Handling The Costs of Writing Lots of Books

When you write and release lots of books, the costs associated with publishing those books increases at the same scale…or does it?

How do you handle the costs of writing and publishing lots of books?

Economies of Scale.

When you’re producing many books, there are economies of scale available to you that two-books-a-year authors can’t access.

I have often negotiated breaks in per-word costs for editing and proofing.  Even a drop of a cent or two per word can add up.

If you produce quickly and you have a demonstrable track record of producing quickly, it’s often possible to negotiate prices downward for nearly all sub-contracted services.  You just have to ask.

I have a cover designer who gets the job done at a price I can live with (and they also have a turnaround time that doesn’t leave my production schedule in ashes).  I could be using a higher priced cover artist, someone of Stuart Bache’s ilk, but the far (far!) higher price would be for minimal gains.  Yes, those higher-priced artists are brilliant, but all you need is a professional looking cover that states undeniably what the genre of the book is, and hooks readers into reading the description.  That’s it.  Everything after that is expensive cream.

I am Canadian, so I get my ISBNs for free, but if I had to pay for them, I would buy them in the biggest batches available (and save up to do that).

I also pay a subscription fee for x number of stock photos per month, because I burn through a lot of them.

Write a list of the regular expenses attached to the production and release of your books.  Analyse them and see if there is a way to get a price break.  Businesses ask for price breaks all the time.  So should you.

I used to think that buying software outright was more economical than buying the annual subscription, but long term tracking proved this isn’t true.  Applications update frequently, and earlier versions become useless, forcing you to re-invest in the latest (expensive) version.  Subscription software makes sense, especially for front line applications (those that help you publish your books).

The last book(s) finance the next book(s).

This is a philosophy you should be using all the time, not just for the first book you ever publish.

Don’t use credit to publish your books.  Keep your expenses microscopic (or non-existent) until the revenue you get from earlier books will finance later books.  The first few books you ever publish will require you use personal money.  Save up to pay for them.

Once revenue starts flowing, you can detach from your personal money and service the production with that revenue.

You would be surprised by what expenses you can live without.  It is possible to do everything yourself.  All it will cost you is time, and patience while you learn the processes needed to do it.

Even covers can be done by yourself.  It is possible that with some time to learn simple image manipulation, you can build a cover that hits the basic criteria (explains genre, hooks the reader into reading the blurb, doesn’t totally suck).  Later, you can replace the cover with something better, if you want.

Emulate Dickens.

Mr Micawber said:

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

Especially when you’re writing many books, you must manage the expenses needed to publish them.

Keep an eye on creep — the ability we all have to magically increase our expenses to match the current revenue.  Make every new regular expense earn its place in your spreadsheet.

Do you really need it?  Sometimes, that new expense you’re contemplating is only an ego boost.  (Do you really need a virtual assistant to scrub your email and social feeds?)

Often, new regular expenses are intended to save you time.  More frequently than you’d expect, the expense doesn’t save you time at all.   Review your expenses every quarter or so, and slash those that aren’t paying for themselves.

Question extra and mysterious charges.  Don’t let billing errors slide.

Save For A Rainy Day.

“Profit First” is a business model proposed by Mike Michalowicz in a number of books, particularly Profit First.  One of the principals in those books is the idea of putting aside a set percentage of your revenue as “profit”, which is left to build up so you can weather the cyclical ups and downs of business (and publishing).  What money remains, after profits and taxes and your salary are drawn, is what you get to spend on expenses.

It’s a naturally limiting system, that lets you scale your business at a pace that is sustainable.  You’ll know when you can upgrade to the “does-everything-for-you” software, because the money will be sitting in your expenses account.  If it’s not there, you can’t afford it.

Michalowicz’s system works for any sized business including micro one-person outfits, as most indie authors are.


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