like Amazon allow anyone to publish a book for absolutely zero cost. However, the independent publishing community as a whole is torn about what services an author should invest in before publication. Most successful independently publishing authors would agree that professional editing and cover design are a must. Some would also add formatting and marketing as necessary expenses. The thing to keep in mind with self-publishing, like with most businesses (and yes, publishing is a business), the more you invest in your product, the better it will sell and at a higher price.

Many authors would say there is a delicate balance between publishing expenses (editing, cover design, etc.) and volume of sales in order to make those costs worth it. I often hear authors lament the expense of a professional cover when they intend to sell their books for $.99 and past publications have rarely sold more than a dozen copies. I get that. But I also know that a good cover often means the difference between someone stopping to read your blurb and scrolling on by. And that blurb? It better be good, or they’ll quickly click away in search of a book that draws them in from the very first sentence. I also know many authors who don’t care if they sell a bunch of copies, they just want to see their name on the cover. And that is perfectly fine, too.

It really boils down to your goals.

When it comes to independent publishing, you are the human-in-charge. You decide what you can afford. You decide if the service has value. You make all the decisions about how and when to market your book. You set the price of your book and chose the genre to market it in. It’s a lot of work, but it also means that you earn the greatest percentage of profit when you sell your books.

So, how much does it cost to engage all of these services? That, my friend, is a difficult number to pin down. Editors range anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars. Cover designs range from inexpensive pre-made designs to fully custom artwork. But the great thing is, just like there is a variety of authors in the world, there is also a variety of editors and artists. You can find quality work in almost any price range, but you must do your due diligence. Ask for referrals. Ask other authors who they use. Keep in mind that engaging a professional is an investment in your book. It is not required, but professional authors use these services. Does that mean you have to sell a kidney or take out a second mortgage to afford them? No, absolutely not. I’m a fan of buying the best you can afford and/or getting creative in how you engage these services. Sometimes it might mean delaying your publication date a bit if it means you can work with a good editor or designer. Some editing is better than none. A pre-made cover is better than a PowerPoint slide. Do the best you can and learn as you go.

Highest Fixed Cost: Hybrid/Vanity Publishing

One option for publishing that many new authors are drawn to is hybrid or vanity publishing. These publishers will perform all of the services of a traditional publisher, but they either split or pass the costs on to the author. In other words, they charge authors a fee to edit, design a cover, format, and market a book. Sound familiar? One might ask why anyone would engage this type of publisher if they could just do it themselves.

There in lies the sting…if they can and want to do it themselves. Many authors simply don’t have the time, experience, or desire to learn what it takes to manage their own publishing process.

I have no issue with someone engaging with this type of publisher, so long as they go into it with their eyes wide open.

The downside of some of these types of publishing companies is that they represent themselves to new authors as traditional publishers. However, instead of an editor choosing a book on its merits, the only requirement is that the author can pay their fees. Contracts offered by these companies often include dozens, if not hundreds, of printed books. Again, not inherently bad, but if you don’t have a plan (or a fan base), you may find yourself with boxes of books you can’t sell. To rub salt in a wound, sometimes the editing offered is subpar and the marketing offered still requires a tremendous amount of time and expertise on the part of the author. I won’t say you shouldn’t engage with this kind of publisher, there are a few reputable ones out there, just make sure you fully understand the services they offer and set your expectations accordingly.

In Part II, we’ll dig deeper into the costs of editing, cover design, formatting, and marketing.prix

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