Q03: Costs & Vendors

(This question is part of a larger subseries called Perpetual WIPs: Self-Published Authors. For the remaining questions, see here.)

What platform, vendors, and promotional items did you use? About how much did you spend, and how, and how would you break it down differently the next time around, if at all?

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I used an editor who did major developmental edits (she was a Godsend), as well as copy edits. I didn’t use a proofer, but instead proofed myself by loading my MS on my e-reader. I’m happy to say that my MS is very clean. I also used a book formatter/illustrator. I believe I spent about $700. If I self-published again, I would absolutely use a development editor and copy editor. This time around, I’d probably format the book myself and spend more money on original artwork.

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I used a pre-established pattern that I’d gathered over years in the writing community. I used the whole range of professionals: cover designer, content and line editor, copy editor, proofreader, formatter, publicist. I spent around $2000, and I wouldn’t do anything differently for a Young Adult debut.

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I just released my third book and I’ve gotten pretty good at knowing what’s important and essential, and what’s nice but not necessary. Fortunately, I have amazing CPs who don’t mind that I throw books at them every month or so and help me with developmental issues. Things I won’t skimp on:

Copy editing. Cover art. Promotion. Everything else is optional—those are my first expenses on every book.

My book budget ranges from $750-900. The majority of that goes into editing. I also have a monthly budget for my publicist and promotional costs. One thing that I’ve discovered you have to include in your budget is giveaways. Maybe it’s just ebooks and bookmarks, but bookmarks cost money to print and order.

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I only started to build a platform a few weeks before I announced my first book, and published a couple months after that. I’ve been very lucky to gather a small horde of rabid fans along the way. I used a stock cover service, a content editor, a copyeditor, a formatter/proofreader, and a publicist. I spent about $1000, and I would probably forgo the publicist in the future, but would still recommend it for a first-timer.

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I was so incredibly lucky to have amazing CPs and beta readers. However, I also used a developmental editor and copy editor, both of whom caught things a dozen other readers never noticed. I also had an awesome cover designer.

 I think that if you’re going to put your work out there, you need to do right by it and your readers. Invest in an editor, at the very least. Also, risking a bad cover isn’t the best idea. People DO judge books by their covers. 😉 As far as promo items go, I sent out a few eARCs.

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I published my book on all platforms – Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Paperback, International. I wanted it to be available to as wide an audience as possible.

I have wonderful CPs who put my book through the ringer, so I did not feel a developmental editor was necessary. However, I hired a cover artist, book formatter, and copy editor all to work on this book. I also hired a publicity team to run my blog tour.

As for promotional items, I bought some swag for giveaways but tried not to go overboard (I still did anyway). I think I would cut down on that next time, as well as not offering paper copies to my street team. These items didn’t seem to give as good a return on investment and I could use the money elsewhere.

Total, I spent around $1600 with everything. I could probably put out the next book for less, especially if I cut back on the promo items. Shipping was killer.

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I have published on Smashwords, Amazon, and CreateSpace.

The one thing I spend big money (for me) on is my cover artist, because I believe a good cover is crucial to the success of a book.  Usually it comes out to around $250 per cover.  Considering what an amazing job he does, I think that’s a steal, but it means I have to keep the rest of my overhead pretty much nonexistent.

I don’t usually use promotional items, but I did get a few things from VistaPrint to take with me to the Indie Romance Convention this year: magnet calendars with by book covers on them, and keychain bottle openers printed with my website and business slogan.  Those came out to a little over $150.  The convention is next week, so we’ll see if they were worth it!

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I use beta readers/critique partners, a developmental editor, a line editor, a copy editor, and multiple proofreaders. I format my own print books but pay someone to format my ebooks. I have a publicist, but that has been a very recent development (more than a year after I first published).

As far as promotion and marketing, I use blog tour companies, review copies, and swag. Collaborating with other authors on giveaways and contests is always fun, too.

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For each book I have at least two beta readers, a copy editor, and a proofreader. I finally found someone who can help me, somewhat, with developmental edits after someone with great credentials flopped. Credentials are important, but the author needs to be very active during edits and be willing to try someone else if it feels wrong. A publisher isn’t going to stick with the first, or the cheapest, editor they find, so a self-publisher shouldn’t either.

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Most of my developmental editing came from beta readers, but for the first book in my series, I did employ a copy editor as a test run. I’m a cover designer by trade, so that wasn’t an expense I had to account for. I also experimented with hiring out cover reveals and blog tours, comparing the results of how it turned out when I did it on my own. I actually found that, while hiring this out increased the my reach to blogs I didn’t have a connection with, I received more reviews for the book when I was the one contacting the bloggers and getting to know them. I think I found a happy medium when I used a blogger friend (rather than someone I didn’t know personally) to organize the tour. They were more emotionally invested in my success because we’re friends, resulting in more reviews than when I hired out to a stranger AND I reached blogs I couldn’t on my own. The biggest investment on my part probably came in the form of giveaways. I gave away more copies of the first book in my series than I sold, but if you go in expecting that, it’s not a shock. I’m always on the lookout for new ideas for swag (freebies you hand out at conventions or send in the mail), but that stuff can get expensive. All told, I’ve probably dropped at least $400 in editing and promo items.

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My platform included my Twitter and Facebook followers, my wonderful street team, their blogs, and those on my blog tour. I did scores of giveaways on Goodreads and review blogs, and spent a mint in postage, haha.


After line edits with my CP, I hired an excellent copyeditor to do a full content edit in addition to a copyedit. (In many cases, she saved my novel’s butt, because there were little misleading lines here and there that hadn’t been caught by CPs or betas. She obliterated them.)

I spent roughly $1200 on edits, swag, postage, and paperback ARCs.

Next time I might send more ARCs to reviewers and run less giveaways.

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I spent about $1000 on the start-up costs for my self-published series which includes purchasing a 100-block of ISBNs, giveaway prizes, stock photography, and advertising on Goodreads and Facebook. I did not use any vendors. As for next time, I don’t know what I’d do differently except to dump Facebook ads. I might boost a post on my Facebook author page every now and again, but otherwise, I have found it useless.

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I had a copyeditor and years of beta readers. I distribute via all of the major electronic outlets and through print-on-demand.

I also held an online release party, and I recorded a bunch of vlogs that act as “Special Features,” which told my story, deleted scenes, excerpts from the next book, etc. I also created supplementary material about the world and its characters. I also had “sponsors” for the party, who awesomely donated copies of their books as prizes.

I’ve found that giveaways are great, and connecting with readers as much as possible is beyond important. I’ve done a few local signings as well, and have more events planned this upcoming year. In total I spent somewhere to the tune of $800, which I quickly made back.

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5 thoughts on “Q03: Costs & Vendors”

  1. I might be missing the mark, but I’d also like to know which genres your responders write in and how many readers they’ve gotten through these methods. I’ve come across organizations claiming they do all your promotion through all the major outlets, reaching thousands of readers….and then I go to the books that partake of this and find maybe six reviews. I’m sure there’s no magic formula, and mostly it’s luck and that perfect reader(s) who’s going to champion you, but, I’m curious.

    • Dahlia Adler said:

      I think a lot of them answered this in the first question, but it’s mostly a mix of YA (mainly Sci-fi/Fantasy), NA (mainly contemporary), and Adult (romance). I don’t think anyone would be able to report on readers, just sales, which is in another question. Hope that helps!

      • Well, it was in relation to this particular Q & A. They spent this much or this little, they used these tactics, they generated this amount of sales. But, I might be overthinking. I am making my way through all the other Q & A’s 🙂

        • Dahlia Adler said:

          Ah, not overthinking – in a nutshell, I’d say people spend the most on Young Adult, less on New Adult and Adult. From a market perspective, YA is the hardest sell, self-pub wise, because it’s so massive in traditional publishing, which creates far more competition, and therefore tends to warrant more money spent on promotion, including a great cover.

        • I see. That makes sense, although until now, I’d have thought YA’s had an easier time of it, because the market is so huge and has a greater crossover potential. Interesting. Thanks!

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