Friday, August 8, 2014

The Cost of a Professional Quality Book

UPDATE: After talking to Brian McClellan and rereading his blogpost, The Cost of a Good Book, I realized I misinterpreted what he was trying to say. His point wasn't that $32k was what you should spend, but what Orbit had spent on his book as part of his argument that publishers do a lot for authors in the whole Amazon/Hachette debacle.

I'm not actually sure how I read this so wrong. Apparently I'm illiterate, or at least comprehension impaired. But correct information is what this blog is all about! So I've removed the parts of this post that refer to his because, hey, I was very wrong! (And in this case, I'm really happy about that. Seriously, I couldn't understand how an author I liked could be saying these things. Now I do, because he wasn't. Durrr.)

I've left my own numbers in, of course, because those actually are correct and hopefully still relevant.  Mea culpa, Brian McClellan! Sorry about all the hub-bub and fuss! And to the rest of you, sorry about the confusion. That'll teach me to get my britches in a bundle.

Carrying on!


When I decided last year that I wanted to self-publish Nice Dragons Finish Last, the very first thing I knew I wanted was that my self-published books should be indistinguishable in quality and production from my New York books. I wanted my readers to be able to move seamlessly between my series without even noticing who published what.

To achieve this level of quality control, I knew I would need:

1) A high quality, custom illustrated cover from a professional artist. ($1100)
2) Thorough content editing from an experienced genre editor. ($1400)
3) Serious copy editing. ($480)

After a lot of research into the costs of the services above, I settled on a production budget of $3000. If that seems lower than a lot of numbers you've heard, it's because I made decisions that deliberately kept it that way, lowering my initial risk and hopefully ensuring a successful future for my book!

So what are these decisions? Well, to start with, Nice Dragons is currently ebook only. The reason for this is simple mathematics. Looking at all my royalty reports for my Orbit books across two series, I could see that the print percentage of my sales has been steadily dropping. By 2013, the majority of my books were sold as ebooks. This is critically important. Even with a New York publisher getting my books onto bookstore shelves, I was still selling more ebooks than print copies. Also, ebooks are easier to sell, higher profit margin, and cheaper to produce than print editions. Seeing this, I decided the initial Nice Dragons release would be ebook only, which saved a huge amount of money on the initial production cost.

Does this mean Nice Dragons will be ebook only forever? No way. I still love print, and I know my fans do, too, but data doesn't lie. Every number I had told me that print wasn't where the money was, so I made the decision to put off a print release (and all the type setting and back covers and expenses that go with it) until I had numbers proving Nice Dragons Finish Last could sell enough copies in print to justify the cost.

I also decided to forego an audio book edition.

Just like my decision not to do an immediate print release, this was a personal choice to save money on the initial production cost of my book. Audio books are awesome, and they can make you a lot of money, but they are enormously expensive--$2800 by Mr. McClellan's report, which sounds right to me. This struck me as something I could pursue after Nice Dragons was "earning out," and since self-publishing is a long game, I knew I'd have the time to pursue this later on if I chose.

Again, print books and audio editions and all the other bells and whistles that might seem necessary for a book release are, in fact, not needed to produce a professional quality book readers will buy and enjoy. For that, all you need is a high quality, professional cover, professionally edited text that is free from errors, and, of course, an actual good book.

Again, even leaving these out, my book still cost $3000 to produce, which is actually a lot by self-published book standards. But I was determined to make sure my readers got the highest quality reading experience, and I put my money where my mouth was. That said, I have read absolutely lovely, well edited books with very nice covers produced for less than $1000, so your millage may vary.

Just speaking for myself, Nice Dragons has already made enough money to cover all its costs and justify a print edition (which I will be adding soon!), and it hasn't even been out for a full thirty days. It's also my best received book to date, so I think $3000 was right on the nose--just enough to ensure maximum quality, but not so much I'd have to wait forever to earn it back and try other things I wanted to do, like print and audio.

Is $300 a good cost for you? I can't say, because I'm not you, and your book is not mine. I do, however, feel that $3000 is a realistic price for a professional quality self-published book put out by an established author. Again, YMMV, so always be sure to make a budget you can stick to and price out your freelancers first! The KBoards Yellow Pages for Authors is a great place to start.

Thank you as always for reading. I hope you enjoyed the post. Again, sorry about the edits.

Good luck and happy writing!


Daniel said...

Excellent post! One question: For Nice Dragons Finish Last, how did you go about finding professional copy and genre editors?

I can Google for "professional [genre/fantasy/sf] editor" but how do I know who is good and who isn't? Just start looking at what books they've edited?


lpalmer said...

Thanks for sharing this wealth of information. I'm currently pulling together my first self-published book, and am working on keeping the cost as low as possible. Looking at your price points is helpful.

S. L. Perrin said...

Thank you for this post. Very much enjoy reading your blog and books!

Rachel Aaron said...

@Daniel Thank you! I added a link in the post to the Kboards Author Yellow Pages, it's a great place to start your search for a quality freelancer


@Ipalmer and SL Perrin Thank you very much! I love reading author numbers, personally. I hope mine are illuminating!

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

....$32k? To self publish? That would halve my mortgage. /faint

It is interesting (and probably very important) to distinguish between editing and copy editing (and also getting a genre editor, as well! It probably almost goes without saying, but probably not. It wasn't until recently in My Writing Timeline that I became more aware of these niceties.)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the behind the scenes!

A Wee Bit said...

A really informative post, thanks.

And I just want to say I am way too excited about a print edition!! :D

Anonymous said...

At the end you ask if$300 is right for you. Then the next sentence says $3000. I'm guessing you just left out a 0 on the first one.

Anonymous said...

See also K.B. Spangler's blog entry "Self-publishing Cover Shenanigans":

DenaeC said...

One thing I love about reading your blog is that you're a reader/writer who is not afraid to talk about numbers and data. :)
And because you're interesting and write so well, too, of course.