Your Publishing Budget: Worksheet and Tips
Self-publishing even a single book can easily become expensive. That's the reason so many authors stay away from self-publishing: they fear it costs too much to do it well.
The good news is that new author success stories pop up every day. Many of these writers don't break the bank publishing a debut or even have a large budget to work with. Instead, they focus on spending smart: preparing their books to make a good return on investment, sometimes before spending a dime.
If you want to save yourself the heartache of a multi-thousand dollar gamble, I've created this quick worksheet to help you estimate how many books per year you need to sell in order to pay off your production costs.
Let's walk through some of these elements together.
1. Your Starting Budget
There's a reason I recommend setting a budget before you even work out how much your publishing will cost. If you have a defined budget before you begin to work, you won't feel bad using it up--nor will you be tempted to cut corners when you need a professional job done.
I recommend that you be as generous as possible with your starting budget, but this doesn't mean you have to put your life savings in. To start with, you could be as modest as a hundred dollars per book. That being said, you'll get what you pay for--so if you can afford a thousand dollars, go for it!
2. Book Production Costs
For me, this has always aligned with my starting budget. Why? Because I don't want to cheat myself in getting a worse quality publishing job than I can afford.
Your book production cost consists of everything that goes into publishing your book. You can think of it as a bundle deal from a vanity press publisher, encompassing editing, cover design, and marketing as well as mailing list costs (if any) and author site expenses (if any).
To start with, we'll only look at the costs that come from publishing a single title. You might need to revise your starting budget if you realize you don't have enough. Otherwise, now is the time to break that budget up into costs per publishing item. At this point, you should get a good feel of what you have to work with and what level of publishing job you can expect to give yourself.
Note: Don't get discouraged if this part feels out of reach. You'll earn a lot of it back after publishing, and often there are ways to cut corners with publishing costs.
3. Plan Your Publishing Schedule
Profitable authors publish at least one book a year, and often more. This goes for both traditional and self-published authors, and it's a sad fact of working in an over-saturated and competitive market. If you want to stay in the game, you need to take an active role.
If you don't know how many books you can write in a year, err on the low side. You never know what problems you'll run into that will slow your progress, and you shouldn't overwhelm yourself with a schedule you can't maintain. One or two books a year is doable for standard genre fiction and will show readers that you're active year-round.
4. Put It All Together
At this point, you can see how much you'll need to spend per year on publishing. Don't get too alarmed at the number--again, we're not taking any sales or profit into account. This will give you an initial idea of how much you should expect to spend on your writing.
If you're new, you should be prepared to spend this entire cost over the year while you build up your backlog and find your initial audience. As you get more fans eager to buy and re-buy your books, this amount will go down and hopefully disappear.
5. Estimate Your Royalties
This part will change drastically if you're a part of Kindle Unlimited or if you plan on making a lot of discounted sales and depending on which wide platforms you're publishing on. Check to see what your estimated royalty per copy will be with your desired price, and use that to start with.
This is where it starts to get fun, but keep your price range at wherever it fits the market. Remember that charging too much for your books will scare readers away, while not charging enough might make your books appear to be lower quality than they actually are.
6. Estimate Your Needed Annual Sales
Now that you have your basic publishing stats, you can put the final piece into the puzzle. How many books do you need to sell at full price per year to make up for your publishing costs? Often, that number won't be very high. If you publish multiple books a year, you'll have an even easier time building up your backlog and getting repeat buyers (always a plus!).
When you know the number of sales you'll need to make, you can be more targeted in your marketing. How much time you spend marketing over writing will also come into play if you know you only need to sell a few copies per book to break your target.
7. Keep Tweaking
Your numbers will need to change. Feel free to switch your budget around depending on what you have available and what information you have over time. Keep in mind that it might be hard to turn a profit for your first couple years of publishing because you're still building your initial platform and getting your backlist started.
What are your publishing budgeting tips? Please share in the comments section below or join my group of self-publishing fiction authors on Facebook for more discussion.