The was a recent article on Reedsy, where they analysed data from hundreds of freelancer quotes and arrived at the costs of self-publishing a novel to professional standards. i.e. When you you don’t just upload a just-finished-typing Word file to Amazon, but actually produce a book properly. Instead of having the backing of a publisher that does all this, you handle all aspects yourself.
The article is fascinating, but for a quick review here’s their inforgraphic which summarises the article neatly. Scan through it, as I’ve got some interesting observations to share about how to go pro without going broke.
Here are the bottom line, average cost of developmental editing, copy editing, proofreading, cover design and typesetting for an 80,000-word book by genre:
|Thriller, Mystery, and Crime||$4,184|
|Science Fiction and Fantasy||$4,300|
|Business, Self-Help & Health||$6,172|
They go into further breakdown on the article, but between this and the inforgram you should get the idea. Editing takes about 2/3 of the cost, and professional cover and book layout split the rest.
As someone who published a few books (mine and others) at the 100K words range by now, I am proud to say that I was able to do so to the highest standards — with only a fraction of the cost.
How did I not compromise on quality but still manage to spend less than quarter?
I won’t say easy (it’s not), but it’s certainly doable. Your mileage will vary, but if you play to your strengths you can certainly go pro without going broke. I’ll tackle the three main expenses below in order, with some helpful tips.
This is going to be your main expense, for good reason. Nothing says amateur than a badly edited book. From developmental edits to proofing, you need your book to be professional if you want to play in the pro league.
But that doesn’t mean you have to pay through the nose for it. A good editor can tackle a lot of these by themselves, and if you find someone who digs your style and you can afford their fees, then hold on to them. However, you can get still decent returns from a good writing group or a large enough selection of alpha/beta readers. Multiple viewpoints and multiple passes will help identify issues in the novel at the early stages and between drafts.
The caveats are (a) you need to learn to work with such feedback groups, as it’s a skill like any other; (b) be prepared to contribute towards their writing efforts; (c) you probably still need a final proofer. Essentially, you are exchanging paying with money to paying with your time to organise the group and reciprocate. It’s good if you don’t have the cash upfront (and which indie ever does?)
Lastly, remember that there is a point of diminishing return. There is only so much you can perfect a given story, and no one – no one – ever managed to release a first edition without a single typo. At some point, it’s more profitable to publish the book and move on the next.
That’s your next big expense. As someone with limited graphic design skills I know I can only do so much. I can create good marketing collateral based on a book cover, but I can’t do a proper book cover.
“Proper” is an important word here. You can find any number of people of Fiverr and the like who will do a cover – basically a free stock photo, manipulated very lightly, with some text on top. That’s very visible, and you’re likely to see the same images used all around. Similarly, if you employ your friend who did some art credits in college to paint something for you – readers will be able to tell it’s self-published at a glance of the thumbnail on Amazon.
A good and proper over, especially for speculative fiction but for general genre fiction too, blends several images for a unique look. It has both certain blandness (it needs to confirm to genre expectations) as well as working seamlessly with its elements. This is even more true for series. Find a good cover designer, pay them well, and keep them around.
Interior Design (Layout & Typography)
I have to admit that the cost of this aspect point surprised me the most. In my role as publisher, after hiring professional editors and cover designers, I do the book layout myself. Books I have worked for range from classic elegance (my historical fantasy), to graphic-laden science-fiction (Eric Klein), to women’s poetry (for Anaïs Chartschenko).
Part of my day job involves understanding document structures on an intimate level (to the point that I was able to download a book from Amazon, spot a weird error, check the source — and then tell the author who his editor was, and the comments they exchanged about it).
I am also quite proficient with InDesign, but I have never thought about it in terms of the equivalent cost of the hours I spent on each book. At least I now know exactly how much my skills are worth for my publishing company.
Layout and typography are a bit more subtle than the other two aspects, but still quite visible. In paperbacks it will be glaringly visible within the first few pages. Indies normally have an 80/20 split between ebooks and paperbacks, so it might not account for a significant portion, but still. If you do something and put your name to it, make it the best you can. With ebooks, it also doesn’t take much to notice if a book was uploaded direct from Word to Kindle, or was professionally produced to industry standards. Lots of small elements and clues give this away, and while an ‘average’ reader might not be able to put a finger to it, their cumulative effect gives the book an unmistakable amateurish feel.
In an attempt to be as helpful as I can, my previous articles in this series contain tips and tricks about the best way to go about creating and producing print and ebook files. These aren’t “recipes” for book layout, as each novel is different (just like, hopefully, the story within it). If you are creating your own books, I strongly suggest you take a look at them — you might learn something new. If you are looking to outsource your book layout, typography, and production, I can guarantee that my rates will be half the industry’s average ;-).