The (Sort of) Myth of Free Publishing

I have had many conversations with people attempting to inform the public about the vast changes that have happened (and continue to happen) in the writing and publishing world. I know the average Joe isn’t going to tolerate too much info or too specific news, but the field is just not what most people think it is. If you have not been in this conversation with someone, you may want to catch up HERE.

So then, you know that I have said many times before, self publishing is no longer vanity presses (unless, that is, you want it to be, and you actually pay for a vanity press. Not that we ever liked the term “vanity press,” anyhow. It’s sort of cruel and myopic, but you get the point). And since self publishing (otherwise known as indie publishing or artisinal publishing) relies so heavily on ebooks and PODs (print on demands), it is now free.

KICKSTARTER BUTTONHas any one ever told you that nothing is free? Of course they have. Have told you that? Yes, I have. Then I went and had a Kickstarter campaign asking for money? Say what?!? Let me justify my hypocritical position.

And let’s break this down three ways.

IMG_5767First, there is a reality where you can, officially, publish for free. You can write a book, upload it on the computer, publish it virtually, and send it to distributors. You can even do this with paperbacks (although illustrated books like cook books and picture books have a more complicated story). You take the ISBN from the distributor, you make your own cover, do your own editing, go for the “poor man’s copyright” and mail the manuscript to yourself… and your book is on Amazon’s bookshelf for free!

Second, the reality is that any book (even the one imagined directly above) is going to “cost” at least three things: tools, time, and ideas. In that sense, a book can never be quite free to publish. Which is why it is important, even in the age of easy publishing (and lots of inferior product to go along with it), that we recognize the work, sacrifice, and blood that goes into any good book. You can’t do free publishing without a computer and internet. You can’t do it without carving time (and sometimes lots of it) from your already crowded life. The product is your ideas. In some sense, those already have value. In the capitalist sense, they are still working on earning their value. So sure, the cost is literally free, but we know your resources, talent, and time are money.

Third, free publishing can only go so far, but affordable publishing can take you all the way.

KICKSTARTER BIG FLIER 2014 JPEGCrunching the numbers for my Kickstarter bid, I figured that for me to do a professional job publishing one of my own novels, in 2014, is around $3,000-$4,000 a pop. (And I’m not talking handing over the reigns to a vanity press. I am not a fan.) Using ebooks and PODs in the strongest way possible, you need some money, and you need it up front. Of course, your trade-offs for coming by that money yourself as opposed to taking a royalty from a traditional publishing company, are many. (For example, you gain creative control, speed of production, no need to spend years in rejection or shelve ideas you love, your work retains elasticity and longevity, etc. And let’s keep in mind you were always going to have to do your own leg work with publicity and sales.) But the result is more becoming of, say, adopting the title “indie publisher” or “artisinal publisher.” Not that you have to provide a paperback and a government copyright… it depends on your goal. My goal is a polished product with maximum distribution, and so much more.

Here is the way I have broken down the costs for professionally self/indie publishing a novel in 2014, with approximate costs. (I left out taxes, fees, and gifts):

Costs Per Book

  • ISBNs, $200
  • Copyright application, $50
  • Ink, $100
  • Paper, $25
  • Stock, $230
  • Proofs, $60
  • Beta Reader Copies*, $50
  • Contest entry fees*, $400
  • Reviews (free and paid)*, $700
  • Local news copies*, $30
  • Advance Reader Copies*, $330
  • Fliers, $50
  • Launch costs, $330
  • Local bookstore copies, $100
  • Padded envelopes, $150

Publishing Operational Costs (per year)

  • Writing membership dues, $120
  • Trade magazine subscriptions, $250
  • Publishing software (by subscription), $480
  • PO Box, $60
  • Website domains, $60
  • Trade materials and book budget, $200
  • Business cards, $50
  • Tool repair and upkeep, varies widely year to year, from almost nothing to thousands of dollars

*Includes shipping.

KICKSTARTER OANDZ LOGO JPEGSo what justifies these expenses? I’m not going to do a whole lot of convincing in one paragraph–and I have read several books about this–but I think I can give you a few reasons that might let you know which way you want to self publish. Or why you should support Owl and Zebra Press’s Kickstarter bid. Number one, professionalism. Number two, rights. Number three, sales. Basically, if my costs aren’t directly affecting one of those three, I cut them. But I feel that in order to have the most competitive, copyright safe, and profitable self-published book, I need $3,000-$4,000 each time. In the future, I expect all this investment and hard work to pay off, and each former book will pay for the future book plus a salary. Until then…

Check out the Owl and Zebra Kickstarter bid HERE. And fund it, people! We are now in the final stages, where real funding happens. Let’s make it happen!

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