Making Survival First: Part 13 - Financing the All Stars
As overly ambitious projects go, Survival First took far longer, and cost way more than originally expected.
This isn’t surprising. This is my first book, so I didn’t have anything base my expectations off of. But it happened how it happened, and I regret none of it. In this post I'll who I worked with, the roles they played, and how much I paid them.
Before I begin there’s a few caveats to get out of the way. The most important thing for me to explain first is that my book costs were a function of my journey.
Most significant is the fact that I’m self publishing Survival First. I did not get an advance from a publisher. Instead I built my own team and paid for everything.
Costs were partially based on book length, as many of the people I hired charged based on word count rather than flat fees. Survival First is around 65,000 words or 260 pages. A shorter book would have cost less, and a bigger book would have cost more.
Next, how much I paid is mostly a function of who I hired. I did not work with low tier Upwork freelancers. I found the best professionals I could find.
I'll describe how much I paid them, but this by no means guarantees their future rates. This is my gut feeling, but I sense as many of them shift away from employment into their own businesses they will increase their rates as the market recognizes how fucking good they are. I won't be surprised if some of them double or triple their rates in the future.
Scribe Media - Coaching and Publishing (almost)
Working with Scribe was my first major expense. I signed up for their $18,000 coaching and publishing package and paid them $9000 before they went bankrupt in Spring 2023 (they would later re-form as a new company under new management). This wasn't totally a sunk cost. I got a lot of value in the form of coaching, workshops, and the first editing phases. If I had to arbitrarily put a number on it, I would say I got $6,000 worth of the $9,000 I paid them.
Running Total: $9,000
I had no idea how intense editing would be. I didn't hire one editor - I hired four. Nor did I imagine it would take eight months between the time I submitted my first manuscript to locking in the final proofread manuscript.
I covered the professional editing process here, so I’ll quickly review it here again.
Mark Chait was the first professional editor to get eyes on my manuscript. As a developmental editor Mark's role was to give general high level feedback. He explained what he liked, what needed improvement, and how to approach moving forward. This part was covered by Scribe.
Structural editing was the major in-depth overhaul that took months to work through. Scribe paired me with Rebecca Pillsbury, and went bankrupt shortly after that. Scribe took care of half of her cost and I paid her the final $1,200 to finish.
Luckily, competent book people tend to know other competent book people so it was easy to get connected to my next editor. Rebecca sends me a few referrals for my next editing phases to choose from ranging from $1,200 and $2,600. At $2,600 AJ Hendrickson was the most expensive person I spoke with, but the one I felt best about moving forward with.
I'll borrow AJ's description about these two editing phases.
Line Editing: "Line editing is the red pen stuff. It ensures you’re saying exactly what you want to say in the best way possible."
Copy Editing: "Copyediting is just proofreading of an unfinished book. Whereas proofreading is the final step and is mainly to check for typos and small errors, copyediting also looks for any lingering errors or errors that may have been inadvertently introduced in the line editing or developmental editing stages."
Proofreading came after copy-line. This is like a more OCD version of Copy-line editing. My proofreader, Tara checked for tiny things like commas, capitalizations, formatting, dashes, and even types of apostrophes. This part cost $1250.
In total, editing would cost around $5000.
Running Total: ~$15,000
Like I said in this post, recording the audiobook was not part of the original plan. But you can't go all in if you don't go all in, and recording the audiobook was part of that.
This is the main reason the final book cost ballooned far beyond what I initially planned. The ~$9,000 I paid included coaching with Danielle Quisenberry, 26 studio hours in New York City, production, editing, and distribution management. This does not factor in the $1,700 (after insurance) emergency room hospital bill for spraining my ankle on the way to New York City or the roughly $2,000 I spent staying in NYC for the week.
Running Total: ~$24,000
It sounds ridiculous as I type this, but I didn’t think about marketing at the start of this. After popping the balloon of my delusions I realized I had to work with a marketer if this book was going to have any serious chance at success.
Luckily I met the perfect guy at my gym of all places, Gunnar Rogers. He's got a ton of book marketing experience, and was stoked to hop on the team. Here's the guy coordinating my podcast tour and making me look good on social media. This stage costs $5,000 up through the book launch. This may increase if we work together after the book launch.
Running Total: $29,000
Book Cover Design
Cover design includes the front cover, back cover, audiobook cover, and the hardcover. My first cover designer came through a convenient referral and cost $1,200. I did not move forward with his designs, so it wound up being a sunk cost.
Then I hired Michael Nagin. I picked Michael since he was the right combination of experienced book industry craftsman and artist I was looking for. He was the most expensive designer I interviewed, but the one I was most excited about working with. This cost $2,800 (which may increase for additional hardcover work).
Running Total: ~$33,000
Books are complex projects. There's a lot of coordination, and simple-but-non obvious steps that need to happen to properly publish a book. Once I left the Scribe ecosystem I was taking on these roles myself. Since this was my first book I figured I should hire somebody who knew these steps well.
Super-referral machine Chas Hoppe points me to the perfect person - Kacy Wren who is now my publishing project manager. For $3,500 Kacy coordinates my team, guides the process along, checks the right boxes, gives me realistic expectations, make sure I do what I need to do.
Running Total: ~$36,500
Rose Friel came on board with Kacy and offered something I didn't know was a publishing service - matchmaking. Working with my first book cover designer reminded me of life's lesson that everyone isn't for everyone.
To avoid hiring the wrong people in the future Rose would pair me with industry professionals. She's way more experienced than I am, is plugged into the publishing ecosystem, knows what to look for, and has a nose for pairing the right people with the right projects.
Since I already found a few people myself, I only need three matches. Rose would match me with my proofreader, Tara, my book description copywriter, Amanda, and my interior designer, Anton. In total, these matches cost $700. In each case Rose presented me a set people I could work with, their rates, and her thoughts on each one. This made picking the right professionals super easy.
Running Total: ~$37,200
Running Total: ~$37,500
This is the stage I'm currently on as of this writing. Once the manuscript was locked (post proofreading) it needs to be formatted so it can go into physical and digital book formats. For this step Rose paired me Anton. This will cost between $1000 and $2000 depending on the scope of work.
Running Total: ~$39,500
The Survival First book project isn’t done yet, so there might still be other costs lying ahead. All in I’ll be spending around $40,000. It's way way way more than I imagined spending, but given the quality of people I've worked with, the training I've gone through, the people I've met, I actually feel like I've gotten a bargain. I can easily imagine people spending much more on their books.
By no means am I some big money baller. This expense is a significant percent of my liquid net worth. While I’m not close to any emergency yet, this adds a lot of financial strain to my business and myself personally. I’ve had to resolve short-term business cash flow issues, dip into personal savings, and cut my own salary. This is all for something I have no idea will pan out.
I don’t regret any of it. I’ve gotten to work with amazing people to turn what was once a tiny thought seed into a beautiful book. I sure as hell know what this book cost, and have no idea what “returns” I’ll get, but I know I’m putting all my chips on the table.
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