Shoestring Publishing, Part Two

Last week we started going down the list of possible expenses you might have when starting up a publishing business. Let’s look at a few more of those.

4. Accounting software or physical ledger, file folders, etc.:

I have found that if you own a tablet or a smartphone, it is relatively easy to find apps that can help with business accounting. I know that there are expensive programs out there which do an amazing job of keeping a record of business expenses and income, such as Quickbooks, which is perhaps one of the most well-known names in business accounting software, whether it’s online or desktop. But it is possible to find programs out there in the form of free apps or downloadable freeware/shareware that will give you a basic ledger system. The one I chose to use is called GnuCash. It isn’t necessarily perfect, but it works pretty well and the price tag was perfect. If you’re looking for a free accounting program, you can learn more about it here:

There are others, of course. I found a couple of links that might be worth checking out, but I can’t personally vouch for them as I have not tried them.

And there are also a couple of articles with more information on free software:,2817,2382514,00.asp

If anyone has tried a different free accounting software program and found that it really worked well, feel free to share in the comments.

5. ISBNs for your books:

Ah, the ISBN. You really should not try to publish a book without one. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It’s this number that provides a unique identifier for your book that makes it distinguishable from other books, even if your book should happen to have the same title as a different book by a different author. If you try to special-order a book, a bookstore will need to find this number in order to get it for you and make sure it’s the right book. So yes, you really need one if you want to sell your book to the general public and not just print a copy for yourself and your family. However, there are a few considerations you need to know about where ISBNs are concerned.

Some authors decide to publish through CreateSpace or through a packaging service, and get the ISBN through them. You can do this if you choose, but I personally don’t recommend not buying your own ISBNs. Yes, CreateSpace and/or a book packager could issue you an ISBN, but if this happens, then they are listed as the official publisher of your book. In other words, if you get your ISBN through CreateSpace, if CreateSpace assigns you the number, then CreateSpace is listed as the “publisher” of your book. If you (or your new publishing company) want to be listed as your book’s publisher, then you have to buy your own ISBNs. In the United States, the source of legitimate and official ISBNs is called Bowker. Their website is here:

It looks horribly expensive, with the cost of a single ISBN placed at $125.00. But this is one of those expenses to which you’ll just have to resign yourself; it’s really not a viable option not to buy one. However, if you’re planning more than one book, it is far more cost-effective in the long run to get a block of ISBNs so that you have more you can use for future books. Also remember, you’ll need one ISBN for a print version of your book if you’re planning one, and also one for an ebook version. Any different version or format of your book will require a different ISBN. If you want a hardcover as well as an ebook and a paperback, you’ll have to have another ISBN for the hardcover. So choose which number of ISBNs you will purchase based on how many different versions of your book you plan on having, and how many books you’ll eventually be publishing.

A block of ten ISBNs is the most popular option for indies, and ten at once comes to less per ISBN then just buying them one at a time. I bought a block of ten ISBNs to cover RavenSidhe’s first several books. I’d have bought a block of 100 as an even better value if I could have, but the cost for ten is $295.00, and for 100 it’s $575.00. I needed to conserve my startup cash I’d saved, so I went with the block of ten, which will be enough ISBNs to cover my first five books with an ebook version and paperback version for each. Bowker’s interface is easy to use, and it keeps track of all of your ISBN data, including numbers once you’ve used them, and also those remaining numbers that you have not yet assigned to a book. So, depending on how many books total you’re planning to publish over the next 5 to 10 years, it may well behoove you to go for the block of 10 ISBNs for $295.00, and add that into your budget. Or, for just one version of one book, plan on a single ISBN for $125.00

Bowker also offers several other services, including help with cover design, ebook creation, proofreading services, etc. All of these services cost money, of course, and you can certainly find cheaper ways to do a lot of what you’ll need done. For example, Bowker offers the service of helping you file a copyright for a price of $79.95, but it’s just as easy to file it yourself with the Library of Congress and only end up paying $35 if you’re registering a work by a single author who is also the claimant, and if the work you’re registering wasn’t made for hire. (In other words, you’re the one filing for copyright for one book, you’re that book’s author, and you weren’t hired by someone else to write the book.) So as tempting as the services Bowker offers in addition to its ISBNs may be, as a small publisher, it is well worth your time to find out whether it would cost you considerably less to do most of these little tasks yourself.

So far, including a block of 10 ISBNs added to the total from last week’s sample expenses, we’ve spent $970.00 in establishing our publishing business.

6. Editing fees:

Oh, my goodness. This is a big issue, at least in my opinion. I cannot stress enough that many authors are not very good at editing their books for spelling, grammar, sentence structure, plot and flow of the story, etc. This is the kind of thing that contributed to the original stigma against self-publishing in the first place. It still does, because to be honest, I still see far too many self-published books out there that are poorly edited or that seem not to be edited at all. It makes me cautious about how much money I’m willing to pay for any self-published book. Thank goodness for those “see inside the book” widgets! They’ve saved me more than once from spending money on a book that would have put my teeth on edge.

The truth is that most authors really need an editor to go over their books in minute detail before the book is ever published. This is much bigger of a deal than most people think it is, and I would submit that people who think it’s not a big deal are probably those who just don’t happen to have much of a penchant for attention to detail. But for me personally, as a reader, if I try to read a self-published book (or any other book, for that matter) that is rife with spelling errors and clunky sentences, etc., then it pops me right out of the story. It drives. Me. Nuts. I simply cannot look at a book filled with errors like that as though it is professionally done. So if you are an author who has trouble with any of these details, then it would really be a good idea for you to get someone to edit the book, preferably not your spouse or other family member, who is less apt to be as critical of your manuscript’s quality as someone more objective. However, given the high fees that are often charged for editing services (Bowker, for example, offers fees “as low” as $8 per page. But I, as a publisher on a shoestring budget, could not even come close to affording to pay an editor even as much as $1 per page.) If you are in this same boat, how, then, can you get quality editing for less or no money?

One answer is to check into writers’ critique groups and beta readers–and not just any random beta readers. Find people you already know or meet new people through writers’ groups who are sticklers for grammar and line editing, and who also have a strong sense of plot and pacing. A writers’ conference or convention might be a good venue at which to find critique and editing partners who’d be willing to trade services with you. Local writers’ groups are also possible places to meet people who fit the bill. Or you may even find people in odd places where you’d never expect to find potential editors. For example, I just met an editor recently while I was at the courthouse for jury duty. No kidding. They’re out there. You just have to look for them. And after you’ve found them and they’ve agreed to help, you need to be willing and ready to consider honestly what they have to say by way of critique, and you have to be willing to return the favor if they’d like you to read their work (or format their manuscript, or whatever your strength is) in return for their objective opinion and/or editing skills.

Yes, it’s possible for you to do the editing entirely on your own if you happen to be really good at that sort of thing. But be aware that even then, you may still miss a few mistakes that you didn’t know you made, and so you’ll have to be extra vigilant when you’re going over your manuscript. Get a copy of Strunk and While’s “Elements of Style” and use it whenever you’re in doubt about any of your grammar, sentence structure, or punctuation. Use your thesaurus or dictionary if you aren’t sure whether you spelled a word right. Make the effort, please, even if you claim that you’re “just not good at that kind of thing.” It’s so worth it to come across as professional, and it will make a huge difference to your credibility.

I lucked out and have a great couple of critique partners I’ve worked with for many years, one of whom we like to call “the Grammar Queen.” I hope you can find your own “grammar queen,” because believe me, your book’s future readers will thank you (and her.) In my opinion, if you’re going to all the trouble of setting up an actual publishing company, then you really owe it to your future readers and yourself to do as professional a job of the editing as possible. As an end resort, if you have no other way to get the book edited, then yes, you’ll probably have to pay someone to do it. (That, or bake them a mountain of chocolate chip cookies.) For editing services, I spent $0, but I also spent countless hours editing my own work after having it gone over in minute detail by my two critique partners and two or three beta readers. It’s just a matter of extremely strict attention to detail, and the commitment to see the process through.

This post is getting a little long, so we’ll continue our budget discussion next week.

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