The Price One Pays to be a Writer
Even wonder how much it costs indie authors to self-publish their books? Well, you’ve come to the right place! My book The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected has just hit the shelves at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. In this book, I address a fundamental question: what makes tales of woe such as Macbeth, Oedipus the King, and Death of a Salesman so appealing? It’s a most enduring question that’s fascinated thinkers from Aristotle to Hegel and Nietzsche. My argument breaks from the classic interpretations and offers a contemporary interpretation by arguing that tragedy fascinates because each dramatic act is also a gambling act. Heroes make risk run riot by placing delirious, all-in bets. By going all-in, they trigger unexpected and catastrophic events. Tragedy mesmerizes us because it dramatizes the price heroes pay. But of course, in this blog, we’re not talking about the price heroes pay, but the price indie writers pay to see their self-published masterpieces see the light of day.
Well, the first cost self-published writers pay is the opportunity cost lost in doing the next best thing they could have been doing, were they not writing a book. Of course, “Child’s play,” you say, “the book’s the thing.” Well, very good. It had better be the thing, because, for 95% of writers, writing a book will be 100% harder than they thought. “But what about the dollars and cents cost?”, you ask. Here’s a breakdown. These are 2018 prices in Canadian dollars.
Editors and Proofreaders $6100
$6100, are you kidding me? No, I am not. Here’s the perennial question that comes up all over the place: do I need an editor or proofreader or can I save a few bucks doing it myself? As a rule, the more experienced the author, the more they count on the expertise of professional editors and proofreaders to help guide the text to the finish line. It is generally the amateur writers who eschew the use of these worthy professionals. And it shows in the finished product.
The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy went through two structural / copy edits and one round of proofreading. The first structural / copy editor charged $1500. He marked up the text and removed many colloquialisms. He also had the nerve to tell me which parts of the book were getting repetitive or annoying. In hindsight, I sort of knew which parts of the book were weak, but without an expert calling me out, I wouldn’t have sunk the considerable energy that was required to make revisions. Thanks to my first editor, the manuscript became more robust.
My second structural / copy editor brought to light a few factual errors. It’s amazing how many little mistakes can persist in a text. She also added subheadings throughout the book. The idea of subheadings would never have occurred to me. She also moved paragraphs around into different chapters. The changes were substantial. In hindsight, she made the book much more readable and was worth every cent of the $3600 she charged. The subheadings were an invaluable addition
Finally, I had a proofreader go through the manuscript with a fine tooth comb. The cost was $1000 and worth it all, and more. He dug out the deeply embedded errors that defied all my best efforts to root out. For example, in one passage, I mentioned a foreign term in the plural. But I translated it into a singular English noun. Proofreaders have x-ray eyes. If you want your text to go far, hire the best editors and proofreaders that you can. Extra rounds help as well. Could my book have used further editing? Probably. But at some point, you have to let it go out into the world to fend for itself. Don’t be like the composer Anton Bruckner, who edited his symphonies without end to the point where many of his edits were questionable.
Friesen Press (typesetting, book / cover layout / distribution) $1889.05
After your Microsoft Word manuscript has been edited, the next step is to get it typeset. Printers work with LaTeX and Adobe InDesign files, not PDF or Word files. The typesetter converts you Word file into a format such as InDesign that the presses use. You can hire a typesetter and then a printer of your choice or you can give your script to one of the many one stop shops such as Friesen Press. Starting at $1999, these self-publishing companies will typeset your manuscript, design a front and back cover, assign ISBN numbers, and distribute your book. The distribution is worth it in itself. Your book will become available on Amazon (with ‘Look Inside!’ submission), Barnes & Noble, Chapters Indigo, the FriesenPress Online Bookstore, and Google Books. My book came out February 4, 2019, and it was available for sale immediately on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the FriesenPress Bookstore. Chapters Indigo hasn’t listed it yet so I’ve written to them. To self-publish my book, I went with the ‘Launch Path‘ package at Friesen Press. After a 10% discount, the total came to $1889.05.
From when I paid for the ‘Launch Path’ package at Friesen to when the book was available for sale was a six month journey. Capable publishing specialists at Friesen helped me along the way. I highly recommend Friesen Press to all aspiring indie writers. They provide a valuable service.
Extras at Friesen Press (cover image, indexing, revision round, proof copy) $2027.05
While the ‘Launch Path’ package at Friesen includes cover design, there was a specific image I wanted to use. In the game of poker, there is a hand called the ‘Dead Man’s Hand.’ A pair of black aces on eights, it is a visual representation of the unexpected, or, of a low-probability, high-consequence event (e.g. a low-probability of drawing the combination, but, once drawn, it has high-consequence because it signifies death). They charged two hours of design time to come up with the image: $144.90. The Dead Man’s Hand is a very memorable image. Money well-spent. Of course, well-spent money adds up quickly!
As a non-fiction title, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy required an index. This wasn’t included in the ‘Launch Path’ package but was available as an add-on at $1535.63. I priced out indexing services from independent indexers and found the quote from Friesen Press to be very competitive. One reason for Friesen’s competitive prices is that many of their hires are fresh out of university. Though they do business internationally, their office happens to be in downtown Victoria. I’ve been there a few times to sit down with the publishing specialists, and noticed that the office is populated by recent grads. I think Friesen tends to hire students coming out of creative writing programs at the University of Victoria. These grads, in turn, use Friesen Press as a launch pad for their own bright careers.
The ‘Launch Path’ package comes with one revision round. This means that, after the text is typeset, you have one opportunity to review the manuscript to make sure all the t’s are crossed and all the i’s dotted. After I signed off on the first revision round, I noticed that there were still several errors. That necessitated the purchase of a second revision round at $208.95. After the second revision round, more errors cropped up, but they were kindly able to amend these free of charge. For example, the indexer noticed some footnote entries were inconsistent. There probably still are a couple of errors in the text here and there. I plan to do a thorough read once I get my own physical copy (I still don’t have a copy myself!). These errors can be corrected in the second edition. I said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s truly mind-boggling how resistant these tiny errors are to editing. Like weeds in a garden.
Finally, Friesen sold me a physical softcover proof at $137.57. The ‘Launch Path’ package includes only digital proofs (their more expensive packages include physical proofs, however). $137.57 was not a very good deal, but I had wanted to donate a copy to the Greater Victoria Public Library for their 2018 Emerging Local Authors Collection, and the deadline was January 25, 2019. The GVPL graciously extended the deadline to end of February, and the only way to get them a copy was to fast-track a proof copy. I got the proof copy to them in time, and The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy will be on the library shelves come this May. It’s exciting to have a volume available at the library. I’ve got a journal article at 300+ academic libraries all over the world, but this will be the first time I’ll have a book in the library anywhere in the world.
Book Bulk Order (150 Copies) $2245.87
What’s a book without copies on hand? Friesen Press quoted me $2245.87 for a bulk order of 150 softcovers. That’s with a 20% discount for the first order. It works out to be $14.97 for a copy and includes shipping. I’ll send some of these copies out to reviewers locally. If I’m giving away complimentary copies, it makes more sense, believe it or not, to distribute copies through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. For complimentary copies in the US, if I use Barnes & Noble, shipping is free if you join their member’s club at $20 a year. So, for $14.99 (list price USD), I can distribute complimentary copies. It would cost me $14.97 (price of book in CAD) and $18 (shipping through Canada Post) to deliver to the States. That works out to be $32.97 CAD or roughly $25 USD. That’s $10 USD more than going with Barnes & Noble. It’s the same with sending complimentary copies in Canada. Going through amazon.ca, the cost works out to $25 CAD to ship in Canada. For me to go through Canada Post, it would cost in excess of $30 CAD. And I would also have to package the book, run down to the post office, wait in line…
By the way, if you go through Friesen Press, you can set the prices on your soft and hardcover books. And Friesen will also collect your royalties for you (distributed every quarter). It is a well-thought out system. I purposely set the price of the book low to encourage sales. The price is set $1.00 above the cost for the print-on-demand or POD press to produce the book. Amazon or Barnes & Noble earn $0.25 per book and I earn $0.75. 100% of my earnings go towards funding the theatre competition.
Publicity $500 and Counting
There’s a lot of ways this self-publishing cottage industry makes money from aspiring indie authors. One way is by selling paid reviews. Kirkus, BlueInk, Foreword Clarion, City Book Review, and others offer this service, which ranges from $200-$600. There are also a few places that offer free reviews such as Book Life and Midwest Book Reviews. I decided to go with a Kirkus review to start. For $375 USD = $500 CAD (after a $50 online coupon), they provide a 250 word review which links to the book’s Amazon or Barnes & Noble page as a professional review. I’ll post the review whether it’s positive or negative (you are given the option to hide the review if it’s negative). To me, it’ll be really interesting to read about what people think about the book. I’ll probably purchase a few more reviews in the future.
The other promotion I’m thinking of is offered by GoodReads. For $119 USD = $160 CAD, you can give away so many copies of your books in a lottery. You pay the price to ship the book to the GoodReads members. In return, they read your book and are encouraged to leave a review on the GoodReads site. This sort of grassroots approach appeals to me, as your reviewers are folks who are interested in the book. But it could get expensive quickly, as you’re paying $119 to essentially give away and ship your book.
So, you want to write and self-publish as book? That’ll be $12,761.97 please! If you have something to write, I would hope that it is fairly important! For me, I guess that is the sticker price of doing Melpomene’s work.
Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.