Budgeting for Success: How to plan your book right

Self-publishing and book printing has become a saturated market in the last five years or so. A space once devoid of options now abounds with them. This is a great thing for authors looking for better quality and services, as competition has driven self-publishing services both old and new to strive for even greater excellence.

This competitive market doesn’t make the author’s job any easier though.

As if writing your manuscript wasn’t enough, to get it published you’ll need to edit, design, and layout the interior. And create a cover. With that done you’ll have a book, but just having a book published doesn’t equal sales, so you’ll have to begin the even more arduous process of marketing and promoting your book.

Overwhelmed yet? Don’t be. Today I’m going to break down for you one of the scariest pieces of the self-publishing puzzle—budgeting.

Before the budget comes the goal

We have to begin this with a very important disclaimer. Publishing means different things to different people. Your goals will inform how much you should spend on your book.

You can publish a book for $0.00 dollars. Absolutely and completely free.

And if all you need is to have a book ready to be printed at a low cost or available at no cost as an ebook, this option is viable. But if you are publishing to sell your work, it is going to take some level of investment. I challenge all of you to find a successful self-published author who claims to have invested nothing in their book. If they exist, they are few and very far between.

Before you can consider how much it costs to publish, you need to know why you’re publishing. Without clearly defining for yourself the goal you won’t be successful. This isn’t a new concept. No one decides to build a skyscraper or an airplane and then just does it. They plan, they draft outlines and blueprints, they conceptualize and budget their resources.

For simplicities sake, let’s operate with a pretty common example: the fiction author. Our hypothetical author has a day job that pays the bills, but loves to write stories in their free time. Now our author wants to publish one of these stories.

Like most first-time authors, we’ll look at self-publishing because it offers guaranteed publishing and keeps control over the work in the author’s hands. Since most authors write for a specific, niche audience, self-publishing provides the means to keep costs and overhead down while focusing on selling to that group of readers we know are going to be interested in this book.

Let’s say the book is 200 pages and we want to self-publish with a goal of selling 500 copies in the first year.

How much is this book going to cost?

What does it really cost to publish a book?

For our price estimates, we’ll use the widely accepted Editorial Freelancer’s Association (EFA) ate chart. For reference, here’s a snapshot of the chart from their website:

Editorial Freelancer Association Rates
Source: https://www.the-efa.org/rates/


The chart details pricing for a variety of publishing and editorial services. As a fiction author, you’ll need four services to get the book ready for publication:

  • Editing
  • Layout
  • Cover
  • Proofreading

Editing

This is the first step once the story is done. You’ll want to allow quite a bit of time for editing. Months at least, if not an entire year. Editing is one of the hardest aspects of publishing to pin down. It can vary from a simple process of correcting spelling and grammar (copy editing) to redesigning the story from the ground up (developmental editing). And everything in between.

The minimum level of editing is a single professional copy edit. If you have a solid group of friends and family who’ll be reading and giving notes, you can get away with just paying for a single review for spelling and grammar.

  • Editing Cost: $600

Layout

Some authors will be able to handle this themselves, others will need to hire a professional to design their file. Even though a fiction book might seem like a simple project, there is a lot that goes into designing and laying out a book.

Our author writes in Microsoft Word but doesn’t have the level of expertise needed to layout the book, properly set margins, insert page numbering and design the front matter.

  • Layout Cost: $900

A note about the cost to layout a book: You might see that $900 and think it’s absurd to pay that much to layout the pages of your novel. Because laying out a novel is relatively easy for those well versed in the process, there’s a good chance you can find services for less than half that amount.
Book design can be found for as low as $200. So we’ll split the difference and assume a more reasonably priced book designer than EFA’s rates indicate.

  • REAL Layout Cost: $450

Cover

The price of your cover is going to vary. There are freelancers out there who can make a cover for as little as $200. Be sure when looking at different graphic designers to review their portfolio. Your cover is very important for selling your book. It is the first and often only visual representation your potential reader will see. It has to make the right impression.

Much like the cover design, you may be able to find a package deal from a service provider. If you want to publish both an ebook and print book, you can likely hire a graphic designer who offers both at a rate of around $500 for the entire project.

  • Cover Cost: $500

Proofreading

Much like the Cover, pricing for the proof can vary widely. A professional proofreader is going to have a system and know precisely what to look for, so if there is any one area to be sure you get a pro, this is it. The proofreader is likely to be the final look the book gets before going to print, and as such their input is crucial.

EFA estimates around $465 for a professional proofreader to give your book a full and thorough review. It’s likely you can find freelancers offering services at a reduced cost, but again I want to reiterate how important a quality proofreading is.

  • Proofreading Cost: $465

This gets us to a total of $1965—if we work from the high-end cost of the layout. I recommend planning your budget of your book around this to be safe.

The bottom line: You should plan a budget around $2000 to publish your book.

Post Publishing: The Marketing Question

Budgeting plan

Once you begin the publishing process, you also have to dive into marketing. Don’t put this off! I’ve said it before, as has every other publishing professional in the world: you cannot hope to be successful without priming some readers, building some hype, and delivering on your promise in a timely, professional manner.

Lucky for you, marketing a self-published book can be very cost effective. You’ll want to budget for a website domain—at around $20 per year—and a batch of books to get you started.

That brings us to a key question we haven’t touched on yet: printing and publishing costs.

Unlike some self-publishers, Lulu will allow you to publish at no cost. Working from the 200-page novel premise, a conservative estimate would be $5 printing cost per book. Because this is self-publishing and every book is printed on demand, you won’t need a lot of books immediately. But you’ll want some on hand at all times so you never miss a sale. Let’s start with 25 books at $125.

Now we have a final estimate for self-publishing your book:

$2110 to go from manuscript to published with 25 copies and some high estimates for services.

That’s a lot of money. Is this realistic?

That’s a tricky question. You can find service providers who offer package deals for less. In fact, Lulu’s Service Team offers a “Classic” publishing package for $999, less than half the price you see above. And a package of services could be the way to go for some authors. It all comes back to those goals.

Service packages will save you money, but you cede a degree of control to the service provider. Often you’ll have a file for the cover and interior at the end that you own, but further modifications or updates beyond those in your services contract will incur additional fees.

It is also worth noting that the EFA pricing estimates are quickly becoming outdated. As self-publishing grows more and more cost-effective, the freelance market for services to publish has grown too. These freelancers and professionals are offering services at ever decreasing price points to remain competitive with big service providers. And with a freelancer, you have an individual designer you can work with, often directly by phone or email.

In the end, it’s most important to know your options. You can piece together services from a variety of freelancers, exerting more control but also having to coordinate the process and potentially pay more. Or you can hire a service provider to do the work for you and extract yourself from the process entirely.

Meeting Goals

Budgeting Revenue

Okay, so you’ve got a goal to sell 500 books in a year, and you’re estimating about $2,000 to get the book published (a high estimate). If you sell your book at $9.99, with a $5 print cost, your revenue will be $4.99. Shave off $1 for Lulu’s share and you stand to earn about $4 per sale (on Lulu). Amazon and other retailers will offer much less revenue, but can still lead to sales. Plus, you can always sell direct by hand and earn the full $4.99 per sale, or discount the books and earn a little less.

Let’s imagine your marketing plan is in place and well executed, you’re speaking to a wide range of interested potential readers, and get 100 sales on Lulu, 150 by hand, and the remaining 250 on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. That’s your 500-book goal! Now let’s do the math on that:

If you hit your goal to sell 500 books in the first year, you would need to spend less than $1,200 on publishing to have a reasonable chance of profiting from your book. This, of course, ignores the long terms sales—even if you miss 500 books in a year, you could very well exceed that figure over a longer term. And if your marketing plan is in place and running throughout the process, you should see a continued residual income from book sales over time.

But what this means in practical terms is that, if you want to self-publish and realize a profit, you absolutely need to invest in publishing, and you have to have a plan in place with a realistic expectation of how many books you can sell in a year.

Putting it all together

Budgeting is all about having goals. Selling 500 books in a year is an attainable goal for most writers—but it won’t happen without a devotion of time, money, and energy to your book. The cost to publish may seem prohibitive, but if your goal is to sell books, some kind of initial investment is almost always required.

23 thoughts on “Budgeting for Success: How to plan your book right”

  1. Totally Agree.
    Before writing a book, you must always decide the goals you want to reach and plan accordingly to spend your time and money.
    If you want to make it big, spend more time marketing your book.
    Publishing a book has become even more competitive with so many self-publishing options available today.
    It’s 20% writing and 80% promoting if you want to make it big.

  2. I studied architecture in Warsaw. Absolutely fantastic. I developed a taste for Polish vodka and women. Even dated a Polish girl for about a year afterwards.

  3. I’m sorry but I have to disagree. Writing is a passion. A desire to explore your ideas and concepts. And share them with others. Not all will agree with you. Even if everybody disagrees, at least you have one satisfied customer. Yourself. I write but I don’t consider myself as an author. The word makes me uncomfortable.
    Anyway, it’s now a reader-driven market. People get to look inside your book even before they buy. If you write crap, they would know and word gets around quite fast.
    Me? A newbie. Started writing as a hobby five months ago. Never did consider writing as a business. Haven’t quit my day job and I still write on a website offering free serialized novels. I did publish on Amazon three months ago. My first work. More to protect it as mine than to make money from it (long story). Even did my own cover. Minimal advertising. Around 30 dollars worth. I loved writing the book, the first of series.
    It’s now December. The first book is still in the top 20 of its subgenre. Has sold 3,000 copies. Has almost 3 million in Kindle Unlimited reads. The 2nd of the series came out late November. 1,000 copies sold and 1 million in KU reads. Became No. 1 in its subgenre for a time.
    Write because you want to. Write because you love writing. Write because you have an idea you wish to see in black and white. Write first to satisfy yourself. Otherwise, it’s a miserable and pathetic greedy path.

    1. Hi Flyte,
      Glad to hear you’ve found so much success with your self-published work, and so quickly! You’ve managed what millions upon millions of self-published authors could only dream.
      I’d like to clear up a misconception here: nothing is this piece indicates that one should enter into self-publishing as a means to make money or “get rich quick.” But many self-published authors do try to at least break even or bring in some supplemental income from their work. There is nothing greedy or pathetic about wanting to earn something from one’s art and passion. While I’m glad you’ve found success so easily, that is rarely the path of the self-published author. And if you’re going to invest in your art, it only makes sense to do so with a well thought out budget, right?

    2. Thanks, Paul. Lucky that people liked the story, I guess. The third book is going to be published within the month. But the truth is – I started writing because I love the story. I’ll stop if ever I get tired of telling the mythos of the fantasy.
      But here’s the rub – I published because I was concerned about booknapping. So it went out, warts and all. Brickbats started flying and I was forced to adapt to a format I was vaguely familiar with (A lie. I was a noob).
      For other writers – keep writing what you love to write. As I said, even if the world hates it, you’ll have one satisfied reader.
      P.S. Still have my day job and I still write free serialized novels. Actually, all the books I published (or intend to publish) were first posted as free reading.

    1. Hi Shirlene,
      I didn’t touch much on this part of the process as it falls more into the creation end of self-publishing, but you’re right that it deserved some mention.
      The key piece when budgeting would be to remember that an ISBN is going to run you around $100 USD unless you opt for a free one from your self-publisher (not all self-publishers offer this, but many do. Including Lulu).
      For the copyright, you’ll claim that as soon as you publish. I believe in the USA getting registered with the copyright office requires sending them a copy of the book, so that too would be an added expense.

    1. Hi Christopher,
      Our platform is free to use! Head over to Lulu.com/create to start a book. You only need to pay for copies you want to be printed and delivered to you. If finances are a concern for ordering copies, you might try an ebook. Those are always free to produce and sell.
      Best of luck with your self publishing!

  4. I am motivated to publish a book.
    First of all I love to write .
    Secondly I want to share my ideas with a lot of different people around the world.
    I am convinced they would love to know; how they could begin improving their lives with just a word, a commitment and a passion.

    1. Hi Doug,
      That’s a question that could have a very long answer. The simple way to think about it this:
      Traditional publishing hinges on a deal struck with a publisher, usually involving an agent. If you are lucky enough to get a publishing deal, the publisher will take your book, edit it, print out a large run, and do their best to sell it. You’ll earn a small percentage on each sale, plus you’ll likely get an advance when the deal is signed.
      Self-publishing usually involves doing all the work yourself. This means editing, design, marketing, and all of that is on the author. It can be done entirely by the author, or you can hire out for experts (which is largely what this blog post looks at). Self-publishing almost always employs on-demand printing, so there is little to no overhead for books. The upside of self-publishing is that the author earns significantly more and retains control, the downside is that the author has to be motivated and able to do all the work involved in preparing and selling their book.

  5. I’ve had books published by ‘proper’ publishers (Mainly I write and illustrate books for children) but more recently I’ve gotten into self-publishing. And you can make a profit, although it’s a completely different ballgame. (For example I can keep a book in print for longer” publishers tend to churn through titles quickly) The main difference is that now I have to not only write the book but also do the marketing- and pay for everything myself. Personally, I’m not as good at marketing as I am at writing so I’m more than happy to accept any help and advice in that area, as long as it makes economic sense. LULU- I’ll be talking to you about marketing my latest book soon. Don’t go away.

    1. Hi Stephen,
      Marketing is – for most – the real challenge in self-publishing. We’ve got a few posts that look at some general marketing advice, and we’re always happy to offer more!
      Check out these ones if you’re interested:
      http://www.lulu.com/blog/2017/10/06/5-basics-for-creating-a-marketing-plan-that-doesnt-suck/#sthash.UGROKcdM.dpbs
      http://www.lulu.com/blog/2017/09/08/email-marketing-for-authors/#sthash.2OavIM23.dpbs
      Best of luck with the self-publishing!

  6. I love to write, but I don’t write for glory. I would like to make a career from that. I have so many ideas, such a rich life story, but I don’t have enough time to do that because I have to earn a living. I am afraid I won’t live enough to write all I want to write. I would like to write every day from sunrise to sunset. This is my dream. I am happy to read that an author who commented above had such a success without investing in publishing a book. I wish I could say the same, but I can’t. I have published with a self-publishing company and my first novel was a total fiasco. I lost all my savings. Then I published alone and I am doing much better. What I can say is if you are a author who writes for live and not for a living, keep writing, smiling and spreading the love. This is life. Thank you for this post. Insightful.

    1. Hi Christina. Just read your post. I’m sorry to hear about your experience. But there’s a lot of available platforms now. Keep on writing. It may be your audience has not discovered you yet. Though there are 2 things I discovered about publishing: (a) a book editor is a must and (b) a good cover (but don’t spend too much. Plus Canva and other free online sites for book cover making are available).
      Best of luck.

  7. I intend to publish a documentary in Arabic language, about my late father. It is printed and ready to go with photos.If everything goes alright,Is it possible to use your services? and if yes ,How do I go about it,??
    regards

    1. Hi Ayham,
      Sounds like a great project! You’d create your book in exactly the same way as any other – on lulu.com/create/books – but be sure to set up your file to read from “back to front” to accommodate our left to right printing.

  8. I’m sorry to hear about your experience. But there’s a lot of available platforms now. Keep on writing. It may be your
    audience has not discovered you yet. Though there are 2 things I discovered about publishing: (a) a book editor is a must and (b) a good cover (but don’t spend too much. Plus Canva and other free online sites for book cover making are available).

  9. This is a very helpful article, but I respectfully take issue with your suggested $600 budget for editing. Though you do reference the EFA chart and note that there’s a wide range of editorial services, your suggested budget seems to be based on the absolute BARE minimum of a single copyedit, when most authors really need developmental editing or at the very least some kind of editorial evaluation to help them spot the weaknesses in their work. (Full disclosure: I run a team of editorial professionals and have been in this business for nearly 20 years, so I admit to bias, but it’s tempered by experience.) Professional authors receive developmental editing from their house editors, but indie authors must seek it out for themselves, and it is especially critical in the beginning of one’s career when one is still learning the craft. Using the same rate chart and assuming the maximum pages per hour and minimum suggested rate, that’s still $1800, leaving a huge gap between what you’re suggesting authors estimate and what they are more likely to actually need to spend. Yet you’re allotting $900 for layout when that is a task that many authors can perform themselves using attractive templates, often provided by publishing services or even for purchase from qualified book designers. Moreover, a “solid group of friends and family” are not a replacement for a professional edit at any level. You need objective feedback from someone who not only understands what makes your specific type of book marketable, but who can articulate the problems and suggest solutions at the root level. Friends and family in almost all cases cannot do either. You’re confusing the value of beta reads with an editorial process. Authors on a budget need to trim costs where they can, but trimming it from the editing, which is arguably the most critical outsourced service next to a cover design, is unwise at best. And suggesting that $2,000 is a “high end” estimated budget is way off.

  10. The minimum level of editing is a single professional copy edit. If you have a solid group of friends and family who’ll be reading and giving notes, you can get away with just paying for a single review for spelling and grammar.

    Editing Cost: $600
    Layout – Some authors will be able to han

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