22 Aug 2014

Why I Followed my Dreams, and the True Cost of Self-Publishing

A few days ago, I drafted my budget and wrote up the basics of my marketing plan. When the current sum came up, I wasn’t at all shocked; in fact, I was pleasantly surprised. Having made a few hard decisions, I was looking at £660 to effectively bring to market; previously, that figure would have been around £1200.

For those not in the business, this can sound like a lot. But rest assured: it isn’t. Because of some hard decisions, I can get away with spending less than most successful self-pubs—and certainly a lot less than what your typical publishing house pays. (Hint: it’s usually more than £2000, for shorter books than this. Obviously, it varies; but I’ve heard typical figures quoted in the £5000 area for this.)

Some of the decisions that had to be made included editing. At the low end, it would have cost me £650–800; but more likely it would have cost me something like £1200 (to properly work one-on-one and collaborate). I have seen editing firms charge in excess of £2000 for this, and some even more (the latter was a questionable proposition though...)

Editing is considered a necessity for most works. Certainly, it would have improved the Necromancer and given me some much deserved help.

Unfortunately, it was not something I could realistically afford. I have a fortuitous sponsor right now—my grandfather—but since he has worked and continues to earn in Romania, I cannot expect to ask large amounts of money from him.

Let’s put it like this: for every bread you can buy in the UK, you can get five breads in Romania.

And publishing is a risky business. While I don’t seriously believe I can’t sell at least 3000 books—a writer must believe to succeed—it is nonetheless a risk involving non-trivial amounts of money.

‘But Alex: why didn’t you go the more affordable editing route and do all the marketing yourself, plus some of the design?’

It is ultimately a question of value. Editing will improve my sales outlook in the long term—and even in the short term it may pay off—and it will have the priceless value of making my book the best it can be.

But I would end up with a great book nobody will find. Through this method, I can both save money; and I can have a good book people will find.

Nearly half of my budget will be spent on marketing—this will involve hiring a professional and possibly buying some ads (still playing with the possibilities). The other half is concerned with design. I am purchasing a print-ready cover, plus promotional art; in addition to this, I am going to hire out an illustrator for a map (stay tuned!) and also likely buy better wallpaper for this blog.

(I’m thinking of getting an Extreme Blog Makeover...)

Some of these expenses sound frivolous, but upon closer thought you will realise this is not the case. A good cover is a requisite for selling books in real numbers. As it is, there are higher end artists out there; though, unsurprisingly, they charge too much for me at present time.

Promotional art is also very important.A key part of my marketing is going to be physically done by me. I am going to work with libraries, bookstores, and I may even do a school assembly. But to that, I need two things: physical books, and something to tempt passing readers.

A good blog appearance isn’t really important in the short term but will build my name in the long term. And as for the map, well—it’s useful to understanding the book, which means it improves my product. (Yes, my book is a personal work of art but in business terms it is a product.)

So there you go: publishing—even done with saviness and some compromises—isn’t a cheap proposition. To really sell books self-pubbing, you will probably need to pay something in the order of £2500+ for this. If you want to make mega-bucks, well: Little Brown and co. spent about £150,000 marketing Elizabeth Kostova’s the Historian—which went on to sell two million copies.

(Quickly opens up Wikipedia... we can’t be wrong on this Alex... these readers of yours are too clever for their own good...)

And apologies for not posting in so long. I have been busy getting a bank account to fund my endeavour, and still need a UK bank account in addition to an NI number, US tax number, and possibly a pair of ISBNs (I can get them free from Romania’s ISBN office).

I have also received my GCSE exam results. They’re good, but can be better. (I do have a lot of them, and I did move in the middle of year 10 and had to catch up on half a year of Drama.) That said: I will probably request a remark for two of them—one is close to a grade boundary, the other looks suspiciously low—and may resit one RE exam in order to get a top grade.

Enough about that, though. I have started to see a terrible vacuousness in all of these mark scoring and results grabbing that I do. Frankly, if I don’t go to Oxford (or Cambridge, but they’re not as bothered about GCSEs) I will probably be in a better financial situation because I’d be studying abroad and won’t be paying £9000 a year. I’ll be paying anything from £2500 (inclusive of health insurance) to £0.

And yes: lots of Oxbridge alumni don’t make that much more than other Russel Group guys or even less prestigious universities. Frankly, going to Oxford is a matter of pride.

And really, I want to succeed writing books. Books bring me a personal satisfaction unmatched by anything else; and financially they can put me in a far better situation than even newly minted bankers. Which brings me on to part 2.

Following my Dreams

When I say ‘and the true cost of self-publishing’ I am in actuality referring to the emotional cost. Self-publishing is like trying to go through a very thick, very hard wall. For that matter, traditional publishing is like trying to get a very fearful, very covetous individual to believe in something he sees as little more than a product.

And book-selling? It’s like trying to shine in a sea of fake jewels. (Or not-so-fake crap.)

But let’s leave all these metaphors behind. The basic idea is: publishing a book is hard whichever way you take. And indeed self-publishing has that extra difficulty of marketing and outsourcing to design professionals and editors... but trad publishers don’t do a whole lot of marketing for most authors these days, and the latter is merely a question of logistics, money, and a little patience.

(Patience, as you can guess, is a virtue every writer comes to possess.)

No: what I am trying to say is that my dreams are no longer that of great university prestige or being some CEO of something or other. Granted, I still dream of that quintessential erudite writer, with charms and a lot of money. But really, it’s the pleasure of being an artist that is my greatest dream.

I do not proclaim to say this book is the culmination of this dream because, frankly, it isn’t. It’s a beginning. It’s a way to earn some money, inspire some trust in those who would fund me, and ideally provide a comfortable budget for the next book.

I am learning how to publish, and will soon learn how to market. I am learning monetisation. Even if this book doesn’t succeed, I will have gained valuable skills (and indeed already have)—skills that can be put to good use in my next books—for there will be more, a great deal more—or, if need be, in earning some cash freelancing.

If this book does gain some success, it won’t be the money that’ll be the biggest pay off. I do not crave wealth, and neither do I want to spend this money on anything constituting a ‘luxury’, or a frivolity. I see money has far better uses than in buying jewellery or designer clothing.

Honestly, the biggest use I’d have for the money is in buying a house. The only houses that are mine are in Romania—a country which no longer interests me, if ever it did.

But even better than a house would be the feeling of knowing I succeeded. It would be... the euphoria, the taste of future possibility. For what greater a quest is there than to live your life the way you want to live it?

‘Alex: what if it bombs?’

This is a question I have thought over carefully; it is, after all, why I am not spending large amounts of money.

But it doesn’t worry me. My writing is getting better and better; my stories are getting greater, more powerful... more defined. If this one don’t succeed, I’ll write another! And it will be so much better. And I hope—perhaps a little naively—that, through indefatigable effort and determination, somebody would believe it in like I do.

The most difficult part is over. I wrote the book, and improved my writing skills until I could turn it into something worthy of attention. I got over my self-doubt and fears. I learned the important skills that any writer must have these days—perspicacity, professionalism, research skills, marketing—and with that the rest will be a matter of continued determination, belief in myself, and lots of hard work.

The wall is in front of me now. But it is a wall that can be broken through so much more easily than the one I couldn’t see.

All I need to do is to continue believing, and to continue hoping.

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