Oh so what makes you the grand master wizard nerd of all things with self and publishing when you haven't published anything yet?
I am not an expert on publishing. I'm just some fat hairy guy that likes to scribble about things and eat Jello in my boxers. I'm in the boxers not the Jello. The Jello is in a bowl. I have done a lot of research on publishing, but I am sure there is much more I can learn. There are a few reasons that these articles are wrong. The biggest one is each one assumes that every author can afford the costs that they outline. Some of the articles look like they were designed to discourage authors from trying because of the large up front cost. Another reason is that the author takes their personal experience into account and makes recommendations based on those experiences. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. I personally know that I am not the best at recruiting or promoting things, so the majority of the budget I set aside for my novel is going towards advertising.
The true cost of self publishing is absolutely free. I wouldn't recommend taking the free route, and that is not my final answer. You may be old and wrinkly by the time you are able to publish if you use the free route, but it is still available to those who are brave enough to walk through the snake infested swamp. I'm going to address some of the main things other author's suggest you always spend money on and what your options are with the associated costs for each option including the free option. Editing, Cover Art, Formatting, and Advertising are the big 4 that I will examine under my Perceptor Transformer microscope.
EditingOption: Do It Yourself
Most advice when it comes to self editing your work is in between "Please don't do it" and "OMG YOUR NOVEL WILL GET HERPES IF YOU DON'T GET AN EDITOR". The reality is that your novel will most likely not get herpes. No guarantees.
The truth is that you can edit your own work. Most authors are too close to their work to see all of the errors, misspellings, grammar train wrecks, plot holes, and so on. It's hard enough for people who are professional editors let alone for someone who has race horse blinders on.
There are some things that can be done to help get this accomplished. Reading your work out loud can help find grammatical and awkward wording errors. Having good beta readers that aren't family can help spot errors and ask questions you didn't think about. There are also spell and grammar checks within the major word processors including Open Office which is completely free to use.
Option: Pick and Choose
There are different kinds of editing that you can get. Copy edit, proofreading, taste the rainbow edit, content edit, Godzilla edit, and so on. Based on your strengths and weaknesses you can pick and choose which ones you want or need. Editing is expensive, but by all measures it is necessary. Each type of editing help fix different types of things and all of them are valuable in their own way. They all have different price points as well. Some editors charge by the page and others charge by the hour, so the overall cost is difficult to determine. I suggest asking the editor for an estimate if they charge by the hour. If this option looks tasty to you then search online for the different flavors of editing available so you can pick and choose which one fits in your shorts better. Jello editing is my favorite. Wait… No the Jello is definitely in the bowl.
This is a comprehensive edit starting from a developmental edit to the final copy edit. For the ridiculous prices I have seen, some of these packages include formatting as well. I find it shocking that some of them do not. Make sure to get full service if you are taking this option. There's no reason to expect less for the price. I would also request a sample before hiring them to ensure that you work well with the editor. Once you shell out the money, you are married to that editor til death of the novel do thee part.
Cover ArtOption: Do It Yourself
Building your own cover art is a lot like building blog graphics, but on a larger scale. I have built graphics designed for websites for years, but I'm not confident enough in my book cover building skills. You can find the blog graphics article here: http://brianbasham.blogspot.com/2015/10/how-to-make-amazing-blog-graphics.html. Cover graphics require a lot more research. It is your first impression, so you want to make sure it fits the genre you are writing. The Stay Puff Marshmallow Man is probably not the best model for your erotica fantasy novel.
Option: Cheaper Options
Cost: $1 - $99
Canva.com is the cheapest non-free option, but it's also a do it yourself project. The best thing about Canva is their text presentation already looks good. The only thing you need to do is edit the text and then position it where it needs to be. The site has some other effects that you can add for a fee, but starting at $1 you can't beat the price for a prefabricated template.
Fiverr is another cheap option for book cover design. Just like with Canva they will use stock photos that can be downloaded for free or very cheap by anyone. It is quite possible that there will be other covers out there that will look similar to yours in the future. In the future all books are Atlas Shrugged, sorry bad Demolition Man reference. Gigs on Fiverr can start at $5, but you are going to want some of the add-ons that each person there offers. I used this option for my novel and paid $50. I'm happy with the cover that I got, but I also paid to get the PSD file so I can go in and edit as needed.
Option: Professional Cover Artists
Let's face it. The top professional cover artists know what they are doing. They don't just use stock photos and slap some text on them. These people could draw and build your cover from scratch. They are experts in text placement and they can also create new designs out of common objects. These are the people other so-called cover artists should bow down to. I went with the Fiverr option instead simply because of the budget I set out from the beginning. It is definitely worth the money if it is within your budget.
FormattingOption: Do It Yourself
If you purchase editing that includes formatting then you can obviously skip this entire section. I found a fantastic guide for formatting a book using HTML and Callibre. Formatting is easy and painless, but it can take time. That guide can be found here: http://guidohenkel.com/2010/12/take-pride-in-your-ebook-formatting/. You don't have to know HTML to use this guide, but you will have to know how to copy/paste. I know, there's always a catch.
Option: Professional Formatting
Again Fiverr provides some professional help here. Some of the gigs on Fiverr don't appear to be from people who speak English as their first language. Buyer beware of the Bigfoot that may maul you for your Jello. The Jello that is in the bowl. There are other professionals that you can hire including the man that wrote the guide I linked to above. He has also written books with tips and tricks on how to format.
For the life of me I can't understand how someone can justify charging $2,500 for formatting. Some of the reasoning has to do with making the book interactive, pictures within the book, or making fairy dust pop out of the book as people read it. Building the book completely out of cocaine would make more sense for that price. A Choose Your Own Adventure style book would be so easy with the use of links in HTML. It might take a bit more time than doing the usual formatting, but not enough time that it would take more than a day or two to finish the job. Yes they should be compensated for the extra work, no they should not be paid more than they deserve to fart on a snare drum. If anyone has any idea how to justify that price please let me know. It just looks to me as if they are price gouging at $100 per hour of work, or trying to scare people away from self publishing.
AdvertisingOption: Do It Yourself
Build campaigns on social media, recruit a street team, organize your own blog tour, etc. There are so many ways to do this for free. The only limitation is your imagination. The biggest problem with this is that it involves a crap ton of time. Shaking hands and kissing babies, engaging individuals constantly. If time is your most precious commodity like mine is then this is simply not an option. I have tried to build up a bit of a following on social media, but I also know that I am about as good a recruiter as Pennywise the Clown. That doesn't mean self promotion can be ignored, but I think it is more important to not put all the eggs in one basket. Especially when that basket has a large hole in the bottom like mine. Many people are very successful with their social media campaigns and their calls to action. They must have gone to a different hypnotism school than I did. That reminds me, I should ask for a refund on that.
Option: Paid Advertising
I put $2,350 as the max because that is the highest price listed I can find for a BookBub ad. I'm not going to address the effectiveness of advertising options, but I would not pay more than the cost of a BookBub ad for any kind of advertising. The low end of $5 comes again through Fiverr. I am not including the buying of reviews which is frowned upon by everyone, well almost everyone. Some people like things that should never been seen or heard of, but they still like those things anyway. Like Jello down my shorts, err uh, in a bowl I mean. Advertising is necessary whether you self publish or publish traditionally.
ConclusionSo what is the real cost of self publishing? Whatever budget you put aside for it. That is the final answer. It is possible to publish your work for the low low price of free. Everyone loves free ice cream, but there are also free dog poops everywhere. I don't think anyone wants one of those, maybe the people who buy reviews. Some people will spend $10,000+ to self publish. What you should spend will probably fall somewhere in between free and OMG I CAN'T AFFORD THAT. It further outlines the importance of having a business plan going in. Spend your money wisely and save it where you can, but also don't skimp on what is important.
I would love to hear what you think about the real cost of self publishing, or what you have spent if you are an author that has self published before. Commenting about the Jello in my shorts is um... uh... *clicks publish*