Counting the costs of self-publishing

The announcement by Jerry B. Jenkins that his Christian Writers Guild is getting into the author services business created a bit of a ruckus in the publishing business. Victoria Strauss put together a great analysis of CWG Publishing over at the Writer Beware blog.

Photo by Darren Shaw
Photo by Darren Shaw

Some people are calling CWGP a scam because of its high price. Which put me a bit on edge at first, because I work with self-publishing writers, too. Am I guilty of a scam? I certainly don’t think so. I offer services, and my rates are in line with those of my colleagues at the Editorial Freelancers Association.

The scamminess of the CWG Publishing program and others like it lies in the fact that you don’t know exactly what you’re paying for. The general consensus among people I hear buzzing about this — and about similar packages from other author services firms — is that the price is too high. But is it?

It’s hard to figure out what the CWGP package is really worth, because other author services firms don’t offer writing classes. And many don’t break out their package costs so you can see how much goes toward each item. Nevertheless, we’ll give it a try.

A six-month writing course is prerequisite to CWG Publishing; after you complete the course, your book will be published. The publishing package includes copyediting, proofreading, cover and interior page design, and e-book formatting. The $9,995 cost is good for up to a 75,000-word book. Above that, one pays extra. Line editing, if you need it, is also extra.

I don’t offer writing courses as a package. I charge hourly for coaching. But six-month online educational programs in other industries often cost $600-$1,200. Let’s split the difference and put the value of this one at $900.

Basic copyediting, at two cents a word, comes to $1,500.

Proofreading, one and a half cents per word, $1,125.

Book layout runs about $8 per page. At 250 words per page, a 75,000-word novel is 300 pages, for a total of $2,400.

The EFA doesn’t provide rates for e-book formatting, but once the print edition is formatted, simplifying it for conversion shouldn’t take more than a day, unless there are illustrations to contend with. Gross estimate here, but I’m going to call it $300.

Cover design is probably the biggest possible variable in publishing. You can pay an old journalist like me $100 to put some text with a stock photo, or you can pay a top-notch artist thousands for an original painting. CWGP is too new to guess what kind of covers they’re going to produce. In my very informal and unscientific survey, I found quality cover designers charging $500-$1,000 for custom covers — that is, not from templates, which is what you’ll get at Lulu or Create Space. Let’s say $750.

There you have it: a high-quality, all-freelance publishing package for you that is only $6,975.

In their book APE: Author Publisher Entrepreneur, Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch estimate a total cost of $4,200 for a 60,000-word book. But there are no educational costs there.

Jade Kerrion shared her publishing expenses at her blog. Self-publishing her first book set her back $4,078. She doesn’t include educational costs either, and I gather she did her own book layout, which for a novelist is totally do-able. If you’re going to design your own books, read Joel Friedlander’s blog, The Book Designer, and consider using his book design templates, which are excellent.

Jenkins may be valuing the education component more highly than I do. It’s also possible that he’s paying in the thousands for cover art, or hiring additional proofreaders, which would be a truly valuable investment. Unfortunately, since we’re not getting a line-item breakdown of his services, we don’t know where the money’s going. It is entirely possible that he is simply charging a $3,000 premium for the value of his brand.

Publishing is like building a house. The more work you do with your own hands, the lower the cost. You can also enlist skilled amateurs for a small fee. Paying qualified professionals costs more, but they will do the work faster, and in most cases better, than you could yourself.

It’s also possible for authors to trade services with one another. You proofread my book, I’ll design your cover…OK, not a fair trade.

Here is a refrain you are going to hear from me a lot in the coming weeks, because I think it’s the most important thing for an author to understand in this new publishing landscape: the publisher is the one who pays the bill.

If you’re paying CWGP or anyone else a fee for the publication of your book, then you are the publisher. They are a vendor providing services. And if you’re paying a vendor for services, you have a right to know exactly where your money is going.

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  1. […] Self-publishing proponents argue that an e-book can be published at no up-front cost. Technically, this is true, but you get what you pay for. We looked earlier at what goes into book production. […]

  2. […] I am not totally opposed to subsidy presses, sometimes called “assisted self-publishing.” I’ve known and worked with writers who’ve been very pleased with the services they got from such companies. But I will say, if your contract with such an outfit requires you to buy X number of books, look elsewhere. There are plenty of such outfits that don’t have such restrictions. Examine the package to understand what you’re paying for. […]

  3. Update: did their own analysis, offering sample budgets from Budget to Big Spender:

  4. The Independent Publishing Magazine has a great article by Andrea Cefalo that looks at this subject:

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