When it comes to self-publishing, there are proverbially 1,001 rookie mistakes that can make it all the way to the final print run. Once in print, the problem is that they’re all expensive to fix and any of them are enough to get your book declined for review by major book reviewers, declined by the major chain bookstores, declined by distributors, and then some. Why? Because the various strata of the book publishing industry are FULL of elitists. Most of these people are in positions to review your book or cut a deal to sell/distribute it. When they spot one of those 1,001 amateur mistakes (usually visible between the cover and the first 10 pages) they often toss the book aside, not even bothering to read it.

How does a self-publisher reduce their chances of making those mistakes? Research. Expect to spend at least between $75 and $250 dollars on books to learn the basics. Buy these books and keep them in your library because you’re going to need to review them over and over again from manuscript preparation all the way to the marketplace. If you’re not willing to invest this money into preliminary research, do yourself a favor and forget about self-publishing altogether. Professional quality books just don’t happen by themselves — they come about through production experience, whether your own experience or someone else’s. Buying the following books are the cheapest way to get that experience:

  • The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition (this is a MUST have for anyone that’s serious about writing, editing and/or publishing). Costs about $60 dollars. The CMoS contains almost everything you could conceivably need to know about editing, the manuscript preparation process, and how to format every inch of a standard book.
  • The Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print, and Sell Your Own Book by Dan Poynter (or some other book on the basics of self-publishing; there are several on the market and there’s no harm in reading more than one).
  • There are other books you’ll need but these will get you started. After reading the self-publishing stuff you’ll get a better fix on the process and know whether or not it’s truly for you. If after reading those you decide that you still want to pursue publishing your own book, here’s a real rough ballpark of how much you can expect to spend on production:

  • Editing: up to $4.00 per page (there are different types of editors and some kinds of books will require more than one editor). Many freelance editors will charge you a flat rate that works out to be roughly $1 or $2 dollars a page. Typically I budget for at least $500 or $600 dollars (including manuscript printing and shipping).
  • Cover Design: usually no less than $500 and no more than $3000 for a professional design with custom graphics and photographs and the rights to all of the above.
  • Interior Design: around $2.00 per page (more for graphic-heavy pages), can be packaged with the cover design depending on the deal you work out with the graphic designer.
  • ISBN numbers: Around $270 dollars. These come in a minimum block of 10. Buying them will also get you into the Bowker’s “Books in Print” database. No ISBN number means your book is not officially published, so don’t even think about skipping this step. Check with R.R. Bowker, the exclusive U.S. ISBN and SAN Agency for current prices.
  • Bar code: Around $10 dollars, sometimes free depending on who you know. The bar code will contain the ISBN number and often the price, too. Most bookstores won’t even consider stocking your product without a bar code.
  • BISAC Subject Heading: This category designation is usually on the top left of the back of the book or near the price. The official source is the Book Industry Study Group’s “BISAC Subject Heading Package”, sold for $25 dollars from their website. I’ve seen the complete listing online for free so the price is debatable, but you want to have your book’s category noted on the back cover so bookstore clerks know how to stock your title. I’ve had independent bookstore owners tell me if they receive book submission packages that don’t have a BISAC code on the back cover they won’t even open the book.
  • NOTE: These solely relate to production costs and does NOT cover the costs associated with printing or shipping.

So, all in all, to self-publish a professional-quality 224-page novel if you budget for $6000 you’ll probably cover your initial production costs. If you cut a deal with an experienced graphic designer you can easily cut that cost in half, meaning that the $6000 will also cover printing the first few hundred or so. The beauty is, once it’s paid off, it is paid off, and for every print run after that your major overhead is the cost of printing.

And before all the Author Mill and Lulu champions chime in to recommend those services, by self-publishing this way you have a much greater chance of having your title noticed by a major literary agency and possibly picked up by a major publisher. I know this from personal experience since one of the titles I recently published and packaged, NEXT STOP by Ivan Sanchez, was picked up by Levine Greenberg Literary Agency and recently sold to Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Bohemian Griot Publishing LLC and Ivan Sanchez also made the deal happen WITHOUT selling Touchstone the film/TV rights or the audio book rights, both of which they have joint ownership with in two other production companies. So, yeah, trust me when I say if you’re going to self-publish, this is the way to go. 😉

Hope that helps put things into perspective.

As always, best of luck on your path.

— Max