After an exchange of ideas, my writing buddy and Fight Card alum, Brian Drake, agreed to write an article detailing his experiences and expenditures regarding his self-publishing efforts. Brian is a frank and open guy. He doesn't paint a pretty picture. However, I believe he is on the right track and his attitude and professionalism will eventually win through -- if he doesn't go broke first...
THE COST OF SELF PUBLISHING
Recently Paul and I exchanged a note on Facebook recently about the costs associated with self-publishing. We thought we'd highlight my experience with DIY publishing, which is probably a good example of the worst case scenario for indie authors. In other words, I’m not Konrath, Howey, or any of the other self-publishing heroes, but I think you’ll find this information useful.
I started self-publishing in 2010 with two titles: Reaper Dozen: 12 Stories of Crime and Suspense, and Justified Sins.
I went cheap. I mean Jack Benny cheap. The cover of Reaper's Dozen originally showed me with a pistol aimed at the camera. We took that in the living room. A little Photoshop magic and there was a shadow over my face and the wall vanished and we were off to the races with something that, looking back, was tacky. But it didn't cost anything but time.
Second book. Justified Sins. No self-portrait this time. We paid an artist friend $150 for a hand-drawn a cover. I wanted a man holding a gun. I wanted that man to look a little like Lee Marvin. What my friend delivered was the exact opposite. Yes, it was a man holding a gun, but he looked nothing like Lee Marvin, and my buddy must have thought he was drawing for a comic book because the gun was HUGE and the whole thing looked ridiculous. No editing cost.
Sales were decent for a year or so. I think my best was 30 copies each for two consecutive months. At $.99, no less. I couldn’t get arrested for $2.99 back then. Those two books taught me there was no way to do this cheap and be successful. I decided with the start of my Steve Dane series that we needed good covers, proper editing, and we'd have to spend some money to get it.
I wrote Steve Dane #1, The Rogue Gentleman, around the middle of 2011. Cover: Pre-Made $200. Two editors: $250 and $200, respectively. Total: $650. We could go broke doing this. But we pressed on!
We released Steve Dane #2, Mine to Avenge, about six months later. Thanks to my wonderful friend James at GoOnWrite.Com, I found very good, pre-made covers (with custom options) that significantly reduced my cover costs. Editing: $450 (two editors once again). Cover: $45 (on sale). Total: $495. We still might go broke.
Steve Dane #3, Another Way to Die, came out this year. I took advantage of a deal James offered for four custom covers for $200. That would brand all of the Dane books with similar cover images. Editing: $300 (single editor this time). Total spent, $500, but broken down, that's $300 for editing, and $50 for the cover for a specific total of $350. But then we have to add the other cover money to Dane's #1 and #2.
So: Dane #1 new total: $700…Dane #2 new total: $545
Dane #4 is not done yet, but so far we're only in $50 for the cover.
How much have we spent, all told, over these books? $1745.
How much have we made in royalties between 2010 and 2015, as of this writing? $600.
Ouch. That's almost embarrassing to type.
Wait, no. That is embarrassing to type. Even when I round up it looks like failure.
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This doesn't even take into account money spent on advertising, which I have not really done, and thus have no true accounting. The best results I've had have come from a group on Fivver called BKnights, but if you do an ad with them with a book over $.99, you won't see any blip. I've spent maybe $30 with them, but never broke even. However the blip I did receive was nice to see. When I made Dane #1 free, BKnights brought me a ton of customers who, apparently, never came back for the other books. Thanks, guys.
I spent $100 attempting to advertise on Facebook, a nice ad for Steve Dane #1 ran for a week or so – it only netted me a note from a girl in South America who wanted to know if Dane, the spectacular free-lance agent, could help her with a problem. I was tempted to reply, He’s not real! Advertising on Facebook also almost made me want to quit. You can see people clicking on your ad, but when nobody bothers to even click over to Amazon to at least look at the book, it's a little disheartening.
Can you afford to self-publish? It’s not an easy answer. I guess a better question is, if you can afford it, can you stick with it? Are you willing to treat it as a hobby, much like SCUBA diving, until sales pick up?
There are worse hobbies. More expensive ones, too.
The more I learn about this, the more I see areas of improvement, not necessarily in writing, but in launching a book, gathering reviews (there are ways to get reviews without paying for them, Mr. Locke), and taking advantage of free sites that will allow me to advertise. In other words, I'm learning there are steps I can take to get the numbers up. Ask me again in ten years.
You probably don't need two editors. I used one for content editing and the other to catch all the typos myself and the first editor missed. Money well spent. The books are clean. But I'm getting gray hair waiting to make that cash back.
Self-publishing cannot be done on the cheap, especially when it comes to editing. Maybe you can make your own covers. That'll save some bucks. Save your money from your regular job, too. I wish I had, but things at my regular job were going so well I splurged on a sports car instead of saving for business expenses, and, well…anybody want to buy a nice Corvette with only 80,000 miles? I swear I've never raced it. Okay, maybe once.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brian Drake lives in California and hopes to one day do an interview where all of his answers somehow incorporate Taylor Swift lyrics. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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