Don't spend $3000 to publish your first book

Don’t spend $3,000 to publish your first book

A tweet showed up on my feed a few days ago. It was one of those unicorn tweets — it went viral but didn’t offend anyone, it was controversial but it sparked more discussions than fights. (In fact I didn’t see anyone fighting in the comments.)

So… thanks, Ben!

As an indie author of seven years, I had thoughts about this. So do a lot of authors, as the comments and quote tweets show. And as usual, I ended up clarifying my thoughts by talking to my colleagues.

It was interesting talking about this with a few author friends, especially since we were all indie published and none of us spent anything close to $3,000 to produce any one book. The idea of spending that much on one book — your first book, no less — is actually horrifying.

Think about it. You’ve never published a book before. This is probably your first finished novel (it was in my case— my first published book was also the first novel I’d written). That means not only do you probably not know what you’re doing, but your book could very well flop.

A person who’s only learning to self publish has no business spending $3,000. They’re at the stage where they don’t know what’s worth spending money on and what isn’t.

This is why there are scammers out there charging thousands of dollars to “help” you publish. They know that there are new authors who will think it’s perfectly reasonable to pay $800 for a PDF of their book. When you’re just starting out, chances are you won’t know what a good book cover looks like and could end up paying $1,000 for a really sh*tty cover that won’t get you any book sales.

So if $3,000 isn’t a reasonable budget for your first book, then what is?

As with most things in publishing, it depends.

For example, if your manuscript is a 200,000-word epic fantasy, you’ll need to spend considerably more for editing than if you’re publishing a 25,000-word romance novella. An urban fantasy book cover could require a lot more photoshop work than a contemporary romance book cover. I know this because I’m also a professional book designer and my portfolio is almost all contemporary romance. And I spend a lot of time studying book covers. But I digress. The point is, every book is different so every book budget should be different.

And this difference is not something a new indie author is expected to know. It’s not to disparage their skills or knowledge, but these are things one learns on the job. When I published my first book, I had my already published indie author friends to look to for advice. Not everyone has that privilege.

So while I will tell you that in 2022 it’s unreasonable to spend $3,000 to publish your first book, I cannot tell you how much you should spend.

I will, however, tell you what you should absolutely skimp on when you’re just publishing your first book. And that is your author website. This will seem like weird advice from me if you know that I’m also a web developer. But hear me out.

You’re a new author. You have one book and you’re still in the process of publishing it. That means your website won’t have much content.

In this situation, there are exactly five things you need on your website: [1] your author bio, [2] information about your upcoming book, [3] your contact info (this could be an email address or a contact form, plus links to your social media accounts), (4) links to buy your book (when they’re available for pre-order or sale), and [5] your newsletter sign-up form.

That’s it. Everything else is gravy. A blog is nice, so are photos of your pets. But if your mental energy is required elsewhere (like publishing your book!), you can skip them for the time being. Once you have two or three books out or if your first book becomes massively successful and earns you tons of money, you can start investing in making your author website pretty.

But if you’re just publishing your first book, a free website from Blogger or WordPress will do. The last time I used it, Blogger lets you use your own domain so your website will have the url instead of . Your author domain is in fact the one thing I will insist you get, and in most cases, you’ll need to pay for it. A dot com domain will cost you around $15 a year so it’s not going to break most people’s banks. One of the first things I did after I decided I was going to do this author thing was register my domain . You don’t want to find yourself successful and/or famous one day and find out a domain squatter has snapped up your dot com domain and is now selling it to you for half a million dollars. Plus it makes people easy to search for you. Google’s search engine will prioritize websites with the actual keywords in the domain name — in this case the search keywords is your author name — so anyone who does a search on your author name will see your website up there on the search results.

I listed the newsletter signup last but this is actually a super important part of your website. When you meet someone cool and interesting at a party and you decide you should be friends, you’re not going to just home and hope you’ll run into each other again. You exchange phone numbers. It’s the same with your author website. If someone was interested enough in you or your book that they visited your site, don’t let them leave without asking them for their contact information— in this case their email address.

Sure, you have Twitter or Facebook and they can follow you there, but what if they don’t use any of the social media you do? Not everyone has Twitter. Not everyone has Facebook. Or Instagram or Tiktok. But everyone has email. So set up a mailing list / newsletter and ask every visitor to your site to sign up. I recommend using a free service if you’re still starting out. Tinyletter is super basic but it’s free, ridiculously easy to use, and allows you up to 5,000 subscribers (subscribers are the people who sign up for your newsletter/mailing list). I use Aweber, which allows you up to 500 subscribers free. I pay for my Pro account because I have more than 500 subscribers but I also use the auto-responder and other features not available for free accounts so it’s worth the $29 I pay each month.

It will take you some time to get 500 subscribers, so it’s probably not worth getting a paid newsletter service when you’re just getting started as an author. When your book preorder links are available, send out an email to your subscribers to let them know. If you don’t do a pre-order, send out an email once your book is available to buy. Do this with every new book you publish. And in between, drop an email once a month to say Hi or talk about something related to your book genre.

The best part about author newsletters is that you can do so much without paying a cent. Getting a thousand mailing list subscribers will do more for your book sales than a pretty website. (Although as a web developer, I would recommend not having an ugly website that’s hard to use because that will just send people running away screaming. Even free website services have free templates, and lots of them are pretty nice.)

And speaking of newsletters, if you don’t want to miss my future blog posts about publishing (like this one), you can sign up below to get an email notification whenever I post a new article about publishing.

Good luck!

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