I asked my fellow writer, David Drazul, if he would be willing to talk about the self-publishing costs of his novel, Armistice Day, on this blog. He was gracious enough to break down all his expenses and comment on what he would do differently next time. Be sure to check out his book on Amazon.com, and his website here.
I’ve spent my whole working career in technical fields. The style of writing required in engineering and computer programming is very dry and doesn’t lend itself to creative writing. In essence, I had to re-learn how to write.
I was initially inspired to write by the birth of my son. After composing an essay detailing that event, I signed up for the local adult ed writer’s workshop. I tried my hand at non-fiction but it wasn’t until I submitted fiction that everything came together. What would later become Chapter 2 of Armistice Day was submitted to the last class. I don’t know if you want to include this re-education, but if you do, that’s $150.
As I wrote up enough material, I returned to the writer’s workshop to have it reviewed. I went through two workshops at another $150 a pop.
Once I’d taken everyone’s advice on corrections and suggestions, I asked the teacher of the workshop, a writer and editor herself, to perform a final review. I think that was $200. And that was a discounted rate.
I spent the next couple of years pitching agents but had no luck. Bad cover letter from an unpublished author? Probably. I decided to self-publish because I couldn’t stand to have Armistice Day lying on my hard drive forever. I’ll spare you my rants towards agents and traditional publishing as my predictions have largely come to pass. After spending too much time reviewing my self-publishing options, I began my hunt for an illustrator for the cover. The first guy went MIA and I waited too long before picking the next guy. I’m very happy with him though. Very professional. The cover cost me $200, which was very reasonable considering other artists posted rates of several thousand dollars.
Since I went with Lulu, the other publishing costs were nil. As you know, Lulu gets paid when my book sells. I don’t use any of their editorial or marketing services.
Total Publishing Cost: $400 – $850 depending upon how you slice it.
Book Reviews: I’ve got two of those. They were free. Well, the first one received a copy of the book in print so technically that cost me $11 (Cost to make book and have it shipped to the reviewer).
Donations: I donated a copy of the book to my local library. Cost: $11.
Targeted Marketing: I’ve emailed friends and family, posted to MySpace, and made announcements on my blog and three sci-fi rpg message boards (one has since shut down) that the book was out. No cost.
Website: Back when I had a small business, I bought a couple domain names and got some web hosting. I needed more space and functionality than the real cheap/free sites offered so I had to pay. $100/year for domain name and web hosting. I’d still have the website even if I wasn’t writing professionally. I don’t know what other authors do/pay, probably just stick with a free blog.
Business Cards: When I ran a small business, I learned how to make my own business cards on my home pc. I print them myself. The cost here is just for the cards themselves, which is a few bucks.
Advertising: I haven’t popped for this yet. The Indie Spotlight lets people buy ad space for $5-$10/month. There was also a zine I was going to buy ad space in but they folded before they published my short story. That would’ve been about $20-$30.
Trade Shows: The illustrator for Armistice Day rented booth space at GenCon. He offered to sell my book and any other merchandise I had for a flat $50 fee. I went for it and commissioned him to print up some promotional posters. To save myself money, I designed the poster myself. I had four printed up for $100. The illustrator kept one for GenCon (per my instructions) and sent the other three to me for future promotional use. I also sent him 150 biz cards and 15 books (the books cost me $165.72).
Unfortunately, GenCon was a bit of a bust. One book sold. The $15 price was the killer. The bright spot is that the illustrator churned through most of the biz cards so my name is getting out there.
As an aside, I’d hoped that writing short stories would get my name out there and thus increase book sales, but that’s been a bust. The competition in the recession-shrunken genre zine market is brutal. I’ve sold one story. But since Smashwords allows short stories to be released on their site (even reprints if the rights have reverted back to the author), I’m going to post some there after I give up on getting published in the zines. I posted my one sale there (the zine recently closed down) for free (if a book doesn’t sell for $2.99, what can a short story get?) and it’s racked up 51 downloads in a week.
The illustrator is going to TravellerCon in October (a sci-fi RPG) and the same conditions apply. Although it’s another $50, he’s got the books and poster. I have to print up more biz cards. I’m going to discount the book to $10 and see how that goes. It’ll be a loss, but maybe the lower price will shrink my total deficit for this venture.
If anything, the experience at GenCon provides valuable feedback on print pricing. $15.58 is the minimum retail price I can sell the book for on Amazon. I get $1 per book sold there. It tells me that I may have to find a less expensive way to print (Lightning Source, perhaps?) as a no name writer can’t charge $15 for trade paperback without people balking.
Total Marketing Costs (so far): $222, unless you want to include the 14 unsold books from GenCon.
Now these numbers may not seem like much, but the royalties from my book sales fallshort of even these modest expenses. I am at roughly 25 percent of break even at best. If the expenses weren’t so low, it would be really hard to justify. Going forward, when I finally write the sequel, I’ll still need to pony up the editorial and illustrator costs, but I don’t know if I’ll return to the writer’s workshop. New marketing strategies may be in order as well.