Money, Money, Money

piggy bank - Quince Creative on Pixabay

Photo credit: Quince Creative on Pixabay

As my research into indie publishing continues, I’ve come face to face certain less-than-pleasant truths, such as how much it costs to publish a book that looks like . . . well, a real book, as opposed to something I printed on the ancient laser printer in my home office and hawked on Instagram.

Turns out, indie publishing ain’t cheap.

Up to this point, my cash outlay for my book consisted of an inexpensive developmental editor and meals or gifts for friends who provided reading/commenting services or research assistance.

coin jar - Josh Appel on Unsplash

Photo credit: Josh Appel on Unsplash

This is about to change, big-time.

Setting aside the less-obvious expenses, such as the gas for my trip to Madison last weekend for book cover research, these are the expenses I’ve identified so far:

ISBNs. International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) are necessary for print books. (E-books don’t need them.) ISBNs are sold individually, or in bundles of 10 or 100. Apparently, I’ll need at least two per book (three if I decide to do a hardcover edition), which means buying individual ISBNs at $125 each is silly when the 10-pack costs $295 ($29.50 apiece). The price drops exponentially when you buy larger blocks: the 100-pack is $575, and the 1,000-pack is $1,500, or $15 each. In other words, if I want to publish more than a few books, the 100-pack is the way to go. On the other hand, that’s a lot of cash to shell out right now, because I also need. . . .

Bar codes. Even though you always seem to see the ISBN written underneath the bar code, it turns out that bar codes are a separate cost. A package of 1 bar code and 10 ISBNs is available for $320. On the other hand, you can buy up to 5 bar codes at an individual price of $25 each, with a discount kicking in when you get to 6 bar codes. (Caveat: I haven’t yet researched bar codes beyond these links, so among the things I don’t know are (a) how many bar codes I’ll need for a single book being published in at least two formats, or (b) whether I’ll need a second bar code on the book to correspond to the price, including what happens if I later decide to change the price.)

Copyrights. According to my cursory research, copyright is automatic when you put your work on paper or a computer drive, but if I want to register my copyright, there’s a filing fee of $35 to e-file. Which is one of the cheapest parts of the whole process, as opposed to. . . .

Cover design (DIY). My friend, Dawn, has published two books of the eventual three-book set using premade covers, and the books are beautiful. On the other hand, her books are nonfiction and the subject matter is flexible enough that she had many choices in how to style her covers. After a lengthy conversation with Dawn yesterday in which she shared her wisdom and experience involving indie publishing, I spent last night playing around with a couple of possible inexpensive premade covers that were definitely Not Bad. The problem came when I realized that the rest of what I need—including a back cover and spine for a paperback—would cost more. In the end, the a la carte version is at least as expensive as. . . .

dollars - closeup - Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Photo credit: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Cover design (custom). My online research reveals that for the most part, a custom-designed cover for e-book and print, together with a 3D design for marketing and various other bits, will cost at least $500, and can be much more expensive, depending on the services included, such as how many “tweaks” to the design are permitted. (Did I mention that before the cover can be done, I need to have the ISBNs and bar codes so they can be printed on it?) Since I’m the type who derives comfort from research (as opposed to a friend who, when I described my copious research so far, said of all these options, “That would have paralyzed me!”), I’m reconciling myself to the notion of shelling out bucks for a professional-looking cover which, in turn, means casting a stern eye around the rest of my budget to see where I can economize, because I’ll also need. . . .

Interior formatting. Again, at least three formats will be needed: MOBI (Amazon), EPUB (all the other e-books), and .pdf (for the print version). The book needs to look the same regardless of whether the reader is using a Kindle, a Nook, a tablet, a laptop, or a desktop computer, or holding the book in their hands. Dawn uses a studio in Australia, and they do a lovely job at very reasonable prices; as far as I can tell, their cost to format my book would be $140. On the other hand, some of the cover designers offer packages that include interior design, which may be more cost-effective—assuming, of course, that they do everything I want them to do, which is an open question at the moment since I’m still not quite clear on exactly what I want them to do. More research coming on that, as well as. . . .

Creating a micropress or imprint. I’ll be publishing my book through my newly-created micropress. Some people refer to this as their imprint. Either way, various reasons exist for doing this, including a desire not to look self-published. To set up my micropress (or any business), I can form a limited liability company (LLC), which costs $120 in my state. I’ll also need to file a trade name certificate with a $10 filing fee. (As far as I know, the tax ID number from the state will be free, which seems only fair since they’ll be charging tax on any income the LLC gets. Plus, since I obviously want to avoid being taxed twice, once as the LLC and again as the author who actually gets paid, I’ll need to pay a few bucks to my accountant to make sure I set everything up properly.) I already bought my micropress’s domain name which cost less than it might have because I was interrupted in the middle of making the purchase, and when I got back to the computer a couple hours later, the site I use had sent me a 25% off coupon to finish the purchase, which meant my out-of-pocket for that part was $67 for five years and includes a website. In addition, if I want my micropress to look like a Big Five publisher, it’ll need its own logo, including an icon for the book spine. (Take a second and look at the books on your shelf. I’ll bet you never noticed that at the bottom of nearly every book is the publisher’s name, usually with a tiny icon. Occasionally it’s at the top or it’s just the name, but often, there’s an icon of some sort.)


And if you really want to get fancy, there’s always. . . .

Book swag. When people hold launch parties and signing events, they often have swag related to the book. This may include inexpensive custom bookmarks or more expensive items such as T-shirts (although to be honest, I can’t imagine anybody wanting to wear my book cover on a T-shirt). Jane Friedman has a fabulous post explaining book swag, including what it costs, when to use it, and where you can get it. Since we’re not getting together in person these days, opportunities to hand out swag are pretty much non-existent, which means this is one area where I won’t have to shell out any money—at least, not right now.

So, let’s look at the grand total it can cost to bring your book into existence (and remember, this is just the book itself–these figures don’t include marketing and publicity):

            ISBNs (10-pack) and 1 bar code           $    320.00

            Copyright                                                         35.00

            Cover design (custom)                                 500.00

            Interior formatting                                      140.00

            LLC                                                                   120.00

            Trade name certificate                                  10.00

            Domain name and website                           67.00

                                                                              $  1,192.00

dollars - Geralt on Pixabay

Photo credit: Geralt on Pixabay

Granted, it’s possible to publish a book much more inexpensively. You can pay $69 for a premade cover, do your own interior formatting (assuming you have the knowledge and talent to do it correctly), assume a copyright, and skip the micropress. You can even skip the ISBN if you’re only planning to publish as an e-book; only physical books require ISBNs.

In the end, it comes down to what you want. If your goal is simply to put your story out into the world, and you’re not interested in having a physical book in your hand or in bookstores, you can do it for under $100, or less if you are (or know) someone with design talent. On the other hand, if writing and publishing your own books is your next career, you may choose to invest significantly more capital in order to be satisfied that you have produced a professional-looking book that can sit proudly alongside any Big Five title on the shelf in any bookstore.  

Indie publishing means that, for better or worse, you control all the decisions. The harsh reality is that it also means you write all the checks (or whatever digital equivalent you prefer). Before you start shelling out cash, I suggest considering why you’re publishing a book in the first place, including whether your goal is to sell enough copies of your book to recoup all those costs, plus some. Once you know what you want to accomplish by publishing your book, you’ll have a much better idea how much you’re willing to invest in it.

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