I’ve grouped these two topics together because the most common cause of needless expenses for new authors is a lack of understanding about the book-making process. While you won’t find a hard-and-fast set of prices here, you will develop an understanding of why that is.
As a self-publisher, you are in the driver’s seat about your project’s cost. You, your needs, and your work habits are the real factors that determine cost. It can be a daunting responsibility, but this chapter will help you stay on track and keep costs realistic.
“What Does It Cost?” Depends on “What Is Your Budget?”
One of the biggest frustrations for authors happens when they call a designer, editor, or other service provider and ask, “How much does it cost?” The provider responds, “What is your budget?” If you’re new to making books, this can be a frustrating conversation.
Designers and editors do highly skilled work, and they can offer many different levels of service. Everything has a price for which it can be done quickly and cheaply, and another price where it can get gold-plated, top-of-the-line service. Between these two prices is a range of cost and quality.
Think of your editor like an auto mechanic. If your car won’t start, you don’t call a mechanic and say, “I need my car to run. How much will it cost?” Your mechanic has no idea! Maybe the car is out of gas, which a couple of dollars would solve. Maybe the starter needs replaced, a medium-sized job. Maybe it’s the engine, a major job costing thousands of dollars. Until your mechanic inspects the car, he cannot make an intelligent estimate. The same is true for your manuscript.
But new authors can’t escape the sinking feeling that they will be taken advantage of. They fear that whether they say $50, or $500, or $5,000, the provider will charge them the maximum amount possible for the least amount of service.
What is the solution? Communication! People in this industry work with new authors all the time. They know you don’t know what to expect, and any one of them worth hiring can explain their different levels of service and cost.
Don’t be afraid to tell them you are new to this and could really use their help understanding the different service levels. What’s possible? What are they capable of? What can they do for a few hundred dollars? What could they do if money was no object?
Give them parameters. For example, how soon will you need them to finish their work? What are the technical specs for the project? If you need a full-color interior, then there’s no point in discussing prices for a black & white one. If your book needs fifty full-color charts, it’s a vastly different project from a book that only has a company logo inside. This is your chance to nail down exactly what you need, and what it would cost for the service provider to meet your needs.
To help you have this conversation and walk away from it happy instead of frustrated, the following questions ask for specifics about your book. These are things service providers will ask you about. If you know the answers first, you can make the most of your conversation.
You might find you need to change your plan. Maybe everything you want to do will cost more than you can afford right now. That’s good to know, because then you can plan around it, either by adjusting your expectations for the book (from full-color to black & white, for example, or from a paperback to a Kindle-only project), or by setting a longer timeline that allows you to gather the funds you need.
Details to Discuss with Potential Service Providers.
What is the word count?
What is the page count?
What is the “trim size” (the actual page size of the printed book)?
Is the interior color, or black & white?
How many images and graphics are in the interior?
Is the book paperback, hardback, Kindle, or some other eBook format?
For paperbacks, do you want a glossy or matte finish on the cover?
When does the project need to be completed?
What types of files does the printer or electronic distributor require?
Where can you get a copy of the required technical specs from the printer?
Get Organized and Stay Organized.
Disorganization and chaos drive up costs. For example, working from the wrong version of a manuscript-in-progress creates double work once you realize your mistake, and it often results in paying your editor and designer to fix things they already fixed. To avoid these unnecessary costs, use my system for organizing all the files related to your book. It is simple, direct, and effective.
1. Create a new folder for each book, and give it the book’s title. Create this folder somewhere you can easily find it. (My personal projects live in a Writing folder, and my customers’ projects go in a Clients folder where every client has their own subfolder.)
2. Within the book’s folder, create sub-folders for the different editions. (I typically have three: paperback, Kindle, and Smashwords.)
3. Every time you open your manuscript and change it, save it as a NEW FILE with TODAY’S DATE in the FILE NAME (For example: Love Poems manuscript 01-22-2017.docx). Now, if you ever need to go back to an earlier version, maybe to find a scene or chapter you deleted but now want back in, you can easily find it.
4. CLEARLY LABEL EVERYTHING. You want your file and folder names to be so self-explanatory that even if you woke up tomorrow with amnesia, you would know what the names mean just by looking at them.
Stay organized! It will prevent unnecessary heartache in what should be a fun event: making a book!
Do Things in the Right Order.
A huge source of unnecessary costs is not understanding the step-by-step process of making a book from scratch. Two simple guidelines will reduce your overall expenses and eliminate dozens of potential disasters.
1. Get feedback on the content before designing the book. It’s easier to revise a simple manuscript before the designer gets to it. Once your book is being laid out for print or eBook, it becomes far more expensive to change, because now your changes affect the layout. You end up paying your graphic designer to make the changes, and then you need to proofread her work. Graphic designers are not proofreaders and all changes they make need to be verified.
2. Finish the interior before starting the cover. Working too soon on the cover is a major source of pointless expenses. Wait until the interior is completely done. Your cover designer will need to know exactly how many pages the final book will be, and you can’t know this for certain if you are still revising the text. The cover designer may become justifiably cross with you if you keep changing the page count, because the page count determines how wide the spine of the book will be. So, wait until you know FOR SURE.
I have seen projects where the author decided to change the book’s title or subtitle, or hired a marketer to write a new blurb for the back cover, or had a new photograph taken. All these changes affect what is on the cover. So, instead of paying your designer an hourly rate to change the cover over and over again, just WAIT.
Know When to Not Skimp.
Proofreading your own work guarantees it won’t be right. I edit and proofread for other people all the time, and I offer on-the-spot editorial advice and corrections at workshops. You could say I make a living as the person who finds and corrects mistakes.
But when it comes to my own work, I proofread it about as well as a rhinocerous wearing sunglasses in a closed room with no lights. Like all authors, I am too close to my work, too familiar with it, and I already know what it should say. This makes it nearly impossible to focus on what it really does say. Like all authors, I am the worst person to proofread my own book.
But proofreading costs money, so many first-time authors decide they can save a few bucks by skipping this step. What happens next? They inevitably wind up with other expenses they could have avoided, such as buying piles of books that are full of errors and can’t be sold, or paying the designer to remake the book over and over again.
Plus, they see lackluster sales—and why not? If people preview a book that has spelling and grammar errors on the cover, in the description, and in the first few pages, they will not buy it. If your book is not worth spending your money on to do it right, then why should potential buyers perceive it as worth spending their money on?
Conclusion: It Takes a Team.
I love self-publishing because I value independence and total creative control. But no one works in a vacuum, and every self-publisher needs support. Even on books where I write, edit, design, and publish everything myself, I still need help from writers’ workshops, the printer, training videos and instruction manuals, and more experienced people who can help solve my problems. Even a pilot who loves flying solo relies on a team of people on the ground for help.
This is a chapter from my quick-start guide to writing and self-publishing a book, A Passion for Planning: Nine Things I Wish I Knew Before Making My First Book. Pick it up in paperback or Kindle today to get started on your writing journey!