Publishing on a budget

While my experience in the market suggests that indie publishing is the way to go for writers looking to make a long-term career out of writing fiction, there’s still one major drawback to taking the indie route: It’s expensive.

To produce a professional book, including editing, cover art, typesetting, and printing, you’re often looking at a total bill of $5000 or more. But what’s a writer to do? If you want to make a career out of it, you certainly don’t want to release a poorly produced book and make a bad impression on your potential fans. But for a lot of people, it’s just not feasible. If you need to cut that bill down, here are some tricks you can try:

1. Run a Kickstarter.
Back in the olden days–I’m talking Renaissance-era–rich people would sponsor artists. It was a pretty good system. The artists got to make their art while also having enough money to eat, and the rich people could pat themselves on the back for being charitable and supporting the arts. Sometimes the artist would even work their patrons into their paintings.

The patronage system is making a comeback–but instead of tracking down a rich person who wants to pay you to write, you can now run a Kickstarter so lots of maybe-not-so-rich people can give you a little money if they like the idea behind your project. Be careful to not set the goal too high. If your goal isn’t funded in its entirety, you don’t get anything.

This works best if you have a solid network of people or if you have a concept that could go viral. Our friend Ben Wolf recently ran a Kickstarter to produce his beautiful children’s book, and he hit his funding goal and then some.

2. Look for professionals who can put you on a payment plan.
One of our wonderful clients is paying us $100 every two weeks while we’re working through the editing process, and she’ll keep sending us money until the bill is paid off in its entirety.

Now, not all freelancers are willing or able to do payment plans because not all clients finish paying on them, so you’re more likely to talk someone into this if their brand is really established or if you already have a relationship with them. With most pros, expect to pay a hefty deposit up-front, but this can be a good option if you can come up with 25-50% of the cash right away (for at least the first couple stages of editing), but you’ll need time to get the rest.

3. Cut out a few stages of editing.
I don’t really recommend this unless you’re desperately short on cash. But, IF you absolutely cannot afford a full edit, and IF your editor says that your book is strong enough, go ahead and cut down on the amount of editing you contract for.

If your book is strong to begin with, you might be able to go down to one developmental pass, a line edit, and a copy edit and still have a shot at a near professional-grade book. You’ll need an army of beta readers helping you look for plot holes, and a host of eagle-eyed friends willing to read for typos. But it can be done if that money is the difference between producing your book and waiting two or more years.

4. Don’t print your book.
My last blog post waxed on the virtues of printing your book even in the era of e-books. But while advanced POD technology has become pretty reasonable, going e-book only, at least at first, may be one way to cut costs down to sustainable levels. Weigh the pros and cons carefully, but if you’re weighing a print run against quality cover art, typesetting, or editing, remember: You can always do a print run later, but it can be hard to re-market a low-budget book you already published.

How have you cut costs in your indie publishing business? Join the conversation!

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