It’s time for a bit of honesty and hard truth in the writing and publishing world. One of the things I hear when I talk to new authors is the simple lament: “writing a book is harder than I thought.” Then we start talking about the real cost of self-publishing, and publishing in general, and all the work that goes into it.
Suddenly this individual, who just wanted to write their story and sell a few books, is overwhelmed. I’ll let you in on a secret. No matter how many times you do this (I’m somewhere over two dozen novels of my own, several short stories just this year, and have helped countless authors through this process) you will feel like there’s more to do than you can handle. There is so much to do, and so little time.
It’s one of the reasons Unbound Publishing came about at all. One of my primary aims was to help writers feel less overwhelmed by taking a little of the pain out of the process.
That “pain removal” comes at a cost, and that’s another thing I hear often. “Why is this so expensive?” So let me explain, with a transparency that few publishers will give you, the reality of the business, and some more about our two paths to publication and why we have them.
Time and Skills vs. Money
Just like nearly everything else, publishing is about time and skills vs. money. The first book I edited and even the first book I published was not as good as what I can do now. It isn’t that I lacked skill, but I lacked experience, and tools have evolved and improved over the years.
I’ve also worked to hone my skills and get more efficient, as have most editors, writers, and publishers. Just like in sports there is no substitute for time on the field, in publishing there is no substitute for simply doing the work. The same is true of cover design, book formatting, writing marketing copy, and more.
So can you do them yourself? In some cases, the answer is yes. In others, the answer is a resounding “No.” The real question is whether you have or can develop the skills for doing something and if you have the time to do them. Many authors early in their careers are working day jobs, writing in their spare time, and that time can quickly disappear in marketing tasks, trying to create book covers and all the other tasks that go with writing.
Instead of spending time trying to do all that, you can pay someone to do them for you. They probably work faster and more efficiently than you can, and they are likely more skilled as well. And that is what you are paying for. Their time and skills. So if you spend eight hours trying to create a book cover, and it was a mediocre one, what else could you have done with that eight hours? How much money would you have made, or how much writing could you have gotten done?
Also, think of the person you are paying. What do you make per hour? If it takes someone even five hours to make your book cover, you need to pay them reasonably for those five hours. If they are a skilled editor, how much do they deserve for forty hours spent on your manuscript? However, perhaps the most important aspect is the benefit to your mental health. Even paying others to do part of the work you will sometimes feel overcome with things to do, and I suggest you check out Colleen Story’s great book,Overwhelmed Writer Rescue: Boost Productivity, Improve Time Management, and Replenish the Creator Within.
You get the idea. Writing a book is hard enough and you want to get paid for your time. Add in all the other tasks that go with it, and you have a lot of expenses. But let’s look at costs specific to the publishing industry.
Editing Costs and What they Mean
Over the next several weeks, we’ll be diving deeper into each of these topics, but let’s start with the basics. Provided your manuscript is near perfect when you hand it in to a publisher or even to a freelance editor, it will at a minimum need a solid proofreading pass for grammar and punctuation.
Most editors charge by the word, and even if they are charging fractions of a penny per word to edit your manuscript, it is still costly. If they charge half a cent per word and you have a 40,000-word manuscript, that is still a couple of hundred bucks.
But let’s face it. Your manuscript is probably not perfect, so it needs deeper edits than that. If the editor even spends eight hours on your manuscript for a $200 payday, they earned $25 an hour. If they are an independent contractor, they also pay their own taxes, so that is really the equivalent of around $15 an hour, or what an unskilled worker makes in many cases. On top of that, since the average memoir or non-fiction book is closer to 60,000 words—well, you can do the math.
Of course, the deeper the edits your manuscript needs, the more it will cost you per word because the more time it will take. If you are working with a publisher or agent who does not charge you upfront for those costs, that is a part of their cost for creating your book. To keep it simple, someone is paying the editor for their work, whether that is you or the publisher.
The same that is true for editing is the same as covers, but there are other costs as well. For example, if you have a cover that is put together with stock photography of some sort, that photography must be licensed for use on your cover, and someone has to pay for that, either you or the cover designer.
And think about any graphic designer you know. How much to they make an hour? How many hours do you think it takes to create a great cover? Add to that if you need something that is hand-drawn or painted rather than created using stock photography. How much does an artist get for a great painting?
So when you look at the price of a cover, realize there is a lot of art that goes into it combined with time, skill, and often photo licensing as well. It’s not as simple as slapping a photo and some words on a blank cover. And when covers are bad, they can be really bad.
There are two aspects to formatting a book. One is the digital aspect. E-readers allow a reader to change fonts to meet their specific needs and wants, which can move photos, charts, and other items around if your book has them. Special formatting can make sure they “stay in place” but that takes skill and a good formatting program.
The same is true for print formatting. Those photo plates in the center of a book have to be especially designed and making sure text looks just right can be tricky. Getting it right takes time, skill, and the right software. A truly skilled formatter is extremely valuable.
This is another cost that either you are paying, or your publisher is, but either way, it’s part of the cost of producing a book.
Printing and Distribution Costs
Here’s where things can get a little convoluted because this cost bridges two aspects of publishing: actually printing and distributing your book and marketing. Printing costs are the actual amount it takes to physically create your book, either in hardcover, paperback, or the creation of an audiobook.
But there is also the cost of distribution, which is more than just shipping books. It’s making sure your book is in the right catalogs, that bookstores and libraries know about your book so they can choose whether or not to carry it, and the discount those retailers demand to make their own business viable.
Many self-published or even published authors feel they are doing libraries and bookstores a favor by “allowing” them to carry their books, and they approach librarians and others with this “entitled attitude.” But the opposite is true. Libraries and bookstores are doing authors a favor by carrying their books and giving them shelf space, especially if they end up on an endcap or a “front-facing” position.
With print on demand, we try to keep these costs as low as possible, rather than the expenses of doing a giant print run. But it still costs money to execute.
We’ll cover this in more detail on this blog in the future, but you can start by reading this post about dealing with Indie bookstores and libraries as an author.
Keeping Up Appearances
Once your book is out in the world, things like inventory management, revisions to your bio, book descriptions, managing ads and marketing, and offering sale prices all go into keeping your book fresh and interesting. There are also things like website updates and changes and simple maintenance.
If you self-publish, this is your job, and it will take you time and in some cases money. If you are working with a publisher, this is their job and an important one. As we’ll explore in a moment, your publisher and your agent if you have one won’t make any money unless you sell books.
Two Paths of Paying for the Hard Work of a Team
So why do we offer two paths to publication at Unbound Publishing? The reason is simple. We have to make money so we can keep helping storytellers become authors. We can’t do the things we do for free: we have mortgages, rent, and all of the expenses that go with owning and running a company, or in our case, more than one.
If we add up all of the expenses above and we pay ourselves something for the time we put in, it costs somewhere between $4,000 and $10,000 dollars to produce. In some cases, the costs can be even higher.
If you have a really rough manuscript and you need deep edits or even the help of a ghostwriter, we can do that for you, but that adds even more to the overall cost. If you self-publish or go with our author services path, or someone else’s, you need to recoup that money to have what we in the business call a positive return on investment (ROI).
As we have talked about on this blog before, publishing is a pay now or pay later game: you either pay upfront for services, and then as a result you get a higher percentage of your royalties, or an even greater amount if you choose to self-publish. Or you pay later, because your publisher, in this case us, keeps a higher percentage of the royalties you earn until we pay back our expenses.
And that is where the two paths to publication come in. If you are confident you can sell books, and you can prove it to us, you can apply to be a part of our print on demand small press path to publication. In that case, you are choosing to “pay later” in royalties.
Of you can pay for everything upfront. You still have to qualify if you want to publish with us. We’re protective of our brand and the quality it represents. But you are choosing to pay now and keep more of your royalties from future sales. If you have a budget and you like to control all aspects of the publication of your book, you can choose this method or just the author’s services you need, priced a la carte.
Either way, publishing is going to cost you something, and since you’ve already put time into your story, making money from it, at least enough to break even, only makes sense.
The Key to Your Success
What’s the key to success when it comes to writing and publishing? Well, there are actually several ingredients. The primary one is you. You have to have a good story. You have to have the desire to tell it. You have to want to share it, not just with family and friends, but with the world.
Essentially, just like when we look at a criminal act, you need means, motive, and opportunity. You need the means to create your story and get it into a package that you can sell. That often means partnering in one way or another with a company like ours. You need a motive, and a reason to share your story or your idea. Whatever that is, it will have to drive you even when things are tough, and they can be in the book industry.
The opportunity? We’ll take care of that. If you’re ready to tell your story to the world, explore what we have to offer today, and then contact us. We’d love to talk with you about the bridge from being a storyteller to becoming an author, and how we can best help you.
When we started this company last year, we had a vision. A small one, and one we had no idea where it would take us.
The idea was simple. We already had a network of people who provided services to authors. If we pooled those resources, plus our own, we could offer some authors, those who could afford it, a path to publication that was an alternative to doing it all themselves and self-publishing and waiting for a publisher to pick them up and produce their books, something with a long lead time.
But why make the author pay for services? Well, it’s simple really. The publishing game is a pay now or pay later game, and plenty of small presses and even large publishers have gone broke trying to manage authors who don’t help market and sell their books, or just have no author platform or audience, and certainly aren’t working to build one.
But now, we’re able to offer another path to publication, what we call Print on Demand Small Press. Let’s look at how publishing works, the money behind it, and why we choose to do things the way we do.
The Self-Publishing Slush Pile
For those of you not in the know, the slush pile is the pile of horrible manuscripts that sits on an acquisitions editor’s desk, waiting to be waded through. They are often poorly formatted, poorly written, and are far from ready for an editor’s eye, let alone publication. I used to be that guy and read those drafts. Some of them were just horrible.
Often, if you sent an author a rejection, you’d get this answer: “I’ll just self-publish on Amazon then.” They often did, and their books didn’t sell there either. Although self-publishing grew 40% over the last couple of years, the average income for authors fell significantly. That’s because there are many authors who make less than $1,000 a year, and many actually lose money rather than making it.
The slush pile has moved to Amazon, where hundreds of books sit, many of which never sold a single copy.
The Big Publishers
The big publishers operate on narrow margins. For the most part, they only pick up books they know will sell and sell big. Those big names get most of their support and marketing efforts. The small author, even if you get in as a debut or mid-list author? You’re still the primary marketer for your own work, and the publisher takes a large chunk of your royalties.
Even if you have a book that will sell, it will take months before it is published, maybe years. Got a timely topic? Good luck. You’re going to need it.
With many bookstores and libraries closed, those lead times have gotten even longer.
Small Presses and Intermediate Publishers
This is often the sweet spot for some authors. The small press is much like a traditional publisher, but without the advances or (usually) big names. They often want to be like big publishers, but their limited staff and calendar makes the number of titles they can release limited.
At the same time, they also need to take on authors who can sell books for sure. Those authors who don’t market their work or come with an audience of their own drag down profits and limit the growth of those small presses. I often call them hobbyists: they do this for a hobby, but they don’t really take it seriously. No matter what a publisher invests in them and their work, they can only go so far.
The publisher, already with a limited budget and time constraints, is further constrained by an author who is actually losing them money.
Intermediate publishers do well also, but the slots they have for authors fill up fast too. If you’re a newbie, a debut author, or someone who has one interesting book in them—one about history, your loved ones, your family, a sports career, a career in fashion, or a historical event, you’ll have a hard time getting in the door.
Pay to Play or Vanity Press
Call it what you will, from author services to vanity publishing, what this amounts to is a company that effectively helps an author self-publish. They coordinate things like editing, formatting, book covers, and more. The author pays for these services, the same as they would if they self-published, but they only pay in one place, and the publisher assists them in sourcing these services and in quality control.
The publisher will often publish the author’s book for them, or they can take the finished manuscript and publish it themselves, just depending on how much of the work they want to handle on their own. It’s called vanity publishing, author services, or pay to play because anyone can publish through these services if they have enough money.
Now, some of these publishers have standards the author must meet, and they won’t publish just anything. They’ll even reject manuscripts if they’re awful no matter how much money you have. Those are the ones with integrity. Other publishers will take your money no matter how bad your story is, publish it, and wish you the best of luck.
The good version of this publisher will publish your book but will pay you higher royalties right away, often with bonuses if you actually do sell books, because the author has paid their initial expenses upfront: they don’t have to earn that money back before your book becomes profitable.
That’s a rare thing, but it is a good option for those who want to and can sell books or for those who just want to hold a book with their name on it in their hands, regardless of if they ever sell a single copy.
Our New Option: Print on Demand Small Press
What does this model mean, and why is it different? Instead of paying upfront for author services, the author takes a lower royalty rate for the first 1,000 books sold. Then the rate goes up from there. There are even bonuses for authors who meet milestones quickly.
There are no fancy book tours, although we have some great marketing options. There are no advances. We do take agented scripts, and with a new partnership with an agency (announcement coming soon), we’re even able to direct authors to representation. We do this even if their work isn’t a good fit for Unbound Publishing.
The more the author sells, the more profitable we are, and therefore the more the author earns. This allows us to offer opportunities for editors, book cover designers, formatters, and others to earn money as well. Because we hire only the best.
We want authors to succeed. So there are criteria for this process. You have to apply, which means you need to have an author platform, a following, a good book with a popular topic or subject matter. You need to have a marketing plan or an agent: some way to help us spread the word about your book. We can then partner with you to make you successful.
We’re interested in:
- Sports figures or their relatives and related topics.
- The entertainment industry, the people who made or make it work, and their day to day lives.
- The fashion industry. The rise and fall of icons, the ups and downs and changing attitudes through history.
- History itself. Historical figures, new investigations or angles on events, deeper insights.
- Business and business ideas. Something new, innovative, or ideas shared by thought leaders.
Is this you or someone you love? Do you have other non-fiction ideas you think we might be interested in? You can apply to be a part of this exciting program today.
No matter what your path to publication is, you’re going to pay. Either you pay now, in the form of various services you purchase from others, or you pay later in the form of royalties. We offer both options in a single publisher.
But we also know we’re not the right fit for everyone. We’d love to talk with you and find out more about you and your book. We can help you choose the right path to publication, even if that means referring you to someone else. Whatever your needs as an author, we’re here to help.
By Troy Lambert
The Independent Book Publishers Association tells us the 81% of Americans, 200 million people, feel they have a book in them, and should write it. However, they don’t. Even with recent trends in publishing, still only 2% actually do. The question becomes: Why not? And what can we do to get those stories into the world?
There are several reasons people do not write books, and even more reasons they never go on to publish them even once they are written. In fact, I have even ghostwritten books for people who, after having paid good money to put their stories into a commercially viable manuscript, have still never published.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Will you join the 2% of storytellers who become authors every single day? Here are some common obstacles and how we help you overcome them.
Finding Time to Write
This is one of the most common things we hear from aspiring authors, and it is generally a pretty valid excuse. You may own and run a business and may even have additional family and other responsibilities. Writing takes a lot of time. How do you fit that into your schedule?
There are answers. First, you can build writing time into your schedule. Typically if you want to do something, you can make time for it, and if that is focused time, you can get a lot done. Here are some tips:
Set a time in the morning or in the evening, or when you have a break during the day, and make an appointment with yourself. Then keep it.
Don’t allow yourself to be disturbed. Turn off Wi-Fi, hold all your calls, and shut your office door. The more you can stay on task, the better.
Perfection is the enemy of completion. There are editors, ghostwriters, and other professionals who can help you take your story from the rough words you put down into a marketable product. But they can’t edit what is in your head.
Write, write, write. Don’t think about things, just write your thoughts the best you can. Remember, it’s better to have too much than not enough material. You can always cut, but its much harder to add things later on.
This works for some people. Even if your writing is not the greatest, something cam be done with it. However, if writing does not work for you, there are other options.
Recording Your Stories
Are you better at telling you story verbally? Good. Sit down and record your stories using a digital recorder or have someone do it for you. If you can, use a transcription program like DragonSpeak or even the dictation options in Microsoft Word, OneNote, Evernote, or any number of other programs.
Just be sure that you have a good microphone. If a computer program does not work for you, there are transcription services that will turn your spoken words into typed ones. Don’t worry if you don’t have time to source these resources. At Unbound Publishing, we can help with this step if you need it.
- Just remember a couple of things while you are recording:
- Use a good microphone and speak clearly.
- Try to have an agenda and stick to it. The more you wander with your story, the harder (and more time consuming) it will be to edit your transcripts.
- Take breaks. All of that talking can be surprisingly exhausting and talking through some of your story or even your ideas can be emotionally difficult too. Take your time.
Even if you are better at talking through your story and your ideas, we can still work with you to take you from being a storyteller to being an author.vWe can use transcripts, and often do, in the ghostwriting process.
Are you unsure about where to start when it comes to telling your story? Do you need help getting it out of your head? A method that often helps is to have a ghostwriter come and interview you in person or do interviews over various video chatting applications. The questions we can ask will often help you organize your thoughts, and can even help you remember events in a whole new way.
This is one of the most common ways that books are ghostwritten. The writer will interview the storyteller and create transcripts from those interviews. This also helps keep you focused on your story, and the exact parts you want to share.
Worrying about What People Think
One of the next obstacles storytellers often face is the worry about what others might think. You might want to tell your story, but you may be concerned about what your family or friends might think if you share the truth about your past. You may even be concerned about how it will affect your business.
Even if you have business ideas to share, you might be fearful that others will reject them or even ridicule them. The truth is, this is something that every author faces in one form or another.
So we promise storytellers one thing: we’ll make sure that your stories and ideas are expressed in the best way possible. We promise to be honest if something is not working or might be offensive or unpalatable to your audience. At Unbound Publishing, we’ll be with you every single step of the way.
We’re your concierge publishing company. When you are ready to go from the 81% or want to and should write a book to the 2% that do, contact us. Let us be your partners in publishing.