The Hidden Costs of Self Publishing

I recently learned about the website Kickstarter. If you haven’t heard of them, read on! Long story short, they help fund “projects” such as making a movie or writing a book. Did you hear that indie authors? Writing a book! You can actually create a project and people can donate money to help fund you. In exchange, they get some sort of reward. The more they donate, the more they get! So, someone who donates a dollar could get a “thank you” shout-out in your book. Someone else could get a bookmark, someone could get a t-shirt, and so on and so forth. Brilliant, I think.

So brilliant, in fact, that I decided to try it. I told my husband that I wanted to do it to raise money for advertising and his response was, “Honey, you don’t have to do that. Yeah, we’re saving for a house, but we can easily spare twenty or thirty bucks a month for you to advertise your book.”

I started to explain just how much money really goes in to advertising and he said, “Never mind, try Kickstarter.”

It got me thinking; it has been almost a year since I self-published and the Me from last July had no idea how much money she’d start spending. I realized that there are a lot of people out there who may not know it either. I decided to lay out some of the “hidden” costs of publishing.

I should note that I’m talking about “free” publishing. I’m not talking about paying an agent or anything like that. But, there can be extra costs. There are illustrators, editors, and formatters! Yes, formatters. If you aren’t particularly tech-savvy, you might have to hire someone just to format your book so that you can e-publish it!

I managed to dodge those costs and published for “free”.

But, then it became one book among hundreds of thousands. In order to make it stand out, I realized, I had to advertise. Yes, you can give out free copies in contests and that does help. Since Smashwords allows you to generate free coupons, it helps quite a bit!

You can only go so far like that. I’d like to remind you, that there is room for all of us at the top. It’s not a competition and it’s not a race. That said, if you want your book to get noticed, the fact remains that you are one small fish in a very large ocean. You need to do something to get bigger. Something to go further. And that’s when it turns into money.

First there’s swag. Everyone loves getting an autographed bookmark, right? Unless you’re giving out really crappy bookmarks, you’re paying for those. I found a place I love that costs between $20 and $30 for 100 bookmarks. That isn’t horrible, but if I’m shooting for spending that on advertising every month, as my husband suggested, then bookmarks are all I get that month.

But, you still have to mail them! If you mail all 100 within the US that’s another $40 for postage! Plus you need to buy 100 envelopes! If you decide to take it global, you’re spending even more money!

There. You’ve just blown $70 maybe $80 for a bit of swag. If you go to t-shirts and posters and keychains it goes even higher in both the cost of swag and of postage! If your monthly budget is $20, you won’t even be able to mail those 100 bookmarks the month you buy them! And, ideally, you’ll be giving them away a lot faster than that.

If you look at all of the thriving indie authors, they all offer swag. How can you possibly keep up with the bigger fish if you don’t get some yourself?

And don’t forget a good book trailer! Unless you can do it yourself, you’re paying for that, too!

Then, there are review fees. There are amazing, wonderful, incredible bloggers who will read your book for free. They’ll post tons of reviews for free. They will do giveaways and help you out and I love, love, love them!

But, some bloggers have massive readerships. Some have to charge to read books and post reviews because they have to pay server fees. That’s how many readers they have. If you want to reach their thousands and thousands of readers… Well, you have to pay for it. I cannot recommend the smaller bloggers enough, nor can I praise them as highly as they deserve, but a lot of them are fish, too. Even when we combine our “school” of readers with theirs, it can still be swallowed whole by the whale of larger blogs.

Yes, I like metaphors. Tough.

And now, we get to advertising. Banner ads cost money. I’ve found places that I can run ads on for 2 cents a day. That’s under a dollar a month, but those are smaller sites. That’s maybe 1000 people seeing my ad. Maybe only a couple who click it. There are sites out there charging $2 a day and sites that charge $20!

I sent Goodreads an advertising query and find out they charge $5000, yes with three zeros, a month
! Holy cow! How many indie authors, honestly, could afford that?

Here’s another cost I discovered recently: conventions. There is nothing like getting out there and meeting readers and authors face to face. I went to UtopYA earlier this month and had a blast. But, again, money. I had to buy a table, and swag for the guests, and a hotel room, and plane tickets, and I had to buy three days worth of food! That added up. It added up fast.

And on to print books! Should you decide to go and print paperbacks, that’s wonderful! But, even though it’s your book, did you realize you have to buy them yourself? If you go to a convention and want to take your own books to sell, you have to buy them first! No, you don’t pay full price, but you still have to buy them. Not to mention there’s shipping and handling. And you probably need an extra suitcase to carry them in!

I think that’s enough to make some heads spin for now. Going into it, I knew there would be some costs. But I never realized how quickly they all add up. And they really do.

To wrap it up, I hope some people took away something from this. You don’t have to spend money on your book, of course you don’t. If you want to slap it up on Smashwords and then mention it on Facebook sometimes, that’s fine. But giveaways and swag are becoming, not only popular, but expected!

Don’t let this scare you away from publishing your book — far from it. Just be prepared. Know what you’re getting in to. And, good luck.

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  1. You echo some of my views, just not in my overelaborate language. I wonder if you could do another blog post about the costs of publishing only in ebook format on a micropublishing model.

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