Print-on-demand technology with easy user interfaces like KDP/Amazon means that you can literally self-publish a book for free. Really. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the expression “Print-on-demand”, it means that you as a writer upload your finished manuscript and the service publishes a copy of your book when someone orders and pays for it. Gone are the days when a writer would have dusty boxes of their first book in their garage. Today’s technology has made publishing a book affordable to anyone with a word processing program and a reliable Internet connection.
I, however, would make the argument that publishing for free is not always a writer’s best option. Below I will discuss some of the costs associated with self-publishing and why some of these are worth paying.
ISBN or International Standard Book Number
An ISBN is a unique identifying number assigned to your book. When you self-publish with a service like KDP/Amazon, you can get a free ISBN through them. However, at least in the United States, most retail bookstores and libraries will only purchase books with an official ISBN. If you have put together a book of your grandmother’s famous family recipes that you only plan to give all your cousins as a gift, a free KDP/Amazon ISBN will more than meet your needs. However, if you have just written your first novel or book of poetry and plan to ask your local independent bookstore to carry it (currently three books that include my writing are sitting on the shelf of my local bookstore), you will need an official ISBN, even if the bookstore is taking your books on commission. Bowkers is the official ISBN agency in the US and most countries have an official ISBN agency. A single Bowkers’ ISBN can be pricy at $125- if you think you may be publishing more than one book in the future you may want to consider buying 10 ISBNs for $295, which reduces the price per ISBN to about $30 a book.
Title Set-Up Fees & Revision Fees
The most popular option for many independent writers is to publish their book through both KDP/Amazon and IngramSparks. Publishing through KDP/Amazon will automatically make your book available through Amazon.com (US), Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de (Germany), Amazon.fr (France), Amazon.it (Italy), and Amazon.es (Spain.) KDP/Amazon has excellent distribution in these markets and your title is often available for sale there within 72 hours of uploading your manuscript. Indie Blu(e) ALWAYS publishes on KDP/Amazon first and then once the book is available, we publish via IngramSparks.
We do this for several reasons:
1) online and brick and mortar retail bookstores are much more likely to buy from an internationally known distributor like IngramSparks;
2) most US libraries will only order through IngramSparks;
3) IngramSparks has better global distribution outside of Europe, Canada, and Australia than KDP/Amazon;
4) IngramSparks offers better quality paper;
5) You can only publish eBooks and paperbacks via KDP/Amazon while IngramSparks offers the option of hardback copies of your book.
Although IngramSparks offers good global distribution and a really nice product, you pay for the quality. The cost per book is noticeably higher through IngramSparks (either reducing your royalties or forcing you to price your book higher than your market may want to pay), IngramSparks charges a $49 Title set-up fee per book (KDP/Amazon does NOT charge for title set-up), and IngramSparks charges a $25 revision fee every time you upload a new version of a manuscript or your book cover (KDP/Amazon does NOT charge for revisions.)
IngramSparks does offer coupons several times a year for Free Title Set-up or Free Revisions. I always google for new coupons before uploading a title. I strongly recommend waiting until your manuscript and cover are absolutely perfect before hitting the publish button at Ingram. It is incredibly frustrating to have to pay a $25 Revision fee because of a single type in a 150-page manuscript.
Cover Design Costs
At Indie Blu(e), we handle each title individually when it comes to cover design. We have worked with professional graphic designers Mitch Green and Amanda.x.Coleman for custom cover designs and interior artwork. I have designed a few of Indie Blu(e)’s covers on Photoshop using royalty-free artwork or artwork by a professional artist who granted permission for the use of their work. A money saving trick I like is to buy custom images (rather than custom covers) by my favorite graphic designers. They are usually significantly less expensive than a custom cover and I buy them when I fall in love with them and stash them away for later. The cover image for The Myths of Girlhood was one of those purchases- I just KNEW I had to have it and it didn’t bother me that is sat for eight months before the book went to press.
Many, many readers buy a book based solely on the book cover. It is literally your book’s first introduction to potential readers and it MATTERS. We have all seen self-published books with ugly or poorly designed covers and fairly or unfairly, we judge the content by the cover when we make our buying decisions. There are some great cover design tutorials online if you are tech-savvy. The reality is, both InDesign and Photoshop are expensive pieces of software, and if you are only going to be creating a book cover every year or two, it may be cheaper and less frustrating to pay someone to design your book cover. If you are lucky, you may have a friend with InDesign or Photoshop experience who is willing to barter or trade services with you. A couple hours of proofreading a manuscript in exchange for a decent book cover can be a bargain.
Very few writers are good at proofreading or editing their own work. We tend to read what we meant to write, not what we actually did, our eyes sliding right over mistakes. As writers, we may need someone to do a very careful line by line read of our manuscript, looking for typos, spelling errors, and/or formatting issues. Sometimes we need help earlier in the process of organizing our thoughts and our writing. Poets frequently struggle with how to organize a group of poems into a strong focused manuscript. Your sister-in-law the high school English teacher may become your most valuable resource before publishing your manuscript. Most of us, however, would benefit from working with a professional editor at some point during the publication process. A good editor can make a self-published book look professionally published and is a cost well worth considering.
If you decide to use an editor, I strongly recommend asking for recommendations from other writers who have published. Indie Blu(e) Publishing and other reputable freelance editors offer a free edit of a manuscript sample so you can get a feel for whether this is a good fit before you commit. Freelance editors generally charge by the word, the length of the manuscript, or by the hour. To get the most for your money with a freelance editor, I recommend making your manuscript as clean as possible before you submit it, particularly if the editor is charging by the hour. Don’t waste the editor’s time correcting simply misspellings or duplicate words that you can clean up yourself. And don’t ask them to ignore them- we literally can’t. They are distracting. You can also save money by request a targeted proof-read. If your main concern is flow, ask the editor to focus on that. The more the editor knows about your concerns, the more useful their feedback will be.
Book Formatting Costs
I can’t begin to communicate how important it is to submit a properly formatted manuscript and book cover. Whether you are publishing in print, eBook, or both, it is essential that your manuscript and cover conform to the standards of the Print on Demand Service you are using. Both KDP/Amazon and IngramSparks have detailed style and file guides you must follow if you don’t want to have your manuscript returned to you over and over again because of formatting issues.
Good book formatting is an unsung hero of the self-publishing world. Book formatting should be so smooth and familiar that it does not distract the reader from the content. You may not be able to describe book formatting mistakes, but believe me, you’ll know them when you see them.
Book manuscripts are uploaded to KDP/Amazon and IngramSparks in PDF format. Indie Blu(e) prefers to work in Microsoft Office Word because it is easy to track progressive changes in the manuscript, but if you are a whizz in Pages or InDesign you can prepare your manuscript using one of those software programs and follow the instructions for properly formatting as a PDF (less intuitive than you would think!)
At this point, my partner at Indie Blu(e) Kindra M. Austin and I have spent hundreds of hours formatting manuscripts to meet both industry standards and our own company style guidelines. Often surrounded by empty cups of coffee, our hair standing on end, using language that would make a merchant marine blush. Formatting a manuscript correctly simply takes more than basic Word Processing skills and if you are short on time, short on patience, struggle with learning software, and/or are not detail oriented, it is probably worth it to pay someone else to format your manuscript. As with a freelance editor, it is always worth taking the time to make your manuscript as clean and perfect as possible before submitting to a professional manuscript formatter.
Should I use a service like Book Baby to self-publish my book?
Book Baby charges you a LOT for things you can easily do yourself or hire someone reputable to do for you. They make a lot of money fooling inexperienced writers into thinking their packages are a good investment. They are not.
I want to publish my book through a micro or small independent publishing company. How much should I pay for that?
You should NEVER be asked to pay out of pocket to have someone else publish your book. Vanity presses charge writers for slapping their logo on your manuscript and uploading it for publication. You do NOT want to publish with a vanity press.
The only exception Indie Blu(e) makes to this is occasionally splitting the costs of something out of the ordinary with an author, such as iStock or custom designed interior artwork.
It is completely on you as the author to submit the cleanest, most perfect copy of your manuscript that you can to your micro or small independent publisher and you will be expected to review your proof carefully and notify the publisher of any issues of concern before the publish button is hit.
Will I get royalties from the sale of my book?
Indie Blu(e) authors receive a contracted portion of their book royalties and a contracted amount of free copies of their book. If anyone tries to charge you for their imprint to publish your book, run.
What most first time authors don’t know is that most books only earn a few dollars per copy from each sale. A percentage of those royalties will go to the publisher to cover the costs they incurred publishing your book. The rest will go to you. Most Print of Demand Services pay royalties monthly on a delayed timeline. For instance, KDP/Amazon has a 60-day delay between the month a royalty is earned and the date they pay it to the publisher. IngramSparks has a 90-day delay. Some publishers, Indie Blu(e) included, will wait until an author earns at least $20 in royalties before sending a first royalty payment.