Joanne Phillips

A Writers Journey


Self publishing guide

Self-Publishing Guide Step 3: Budgeting For Success

Cover SP cropLast time we looked at how to choose your self-publishing route. This time it’s all about the money, as we look at the costs of going indie, as well as some likely sales figures in the early weeks.

Budgeting. Now why does that word strike fear into the hearts of many potential indie authors? It shouldn’t, because there really is nothing to be scared of. We’ve redefined self-publishing, and moved away from the stigma of ‘vanity’, by making publishing work as a financially viable activity. So if you’re going to be indie and proud, you have to get a grip on the numbers.

The Costs of Going Indie – Totally DIY

How much you spend on publishing your book used to be a matter of ‘How much is your budget?’ But that was in the bad old days – now there’s no need to overspend, and there is no excuse for not making your initial investment back – if you plan and forecast carefully, of course. Let’s look at ebooks first, and take as an example my own first novel, Can’t Live Without. Here are my costs for this book:

  • Cover (front cover image only) £50
  • Cover image licence £9
  • Proofreading £325


Total: £384. If you set your price around the £2.00 mark (£1.99 is a popular price in the UK), you’ll make around £1.30 per copy downloaded, depending on the size of the file (this is a 70% royalty from Amazon’s KDP programme). This means the number of ebooks you would have to sell to break even is 295.

Not many, right? Well, do you know 295 people who will definitely buy your first book? Here are my weekly sales figures for Can’t Live Without for the 10 weeks following publication:

19-May-12 17
26-May-12 4
02-Jun-12 54
09-Jun-12 16
16-Jun-12 19
23-Jun-12 17
30-Jun-12 10
07-Jul-12 4
14-Jul-12 9
21-Jul-12 1707

Notice the big jump there? That was following my free promotion, when the book went back to paid. Forgetting that for a moment (more about free promos later in the series), up until that point I had sold 150 copies in 9 weeks. And this was with the help and support of my family and friends, with articles in the local press, a Facebook and blog launch party, and all the associated marketing activities I could think of at the time. At that rate I would have broken even after 18 weeks, or about four and a half months. But at least I definitely would have broken even – if my costs for the ebook had been far higher, it could have taken years.

What about the cost of producing the same title as a paperback? Obviously the proofreading has already been paid for, so the additional costs were:

  • Cover (addition of back and spine): £75
  • File upload to Lightning Source: £50.40
  • Proof copy: £21
  • ISBN: £18
  • Distribution (information sent to Amazon etc): £8.40

Total: £173. The economies are similar for a physical book – Amazon take 40% discount on cover price, and a single copy of a 260 page book priced at £7.99 and sold via Amazon (or any book shop offering the same terms) nets a profit of £1.49. So for the paperback set up to be cost effective with these figures, you would need to sell at least 116 copies. And they don’t fly off the shelves without a lot of pushing – at the time of writing I have sold 100 paperback copies of Can’t Live Without via Lightning Source’s distribution to Amazon and other retailers, although I have broken even on costs by hand-selling quite a few and supplying two local bookshops.


So, for a total outlay of under £600 you can have an ebook with a fantastic cover for sale on Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle, and be looking to break into profit after a few months with a good, concerted effort at gaining sales. Before we look at the other option – using a self-publishing solutions company – let’s just consider some of the costs that are missing from the lists above:

Formatting and typesetting: Formatting is what is done to your Word document to turn it into a mobi file (for Kindle) or an epub file (for Kobo etc). Formatting is not easy, and badly formatted books are anathema to readers. I formatted Can’t Live Without myself, using Jutoh software, but this a technically demanding job and no one would blame you for outsourcing this job as well. For this you’d need to set aside around £50. Typesetting is how you turn your Word document into the interior file for the paperback. Again, it’s a difficult job, and badly typeset books look horrible. I did it myself, but I do have a background in text-setting, and I spent literally weeks researching fonts and styles and getting to grips with the software. Costs for typesetting are high – I had quotes which ranged from £80 to £380. A self-publishing solutions company will supply this service, or you can outsource it.

pen and ink

Editing: Another necessary job, as your first (or even your second and third) draft is unlikely to be perfect. I’m lucky that the proofreader I use offers a service that includes a line-by-line edit, so for the earlier stages I use beta-readers. Beta-readers are wonderful people who offer to read your book pre-publication and give advice and criticism. They are worth their weight in gold. For a thorough edit by a professional editor, expect to pay upwards of £400.

Self-publishing Solutions companies – DIY with a lot of help

If the above fills you with fear, if you’re not technically minded or you just plain wouldn’t enjoy managing the whole publishing process yourself, you should think about partnering with a self-publishing solutions company, such as SilverWood Books or Matador. There are others, of course, but these two seem to offer the best value for money – and added value – at the time of writing. Putting together all the direct and associated costs we’ve talked about above, the whole package of publishing, with someone else doing everything for you, will probably cost upwards of £1150. (If it costs a lot more, ask what exactly you’re getting for your money above and beyond what you could source yourself.) This should include formatting an ebook, typesetting the paperback, editing and proofreading, a cover (front, back and spine), ISBN and standard distribution, which just means sending details of the book via Print on Demand to Amazon etc. This won’t include marketing or any actual copies of books, and if you choose to forgo Print on Demand and print your book in large quantities for distribution via bookshops, the upfront costs will of course be a lot higher.

Tomorrow on the blog we have Helen Hart from SilverWood Books talking about her top tips for self-publishing – a chance to hear more about this option directly. In the meantime, feel free to ask questions about any aspect of the costs of DIY self-publishing. And if you still can’t decide which route to take you might want to revisit Step 2: Choose your self-publishing route.

Coming next month – Step 4: Your timetable for success.

Self-Publishing Guide Step 2: Choose Your Self-Publishing Route

Cover SP cropLast week we looked at Step 1 – the most important step of all – Write a Great Book! This week it’s all about options, as we walk through the various ways you might choose to self-publish.

When I started my research into indie publishing way back in May last year, there were so many routes open to authors it was mind-boggling. I made pages and pages of notes, and in July wrote this post optimistically titled: Self Publishing Options: All you need to know. I distilled my research into this useful spreadsheet comparing the most prevalent options in the UK.

I’ve just checked most of the companies compared on this list and the information is still up to date. But I no longer stand by my claim that Matador are ‘the best of the author solutions companies’. They are fab for sure, but companies like Silverwood are just as viable.

While this comparison is undoubtedly useful – and should save you a bit of legwork – I can now narrow down the options to two main routes:

  1. Do it all yourself.
  2. Pay someone else to do it all for you.

Neither of these routes are as simple as they sound, however. For a start, doing it all yourself doesn’t mean literally do it all – it means source the skills and services you need individually. Editing, proofreading, cover design, printing etc – this is the route I have taken, and there are both pros and cons (explored below). Equally, paying someone else to do it for you won’t actually cover it all – there are some things you simply can’t buy. You still have to get out there and sell your book! Plus, there is a marked loss of overall control and manageability in taking the second route. So, let’s look at them in a bit more detail:

Option 1: Putting the ‘self’ into self-publishing

What some might call the true indie route, if you choose this path you will be the project manager of your book. We’ll be looking at each of the steps in this guide so there’s no need to feel overwhelmed – many authors have successfully navigated this route and you can too.


Total control! While route 2 also offers control over such aspects as cover design and (to an extent) the size and feel of your book, there are limitations. If you go it alone you get to choose everything – trim size, paper thickness, typeface, cover image and style (some publishing solutions companies have limited access to design), price, royalty, where and when it’s sold, e-formatting design, listing categories, keywords … OK, I’ll stop now. You get the picture. Total control means you choose your own editor and cover designer – you choose how much you want to pay, ask for referrals and negotiate etc – or you can do it yourself, of course. Total control means the end product is exactly the way you want it to be.

Instant information. With Amazon KDP the indie author gets instant feedback on sales and downloads; Lightning Source and CreateSpace provide regular reports on paperback sales. This is important for a number of reasons, not least of which is that you can track marketing activities and see which, if any, are working.

Monthly royalty payments. Many author solutions companies pay royalties six monthly. This is, if you don’t mind me saying so, rubbish. Amazon, Lightning Source and CreateSpace all pay monthly (Amazon: 2 months in arrears; LS: 3 months in arrears; Amazon US and LS wait until earnings reach $100/£100 respectively before issuing payments). As an indie author, it’s important to be in control of this stuff.


Total control! That’s right, it’s both a blessing and a curse. With complete control comes complete accountability and a lot of stress. If your proofreader’s a bit rubbish and misses tons of errors it’s your fault because you chose them. If you do your own cover, or approve a bad design, ditto. So many decisions to make can be overwhelming – which is why lots of authors do chose to have a company help them out and hold their hands through the process. But hey – that’s what I’m doing right here, guys …

If you do decide to go it alone, in my current opinion, there are really only 2 options for printing in the UK. (There are, of course, many options, but these are the main two my research has thrown up.) Lightning Source and CreateSpace. These days there’s very little to choose between them if you are a UK author – even six months ago there were big differences, which was why I went with Lightning Source. But now … well, let’s just say that novel number three from the pen of yours truly will probably be printed and distributed by CreateSpace. The only main differences I can see right now are that CS don’t offer a matt laminated cover, and that they send author copies from the US with costly shipping. BUT they get your book for sale on Amazon much quicker, and their upload process it very easy to use. Lightning Source are fast and efficient, and they will list books with Gardners for possible book shop distribution (you have to get the shops to stock, of course).

Option 2: Throw a bit of money at it

Now let’s look at the pros and cons of route 2 – choosing an author solutions company. Well, what do they do, exactly? The short answer is pretty much everything; the long answer is more complex. At its worst, you could end up spending £thousands and have a product that is no better (or possibly worse) than if you’d taken the route above. Many companies use Lightning Source for POD printing so there’s no difference there. You’ll be paying them an all-in sum that will (should) include editing and proofreading and cover design – but you have no control over the quality of these. Some companies offer distribution – Matador have a very good track record of this – but you will have to pay for the printing of all those copies up front, of course. Will you break even? This is something you will need to investigate fully. (Watch out for the next post on costs and breaking even.)


Expertise and hand-holding. If you choose a really good company, like Silverwood Books, you will have the benefit of someone’s publishing experience and a colleague to bounce ideas off. Many authors are too close to their books, and make mistakes with cover design, say, or in the final edit. A reputable company will mimic the values of a good trad-publisher and ensure your book is of the best possible quality.

Distribution. As mentioned above, if you choose a company with a proven track record in distribution – and choose to pay for it – you will get your book into bookshops. Without super-human effort, this is almost impossible for the indie author going it alone.

Kudos. I debated with myself whether to add this as a pro, but decided I would, as for many authors having a publisher’s name on their book is important. Matador and Silverwood are both recognised quality brands, so if this is important to you it’s certainly a pro.


Cost. Well, of course it isn’t cheap! Expect to pay at least £800+ for a basic package (and if it includes proofreading and cover design it should be at least this – beware of companies that are too cheap). Then add on extra costs for additional services. Some companies ask you to pay for warehouse stock (for distribution) – this can run in the £thousands. As a minimum you’ll need six copyright library copies and a few for yourself – POD is the most cost effective printing option. Many authors who have used an self-publishing company have incurred upfront costs of between £1,500 and £3,000.

Work out how many books you’ll have to sell to get this back.

Loss of control. As we talked about above, if you hand over control to another company you lose something. Factor in the lack of available sales figures and instant information – or at least remember to ask the questions about reporting and royalties before signing up.

Coming next week – Step 3: Budgeting for success.

Self-Publishing Guide Step 1: Write a Great Book

Cover SP cropI’m kicking off my self-publishing guide with a post about the most important step of all: writing a great book. Before we consider just what exactly makes a ‘great’ book, let’s hear from Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords:

“Write a great book” might strike you as common sense, but it’s the most common mistake of many authors. Some indie authors – intoxicated by the freedom to self-publish –rush their book to market before it’s ready to be seen by readers.

Is your book ready? By considering this difficult question, you’ll find the path to a better book revealed. With the power to publish comes the responsibility to emulate the best practices of the most professional authors and publishers.

If your book is poorly-conceived or poorly-edited, readers will reject it. If you write a great book that satisfies readers, they will reward you with their word of mouth.

Honor your readers with a great read.*

“Honour your readers” is a phrase of Mark’s that is very close to my heart. Keeping readers at the forefront of your mind at all times – I’m going to repeat that – at ALL TIMES is, in my humble opinion, what makes a great book.

I’m not talking about a literary classic, or a book that will win awards. I’m not talking about a prescribed set of writing ‘rules’, either. There are authors, reviewers and bloggers out there who will rail against using the passive voice, or head-hopping, or awkward structures, or incomplete characterisation. Before I started my masters in creative writing, I might have joined in from time to time. But not any more. My world has now expanded to include the glaring fact that ‘good’ writing comes in all shapes and sizes, and no one should set themselves up to judge anybody’s writing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ unless they have the credentials to do so. And here is the fascinating thing: anyone with the credentials to do so (creative writing tutors, experienced literary critics, highly regarded authors of long-standing), are more likely to praise a writer for unconventiality – for breaking the rules – than for blindly following them and producing a read that is bland and deriviative.

Stop digressing, Jo! OK, so if I’m not talking rules here, what does make a great book? Well, you guessed it – one that honours the reader. If you write a book that entertains, satisfies expectations, follows its own rules of narrative and form, is well edited and as free from errors as humanly possible; if you make it look good so it’s a delight to read or hold, then you have succeeded in Step 1. And, as Mark says, this is harder than it sounds.

Sometimes a certain amount of stepping back is necessary, looking at the story from an imaginary reader’s point of view. Yes, that part where you’ve added tons of information about candle making is a good use of the research you did, but is it integral to the plot? Readers like to be entertained and educated, they don’t like to be bored or lectured. You might want to keep that long description of how it feels to walk along the sea front because you love the poetry and it took so long to get right … but will the reader really enjoy it as much?

Learn your craft, and watch out for your own weaknesses (mine is using too many adverbs, amongst others). Get feedback – an essential part of self-publishing, that I will return to later in this guide – but don’t let the feedback discourage you. Walk that fine line between self-belief and dispassionate appraisal of your work. It’s a tough call, and it will never get any easier, so best get used to it now!

Coming next week – Step 2: Choose your self-publishing route.

*This is an excerpt from Mark Coker’s The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, available for free here.

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: