ETJ Writes

Top 5 Must-Buys for Indie Authors

Hello Friends!

Today we’re talking about the top five things you as an indie author absolutely MUST invest in if you want your book to have the best shot at success during and after publication.

Of course, you can do everything yourself and not spend any money, but chances are your final product will be rather poor quality both inside and out and therefore off-putting to potential readers. Not to mention, you might wind up giving away the rights to your book if you’re not careful.

So without further ado, here are the top five Must-Buys I recommend serious indie authors put money towards.


1. Book Cover

Unless you’re insanely talented, it’s a really good idea to outsource this part of the publishing process to someone else. Your cover is the first thing a reader sees, whether on a bookshelf or online (especially given that our world is very visual these days, a move that is increasingly more driven by social media) and getting it right is KEY if you want your book to sell.

You’ll want your cover to fit within your book’s chosen genre – for example, many scifi books have planets or tech on them, letting you know instantly what kind of book it is – and also fit current trends without being too locked into whatever is popular, given that tastes change very quickly in the publishing world.

You can work closely with an artist/cover designer to execute your vision or you can purchase pre-made covers. Either way, expect to spend anywhere from $100-$500 (possibly more) depending on what on level of quality and customization you are looking for, and on how many revisions are needed.

Don’t forget to credit your cover artist on your copyright page!

2. Editing

There are lots of different types of editing – developmental, line, copy, and proofreading, for example – and each stage is critically important for your manuscript to be the best version of itself. A traditional publishing company will have all these editors in-house, sometimes in multiple departments, often in just one or two people. However, as an indie, you’ll have to pay for each stage of editing yourself, which can end up being quite costly. The most consistent advice I’ve seen is to stick to beta readers and critique partners for the first few stages, and hire out to professionals once you are closer to the end.

I personally like to invest my money in a really good copy edit, but you may choose to put your money toward a different stage, or several, or all of them.

Quick side note here – I see quite a few people in writing groups mention that they paid someone to edit and then threw their books on Amazon without looking at their manuscript, and readers ruthlessly criticized the books for being riddled with errors. When you pay to get your book edited, your editor should mark changes, and upon receipt of your edited copy, you should be the one to accept or reject them.

Always proofread whatever you get back from the editor! As an indie author, it’s ultimately your job to write your book, not the editor’s.

Keep in mind that this is where you will likely spend the majority of your budget on self-publishing. There are very good editors out there who offer incredible discounts for indie authors, and you can have your novel-length book edited for as little $400-500, but for the most part, expect to spend anywhere from $1000-$4000 or so (depending on word count) on a good clean edit of your book.

3. ISBNs

The third thing I highly, highly, encourage you to spend money on are ISBN’s. I can already hear so many of you asking, “But don’t companies like IngramSpark and Amazon allow you to publish with a free ISBN?”

The answer is yes, but also no.

Yes, there are free ISBNs you can obtain from these companies, but they will ONLY work with those companies, and you cannot publish your book – that version of it anyway – on any other platform. That means that the free ISBN you have lacks the full functionality of an ISBN purchased through Bowker’s website.

Additionally, by using a free ISBN, you voluntarily hand over your publishing rights to your book.

Yes, you read that correctly. Not the copyright, but the publishing rights. But only for whatever particular version of the book you are publishing. So if you publish a paperback at a certain trim size with a free ISBN, you CAN publish an audiobook, ebook, or hardcover copy (at a different trim size to be on the safe side) with an ISBN you previously purchased and still retain your rights to that version of your book, which can then be printed/plublished with any platform you desire.

Of course, many people (especially in the ebook space) have published their books with a free ISBN and been fine, but since indie publishing is all about you being the one in control at the end of the day, it’s nice to be able to say you own the publishing rights to your own book. For this reason, I highly recommend purchasing your own ISBNs.

You can buy a single ISBN for $125, but since each given format of a book requires a different ISBN, I recommend you go for a bulk purchase and buy a pack of 10 at $295, which is a 75% discount.

4. Bookmarks

Now onto number four; bookmarks! There are so many websites out there that will let you upload custom designs and print and order sets of 500 to 1000 bookmarks that it’s WELL worth your money to invest in this. Bookmarks are probably the best in-person marketing tool for an indie author, as they are small, light, unobtrusive, useful and very easy to give away.

You can expect to spend anywhere from $60-$200 depending on how many bookmarks you order, what quality you choose, and which service you go with. I recommend ordering a few first to see if you like them before making a larger purchase.

5. Marketing

Lastly, we have advertising! Most indie authors are on a shoestring budget to begin with (and if you paid for a good edit, you might broken the bank already), so you can definitely invest time and effort into social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other social media platform of your choice for free. However, it’s generally worth it to spend a little money on ads to get people outside of those platforms looking at your book.

I recommend AMS ads first and foremost. This is an ad option offered by Amazon if you are publishing through their KDP service. You can advertise both kindle and paperback versions with them, and the results can be highly effective, given that people using Amazon are already browsing the site with the intention of making a purchase and so are much more likely to be favourable to ads.

They can be tricky to get the hang of, but Author Dave Chesson has put together some courses and resources on how to effectively use and get the most out of AMS ads without spending bucket loads of money, which I highly recommend checking out.

Additionally, many indie authors find success with facebook ads, and to varying degrees of success, things like Bookbub deals. The 20Booksto50K Facebook group has a tonne more info on this.

I personally recommend doing a BIG push with ads right around your book launch, maybe a day or two ahead, definitely on the release date, and then for a couple months after – some people keep ads running indefinitely, and if this fits your budget, you can experiment with that as well, through perhaps at a much lower spend point.

If you do your research before jumping into buying ads, it can really help to minimize the amount of money you spend on them. I think it’s best if you keep it comparable to whatever you spend on your book’s cover, and you can probably expect to spend anywhere from $200-10,000 on ads depending on how much revenue they bring in. (I know that second number sounds scary, but there are indie authors making $10K or more a month on their books, and so can afford to turn around and reinvest that money into making sure new readers find them.)


So there you go! The top five things you should spend money on as an indie author.

Book Covers, Editing, ISBNs, Bookmarks, and Ads. I can’t give you a concrete number on all these things combined, because there is so much variance that goes into each element, but it’s worth noting that what you put into your work is what you will get out of it.

And that includes confidence! If you think you can put the best version of your book out there without spending any money, go for it! But readers expect quality – especially in such an oversaturated market – and it’s difficult to achieve that without spending at least a little money.

(There are other publishing/marketing things you can choose to invest in such as fanart, merch, book conventions, etc. They aren’t as necessary to sell your book in my opinion, but can be very fun and rewarding, and I do enjoy a good bookfair myself.)

Drop any questions you have in the comment section, and I wish you all the best on your publishing journeys.

Happy indie authoring!

~ETJ

Stock images sourced from unsplash or pexels

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