Myths of Publishing: Anyone Can Self-publish, Part 4

I’m concluding my series of why self-publishing isn’t for “everyone.”  If you’ve not seen the other parts here are their links:


Today I’m going to  talk about monetary aspects. As I hope you saw in the previous posts, it takes a lot of people with a wide range of skills to produce a quality book that rivals those put out by the New York elite. These people are experts in their respective fields and as such, they don’t work for free.

If we once again put on our “publisher hat,” then we have to consider the ROI (return on investment) for anything we spend money on. If you spend $6,000 to produce the book, and it only brings in $500, that wasn’t a very good business decision and proof that the project shouldn’t have been self-published.

The best way to have a positive ROI is to keep costs low. If you really shop around, then you could probably get these types of prices:

  • Cover design: $150 – $500
  • Copy editing: $350 – $750
  • Print layout (optional) – you don’t HAVE to do a print book ($125 – $175)
  • ebook formatting – $25 – $75


While I recommend you seek professionals for most of those tasks, you could probably deal with the ebook formatting on your own. Ebook formatting really isn’t that hard to do, and here is a good resource to teach you what needs to be done. Given that, you could get an ebook produced for about $500 (again with a lot of shopping), and about $625 if you are going to do print versions.

Notice I didn’t add structural editing or proof-reading to the above.  As I mentioned in Part 3, structural editing can be very expensive. A good structural editor would charge at a minimum $1,000 and probably as much as $3,000.  For an ebook that sells for $2.99 (netting the author/publisher $2.09) that means the sales of the first 478 – 1,435 copies are going toward paying off that amount. That’s a big burden to put on a new project, which is why I suggest you should use other sources to get feedback on the book. My next post will address that…and as it applies to both people going traditional or through self, It’ll be outside this series of posts.

For proofreading (making sure that after layout the book doesn’t have any issues), well, that you could do yourself. Sure, you might miss some typos that weren’t caught by the copy editors, but there is always going to be a mistake or two in a work of many thousands of words. What is needed most for this task, is a keen eye and attention to detail.

Personally, I think a budget of up to $1,000 – $1,500 is the highest a new author should spend, or they risk having a negative return on investment. While that may not sound like a lot of money, I can’t tell you how many times I talk to people who plan to self-publish who say they can’t afford even that much. Their solution? They’re going to do it themselves. Of course, in most cases this will produce one of those books that no one will read, and worst yet, it could ruin the author’s name and hinder future publishing efforts.

At the start of this series of posts, I was refuting this comment, which I often see:

“Self-publishing is easy. Anyone can do it.”

That big pool of  “anyone” turns out to be quite small.  It comes down to people who:

  • have an entrepreneurial spirit and are risk takers.
  • have exceptional project management capabilities to vet, hire, and manage a team of professionals.
  • have the ability to analyze the market and determine the potential success of a given project.
  • have the ability to create a structurally sound book without the aid of publisher’s editors.
  • have the financial funds for the initial investment


That’s a lot of pre-requisites and explains why most self-published books fail.  As it turns out, there is just a small subset of people who can self-publish successfully. What is “easy” is failing at self-publishing. So, for me, the statement should be:

“Failing at self-publishing is easy. Only extremely skilled entrepreneurs can do it successfully.”

Even so, there are a core group of people in the speculative fiction community who do possess “the right stuff” and are hitting on all these cylinders and doing well. I completely understand what it takes for them to earn their success, and it’s discouraging when people don’t realize just how special these people are.

By now, after reading four posts on the difficulties of self-publishing, it may seem like I’m discouraging the notion. Not at all. What I’m discouraging is “bad” self-publishing, which doesn’t benefit the readers or the author. If you are one of the remarkable people who can produce a book that will stand toe-to-toe with those released by New York, then by all means do it!  You’ll find the experience fulfilling and rewarding. Plus, you’ll be one of the “elite,” which is certainly not the pool of “anyone.”

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