Quality v Budget: The Tension of Indie Publishing

When we self-publish, there’s always a tension between quality and budget. And there are several answers to this.

The problem arises because the difference in quality for offset printing and print-on-demand (POD) technologies. Offset printing is the traditional printing presses and result in the highest quality (as long as you choose the right papers and specs). POD printing is done with a printer, not a printing press; the quality has improved dramatically in the last ten years, and for some POD printers it’s very good. But it’s still not quite offset quality.

The POD business model means that your book lives as a computer file on the printer’s server until there’s an order. Then the book is printed and shipped. You never touch the book, but instead, you get money deposited into your account.

The POD business model means you actually have a business! There’s little up-front costs, no inventory, and your main job is to create demand for your books.

So, what can you afford?

This is complicated by several factors.

1) Your business model. Will you print POD, or will you offset print overseas? See this longer discussion of those issues.

Indie Kids Books
Printing Overseas v POD
Should you print your full color picture books overseas or print-on-demand (POD). Let’s take a hard look at numbers. Yes, math. As a small business, you must keep track of your cost-of-goods! In the end, it’s all about balancing profits with risks. First, some terms…
Read more

2) The stage of your career. Science fiction writer Brandon Sanderson is at the top of his career and has a huge fan base.

When he did a groundbreaking Kickstarter campaign, he was tapping into his fan base and made $6.4 Million from 29,778 backers.

And WOW! Talk about quality. The books were leather-bound hardcovers, with lots of swag. That kind of quality is expected from someone with a strong career.

Higher quality comes when you have more fans because you can afford the costs then. Lower quality comes with a beginner. It’s just a fact.

Two Goals for Beginners

Early in your career, there are two goals. They both stem from the fact that you must survive the start-up years when you have unproven books, few fans, and overwhelming expenses. You must survive!

The cold fact is that most small businesses in the U.S. fail within the first 3-5 years. Many don’t even survive one year. The odds are against you!

1) Control Spending. You cannot spend on office equipment, fancy computers, high-priced conferences, or that amazing, but high-priced illustrator. You MUST control your expenses.

2) Invest in your future. While I just said not to attend high priced conferences, I’ll add a caveat. You need to invest in your writing skills. Find great online conferences, buy books, attend local writing retreats. Invest in yourself and your future in writing and publishing. Also invest in education about the publishing process.

As discussed above, invest in the highest quality you can for your stage of the career. Push that quality whenever possible!

Negotiate contracts with illustrators, narrators, and other professionals. I’m not saying to cheat them out of what they deserve! But find those who are also early in their careers and who have great promise. Do the best you can by them, but also stick within your budget.

For beginning self-publishers, there’s always a tension between quality and budget, so learn to walk that fine line on the side of quality. But don’t bust that budget!


In January, I’ll be joining the Storyteller’s Academy as an instructor and will teach a 9-week course on Self-Publishing. Limited to only five people, there’s also a mentoring class on self-publishing.

For Black Friday, I’ll be doing a free one-hour presentation about “Finding Great Illustrators.” Sign up here to join me!