How to Minimise Your Publishing Costs
Before self-publishing changed the landscape, publishers paid authors for the right to produce, distribute and sell their work. They forked out for cover designers and paid editors to ensure authors’ books met their professional standards. They also invested in marketing campaigns and the infrastructure that underpinned their businesses. Authors lacked control, but those who did well in this system got to earn an income without ever having to cover any upfront costs.
As modern authors, we must sometimes shoulder that financial risk ourselves but have considerably more influence over the fate of our books as a result. We can commission covers from artists we love, hire editors that understand our style and run our own marketing campaigns. This agency is liberating for those who embrace it, but it can get expensive.
Since the Kindle Gold Rush of 2012, indie authors have had to engineer increasingly more sophisticated business practices to stand out. No longer can you upload a self-edited manuscript to Kindle Direct Publishing and make a million dollars without marketing your work. These days, you need high standards to stand any chance of success. A large portion of bestselling indies pay professional rates for editors, designers, web masters and virtual assistants. Many also enrol on paid courses, pay for multiple subscription services and run ads every day.
As with most aspects of society, starting with money can give you a significant advantage in publishing. However, you don’t need to spend like a lottery winner to see your books succeed. In today’s blog post, we will discuss how you can keep your costs low while building a successful author business.
Lots of authors trade favours to get their author career off the ground and gather momentum without spending a pile of cash. In rare cases, they even band together to pool their skills so that none of the group have to spend money on anything until they can afford to outsource and free up their time. You may not think you have any valuable skills to trade, but chance indicates you’re good at something another author can’t do. What that skill is and how you benefit from it is for you to discover.
If you and another author have complementary skills, for example, you could help each other without any money exchanging hands at all. You could design their website or run their ads while they edit your book or optimise your metadata. Consider what you can do; editing, proofreading, design work, admin and coding are all desired skills in this industry, but you might have unique knowledge that hasn’t made it onto the list. Even if you don’t have all the skills you need right now, using the few you do have can keep your costs low until you get in a position to pay professionals.
Avoid Vanity Metrics
Vanity metrics are statistics that look spectacular from an outside perspective but don’t necessarily represent meaningful business results. A classic example is hitting a bestseller list by running an unprofitable marketing campaign, which many new authors do, thinking exposure is the best way to build a readership. The rush of seeing your book on a bestseller list or trending on social media may be tempting, even if it’s achieved at a loss, but don’t let the bragging rights persuade you to try this tactic. Pursuing such vanity metrics is almost never worth it.
Take Amazon, for instance. Alex Newton, the founder of K-Lytics, claimed on the Six-Figure Author Podcast in 2020 that creating a short sales spike to hit the Kindle Store’s Top 100 Chart may look impressive but it doesn’t deliver long-term results. The sharper the spike, the more quickly its effects fade and your book goes back to selling low volumes. Other books that sell more consistently over longer periods, meanwhile, don’t always achieve such impressive vanity metrics but often maintain a longer sales tail and generate bigger overall profits. Knowing this, it makes sense to view pursuing vanity metrics as a wasteful expense. Focusing on profit and building a backlist will serve you better in the long term.
Pay More for Less
Would you rather pay $20 to use essential software for one month or $100 to have access for a whole year? If you use this software every day, it’s a no brainer; take the deal and save yourself $140 for the year by paying $100 upfront. The problems lies, for many authors, however, in the question of whether or not they will actually use that software as much as they think they will. Yes, you might believe it’s vital for your operation – and you may even actually need it in the short term – but will you definitely use it in six months?
We authors are marketers, so we understand how ads persuade readers to believe they need a product, yet we still fall into the same traps while scrolling social media. Having seen endorsements, comments and videos, we frequently pay for year-long subscription software packages that we assume will be an everyday tool but are actually just another fad we soon forget. Realising this, consider trialling products for a month or two before you commit to a long-term deal. Sure, $40 for two months sounds like a bad deal, but taking the hit can save you $60 if it allows you to opt out of a subscription service you later realise you don’t actually need. Sometimes, paying more for less can save you money.
Cull Subscription Costs
Speaking of subscription services, many of us pay for a dozen or more every month to run our author businesses. We get Amazon Prime to order paperbacks on next-day delivery as part of our quality control processes. We subscribe to analytics software like ScribeCount or Book Report to monitor our sales. We shell out for Meet Edgar or Hootsuite to schedule content on multiple social media platforms. We pay MailChimp or ConvertKit to host our email lists and send monthly newsletters. Individually ranging from $5 to $100, subscription services like these ones don’t seem substantial but, together, they can add up to a considerable monthly expense.
As much as we like to think we have a handle on our costs, most of us pay for subscriptions we no longer use but have forgotten. Hence, it pays to audit your bank statements once or twice a year to analyse where your money is going and where you can cull unnecessary recurring expenses or, at least, minimise their costs. Do you really need to pay monthly for Prime when you only use it once a year during a book launch? Could you halve your monthly Mailchimp fees by shifting your subscribers to a cheaper service with similar functionality? Each cancellation or change may only save you $5 a month, but five cases of $5 make a $25 saving. That’s $300 a year!
Earn to Learn
Some unicorn authors enter the industry already knowing how to do everything they need to succeed. They can write, edit, design, market and project manage. The vast majority, however, must invest in education, services and ad testing to learn their business craft and reach their audience. Spending to learn is valuable and necessary. But, if you don’t have the resources to do that, there are ways to minimise the cost of training yourself. By making savvy business moves, you can even learn how to research your audience and master advertising while making money.
Instead of making expensive mistakes with your own money, why not learn while playing with someone else’s? Consider working for another author or an indie press to learn how they operate. You won’t have many skills to offer them at first, but many authorpreneurs will gladly train volunteers who offer to help them. Once you’ve gained some skills, you can even charge for your services, earning while you learn. You won’t necessarily get full access to a successful author’s KDP or Facebook Ads account immediately, but you can work your way up to that, watching them test covers, ad copy, keywords, categories and other variables without having to spend anything yourself. Admittedly, your own audience will differ from theirs so you will still need to test a bit yourself, but working in this way can help you bypass rookie errors and a steep learning curve.
Many authors share their huge “incomes” online but never report the business costs that generate their revenue. Without seeing the reality, your lower sales may seem small but, spending less, you could actually earn more profit. Remember, keeping your costs low is just as important is growing your revenue. Success in business is not just about how much you turn over; it’s also about how much you take home.
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