November 16, 2020 6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Before using Amazon’s self-publishing to share my first book with the world, I simply assumed that the whole process was completely free, but I was utterly wrong. There are “hidden” costs to self-publishing that you overlook until you finish writing the manuscript for your book.
Most writers assume that all they need to do is research, write, and publish, thinking that whatever they write is gold, instantly. However, they often forget that, “[t]o write is human, to edit is divine[,]” as Steven King wrote in his 2000 book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
What you need to know going in
The reality is that you will spend a lot of time writing, and spend your hard-earned money on hiring people to help you take your writing from average to good, at least.
All good books start with research. You are researching the market to discover what kind of book you should write and study the information to help you write your book. You can do both for free, but it is recommended you spend $100 to use specialized Amazon research tools.
On the writing side, you can hire a research assistant for $15 to $50 per hour to help you complete the book faster along the way, hire a consultancy company (but probably not for your first book), or leverage free software like Google Scholar to do the job yourself.
After you decide on the book, establish a working title and outline, you are ready to get started.
Writing is always expensive in terms of time, energy, effort, and there is little you can do to avoid these costs. However, cultivating a daily writing habit can help you overcome these obstacles. Writing for ten minutes a day will result in a book over the course of a year. Just get started.
Regardless, once you have completed the bulk of your writing, it’s time to take your manuscript to an editor. They will help you establish the story flow and provide immense value to your book’s readers. Like it or not, you are going to get attached and skip over apparent mistakes.
Great editors will not let you excuse yourself from greatness
They will provide you with extremely critical advice and execute necessary changes to make your book immaculate. You will be tempted to avoid spending money on a professional editor, thinking to yourself, “I can do this.” There is no substitute for the experienced attention that an editor can provide, and it’s well worth spending $100 to $2,000 to get the best one you can.
They often have recommendations for competent proofreaders that will further discover grammatical errors, difficult to understand sentences, and fact check every single number in your book. Based on my experience, proofreaders will cost between $0.01 to $0.05 per word but are necessary.
More people looking at your manuscript equals fewer typos, so, if you can, take advantage of your best friends and get them to read through your manuscript. Just make sure to supply them with highlighters, and demand they use them to point out every mistake they find.
Your editor should be a partner in publishing and connecting you with the qualified people you need to put out a great product. Beyond proofreaders, they can potentially connect you with companies that will provide you with interior formatting and design services.
Formatting costs $200 on average, while design costs vary from $100- $500 depending on who you choose. Both are necessary in order to have a successful book launch. The cover design is essential for getting sales, while the interior formatting will ensure that you have the widest device coverage and physical book printing capabilities.
Time to shine on the market
Fortunately, Amazon’s self-publishing is 100% free. Amazon’s CreateSpace will give you a free ISBN number for your on-demand print book, which usually costs $99 (or ~$250 for 10 ISBN numbers).
Depending on your pricing, Amazon will charge between 30-70% per sale. You will have to prepare your eBook and Print book metadata, manuscript, and cover design to publish your book. Don’t forget about Amazon KDP, which can be a significant revenue stream for your book, as long as you don’t give it away for free.
While Amazon will do its best to sell your book, you have a lot of competition. Anything that you can do to stand out from the crowd and generate sales is good for your book. Getting spots to talk about your book on podcasts or getting articles written about you can be free. If you have a sizable social media following or a thick mailing list, you are already golden.
This is where creativity shines, as there are many ways to market your book. Here’s what a fellow Enterepreneur.com author did to sell 20,000 copies of his two books. You can pay to get hosted on podcasts or to have articles published about your book. You can pay for social media shares or ads. If you have a genuinely in-demand book on your hands, advertising can help you reach critical mass.
The ideal self-publishing budget
The most optimistic scenario is that self-publishing a book will be completely free. You have done all of the writing, editing, proofreading, interior formatting, cover design, publishing, and hustled with marketing.
A more realistic estimate would be around $2,000. You wrote the manuscript, hired an editor, proofreader, outsourced the interior formatting and cover design, and spent a small amount of money on marketing.
The pessimistic price estimate would be “ad infinitum” and beyond. You have hired a ghostwriter, editor, and proofreader, and outsourced everything. You now have a book that you probably would not care about if you hadn’t spent money on it.
Set up a budget, but remain flexible. Book writing can quickly become a money sinkhole if the people you hire are failing at their jobs. Don’t skimp on people, and you will be rewarded with excellent results.
“What you pay is what you get,” is especially true for people. Great editors, proofreaders, and designers price themselves high because they understand the value of their work. If you are ready to pay for the better talent, you will have a better book on your hands in the end.