The Fallacy of Free

ACFW Advice, Friends of ACFW, Indie/Hybrid Publishing, marketing, tips Leave a Comment

By Hallee Bridgeman

Typically speaking – and every publishing house is different and contracts can vary – these are the royalties for an author with a major publisher:

Hardbacks: 10%-15%

Paperbacks: 8%-10%

eBooks: 25%
Hallee Red ink
The majority of the earnings for any book goes to the publisher. Why? Because that publisher has paid for working people to acquire the manuscript, edit the manuscript, format it, provide cover art and interior graphics for it, and then market the whole thing. And all of those people require wages.

Any business has overhead costs associated with the production of the product or service they offer for sale. Profit is the gross receipts minus the overhead. Most small business owners pray that every year they make some sort of profit instead of breaking even or landing in the red.

A fallacy I’ve observed repeatedly in the indie publishing community is the concept that indie publishing shouldn’t cost the author anything “out of pocket.” Done right, the fact is, it certainly ought to.

Editing: Editing is one of the most expensive costs in putting out a professional book. Yet, it is so important. Professional editors aren’t free or even cheap. They typically charge by the word, the page, or the hour. A good editing job on a 100K word novel should cost around $500-$800, possibly more depending on the amount of editing work needed.

Cover Design: The book cover has one job: to get readers interested enough in your book that they buy it. A good cover is the first thing that appeals to readers. A bad cover is the first thing that will turn readers away. You need a good cover, one that appeals to readers in just the right way.

My current artist spent years in college learning to do what she does. She is a professional, understands visual layout, understands how the human eye looks at and perceives things, and puts all of that together into a book cover that perfectly represents my work. If you can do that yourself as well as write your novel, God has truly gifted you. If you cannot, then you ought to pay someone to do it for you.

A bundle of an ebook cover, audio book cover, trade paperback cover, interior graphics, and marketing images can cost $200-$500 depending upon several factors. I know people who pay $700-$1000 for the same thing.

Formatting: Like cover design, many authors can actually format their own books. One must understand the concept of what formatting is, learn some programs and code, and feel unafraid to try. If you aren’t up to the task yourself, formatting is not expensive. It shouldn’t cost more than $100-$200 to hire someone to format your novel and produce press quality print ready PDF files, epubs, and MOBI files for your use.

Hallee Pic 2Marketing: “If you build it, they will come,” is great tagline for a movie, but not a great idea for a successful business. Think of your favorite merchant. Now, think about how often you notice a paid advertisement for that same merchant. Even popular businesses must advertise to remain successful. Each book ought to have its own monthly advertising budget that gets spent, gets experimented with, and is used to figure out the best way to reach readers.

Despite any false hype to the contrary, indie publishing your book and then regularly announcing that fact on social media isn’t going to draw readers. I could write a dozen articles on marketing alone – just understand that once a book is published, marketing must be a continual budgeted expense.
For decades, authors have been removed from the costs associated with the business side of publishing. It’s easy to utilize critique partners and say your book was edited, to look at “cover design creators” offered by some distributors, and to avoid spending a money on marketing for fear you’d throw good money after bad. But the fact is, to compete with professional publishers (both traditional and indie), those overhead and expenses are almost a requirement.

It’s important to think of indie publishing as a business, with costs and overhead and taxes with which to wrestle. Setting a budget for each book published is a great way to visualize what the upcoming costs will be. The end result will be a professional package that will help your work stand out and make its way into readers’ hearts.

Hallee BridgemanWith over half a million sales, Hallee Bridgeman is a best-selling author who writes action-packed romantic suspense focusing on realistic characters who face real world problems. Her work has been described as everything from refreshing to heart-stopping exciting and edgy. Entirely indie published, she has traveled the country teaching ACFW chapters about self-publishing. You can email her at

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