What’s in a Novel: Expenses and Pricing

Back when I first mentioned I’d be doing a blog series where I talk about the other side of writing and novels that you all don’t see, or may not know exist, someone asked about pricing, expenses, royalties and who gets paid (or do they) for books that are free.

Today, I’ll attempt to explain.

Just for writing in general there are expenses, some are revolving, some are one time expenses.

  • Official website
  • Up to date computer
  • Word processor software
  • Printer
  • Certain memberships (RWA national, local RWA, etc)
  • Space and tools such as an actual desk designated for writing

For every book there are expense, most of which are paid before the book sees an audience and are paid in faith that the book will “take” and sell well enough to pay these off. Here are the bigger ones:

  • Research–Some research is free at the library, but I often need to reference a book more than just once or twice or for longer than a week, so purchasing reference books or subscriptions is sometimes necessary. And so is visiting places like museums or the actual site the book takes place to get an idea of how it looks and the history of it. The cost of research varies depending on how involved you want your research to be.
  • Editing & Proofreading–In order to have a good book, editors and proofreaders must be paid. Some get paid by the word and others by the page. Either way, it comes to several hundreds of dollars, and by the time it’s all done (editing & multiple rounds of proofing) it comes close to about $1,000.
  • Printing–be it for the initial editing stage or ordering proof copies of paperbacks, I spend no less than $50 to 100 on each book just in paper, ink, and ordered proof copies.
  • Covers–These vary by what kind of cover you want. Generally people will either buy the eCover or the full package because it’s cheaper at a discount. Those who buy just the eCover will then make their own wrap around by using a background color and positioning the text themselves. On average, I’ve paid approximately $100 for each of my covers which includes time, rights to the completed image and stock photos. For me, this is $100 that’s very well spent.
  • Formatting–I format my own, but some don’t. If you pay a formatter it can range from $25 to $100 an hour.
  • Advertising–Before a book goes live, many people will advertise via cover ads at large websites. These all vary. I’ve seen some places that will charge only $10 for an ad, but these are often places that don’t see much volume. Really big places where you can announce an upcoming book and have your book featured in front of people who are going there specifically to see what’s coming can cost upwards for $100 for just a few days.
  • ARCs–Whether it’s a reader or a reviewer copy, someone has to pay for this, and it’s always the author. With an eBook the only thing they’re out is the loss of a potential sale. With a paperback, they have to buy the paperback either at cost or at 40% of the cover price depending on who the publisher is, then pay to have it mailed.

Expenses paid after the book has been released:

  • Continued Advertising–Places like Kindle Daily Nation, Pixel of Ink, etc actually charge authors anywhere from $50 to $300 to be featured for ONE DAY on their site. Of course people pay it because they want to be featured and they have to hope that sales that day and in the future will justify the cost.
  • Outside marketing and promotion–Pens, post cards, signed books, cleansweeps, magnets, business cards, all of these I’ve bought this year, and combined, I probably spent about $4,000 on it all. Add to that, that I attended three different conferences and two book signings where I gave some of this away which cost even more than the marketing and promotion items. Did it pay for itself? I have no idea. This is one of those, “you never know” kinds of things. Was I able to get my book into more hands by giving away free (signed) books or a USB drive with my name on the outside and two books already loaded on it? Maybe. But I’ll never really know. While this is a lot of money to be spent, I have to think being present and making myself known had to have helped some. And if not, at least I got to meet a few readers and spend the evening in a Scottish gown.
  • Prizes & Giveaways–Whether is a free book gifted via Amazon or a $50 gift card, all prizes and gifts come straight from an author’s bank account. As my accounting year is coming to a close, I about fainted when I totaled up how many books I’d gifted, how many prizes I’d bought or how much I’d given to help with a large, grand prize someone was hosting.

Why aren’t all eBooks free, or 99cents even? I mean come on there’s no paper involved? They really shouldn’t cost anything, should they?

If you’ve been reading all along you might I’ve gone over what goes into books other than an actually writing as well as explained the many steps of editing, research, formatting, and other steps; then there are the expenses mentioned above. Sure, not everyone will spend so much on marketing as I have–but a little secret is, while word of mouth is your best marketing tool, sometimes word of mouth needs a little boost and by introducing yourself to those who’ve never heard of you or your books helps.

In short, though there is no paper involved in eBooks, there is still a lot of time (about 700 hours or so) and expense involved to the author to write the story, have it packaged professionally and to continue to market the book to help pay off the expense that went in to writing that book. It’s only fair that the person who labored and fronted the expense should be paid fairly for their work. It’s just a like a regular job. The only difference is were an author getting even Federal minimum wage at 7.25 an hour, an author would have made $5,075 for all that time, but since their hourly salary is not set, they must invest their time and money, then price their book at a happy medium for author and reader with the hope they’ll earn back what they’ve invested and enough to keep investing (and live!).

So what about a free book?

A free book is a marketing technique, nothing more. Nobody gets paid off a free book. Not the author, not the publisher. I put a book out for free for the same reason many others do: to offer something free in hopes that I’ll be discovered.

The particular book I have listed free I’ll openly admit is not my best, but it is my first and it’s where the story begins (kind of), therefore, it’s the best place to start. Does everyone who downloads a free copy read all of the others in the series? No. But from a business owner’s standpoint, you have to hope that a large enough % will in order to cover your loss on that book.

All right enough about this, tomorrow or Wednesday I’ll try to do a fun post. Not sure what it’ll be, maybe a little backstory between a certain maid who fancies the butler…

11 thoughts on “What’s in a Novel: Expenses and Pricing”

  1. People who aren’t in the writing business have no clue. But it’s like any other sole proprietorship, there are start up costs and other expenses along the way. You wouldn’t expect an owner of a retail store to just give away all their products for free or for .99. But there might be something free as a promotion.

    1. You’re right. There are a lot of costs that go into writing that people don’t know about unless they are writers. LOL Sure every once in a while you’ll hear about someone who wrote a NYTimes bestselling book on a series of napkins while watching their kids play at the McDonald’s play place. But it’s rare. Most of us who write full time have to treat writing and all that goes with it like a business because essentially that’s exactly what it is! Books don’t magically write themselves, nor do they market themselves.

  2. I love getting to know the other side of the book world. I think its like any job you never realize how much goes on behind the scenes to make it all work.

  3. Just thought I’d let you know that I was first introduced to you because of your free book. I have purchased all of the others as eBooks (except the last two which I will purchase soon) and I have plans to purchase all of them as physical copies (my preferred medium for reading) at a later date, probably late this year or maybe early next year.

    You have, as best I can tell, a reader for life, because you gave away a book you don’t even think is your best. It was good enough to make me want all of your books.

    Thank you for all of this information. As I am working on my own stories which I hope to publish, I need all the information I can get on how to go about it. Maybe when you are done you can put it all together and make a book of it, charge whatever you feel is a reasonable cost, and let us purchase it. I know I’d buy it for the convenience of having it all together. If you don’t I might just have to put them together myself and make a PDF file. Of course a book is so much easier to read. And it’s so much easier to find stuff.

    I look forward to more if there is any more you’d like to add on the stuff that goes behind the scenes of book writing and publishing.

    1. Oh Marlena, you make me feel so much better!

      It’s not that I think the book is bad, I just don’t think it’s my absolute best. But then again, there are many big names out there who don’t get discovered until they’ve written multiple books or some who do make a big name for themselves based off their debut book, it might not actually be the first book they wrote. The fact is, first books often aren’t the best ones we write. The storyline in a later book may not be as entertaining to the reader, but the frank truth is unless there is a major problem, the writing is better in book five than in book one.

      Really, it’s not about money, though there is a bit of a sting every time you see someone type in the name of your baby with the words “free download” after it. That stings and after more than a year and a half, I can’t say that I’ve fully gotten over it. I try to look at it as a backwards compliment: I’m well known (and apparently well liked) enough for someone to be trying to illegally download my book. That’s the best attitude I can have.

      I’ve actually considered putting all of these posts into a book format. It’ll take a while though as I’m probably not even halfway done! There’s a lot that goes into writing and publishing. Just be patient with me. I don’t want to stay posting on any one topic too often and bore people away.

      If you ever have any questions, feel free to ask. You never know, it might make a post!

      1. The thought of actually getting a book written and then have it cost no money for people to purchase does cause me to wince, but then, I have a lot of fanfics posted on the Internet that cost nothing to read because they are fanfics and you can’t make money off those. Still fanfics where you are writing in someone else’s world are so very much different than making your own world, crafting it from scratch and then saying “I did all this work to lovingly create this, but I’m going to let you have it for free.”

        Just writing those words feels like torture. I can’t imagine actually doing it and yet, I do imagine it as I consider what I will do eventually. Eventually, I will probably have something for free in order to catch people’s attention, assuming of course that I get that far, which I must assume, because to not assume that would be to give up and I can’t do that.

        I certainly don’t want to rush you in completing your posts on blogging, so just let us know whenever (if ever) you decide to make them into a book and you have one buyer lined up already.

        I do have a question, but since you write historical novels I’m not sure if it has come up for you. Of course you might know the answer anyway. There is a second question that is related that I’d like to ask as well.

        The first question is about trademarks and copywrites. I’m not currently trying to figure out how to get them, though at may or may not be something I’ll need to know. What I want to know is can you use something that is trademarked or copywritten in your writing and do you need to get permission from those who hold the copywrite or trademark to do so. One person (who is not a writer) thought maybe it was like product placement, just free advertising for them. I’m not so sure. If that is all as clear as mud, here’s an example, if my character liked to drink Coke, can I do that, or do I need the more generic cola?

        The second, related question is about using real people in your writing. I don’t currently have any real people in my writings, but I imagine it will come up. I tend to write contemporary or futuristic (where of course this won’t matter unless someone is the decendant of someone who is real), but I imagine it makes a difference if the person is currently living or lived in the past as to how you can deal with them.

        So those are my current questions on writing. I imagine I have more. Any advice?

      2. LOL There are MANY who think books should all be free or nearly so.

        Your characters can eat M&Ms and drink Sprite or any other trademarked items. However, I’d shy away from putting pictures of trademarked on a book cover.

        Writing about real people is a trick. Writing about a person who does or did truly exist and is well-known is fine. An example is sometimes I mention the Prince Regent (or Prinny). I’ve never actually given him a speaking role, of course, but it wouldn’t be wrong of me to do so, it’s called poetic license.

        The fine line comes in when you write about a person who you know personally–whether you identify them as such or not. For example, if I had a co-worked named Thomas who is a real pain in the behind and is late to work, dresses sloppy, always eats ramen noodles for lunch and is obsessed with Grey’s Anatomy. If you have a character in your book (even if you name him Lucas) who fits this description or close to it, you stand the chance to be sued. Even if you do describe them in a good light or everything you say is factual, you can be sued. So my best advice is not to write about people you know without their written permission, and often if you write about famous people, just keep it as a reference: “When Clarissa came into the room, it robbed Steven of the very air in his lungs. She was petite and regal. Just like ________.”

        You could also do, “General Lee has just surrendered!” (Stating a fact about the person.)

        You can even describe them and give them roles, but I’d suggest when doing this keep as close to realism as you can with what they’d say and how they behave or you’ll have a bunch of people up in arms that you don’t know what you’re talking about if George Bush has long red locks and talked with a Scottish accent.

        Did I help?

      3. Very much so. Thank you. I’ve been trying to find that kind of information off and on for months and there doesn’t seem to be anything useful on the subject, so I’m very glad you had an answer for me.

    1. I knew you would! But still I must ask, does that mean you second everything I said, too?

      (In case anyone here does not know, Ruth has been a HUGE help to me the past year and a half as I’ve bounced marketing strategies off her and she’s talked me through some tough plot hang ups–and even beta read one of my novels! She’s been at this far longer than I have and has been very generous with her time and knowledge.)

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