How much does self-publishing cost?

Just recently, a lot of shit has been flung my way in the form of comments, emails and news items about the cost of self-publishing and the benefits or otherwise about signing deals with service providers. All that topped off this morning with the announcement that Simon & Schuster is starting a self-publishing arm. There is just so much wrong with this I don’t even know where to begin. They charge from $1500 to $25,000 to publish and market your book. Sorry about the screaming and the language but ARE THEY FUCKING KIDDING?

Let’s re-visit that old popular post Ten Home Truths About Starting in Self-publishing. Point number 4:

4. Don’t go overboard with expenses – make your writing self-sustaining
… Your sales are likely to be very small initially. If you have numerous titles, it is easy to spend lots on covers, formatting and editing. Most of that money will take a long time to recoup. If you get discouraged, you’ll never recoup it.

What should self-publishing cost? Well, at its very basic level…




That’s right.

It costs nothing.

… If you are re-publishing a story that’s been pre-published and has been edited, or if you have a couple of good editing and proofreading friends with whom you exchange manuscripts.
… If you are reasonably handy with Photoshop so that you can produce a reasonably attractive cover until such time that sales warrant spending a bit on a better cover.

Remember that old adage “money flows to the writer?”

It should also apply to self-publishing.

Never spend any money unless the benefits are clear. If you spend $100 on a book cover because you’re crap at Photoshop, it’s clear what you’re paying for. In the case of a very new author or a short story, it could still be too much, but it’s one-off and doesn’t come with contracts and it won’t break anyone’s budget.

However, if some self-publishing “partnership” venue (be wary of the word “partnership”) wants a percentage for “services” that include marketing and such, do the following:

(this is really important)

Look up their titles on Amazon, B & N and other retailers.

What are the book’s rankings? At the point of writing this post, an overall ranking of 100,000 at Amazon requires about a sale a day. A sale a day at B & N will keep a book at about 70,000. That’s thirty sales a month. Say your book was $4.99, that will net you about $100 for the month.

Is this worth giving someone a percentage? Moreover, is this any higher than you could get the book on your own? (My answer to that is: no).

For their “marketing fees”, do the books have any reviews? Reviews, good or bad, mean that people are reading the book. If someone charges a fee for “marketing”, they had better net you some reviews. Sadly, in all cases where I’ve looked at self-publishing service providers, both ranking and reviews have been sorely lacking.

So, what do you actually pay for?

Don’t sign these deals, people. Just don’t.


11 comments on “How much does self-publishing cost?

  1. Definitely beware publishing partnerships! My husband published a book under Publish America and now years later still has not seen a single “royalty” from any sales. According to them he has not sold but one book…ever. Which even in our small circle we know he sold over 200 in the first 3 months of the book being in the online stores. We are now just waiting out the contract so he can continue to publish the series with a different route. Other than their reviews on the site I haven’t heard a single good thing about them. I wish we would have done a lot better researching before agreeing to the contract for the book 😦 He is an amazing writer and has great stories … but due to our inexperience he lost out on a lot of things.

    • Thanks for responding. This is really sad, and probably your husband would never have done this had he read the advice against going with companies like this. Everyone feels insecure when they first start out, and when some company tells you that they will take care of everything and get you sales, then it’s comforting and all-too-easy to believe them.

      Unfortunately, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is, especially in publishing. This is a hard and unforgiving business.

  2. I’ve lost the link to the Kurzweil interview where he said, “Publishing is a button.” These people are trying to sell the most expensive buttons imaginable.

    • I would have no problems with expensive buttons if the expense actually added value. However, publishers have found out out over the last hundred years, no one has a clue what makes a bestseller, and throwing money at a book doesn’t guarantee anything. So what they’re doing is this: they ask authors to pay to be in the slush pile, so that they can pick off the ones that find a market. They’re reducing their costs, subsidising their business with money from hapless newbies, thriving on the fact that these people are seriously uninformed, and reducing their own risks by picking off winners.

      As people on the Kindleboards rightly noted, it would be much more honourable for them to simply scour Amazon and offer contracts to people whose books are selling well and who fit with the company’s stable of existing books. But, oh, no, that would require them to pay someone to actually do this without seeing an immediate financial return.

  3. Good on you for calling them out. This business of Big Six (post-mergers, though, perhaps just Five or Four…) publishers trying to horn in on self-publishing and make authors front all the cost and risk just so they can take all the reward is, well, it’s kind of a scam. And it’s pretty sad when major corporations try to use their reputation to in order to run a scam.

  4. Pingback: Friday Features #33 - yesenia vargas

  5. Pingback: How many copies will my self-published book sell? « Must Use Bigger Elephants

  6. This is honest, straightforward advice–I’ve Tweeted the link. I am a big believer in there being 3 excellent publishing paths these days–and how lucky we are to have options. But it’s important to recognize the pros and cons to each. One of the pros of self-publishing is infinite shelf life, which means that you don’t have to get it right right away…you can explore what works and what doesn’t. And paying upfront, or signing away a lifetime %, isn’t especially likely to make it work. Your own great book, though–that will. Thanks for the post!

  7. Pingback: Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies Issue #27 — The Book Designer

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