The Money Issue: Creating a Book Budget

The Money Issue: Creating a Book Budget

Scrabble word BUDGET is a key for indie book publishing

Key to any book publishing, indie or otherwise. CC image “Budget” courtesy of airpix on Flickr and Some rights reserved.

Books don’t come free. In addition to your blood, sweat, and tears (am I being melodramatic?), you need to have a plan in place to conquer the hard financial costs that are part and parcel of publishing. Like any other business, your book has operating expenses, and it deserves a budget.

In my experience, nonfiction writers are often more prepared for this than fiction writers, perhaps because they are familiar with the idea of putting together a book proposal to get funding (aka a traditional publisher), perhaps because they are running a business and the book content is associated with that business. Rest assured, fiction is a business. Take a look at Steven King, J.K. Rowling, or the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

If you feel strongly about the artistic compulsion that has led you to taking this path, rest assured that I am with you. You can create a beautiful book and make it a financial success without selling your artistic soul.

The secret to creating your book budget

Before the detail-oriented among you disappear down the rabbit hole of number-crunching, or the math-averse throw up your hands and wail that you didn’t get into the book business because you had an affinity for accounting, take heart: there is no reason that you need to have every detail and every line item set up before you write a single word.

You can put together a book budget in stages (and I recommend that you do this, even if you have an affinity for accounting). You most definitely should use the Rule of Thumb at the beginning—particularly if you worry that the budgeting will distract you from the creative process. The Rule of Thumb is possibly the most important rule when planning a complex project.

  • Rule of Thumb: Price/cost information should first appear either as a range, or as a guideline.

This means that when I start my book budget, it’ll state: Editorial work: $1,500 – $5,000 (round numbers as an example only), rather than: Editorial work: $2,173.

Let’s look at the categories you’ll need to budget for, and discuss how this works.

Categories that must appear in your book budget

Your book needs more than love. Categories you need to budget for are:

  • Editorial services
  • Design: cover and interior
  • Production: printing and epublication
  • Marketing and distribution

I’ve listed them in the order in which they will be implemented. You can plan for them in any order that you like. However, be aware that as you progress from one category to the next, your book may change. At the very least, you will have more concrete information that will drive a narrower budget range, the closer you get to each step.

Depending on your temperament, you may wish to start reaching out to service providers and experts to get a feel for your costs while you are still writing or revising your manuscript. If this is you, great. If not, no sweat. Create a blank document that has these categories as placeholders and save it to your computer (perhaps also print it out and post it where it will inspire you) as “BOOK BUDGET.” As you gather information, add notes and possible price ranges.

It is much easier to continue a document that has already been created, than to start with an absolutely empty page from scratch. Give your future self a leg up, and start your template.

Bonus: capture your ideas, free mental space

The bonus to setting up a template document is that you can add to the template whenever you have an idea or come across new information.

Find a designer you really like? Put their information in the budget as a contact to reach out to later. Have you already spoken to them about their pricing? Add that as a bullet point under your range for Design costs. Has that conversation sparked with you a cost-effective idea to implement in the marketing stage? Open the document, save, print, and then close it to go on about your business. For those of you who like apps, Asana is a great option to manage project tasks like this.

One idea or question may spark another as you go through this process. Sometimes people feel overwhelmed, because there is no way to follow up on every idea simultaneously. Relax. Ideas are a strength. Add them to your budget as you have them, and save them to work on later when you have time to devote to that process.

The bottom line

A book budget should be a living document that responds to your needs and incorporates new information as you receive it. As you progress, you will update your line items and refine the costs. When it comes time for you to invest in the next step, you won’t be reeling in shock. You will feel calm because you have thought about these facts before, and you will feel prepared because you’ve seen the investment coming and have been able to plan how you will fund it.

A book is a business, and a successful business runs on a balanced budget. The book budget is your number one tool to reduce self-publishing stress and set you up for success. Don’t be an ostrich: you’ll feel much better about your book project once you’ve looked the facts squarely in the eye and brought the numbers out of the realm of fantasy.

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