In the past I have spoken a lot about the major costs involved in self-publishing: editing, advertising, the things you probably already know about or can at least guess about. Today I want to talk about the things that you might not have considered. The ones that seem small, but add up, and if you’re not careful can increase exponentially.
Running a Website
Unless you’re lucky enough to be a website designer, you’re probably going to need some help in creating and maintaining a website. Whilst I spent many years as a child making websites (I was that sort of child), I have neither the skill nor the inclination to build one from scratch now.
Instead, I use WordPress, which is absolutely wonderful and I am very pleased to have chosen it. WordPress isn’t the only option out there – there are countless other website-building services, like Squarespace and Wix and Weebly – but it’s the one that works for me.
At the moment I use its free version, so theoretically the only cost I have is my domains – and domain names aren’t that expensive, really, in comparison to a lot of other costs. Nor do you especially need more than one, though it’s certainly nice to have the different suffixes for your domain just to help people find you.
But the free WordPress account comes with a few problems. Chiefest amongst these are that advertisements show on the site, WordPress branding has to be present, and you can’t use plugins. In order to be able to do all of those things – which I would really like to as they would greatly improve the website quality – I have to upgrade.
That, sadly, is an additional monthly cost I have to think about. In the end what I have done is tied this into a Patreon stretch goal, because when I reach that monthly earning on Patreon I will have the funds to be able to upgrade to a business plan.
Theoretically, running social media accounts doesn’t have any cost. You can sign up to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and so forth for no cost at all. But realistically if you’re running a business – even if that business is yourself – you’re going to at some point want to take advantage of the many tools for making that a lot easier.
Take, for example, the many services that exist to allow you to post to all your accounts in one place. I personally use Social Pilot, and I’m very happy with it. Like many websites, Social Pilot has a free version with limited powers, and then you can upgrade for greater ones. I’ve personally only just reached the point where I want to upgrade, and haven’t yet done so – but almost certainly will, as I will definitely use it.
Now there’s something else that you might not think of as having a cost, and that’s a mailing list. Mailing lists are touted as one of the best resources for authors, which I feel slightly foolish in saying seeing as I don’t personally have one. To be honest with you, I’ve tried several times, and only one or two people ever signed up to them – so I stopped bothering. Perhaps a terrible decision on my part, but there you go. Nobody’s perfect.
Most mailing list managers are free, but most of them also incur a cost when your list gets to a certain size. Now hopefully if you’ve got hundred of people on your mailing list you’re also making enough to afford to upgrade your mailing list account! But it’s another ‘hidden’ cost that will add up and is worth considering.
A Home Office
Most people who are self-publishing will be running their business from home, even if they’re also working a separate job. Chances are, if you’re publishing novels, you’ve already got things like a computer and the internet – but those costs are part of this and do add up.
For me, the cost comes not in those items but in things like buying (bullet) journals, pens, having an Evernote subscription so that I can easily access my notes on all of my devices, even running my phone is technically a cost that I use for my business because it serves as my camera.
I have also purchased several things to allow me to engage in making supplemental content: I have a very snazzy webcam, a microphone, things that allow me to make video and stream and potentially provide you with a lot more in the future. Deciding whether those things are worth it or not is tough, but I can tell you that I’ve already made back the cost of the webcam between streaming and Patreon, both of which I’ve used it for.
When to Spend
Deciding to spend on things as a self-publisher is tough, because most of the time you’re spending speculatively. “If I invest in this it might make me the money I spent on it.” That’s the case for almost everything, even the act of publishing itself. Because here’s a terrifying fact: having Mundane Magic edited cost ten times what I have earned from selling it.
I’m so far in the red in terms of my income versus expenditure that, at the moment, I have to think of that editing cost – which was all of my savings – as effectively a write-off. Because unless I sell a thousand books tomorrow, I’m not going to sort the fact that I’m behind due to editing costs.
What I try and do now is work to get to a point where my monthly income offsets my monthly outgoings. I try and make sure that those little things I buy don’t become exponentially rising costs for things I don’t truly need.
So when I’m deciding whether or not to spend on something, I make certain that I need it. If it’s something like an account upgrade, I use it on the free version for as long as I can, make myself absolutely sure that I need those upgrades, check that I can’t get them elsewhere in a way that will suffice – and then I go for it, assuming it doesn’t completely offset my income:expenditure.
And, ultimately, I take risks. Buying a webcam was a risk – one that has paid off. Upgrading my website will also be a risk, but one that will mean I can have better SEO, better quality, less WordPress branding, no adverts. Things that will make the website much more attractive to come to and, thus, will ensure that all of the things that I do are better publicised.
To use the old adage, sometimes you’ve got to spend money to make money. I’m very lucky to be able to do so safely and securely. I am not in any debt, and I have the room in our household budget to go over a little bit one month knowing I’ll make it back the next. Not everyone has that privilege, and for people in different circumstances, self-publishing is tougher – even impossible.
That’s why I think it’s so important to be clear and honest about the financial side of self-publishing. We all need to know what we’re getting ourselves into.
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