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The Steps and Costs to Expect When You Self-publish a Book

Self PublishIf you were to Google “How to self-publish a book”, over 9-million responses pop up. So how do you know what’s the right option for you?

With the advent of print-on-demand intersecting with the hi-tech world of the day, the beauty is that there is no longer a nebulous gatekeeper sitting in a New York City skyscraper deciding if your content is good enough to put into the world. Anyone can get their content into the world. Groovy. But the bad news is that anyone can get their content into the world.

In the wide spectrum of self-publishing, on one end there is the DIY author who writes, self-edits and publishes his book in one day for $0, to the other end where the author who wrote intentionally for a year or more, got professional service providers from a writing coach, development editor, layout professional, etc. involved to make their book good enough to run alongside any NY Times Bestseller for $10,000. And we all share the same umbrella of “self-publishing.”  How much money you sink into the proper professionals would depend on what your goals are. If you’re putting out a legacy book for your family it is probably not necessary to hire an expensive development edit. On the other hand, if you’re writing a book as a lead-generator for your business, then it’s in your best interest to get experienced service providers to help you through all the steps.

So as I lay out all the steps and prices to expect I want you to consider, like with all things, you have a choice in your level of services. You can always choose the cream of the crop service providers, the cheapest, or the happy medium. Depending on your personal style and needs, this could vary from person to person and influence the total cost to produce your book.

1st step: Hire a publishing coach  

Cost: $2500 – $3000 is an average for a soup to nuts project

The first step would be to please consider hiring a publishing coach. A publishing coach is essentially a general contractor for the publishing world. Like a contractor they know their way around the system, they know and have vetted a number of professionals from writing coaches to development editors, and from layout designers to cover designers. They know how to get you into distribution, handle the details of your copyright page, and will keep everyone on time and on budget. They will be there every step of the way to make your learning curve seamless. Like any professional in your life – attorney, nanny, doctor – you would want to interview a number of them to assure they have experience and that you bond with them.

The #1 expense in self-publishing is in the mistakes that you make. A publishing coach helps you avoid them. They also save you from enormous aggravation, frustration, and time.

2nd step: Writing coach or straight to development edit

Cost: with many variances, a writing coach should be $65 – $125/hour x 10 – 30 hours

Development editor: $75 – $125/hour x 10 to a15 hours as an average

These variances depend on how big your book is, what kind of shape it’s in, and the genre. A fiction-fantasy with needed plot development and character development of 100,000 words would be much more development than a 30,000-word business book.

If you’re entering the world of publishing with the concept but haven’t written anything yet, then I highly recommend a writing coach. A writing coach will help you flush out an outline and keep you on track. Writing is very much a discipline, and a writing coach will help you get your manuscript ready much quicker than doing it yourself. Promise!

If on the other hand, you enter the publishing world after having written your manuscript already, your next move would be to start with a development editor. The development editor is very skilled and is looking at the overview of the book. They are looking at the arc of the storyline, character development, inconsistencies, and holes in the storyline. It’s a painful part of the process, but absolutely necessary if you want to put out a great book.  The choosing of your development editor is one of the most important pieces of your journey. You’ve got to trust them, and feel comfortable with them. This is a journey you will take together. Please interview two or three editors that have specifically development experience with your genre.  Also, ask for a sample edit – that is their cost of doing business and they should provide that at no charge.

3rd Step: Copy-line edit

Cost: with huge variances depending on word count and genre, you can expect 10 – 20 hours at $65 – $125/hour

The copy-line edit is the second full round of editing and concentrates on paragraph structure, sentence structure, word choice. Your copy-line editor should be the same editor as your development round. Like clockwork, it’s when the author is in this copy-line round that they start to see through the fog and the book starts to take beautiful shape.

4th Step: Proof edit

Cost: .014 cents per word

While the development and copy-line editors work by the hour, the proof editor generally works for word. The average going rate is .014 cents per finished word. This is usually one solid round of proof-editing, but it’s recommended to do two, (traditional publishers put you through about 5 rounds of proof editing!) but you should then review your own manuscript after their work. Read it backward, forward, out-loud, and print it out to read it again.

5th step: Cover Design:

Cost: $250 – $750

The cover design can actually start as soon as you are committed to your title. It’s not really the fifth step, but actually going on during the whole editing process. Because your cover is your #1 marketing tool, I beg you not to resort to an online template cover design. But again, it depends on your goals. While you start with the front cover and nail down that look and branding, a great deal of attention should be spent on the back cover. In the self-publishing world, the back of the book is often overlooked and is an easy way to get a step above the others if you concentrate some time and effort here. If the front cover is your #1 marketing tool, the back of your book is #2. That would include primarily your back-of-the-book-blurb, which is telling your reader what they’re going to get from your book. It’s the teaser, the promotional piece, and it’s not easy to write. For a tutorial on how to write a back-of-the-book-blurb, you can get a free download here

6th Step: Interior Layout

Cost: $500 – $1000

The price of a book layout doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the page-count, but rather due to the formatting detail. A memoir of straight text and a few photos is pretty straightforward. But if you have a business book – even a short one – it’s more likely to be formatted with italics, bolds, sub-headers, graphs, charts, bullet-points, even a quiz at the end of each chapter. That’s heavier formatting and will cost more. Don’t let it shy you away from making these format choices, they’re necessary, just plan accordingly.  

7th Step: The hidden details

Cost: $0

Hidden details are the pieces that will make your book look like a professionally published book as opposed to self-published. That would include all the details in your copyright page: ISBN, Library of Congress Control Number, your publishing company name and logo, your copyright date, category codes, city of registration, et al.  

8th Step: Go to print

Cost: $2.15 – $6 a book (the variance is dependent on final page count and quantity)

Print-on-demand is a relatively new digital printing process that allows us to print one book at a time. We could always self-publish a book, but when it came to printing our only choice was to use the big off-set printers which had minimums of 3000 print-runs. That pushed most authors-to-be right out of the market.  There are pros and cons to print-on-demand, but for most self-published authors this is a stunning development and is what flipped the publishing world upside down. We are now in charge.

The pros to print-on-demand are that it’s affordable, easy access to make quick revisions, and has seamless access to national distribution channels.  The cons are that there are no bulk discounts and that the printing choices are all standards; standard sizes, standard cover stock, standard paper stock.

So I recommend using both a print-on-demand service, as well as a short-run print service that will print 100 – 500 at a time. For print jobs larger than 500, you would consider a bigger off-set printer.

(The print-on-demand printer I recommend is Createspace, Amazon’s POD service.  Stand by for that blog!)

For true independent publishing, these are the steps you would take. Of course, there are oodles of small details within these 8 steps, but this gives you the guts. And the great news is that as those in the publishing world have flooded into the independent publishing world, we can get all the help we need with professionals at each step. That allows us as authors to keep 100% of our rights and royalties. That’s the part that makes this the most exciting time in history to be a writer.