I’m not sure how much I’ve spent on self-publishing novels, but I’m starting to have a bit more sympathy for writers who would like to get their work out into the world and have limited resources. Everybody makes money in this business except the writer!
I’ve just spent about $2,000 on a professionally designed website (now live at jimaikin.net). There will be some ongoing fees associated with that, I’d have to dig out the emails to find the numbers. And then there’s cover art, editing, and proofreading.
Today I commissioned an artist friend to do a painting for the cover of While Caesar Sang of Hercules. That’s going to cost $800. Proofreading will cost another $600. Hiring someone to do page layout would cost a thousand bucks or so, but I can do that myself in InDesign. My subscription to InDesign is only $20 a month, but if I only use it twice a year that’s still another $120 or so per book, and maybe more. ISBNs are cheap. I bought ten of them at one go, and they’re now in use, so next month I’ll have to buy another ten.
While I was working on the Leafstone saga (see those book covers up there? buy the books! buy the books! you’ll love them!), I spent $5,000 on a developmental edit. I’m not sure it was worth quite that much, but I’m glad I did it. The editor’s comments definitely strengthened the story. I paid a friend several hundred bucks for scanning the pages of The Wall at the Edge of the World so I could do a new edition. And of course both Wall and the Leafstone books have professionally designed covers, though those covers cost less than a painting would have. Paintings are expensive.
Can you do it without spending a nickel? Sure you can — but the results are not likely to look as good as you’re hoping, and your potential readers will notice the poor quality. You can write in LibreOffice and format the book interior there, exporting a PDF that Amazon can use for page layout. You can design your own cover using GIMP, which is free. You can manage the e-book formatting using Calibre. But unless you’re a talented graphic artist, your cover will look amateurish. Unless you’re a professional editor, your prose won’t be clean.
I’m a professional editor. I didn’t even think to mention that. I’m certainly capable of making mistakes, so having others read the manuscript is always a good idea, but I don’t make the kinds of errors that an untrained author is likely to blunder into — verb tense shifts, bad punctuation, dangling modifiers, and so on. If you’re not an editor, plan on spending another grand getting your manuscript scrutinized. Grammarly and other software “solutions” will not help with this. Don’t even think about using one of them as a substitute for professional line-editing and copy-editing.
I don’t expect ever to break even on book sales. Fortunately, I don’t need to. But at a certain point a couple of years down the road, maybe I’ll have enough books out that I can start to build a little marketing momentum. That would be nice.