Recently, guest blogger Brian Drake gave us his take on The Cost of Self-Publishing. Brian will be back shortly with another side to the coin, but successful self-publisher Perry Constantine has also weighed in on the subject, which is presented below…
THE LOW COST OF SELF-PUBLISHING
Recently, I read a post by Brian Drake about . It was an interesting take on the subject and Brian makes some good points about the hidden costs of self-publishing that may not be readily apparent. However, after reading the post, I thought on my own self-publishing career. Before I go into too much detail on this, allow me to take a minute to tell you about my output to date in 2015.
In January, I launched my Vanguard serial. Five episodes released a month apart, with a bonus prequel episode offered as an incentive for mailing list subscribers. June saw the release of Curse of the Necronomicon, the third novella in The Myth Hunter series, followed by the release of my third Infernum novella, Gentleman Rogue. The compilation of the first season of Vanguard will be out shortly followed by the debut of season two in September (with a switch to a bi-weekly schedule).
The reason I tell you all this is because at the costs Brian cites in his post, I would not be able to put out so many titles. Instead of monthly releases, I would be lucky if I could afford one annual release. But I’m able to put them out at professional quality for a fraction of the costs. Of course, it’s not easy. It takes a lot of hard work. And I will say first that my situation is somewhat unique. But the reason I’m able to put out so much work on my own is because I learned how to use the tools of the trade and learned how to use them well. I also paid attention to what was around me.
It wasn’t always the case and there was some trial and error. The covers on my first three books—Fallen, Chasing The Dragon, and Love & Bullets were all truly, truly awful. The cover for Outlaw Blues was also not much better. The Lost Continent and Dragon Kings of the Orient fared much better, but they had another problem—there was no real series branding or sense of genre in them.
A good cover designer will cost you a lot of money, but there are workarounds. I learned how to use Photoshop through a lot of practice. I researched tutorials on different effects, practiced those tutorials until they were committed to memory, and would always be on the lookout for more. I made friends with graphic designers and showed them my work and asked them to critique it. Those critiques are what led to the most-recent covers, seen below in these images:
All those covers were created by myself, using a combination of stock photography and Photoshop tutorials. I made them by studying the successful books in the genres I was targeting, and from there it took a lot of trial and error and a lot of critiquing from professional cover designers.
Of course, I’m not saying this is by any means easy. But the total cost of all these covers combined was about $100 worth of stock photography. If you’re good with Photoshop, then it’s just a matter of studying the genres and seeing what works. Often times, you’d be surprised how effective a simple cover with strong branding can be. The Infernum covers, for example, are not at all complex. White background, dark figures, grunge overlay, color overlay, and text. But all those elements work together in a way that fits wonderfully into the thriller genre.
But even if you don’t know the first thing about Photoshop and are unwilling to learn, there are still cheaper alternatives to an expensive cover. One option is , an online resource for designing not only covers but also social media graphics. Another option is , a site launched by professional cover designer Derek Murphy.
Fiverr has a number of people who will design covers or you can look at pre-made covers, which range in price from $30-50. Or make friends with people who are able to help out on covers. I’m part of an author group that has a great, active, and very supportive membership. The cover designers who critiqued my covers? They’re from that group. They’ve also done cover work for other members in the group, usually for nothing more than an exchange of services. For example, if one author can provide editing and another can provide covers, that can save you a lot of money.
The cover’s taken care of, but there’s still the matter of formatting. Well, for about $30-40, you can purchase a copy of . This is a wonderful all-in-one writing application. Not only is it a far superior word processor to Microsoft Word that gives you greater control in organizing your projects, but the compile features are tailor-made for the DIY self-publisher. Scrivener produces great ebooks in both epub and mobi formats with an auto-generated table of contents. There’s also an output for print books. I’ve never used this myself because I format my own books through Adobe InDesign. If you really insist on Word, then CreateSpace offers free templates for formatting paperbacks. Another epub formatting option is , a free cross-platform application for designing ebooks.
Now there’s still the matter of editing, which is a big one. And this is something that can be harder to find good prices on. I have a benefit because I’ve worked as a professional editor and I have a masters degree in English and Creative Writing. I produce fairly clean manuscripts as first drafts and I’m able to catch about 98% of any additional mistakes on my editing passes. I also ask the people in my author groups to look over it, mostly for story problems. Again, this is where author groups are a valuable asset. Another option is just shop around. Look at the freelance sites like Elance or Upwork and post an ad with your budget. Maybe you’ll find someone, maybe you won’t. It’s worth trying.
If this all sounds like it’s cutting corners, then you’d be right. But the wonderful thing about self-publishing, especially if you avoid paperbacks at first, is that nothing is set in stone. If you find a mistake, you can fix it and re-upload the file. If you can’t afford editing now but can in the future, then do what you can and go back to it later.
You absolutely can break the bank with self-publishing, but it’s not true that this is the only way to do it properly. You just have to be smart about it and most importantly, do your research. For further information, I highly recommend by Simon Whistler. It’s a great book that will provide you with a lot more tips and advice on how to get your work out there on the cheap.
The biggest expense I’ve found is advertising, but this is well worth it. There are some best practices to keep in mind with advertising in order to get the most out of your dollar. First of all, don’t promote the first book unless you have the second book out. Second, permafree does still work. I recently ran a promotion on Love & Bullets, the first book in my Infernum series. Love & Bullets is permafree and I bought ads from EReader News Today ($25) and BKnights on Fiverr ($5). The ad ran last month to tie in with the release of the third book in the series, Gentleman Rogue. Since the ad ran, I’ve seen something very interesting happen. Book two in the series, Outlaw Blues, has traditionally been one of my worst sellers. But after this ad, it’s become the top-selling title in my catalogue. I’ve also noticed many people buying not only Outlaw Blues but also Gentleman Rogue at the same time. If you don’t want to give it away for free, then try dropping the price of the first book to 99¢. And all of this is without being enrolled in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program.
One thing Brian touched on which I’d like to mention are Facebook ads. This is an area that’s not very well understood and Facebook advertising is difficult to get a handle on. I haven’t tried them yet, but from what I understand, there are a few things you have to be very careful about. One is targeting. If the ads aren’t properly targeted to the right audience, you won’t get much of a return. Another is images. Make sure you use images that are ideally sized for the Facebook ads. And unless you’re trying to build up subscribers for your mailing list, you’re better off using Facebook advertising for high-priced items. has provided a lot of valuable information about using Facebook advertising and I’d recommend signing up for his list and viewing his free videos on the subject. One of the things he recommends is not to advertise items that are under $5-6, because you need to move a lot more units in order to make money or even break even. If you’re an author of short titles that are priced primarily at $2.99, how can this be accomplished?
Simple—bundles. Get out several books, bundle them together as a single ebook and publish it on the platforms. If you’re selling three $2.99 novels bundled together for $5.99, you’re basically running a “buy two, get one free” deal.
While I haven’t been making a lot of money on self-publishing up until this point, I am building up more and more momentum month after month. I’ve been not only breaking even, but taking in a small profit. Not enough to quit my day job, but it is a start.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Percival Constantine is an author, editor, book formatter, and cover designer who has been working in the publishing industry since 2005. He’s the author of several series: The Myth Hunter, Infernum, Vanguard, and Luther Cross.
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