As a first time author with a book about to be released, I have asked myself more than once whether I would have been better off self-publishing. I have a unique perspective. My day job is marketing, which not only involves figuring out how to sell products to a target market, but also the designing and printing of brochures, “white papers,” direct mail pieces etc. that actually do the selling. I also do quite a bit of consulting for PR firms. And of course, I’ve designed and/or written the copy for dozens of web sites and blogs. I’ve also written and pitched stories to the media. I’ve even run companies somewhat larger than my publishing house.
In other words, short of literally operating a printing press, I have the skills to self publish. And, were I to succeed, I would make about ten times as much money per book sold.
Today I’m going to share my analysis of what I’m getting by following the conventional publishing path instead, along with some rough estimates of what these publisher-provided services would cost if I had to pay for them. The bottom line: For a novelist, following the conventional path makes sense.
Editing. It’s my belief that, no matter how good you are, you need an editor. At minimum, you need a copy editor just to find the dozens of typos in your manuscript. I personally got a lot more than that – from my agent, Kimberly Cameron. She made numerous substantive suggestions, many of which made the book more salable and, I would argue, quite simply better. The cost if I had hired someone: About $5,000.
Cover design, page layout and printing. In theory, you could design your book cover yourself, which is what I did (with a significant contribution from George Foster who designs covers for Oceanview). But, realistically, most people will need to find a designer. There’s nothing all that tricky about it. You could get a decent result for under $1,000, perhaps less. There are plenty of software programs that would enable you to convert your manuscript to a printable file. Most of the formatting is automatic, although it’s still a substantial project, as you have to double-check every page. I’m guessing that I could get someone to do that work for about $1,500.
Finding a printer is easy. I found one in about fifteen minutes in central Washington (a relatively rural area where I figured the overhead for a printer would be low). If they had printed 3,000 hardback copies of my book it would have cost between $15,000 and $18,000. For me, that would not be a trivial sum. Of course, Oceanview footed that bill.
Public relations. There are plenty of PR companies and individual practitioners who specialize in publicizing books. A typical package, which would include a press kit plus distribution of press releases, interview offers and the like would cost between $3,000 and $5,000.
The sub-total here is somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000. There’s more – notably the warehousing, selling and physical distribution of the book, but I’m running out of space. And even with all sorts of cost-cutting, e.g. printing a paperback instead of a hardback, doing the PR yourself, the costs are substantial, and with a publisher, all the work is done by experts.
I would hardly say that self-publishing isn’t viable. In fact, for non-fiction it may be the best path, particularly when combined with a well-designed web-based sales strategy. But the traditional route, for all its aggravating moments, is still a pretty good deal for fiction writers.