The Price of Self-Publishing Part 1

I am a college student. I buy my books. I go to classes for a few hours throughout the day everyday. And I sleep in my dorm.

But, I’m also going to be an author, a self-published author. At 19, I’ll be publishing my first novel, Dreamer (all the information for the book is here if you’re interested), a book that I’ve been writing and reading for years now. I started this book while I was still in high school, and I’ve always had my mind on getting Dreamer and every other book I write published. I did all the research I possibly could on publishing methods; and, it’s romantic, I feel. Having complete authorial control over you world, over your characters sounds like a dream… didn’t mean to do that pun. You don’t have any arbitrary deadlines set by the publisher, you have direct input in your cover, in the marketing… all of these steps are taken by you yourself because you are the publisher in self-publishing.

And, it was for these reasons that my brain always turned to self-publishing, to me taking charge of my own writing and seizing control (if you want me to, I’ll do a different post on why I chose to self-publish that’ll go into these different things).

But, self-publishing is done–while not totally by yourself (editors and cover designers and beta-readers and what-not)–with you yourself managing everything. And, as all of these different people involved have to be paid, you are dealing with it all. You’re supplying their pay because you are the publisher.

And that’s what we’re talking about today: the price of self-publishing… or rather, what it could be.

Helping Humans

“So, why are you talking about this, Ja-Mel? Why devote a whole post to finances?” you ask.

I feel like the explicit money part of the self-publishing equation is left out, or if not left out, it’s either being explained and talked about as potentially far too much (especially for the cover and editor) or it’s all very surface-level, just saying “expect to spend around $1000-$2000 dollars). I feel I can do something with this to help others make a more informed decision. I’ve been through the process once at maybe one of the most stressful and taxing of times in a person’s life, so if I can help, why shouldn’t I? Now, let’s dig in.

Covers and Editors

This is, by far, the biggest part where I feel the figures given are either too extreme or can be cut down severely. Tell me if you’ve heard something similar to this when you told fellow writers you were considering self-publishing: “Set aside about $2000 for a quality copyeditor (or developmental) and set aside about $800 for a quality cover.”

I’m an Independent!

Did you just cringe at those amounts? That’s $2800 dollars. And there are more costs to come. “If I spend $2000 on the developmental edit, I might spend that same amount (if not a bit more) on the copy edit. And a somewhat smaller amount than that (just a few hundred) for the line edit/proofread,” you might be (or might have) thought to yourself.

When considering literal thousands of dollars on two elements of the process (two important elements, yes, but two elements nonetheless), it might sour your perception of everything else. You might just think, “well, I’ll just self-edit and design my own cover to cut down on costs.”

My response: yes, you can… but should you?

My answer: no. Unless you have experience in graphic design, you shouldn’t make your own cover. I’ve left editing out of that because even my friends who are professional editors with clients do sometimes get someone else to edit their own work because it’s easy to overlook some things. For some people, however, they don’t see it as a problem if they edit their own work and they’re editor themselves, so make of that what you will.

That being said, if you notice, I said unless you have experience, it’s ill-advised. If you’re a graphic design student or had taken grammar classes, then I wouldn’t do it. Using myself as an example, I’ve taken a grammar class for a whole semester (a period of about 3 months). I did my own self-editing, but I did get and pay my lovely editor. She commented, and I quote, “I have to say your writing is excellent. I’m beyond impressed that this is your first novel. You clearly have an advanced grasp on grammar, pacing, and dialogue.”

But, I’m not just saying this to gloat; the opposite, in fact! This shows that you can get such a grasp on the grammar that you know grammatical rules. I didn’t know everything, and my editor did correct me on some things, but on the whole, the grammar was good. But, we’ll dig into editing in a bit. In regards to the cover, I’ve done some simple photo manipulation and I could’ve learned to make a good cover, but I didn’t trust myself, so I outsourced it. And I couldn’t say I could be happier with my cover. Now, let’s dig into prices and my process of looking.

How much do I owe you?

My cover designer, Danya Raquel, is a graphic design student, and she used premade covers. She used photo manipulation for the whole of the process, working with me. We ran through multiple drafts that didn’t quite capture what I was going for when the picture that would become Dreamer came in. It came in from a search my friend did, actually. The instant I saw the original photo and then the finalized cover, I fell in love with it.

And looking at my cover, does it look like it was made with pre-existing images? Did it look like I paid only $150 for the whole cover?

The original image that my friend sent me that became Dreamer’s cover
The finalized cover of Dreamer

You read that right. $150. Not $800 like the suggestion up above. $650 less. Money that went towards my ISBNs, my proof copies, and editor, among other things.

And speaking of, my editor, Shaylin, did a combo copy/line edit for $600. She ran through it multiple times, cleaned up my words, sent it to me a few days later, and then I made corrections. I sent her the doc piece-by-piece, and she sent it back to me piece-by-piece.

“What about a developmental edit? Isn’t that necessary?”

From my editor friends as well as the editors that I was originally going to go with for developmental edits, it depends. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have a developmental editor take a second (or third or fourth) look at your book for you and tell you what to fix. I, however, was really really eager to get Dreamer out into the world and forwent this process for more rounds of beta and alpha reading. They were truly instrumental in Dreamer getting to the point it’s at, and even if you do decide to go for a developmental edit, utilize your beta readers as much as humanly possible (fairly, of course). You want to come into the edits with your (and your book’s) best foot forward.

Mitigating Costs

So, how’d I get my book to the point that it’s at? I spent $600 on a combination of copy and line editing and just $150 on the cover. The two biggest parts of the book and its presentation are done at about a quarter of the price that you might’ve heard people give you. That means the rest of the approximately $1000 that I’ve spent thus far went towards book-keeping, managerial things (and these are all in large swathes as well).

First, I went to Twitter and Facebook. Yes, really. If you look online, you’ll likely (most definitely) find editors charging $.02 per word for either developmental or copyediting (line-editing, as I saw from some editors, appeared to be $0.1 per word). Taking Dreamer‘s pre-editor word count of 60,434, and multiplying that by the $.02 per word price that some editors charge, I would’ve spent $1,208.68, a little over double what I actually paid (keep in mind, this is just for a copy-edit, not a copy and line combo like I got with Shaylin, so I actually would’ve paid $1892.36 total had I gone with a different editor online–almost triple). And that’s not counting if I’d need any other edits made after the fact, which is always a possibility.

Twitter has tons of editors and cover designers, people that make amazing, quality work. And to get in contact with these people, you have to talk to them. A lot of them have contact forms so they can be reached. Shaylin actually reached out to me after I made a Twitter post requesting an editor.

The Twitter Post I made that got me in contact with Shaylin

If you read this post, you can see that, not only was I asking for an editor, I was also transparent. And transparency is key. Now, I will be the first person to admit that I got very lucky. I’m lucky that I’m in college and doing this while I don’t have to pay for a mortgage or food or any really adult things. Going to school lets me save up my money. Dreamer was made from both money I made during the school year and money from my summer job. I, as a college student, got lucky that I was able to publish now. People were gracious enough to help me, and be flexible and I will forever be grateful for them.

Now, that being said, you don’t have to be a college student or a single mother or what-have-you to self-publish. Publishing is for everyone that wants to get a story out there. But it’s expensive. $1700+ doesn’t fall into your lap every day. I saved up months worth of money (in between spending money on food, transportation, subscriptions to Apple Music and the like, and miscellaneous purchases) and I’m still strapped for cash and still need to get $150 to my editor (I swear to God, I will pay you Shaylin when I get money). Every email I sent was transparent and genuine. I gave the specifics of my situation and said that I was willing to be flexible with the cost to accommodate if she wanted more. I also asked if it would be possible to make payments.

If you can set aside little bits of money here and there, then maybe you can end up keeping some aside for an initial payment. You can arrange payments and cost and all of that with your editor and maybe even your cover designer. And if you can’t save any money whatsoever (because, let’s face it, there’s privilege in me being able to self-publish at all and I’m painfully aware of it) or just want to take care of these things yourself, there is another way.

Learning to do it all yourself

Like I mentioned before (and if you read the acknowledgements of Dreamer and even this post, you’ve likely seen), publishing and self-publishing are not a one-man or one-woman show. There are so many people working and willing to work that you’re not truly alone. Your name’s on the book, but there’s so much to every book than just the author. And you can work with all of these other people to make good arrangements either for that one project or indefinitely (Shaylin and I are in a long-term partnership, as are Danya and I). Please vet them beforehand. Ask for samples of their work before you begin to pay them, I beg of you.

But, if you do want to do it all yourself, there are ways to do it. There are tons of books on grammar and self-editing online that you can buy (or ask for as gifts from family or find at the library). For graphic design, you can fiddle around and make covers (apparently you can make one in Canva like my friend did for NanoWrimo, though I didn’t know this was a possibility) in photo manipulation apps. I use the free program GIMP and find free stock images and premades online from places like Shutterstock, Pixabay, etc. From there, you can go to a writer’s group on Facebook or Twitter and ask them to how you can make it better.

I’ve never tried them out, but if you do have a bit of money to spend, there is this sort of online class thing called SkillShare. You can subscribe (I believe) and take classes on virtually anything. I haven’t tried them out, but I have heard people say they were good and they should offer a free trial. It might be worth a try. Even a little bit of knowledge goes a long way. Similarly, you can ask me for help! Reach out to me via the contact form on my site and I can send you all of my grammar powerpoints (I still have them saved on my flash drive). They’re a treasure trove of information (especially when it comes to commas, conjunctions, and clauses), things that will help the readability of a piece.

There are options out there. There are things that you can do to publish affordably. I’m expecting to spend about $300 more dollars before Dreamer’s launch on March 19, and the amount that I saw quite a few times as an approximation of how much you should spend was $1000-$2000. I’m currently around the middle, but I’m still within that range.

And there’s so much more to talk about, but that’ll be for the next post. This is long enough already and I don’t want to overwhelm your brains with way too much stuff (I’m worried I’ve done that already). If you’re a self-published author or are going to self-publish or thinking about it, tell me if this helped you at all and how what I’ve done and advised stacked up to what you’ve done. I’d love to hear from you all! I’ll have part 2 out in a few days!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.