Shoestring Publishing, Part Five

It’s been longer than I’d planned since my last post, and for that, I apologize. Holiday season, things get busy, yada, yada, yada. Let’s jump right back in and take a look at those last couple of items on our budgeting list.

11. Copyright fees:

Your first question is probably going to be, “Is it true that anything you’ve published in a written form is automatically copyrighted, including this blog post?” Well, yes, to a degree. This blog post is “copyrighted,” in that it’s my work and my specific wording, and if anyone were to copy-and-paste it and claim that they wrote it, that would be an infringement of my copyright. The copyright that you get from publishing something online or in print is sometimes referred to as a “poor man’s copyright,” meaning that the copyright is implied and you didn’t actually pay anything to have it officially recognized as such. This means that if someone copies it and claims it as their own, then if you were to get into a lawsuit with them about it, you’d have to document that it originated with you–date stamps from the blog, computer files, etc. But getting an official government-recognized copyright for your book is something else again.

I added this item to the budget list because I truly think they’re worth it. There is nothing better to prove a work is yours than the official certificate (which looks a bit like a birth certificate, incidentally) from the U.S. Copyright Office.

How do you go about getting that for your book, and how much does it cost?

$35.00, a little bit of your time, and a couple of copies of your book. Oh, and some postage, if the book is in a print form. That’s it. No big deal. I’ll show you where to find what you need to get that ball rolling.

Online, the U.S. Copyright office has a page called eCO. This is the place where you will need to go to submit the application for a copyright.

You will need to register yourself or your business with them so that you can log into your account and register a copyright whenever you need to do so. After you fill out the information in the required fields to register an account for yourself, then just click the appropriate links to begin the copyright registration process, and follow the directions given. It’s a fairly straightforward process, thought at times the forms and information you need to provide about your book may seem a bit repetitive. All in all, it’s not really too much trouble, and when you’ve filled out all your author and book information and gotten to the last page, they’ll ask you to make an electronic/credit card payment for the $35 copyright registration fee.

They’ll also give you an address to which you should send two copies of your book if it has a print format. Otherwise you will go through an electronic download process for your ebook files if your book only exists in ebook form. Note that if you have your book in print and ebook form, you need to submit two copies of the print book, as this is the required format if you have it available. In this case, you do not submit any copies in ebook format.

Total cost to file a copyright will vary depending on the heft and weight and printing cost of your book. In my case, I paid $35 for the filing fee, about $11.25 for shipping two books to them via USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate, plus approximately $14 for a couple of copies of the book, shipped to me from my printer/distributor prior to filing my copyright form.

12. Incidentals:

Incidental expenses are things such as art supplies if you’re going to produce your own artwork, fees for font licensing or images you may want to use for your cover art, special apps or small electronic devices that you plan to use in the operation of your business, such as a special card reader for your smart phone, or even an adding machine for the occasional in-person book-related event where you may be selling your book by hand, or any other sort of miscellaneous small item, device, or fee that happens to crop up as you’re making artistic and stylistic choices during the production of your book.

I’d recommend budgeting at least $100 to $150 for those incidentals. For example, I paid about $4.99 for a writing app to use on my tablet, and I licensed a font for the cover of my book for about $39. When I was ready to paint my cover art, I bought probably ten decent-sized tubes of acrylic paint for about $4 to $5 apiece, and I bought a few canvas-covered boards on sale for around $3 to $5 apiece. A few special brushes cost approximately another $2o. I kept it as low-key as possible, and of course will be able to use the same brushes and tubes of paint for future cover art projects.

This concludes our series on budgeting. Upcoming posts (which will probably be a bit sporadic during the holidays, but I think I can be forgiven for that) will proceed into a bit more detail on some of the various topics related to actually producing a book, which free programs are worth the effort to learn to use, etc.

Shoestring Publishing, Part Four

This week we’re going to talk about the next couple of potential items on your budgeting list.

8. Formattting fees:

I found this to be an interesting problem to solve. At first, I was afraid that I’d have trouble learning the process of formatting both my ebook files and my print book files to industry spec, and I considered whether it would be less daunting to hire someone to do it for a fee. To that end, I looked up some options.

One friend-recommended service that focuses primarily on formatting fiction ebooks is called the “E-Book Formatting Fairies.” Their link is here:

The fees were reasonable, (“$50 up to 30 chapters and 350 pages of double spaced, 12 point Times New Roman font in the Word document submitted for formatting”) and they offered a fairly fast turnaround. They normally don’t do nonfiction, but upon further inquiry, they indicated that if I couldn’t handle the formatting on my own, they might be willing to give it a go. Had I not decided to go through the learning curve and do all of my own formatting, I would most likely have hired them to format my book.

A quick Google search of “ebook formatting services” will turn up several links to various services, but many of them offer services far more expensive than the one I mentioned above. If you truly don’t want to handle your own ebook formatting, then you can expect to pay anywhere from the aforementioned $50 on up into the hundreds of dollars.

Print book formatting varies in price, but expect to pay quite a bit for the service. For example, I saw one service that offered a combo formatting package–print and ebook both, but the total for that package was $1400. As we’ve already discussed, this service simply wasn’t in my budget, no matter how daunted I was by the notion of learning to format my own print and ebooks.

As an aside, I should mention that I’ve had a couple of ebook enthusiasts ask me “Why do a print version at all?” In reply, I’ll say that it really depends on the author and what your goals are. For myself, after so many years of trying to get published, I wanted to be able to hold that paperback in my hands and see it sitting there in my bookshelf. But while that was my initial impetus for making a print version of my book, I’ve since found that different genres of books and different readerships tend to prefer different formats of books. For my Sidhe-related nonfiction book, RavenSidhe’s first offering, I’ve found that I sell more copies of the print version of the book than copies of the ebook version. For our first fiction book, an epic fantasy novel, it’s been the opposite. So I’d be inclined to say it might pay to do both, unless you’re selling in a genre that trends heavily toward having more readers who just want ebooks.

We’ll have to do a whole different post on the various types of formatting and tutorials available for learning how to do that, but for the purposes of this budgeting post, suffice it to say that I learned how to format both print books and ebooks using entirely free software, bringing my total formatting cost to $0.00.

9. Library data block:

This is the part that you won’t have to worry about at all if you’re only doing ebooks. But if you are doing a print version, then you may want to consider getting yourself what we call the “publisher’s cataloging-in-publication data” block of information for your book–the CIP data. You’ve probably seen these small blocks of data listed on the copyright page of some print books. The data block basically tells a librarian where to shelve your book if the library were to buy one. Most public libraries will buy one if you 1. have a library card and 2. provide them with the ISBN of the book you want them to purchase. If they can get it through their usual channels, then they will often be willing to buy and stock one on their shelves, and this in turn could potentially result in a bit more exposure for your book.

If you are publishing a larger number of books written by someone other than yourself, then you will likely qualify to have your CIP block provided by the Library of Congress itself. But as a smaller indie publisher with fewer titles out, you will probably not qualify for the main program and will probably only qualify for the PCN program–PCN standing for the “preassigned control number.” To get this number assigned to your book, all you need to do is go to the Library of Congress website, fill out a form online and request a number. They usually get this LOC control number to you very quickly via email, and it’s free. But since you are a small indie publisher or an individual author, they will not provide the rest of the Cataloging-in-Publication data block to you.

Here is an article that explains the CIP in a little more detail:

The CIP data block consists of the title, author, publisher, Library of Congress control number, and the subject headers and proper subject/category headings and numbers to indicate where the book should be shelved. Technically speaking, if you were to research the process thoroughly and were reasonable sure you knew what you were doing, you might be able to create this data block yourself, but I have personally found that I much prefer to have this done by a professional cataloging librarian. While if you live in a larger city you may have access to a cataloging librarian who you might be able to sweet talk into helping you, I found it far easier to procure the services of a librarian online.

The above-mentioned article provides a link to a service that will provide you a data block for about $100, but I found a different service that I used for mine, and the price was less. I paid $60 for each of my data blocks for my books, and I consider it money well spent.

I’ve hired this particular librarian to create the data blocks for both of my books to date, and I’ve been impressed with her expertise and quick turnaround. All I had to do was provide her with the information she asks for on her website, procure a (FREE!) LOC Control Number from the Library of Congress online, and email it all to her. From there, she creates the data block and emails it back to me.

The librarian I hire to do this service has a website that will further explain the data block and what it’s for, as well as what she will need in order to create one for you. Her website is here:

Ultimately, I decided that the CIP data block is something that I prefer to have in my print books. I feel it lends an air of professionalism to the finished product, and it’s also a nice courtesy for the libraries who agree to put your book on their shelves.

10. File Upload Fees:

This is an expense that you will likely only incur if you decide to choose a printer/distributor who actually charges a fee for each upload of your book files. There are plenty of articles online about the pros and cons of various printers. While I think that’s a worthy subject and should be a post all by itself, for the purposes of this budgeting-related series of posts, I’ll just say that for various reasons, I decided to go with one of the book printers who charges an upload fee. This fee isn’t terrible: it’s $49 per upload and includes both print and ebook files in one fee if I upload both at the same time. If I can’t upload them both in one session, as happened with my first book when I uploaded the files weeks apart, then the ebook upload fee is a separate $25, with the print upload being $49. I got my upload fee refunded because I bought at least 50 copies of my print book within the first 60 days after the initial file upload. The fee refund was a great help.

Some services like CreateSpace do not charge upload fees at all, so if you are on a severely limited budget, this may be the way to go for you. I’ve seen their product; they turn out a decent-looking book. We’ll go into why I chose to use a different printer/distributor in a later post.

Next week we’ll finish up this budgeting series of posts, and then we can move on to other considerations.

Shoestring Publishing, Part One

In outlining this article, I found that there were so many categories under “budgeting” that we really should break this down into several posts. So bear with me. First, I’ll list the general categories that I wanted to cover and that I encountered when establishing RavenSidhe, and then I’ll begin to address those categories two or three at a time, which may take several posts. I think it will be easier this way, both for me to write up and for you to consider in your own budgeting. When spending hard-earned or hard-saved money, it’s always best to make careful choices in what you buy.

In making a general budget for your publishing business, you’ll need to consider quite a few needs that your fledgling business might have. This list is by no means exhaustive, and you might want to add some categories for your own use, but here’s what I have to begin with:

1. Making things official: business filing fees, etc.
2. Equipment: computer, monitors, peripherals, backup storage solutions
3. Business cards
4. Accounting software or physical ledger, file folders, etc.
5. ISBNs for your books
6. Editing fees
7. Cover art
8. Formatting fees
9. Library data block
10. File upload fees
11. Copyright fee
12. Incidentals such as art supplies or how-to books on formatting, font licenses, etc.

Looks like a daunting and expensive list at first blush, but I promised I’d show you how a publishing business can work on a shoestring budget, which just means a budget that is very, very tiny. So let’s start to break this down.

I’ve mentioned before that when I started RavenSidhe, I saved up for it first by putting aside money from Tarot readings over a period of a year and a half. There were also a very few expenses that I covered out-of-pocket, but generally speaking, RavenSidhe was built on less than $2000.00. With the official filing fees varying from state to state, your own amount may be more or less, but this will give you an idea of about what to expect in your budgeting.

We talked before about the difference between forming an LLC or a sole proprietorship. We also talked about how the filing/administrative fees to set up a business in your state might vary from those in Idaho, but for now, Idaho is where I am, so I’ll use Idaho’s figures. You’ll have to adjust your budget to accommodate your own plans in your own state. So moving into the categories, now:

1. State business filing fees:

  • Certificate of Assumed Business Name (DBA) for a sole proprietorship in Idaho: $25
  • Filing fee for an Idaho LLC, or Limited Liability Company $100

So far at this point, I’d spent $100, since I went for the LLC business model instead of a sole proprietorship.

2. Equipment:

  • computer
  • monitors (2)
  • peripherals, including backup drives or cloud storage, etc.

I already had a computer when I started my business, but not all computers are equal to the task of carrying out some of the operations involved in publishing. Most will do just fine, but if you’re limping along on an old, outdated model of computer with an obsolete operating system, you may want to consider an upgrade to a better, faster computer with more memory. You might also want to buy such a thing as a laptop, for ease of working on your stuff when you’re not at home on your desktop machine. In my experience, a good, working computer of some kind can often be found for $500 or less. Assuming you do have to buy a computer, the better a deal you can get, the more you can stretch your budget. Let’s assume you can find a decent desktop machine or laptop for around $350.00.

Next, I have to say that getting a secondary monitor for your machine might be well worth your consideration. I use two monitors for my desktop machine, one beside the other. This enables me to have such a thing as a digital instructional manual or a YouTube how-to video window open on one monitor, and my current work-in-progress being formatted on the other monitor, so I can refer to the instructions as I go if I need to. I never guessed how much having an extra monitor would make a difference to my work, or how convenient it would be. This alone was one of the best investments I made when establishing my business. The extra monitor costs around, say, $100. Luckily for me, one of my monitors came with my computer, so I only had to buy one extra.

Now we’ve spent about $550.00. We’ve established our business entity, and we have a computer. Other possible equipment-related expenses might need to include a new flash drive with lots of storage, or even an external hard drive that you can save your files onto as a backup, just in case of the sudden demise of your main computer, which would sink all your hard work in one dreadful moment. A good flash drive isn’t horribly expensive; they run between $14 to $40, depending on how much memory you want.

Here’s an example of something similar to what I use:

I’ve also gotten very good service out of an external hard drive similar to this one, which costs around $70:

Price for both items, about $110.00. So far, our total for equipment and business startup fees comes to $660.00. If you already have all the electronic/computer equipment you need, so much the better.

Cloud storage may be a zero-cost option for you, if that is something that seems more convenient or feasible than buying electronic storage solutions. I cannot personally vouch for any of the cloud services found at the link below, but feel free to check them out on your own and see whether this is something that would suit your preferences and/or budget.

3. Business Cards: There are many options for business cards. The least expensive way I’ve found to get them is to order them from an online printing service such as Vistaprint or Moo. Yes, you could print some out yourself on cardstock using your own computer and printer, but your home printer usually can’t handle the weight of cardstock that you’d want to keep things looking professional. I’ve had great service from both Moo and Vistaprint, and the quality of their cardstock and printing is absolutely professional:

Of the above services, I’ve found Vistaprint to be the more affordable of the two. I’ve generally gotten my business cards from Vistaprint on one of their promotional specials, and so I’ve never paid more than about $15 for a box of business cards. Of course, your total price also depends on how many you’re ordering. I tend to order in smaller batches because I don’t go through them all that fast, but if you’re planning to hand them out all over the place, then you might need a greater number of cards.

All in all, it’s a very worthwhile business expense. If you’re at an event with your books and someone approaches your table with interest but can’t buy a book “right now,” then if you have a business card to offer them, they can later look up your book and buy it online, especially if you wrote or included your book title and ISBN on the back of the card. That potential online customer might even pass the business card on to a friend. You never know where that information might end up and how it might result in sales. In my opinion, it’s well worth it to have business cards—much more so than those postcards and bookmarks you probably see many authors handing out at conferences or conventions, (and admit it–you know you probably just throw away or recycle those bookmarks once you empty your bag at home.)

I thought about going into the topic of business card design here, but I think that’s a whole separate post. See, I told you it would be a while before we run out of topics to cover!

Let’s stop here for now so that you can consider what we’ve discussed above. We’ll continue going down our list of possible expenses and business needs next week, with a look at more great resources you may want to obtain, whether those you’ll have to purchase or those you can get for free.

Business Plans: The Important Step People Tend to Skip

The business plan is not always the first thing on everyone’s radar. I’m not sure exactly why it often gets left out, but it may well be for the same reason that I never used to make an outline when I was about to write a report in school. I’d write the report first and make an outline afterward, and then only if a teacher required it. What I didn’t realize was how helpful an outline could actually be if written first.

Carrying the analogy a little further, the outline of a report and the written plan for a business are similar and have similar objectives. They both give you a direction to go, set out an order of events and subjects to address, and state clearly all of the things you’ve planned to include in your work, so you can see ahead of time whether you’ve left out anything important. As far as goals, they give you something to aim for. Just as an outline helps give a book an advance look at the structure and direction of a book’s plotline, the business plan does something very similar for the business you’re creating.

Now that we’ve got at least an inkling of why it might be good to make one in the first place, the next question is going to be, “What should I include in a business plan?” That answer will vary depending on whom you talk to, but there are a few general considerations that will work for most small businesses, including a small indie press like mine…or yours.

If you want to see how this might look for you, perhaps you’d like to bring up your word processor or grab a notepad. I’ll ask a few questions, you can answer them onscreen or on paper, and by the time we’re done, you’ll have the bare bones of a business outline. Then I’ll throw a few links at you, and when/if you feel like it, you can go see how the pros do it, and refine things a bit further or add things you think should be added. It’s simpler than a lot of people think, and it doesn’t have to be particularly fancy. It’s just important to know the answers to a few questions, and get those recorded so you can refer to them at some later date when you want to take a look at the progress your business has made and see where you might want to make changes.

1. Goals: What are your goals for your publishing business? What type of books do you plan to write and publish? How many books do you think you’ll be publishing—one to two a year, or are you more prolific than that? By the time five years have gone by, what do you hope to have accomplished with your writing and publishing venture? Keep your answers relatively simple to start with. This part of your plan is also what some would call a “mission statement.”

2. Audience: Who will be reading your books? Are you writing for an adult audience, for teens or children? Are you hoping to reach the DIY crowd, or the sci-fi devotees, cosplayers, horse lovers, backyard mechanics, crazy cat ladies? Who do you hope will see your book and want to buy it? You’ll be tailoring your marketing to them, so it’s important to figure out who these readers will probably be. If you’re writing in multiple genres, you’ll want to write down a couple of sentences to a paragraph to describe each group of readers you’re trying to reach.

3. Your Unique Focus: What makes you stand out from the crowd? This can be a tricky question, because of course there are plenty of other mechanics, math majors, self-help enthusiasts, life coaches, fantasy writers, etc. This is the time to consider what it is that makes your company and your books different from all the other indies out there. What makes it shine? What about your subject matter makes you feel passionate about it? These are important questions, in part because they are the same questions your potential readers will be subconsciously asking themselves each time they consider buying one of your books.

4. Distribution and Sales: How will you get your books into your readers’ hands? Do you intend to buy a bunch of copies of your printed book and then just sell them out the trunk of your car, the way people used to do way back in the day when self-publishing wasn’t yet a widespread thing and POD was unheard of? Will you get just a box of copies printed at a time, and take them to various genre-related events to sign and be seen? Or are you planning to skip the print version and just sell ebooks through Amazon or other online retailers? There are lots of online venues for ebooks, and if you’re going to be your own distributor, you’ll probably need to establish an account or business understanding with each one you plan to use. For the purposes of this particular blog post, let’s just have you begin to think about these questions for now. Write down a couple of ideas for what you’ll do, or just leave this spot blank for the moment. We’ll talk about distribution strategies later on, where we can devote an entire post just to this topic.

5. Projected revenue: Oh, this is a fun one–sort of. It’s very hard to predict exactly how many copies of your books you’re going to sell, because sales depend on so many things, like exposure, visibility, and marketing. But for now, just throw a number up there. Set a goal for how much money you want to bring in per month. If you set a goal that’s higher than a few dollars per month, it may take time and several books published to work up to that level, but that’s okay. Just write down the amount you’d like to see and keep it somewhere in the realm of realistic. It’s probably not realistic to set a monthly revenue goal of $1000.00 right at the outset, but it’s at least somewhat realistic to expect a monthly income of anywhere from $10 to $30.

Don’t get discouraged; this is potential income just from sales of your first book alone, if people find it right away and if you start gaining readers via word-of-mouth. It may not look like much, but if you get even a few dollars a month, it’s enough to save up to finance the production of future books, and you can build up further from there. Remember, one of the possible reasons you went Indie was so that you could take the time to build a business from the ground up, and it won’t be a grand mansion right at the outset. At first it may look a lot more like a cottage than a mansion, but you can keep adding on to it with more books published, and eventually it may become much larger and roomier than it was at first. In the meantime, you’ll probably want to hold onto that day job.

6. Production Process: How and where will you run this business? The most likely answer is “Out of my home,” but some may have the benefit of a separate office building or the like. Besides location, you will also need to consider how you will produce the most important parts of the book—the manuscripts, the files for your ebooks, and the layouts for your print version if you’re doing one of those. Another thing to consider: Will you be doing all of this work yourself, or do you plan to hire someone to format your book? This question is important for reasons that we’ll cover in a future post.

If you will be the one doing the formatting/coding/layout work, do you have a dedicated computer that you will use for this, or will you have to use a shared machine or a library computer? I assume that if you’re reading this blog, you have access to a computer, but you may want to jot down its capabilities here. Is it a Windows machine or a Mac? Does it have a decent amount of storage/memory? Are you currently limping along with an old machine and are you in need of an upgrade, or can you get by with what you’ve already got? This is important to know because it will figure into the budgeting, which we’ll also get to later.

These questions cover the very basics and can get you started, but there may be more parts you’ll want to add to your business plan as you go. There are also templates that you can download and use to structure your business outline, if you prefer. Here are some links to look at for more help with the business plan process:

Even if you decide to use any or some of the above guides, you’ll still want to make sure that your business plan is tailored to your specific needs. You may find that there are parts of a more service-oriented business plan that, as an independent writer, you simply don’t need or want. Just get your underpinnings down and then fine tune your business plan from there. It’s perfectly okay to revise it and add to it as you go. It might even be useful to document your changes as you make them. That will give you the ability to look back and see where you had to re-evaluate your original plan from time to time to adapt to changing circumstances and opportunities that arose during the first few years after establishing your business.

I’m by no means an expert on business plans, and as you’ll see when you chase those links, there are other people who are far more adept at designing them than I am. But regardless of its level of sophistication and regardless of what you may happen to leave out or overlook, I truly believe that it’s far better to have at least some sort of business plan than to have no business plan at all. Good luck with yours, and have fun creating.