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Sarah Gerdes

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Self-publish for $15.00
By Sarah Gerdes   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Thursday, January 10, 2008
Posted: Thursday, December 06, 2007

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Create Partnerships for Self-publishing Your Book(s)

If you are considering self-publishing, you’ve got some great options to choose from: vanity publishers, publishers on demand, or do it yourself. The price of all three have dropped significantly just in the last three months with the introduction of createspace from amazon and booksurge, both owned by I suspect each are giving the vanity and self-publishing presses a run for their money.


So, you have options. The downside, they all cost money. BUT-I’d suggest you look into the publish-on-demand model. I’ve had incredible success with this model, and it’s been the least expensive by far. I calculated it cost me $13.95 to self publish my latest book. For the last two, it was a total of less than $30.00 ($24.95).


Partnerships are Key


Think of all the designers, experienced and novice, that are dying to have their work seen just as you want your work read. These folks, men and women, are everywhere. What they don’t have is a connection to YOU, to the opportunity of creating a book jacket cover or inside illustrations.


The is the “business case” for a revenue-sharing partnership. In my first book for McGraw-Hill on the very subject of partnerships (Navigating the Partnership Maze: Creating Alliances that Work) I provide a variety of examples of small companies partnering with firms of equal or greater size. In this world, we are talking about one writer and one designer, yet the underlying principles of creating a successful partnership hold true .


Example One: Catacombs and the Lava Bed Forest

Half Revenue Share, Half Payment


Before I had an agent, or even thought of myself as a writer, I wanted one thing: to get my work read and validated by my target audience. If it was complete crap, then I’ scrap the notion of being a serious writer and limit it to idle ramblings of a hobbiest. Without an agent or fortitude of approaching publishers myself, I decided to self publish.


I put the work into 2 categories. Cover design /illustration and printing. The cover design included an illustration, and I wanted an original. I partnered with a man I met from church, who, I noticed, listened to the sermon while illustrating in his leather bound notebook. Later, I discovered he was a police detective who also provided forensics drawings. I pitched him on a revenue share for the book, based on my costs and expected retail price. At $11.95, my cost for printing was roughly 4 dollars a book. Less the 40-60% to the retailers (7.17 at 60%), I had $3.17 to share. I provided him .50 per book for creating the cover illustration, and then later, the inside illustrations.


The part I had to pay for was the graphic design time for the cover layout. Unfortunately, I couldn’t partner with the designer. She was a straight hourly, but I negotiated a project fee of $300, which I thought was good then, and believe it’s great now. The going rate for designers in between 65-100 here in Seattle, and I know she put in between 5-6 hours. The cost for the self-publishing was the biggest expense because I chose a 4 color cover, as well as a relatively thick paperback stock and nice inside stock weight. I also printed a smallish run of 3,000 books.


That was in 2004.


Example Two: Both Catacombs and the Forbidden City and My Book of Life


I’m going to skip the marketing of the book (in another article, promise) in favor of highlighting that the objective of self-publishing was met. Specifically, readers loved it, an agent with NYTimes bestselling authors signed on, and I decided this should be more than a hobby.


In the last two years, I wrote another book, Catacombs and the Forbidden City. Once it was completed, the manuscript started making the rounds at all the major publishers. My impatience was nothing compared to the bookstores, schools and readers wanting to get their hands on the next installment. I then decided to self-publish (again) while my agent continued his efforts.


Self-publishing Take Two


This time,  I knew the quality of the cover and graphic needed to be dramatically different, yet my discretionary dollars hadn’t changed that much. So I did what everyone does when they want to get a good deal—I pulled up Craigslist. Under services, I chose computer, where I saw a ton of ads for web designers. I figured if they can do web design, they are probably well-rounded enough to do other type of design work. Sure enough, my post resulted in a half-dozen solid responses from designers willing to work for $25/hour for a 4 hour minimum. I thought-I can afford a 100 this time around, as it would still be less than $300 and revenue sharing.


Simultaneously, I discovered the existence of createspace. I wasn’t interested in turning the entire project management over to another entity. Further, even $400 is a lot to spend if you don’t have to. So I went with Createspace, which I advocate to anyone who can manage two or three things at once.


Then I found Jeff Maki, and his body of work is incredible-dvds, cds, you name it. I figured I could never afford this guy regardless of how much I paid in cash (and I was right) so I offered him 15% of my net costs, or what I receive directly from createspace. Anyone can pull up the numbers, so I’ll give you mine. I receive $1.71 (net) from createspace based on the size, page count and traits of my book. Of this, I provide Jeff .20 cents for each copy sold. I was so pleased with his work, fast turnaround and overall professionalism, I upped this to .30 cents for My Book of Life, even though the price of the book is the same—both are $12.95.


The revenue sharing agreement is very simple. I've placed it in the attachments section in case you’d like to read and/or cut/paste and use it.


Oh-note on the copyright. Both illustrators offered to provide me the copyright of their work, and I declined. The reason is two-fold. One, I’m a big believer in owning the copyright to your own work. This is not an opinion shared by many of my fellow writers. Two, if either book gets picked up and the publishing house wants to use the artwork, then they will be able to negotiate a deal with the originating artist, not me. New York Times Bestselling author Patrick Carmen had this arrangement with his original designer, who subsequently got a huge paycheck from Scholastic when they picked up Patrick’s three-book series.


The first time around, I had to write several checks, one relatively small, the other large. This time around, I put the $7.35 proof copy fee on my debit card. And since I made some last minute changes to the cover and inside, I had to order two proof copies of Catacombs. Hence, the fifteen bucks.



Catacombs and the Forbidden City has only been up on amazon for a week, and My Book of Life gets listed tomorrow, so no-one has made much money yet, either myself or my designer. That said, if the pace of purchases from amazon even matches the business I was getting from my personal web site, Jeff will make many times more through a revenue-sharing agreement than he would have by taking a flat fee.


Next Steps


This partnership has worked out so well from many different angles, that Jeff has created all the artwork for my audio CD books. The margins are many times greater than the books, so I upped Jeff’s portion considerably.


If you are looking at self-publishing, consider the revenue-sharing partnerships first. I have quite a few examples in Navigating the Partnership Maze, but what I’ve outlined is the most basic, and useful for authors.


I write lots of tips and thoughts on my bog at, another resource for writers



Reader Reviews for "Self-publish for $15.00"

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Reviewed by Kevin Ward 3/17/2010
This was extremely interesting and very, very helpful! What a kind heart you have to share your expertise. Thank you very much.
Reviewed by Willie Maartens 12/10/2007
Thank you for the useful advice. Willie
Reviewed by Nasra Al Adawi 12/7/2007
Wow this is so helpful to me ..Im waiting to read the marketing side of it

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