self-publishing-answers[simple_series title=”Self-Publishing Answers”]

An anonymous reader writes in: 

Hi Nick,

If you had $500 and could only go with Amazon/Amazon KDP, Smashwords, Bookbaby or Lulu which would you choose and why. (And yes the money includes prof. edits and cover art, interior formatting). Thanks for this.

Wow. $500? To produce an entire, full-length book? GREAT question. 

Most of us are DIY-ers who are trying to get our books written, edited, designed, produced, and marketed on the cheap. We’re the epitome of self-publishers; interested in saving money without cutting corners, all while producing (hopefully) great art. 

It’s not a task to be taken lightly. 

Also, it’s worth noting before we jump into my answer, that there are an unlimited number of options — not just the ones I’ve outlined below. Understand that your projects are always going to be slightly different, and your mileage may vary with any of these things. Running a self-publishing business (even for just one little book) involves variables, unforeseen circumstances, and real-world differences. 

That’s what makes this stuff fun. So here goes: 

How I would spend $500 on producing a full-length book: 

Let’s use my first novel as an example. It’s a thriller, 100,000 words or so, and had a professionally-deisgned cover, was professionally-edited, has a great layout, and did well on Amazon in all formats (hardcover, paperback, audiobook, and Kindle). However, there were a few caveats: 

  • I tried as hard as possible to do everything myself, for two reasons: One, I wanted to save money. Two, I wanted to learn this stuff. 
  • I knew a great editor who made me a heck of a deal
  • I knew a designer who also hooked me up
  • I had the energy and motivation to learn “self-publishing.” I did the research, called the companies, and figured it out the old-fashioned way

You don’t need all of these things, but I’d highly suggest the first and last: 

You must want to learn this stuff, ’cause you’ll be doing most of it yourself, and you’d better be willing to devote the energy and emotional investment in it. 

There. I said it. There’s no “easy way” around self-publishing, except getting an agent, pitching to a large house, and having them cut the check and do the work. (Oh, wait, that’s not easy at all). 

So, without knowing the designer, here’s what my second book is looking like:

1. Proofreading ($0): I wrote the book and will be sending it to people on my mailing list to do some proofreading. This process will knock out the blaring typos, inconsistencies, and plot holes, and I’ll be able to smooth out the overall book’s prose. 

2. Editing ($500): I have a friend who wants to edit the book, and they are charging me $500, split into two payments. This is an amazing deal, as most professional edits will run you between $1,000 and $3,000 for a book this length (and one this bad!). Editing is not something you can afford to skimp on, but the catch-22 of it is that most of us just can’t flat-out afford it.

So here’s the solution: tap into your network. This is why you need a mailing list/newsletter, and why you need to be offering value throughout your audience via blog posts, newsletters, etc. You want to get to know your tribe, your audience, and your network, and you need to be able to ask for help for these types of things. 

Editing is no exception. You likely won’t get a full-time editor to do your editing pro-bono, but you can probably find an up-and-coming guy or gal who’s interested in helping you out for pennies on the dollar (and lots of goodwill!).

Use your network. Be nice, valuable, and helpful and your network will become the best asset you have as a writer. 

Further note: Since I wasn’t trying to fit below a $500 budget for the production of The Depths (it was actually $1,000, which I easily will stay below), I didn’t worry too much about the $500 price. That’s a steal no matter how you look at it, but if $500 is your total number, you’ll need to shave a little off the editing price to fit in other things (see below). So again, consider simplifying the editing process by offering the book to proofreaders/beta readers for free, and by asking the editor to spend most of their time on large plot-editing things. 

3. Cover Design ($300): My cover was designed by a fantastic designer for a steal, using the website 99designs. I wrote about this process earlier, so go check that out. The process was awesome, and very fun, so I suggest giving it a shot. You’ll see from that post that these designs were stunning. It took a lot of wine and late nights and chatting with my wife to finally decide on one, and when we did the designer was unbelievably helpful, nice, and more than willing to continue working. 

Note: I’ve since continued working with this designer on other projects, and will gladly recommend her if you’re interested. Email me for details. 

The cover design is not something I’d ever skimp on, and I’d almost argue that it’s just about as important as the editing of the book. It needs to be discernible as a thumbnail-sized image, and look great blown up to full-size. It also needs to be sharp enough to pop in black-and-white, as many people will be reading it on a B&W device, but it also needs to look fantastic in full-color electronically and in print.

Oh, and it should be attractive, captivating, and representative of what’s inside the book, too. 

Not exactly a simple feat, huh? 

Bottom line: You should expect to spend anywhere from $150 to $300 or more depending on your designer. Some specialize in just ebooks, and that can save you money, while others will give you the whole cover (flaps, spine, and back cover). The 99designs project was the whole deal, and it was only $300.

4. Interior Layout. You don’t need to use a fancy system like Adobe InDesign unless you’re sending it to a printer, via Lightning Source or a smaller short-run press. Createspace, Lulu, and other vanity presses and POD services usually require a smaller DPI than major printers, and they’re printing on digital, not offset methods. 

All of this means that you don’t need the additional features like image and transparency processing and DPI adjustments utilized by InDesign — you can literally turn in a PDF created from Microsoft Word (though I very much do not recommend that). 

My solution: grab a copy of Scrivener (~$40, Mac and Windows) and learn a little about their compilation and formatting/layout tools. The included PDF manual is amazing, and surprisingly readable, so grab a beverage of choice and spend the evening with it. Another great resource is Joel’s site

Interior layout doesn’t need to be fancy — you’re going for readability, consistency, and baseline quality. If you’re not on a tight budget, sure, send it to Turtleshell Press and have us whip up a fantastic-looking book interior. Otherwise, learn this process yourself. 

5. Formatting. See above. You don’t need fancy software, nor do you need to spend money here. Microsoft Word is all you need to upload to Smashwords, and Scrivener can export Kindle-ready .mobi files for KDP Select. 

KDP Select and Smashwords are the only two places I’ll go for fiction, and I’ll add the Apple iBookstore for nonfiction (you can do iBooks in Smashwords, but I want the design and layout features offered directly through Apple iBooks for nonfiction stuff with more pictures and stuff). All of these are free. 

Again, you can have someone else (like Turtleshell Press) do it for you, if you’re in a time crunch or have a headache already, but the knowledge by doing it yourself is great. 

6. Marketing. This wasn’t included in the original question, but I do recommend a few things. First, with no budget available, submit your newly-uploaded ebook to the “free ebook sites” (I won’t link to any here as they often change). Just Google around a bit and see what I’m talking about. 

You won’t get a ton of traction from this, but every little bit helps. 

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that using a service like BookBub advertising is a huge win in many cases. You’ll need between $100-500, depending on your genre, book price, and their ever-changing pricing structure, but if you’ve saved money thus far, this is where you’ll want to spend the rest. 

Every time I’ve used them I’ve spent between $100-200 and more than made back the money. It’s a pretty good bet you will, too, if your book is great and looks professional. 

Bottom line

Producing a book isn’t always an expensive endeavor, but it’s worth noting that you’re going to be spending something

  • Time
  • Energy
  • Money

Most likely, you’ll spend two of the three (if you’re spending all three, maybe take a look at your action/productivity ratios?…)

If you’re on a budget, get ready to spend time and energy getting things looking the way you want, but if you’re a little further along in your writing career and can afford a little more, plan on spending money and energy finding the right tools, resources, and people, and then start paying them money!

I hope this helps — did I forget anything? Leave a comment below!