You want to self-publish your book, but budgeting for the process is more challenging that it looks. The numbers you’re hearing from experts regarding the costs of self-publishing are all over the board.
Are authors really managing to release quality books without paying for professional editing, design, marketing and other services? Or are you going to have to dig into your savings and fork over thousands of dollars to make sure you release a great book? How much does it cost to publish a book?
To assuage these common concerns, we spoke with several top self-published authors about what they spent to release one of their books. They’ve shared real numbers, as well as why they chose to invest in certain services, to help you decide how best to allocate your investment during every stage of self-publishing.
Ready to learn what it really costs to self-publish?
The self-published authors we’ve interviewed
Since she quit her corporate job and published her first book about the experience, Joanna Penn has been a self-publishing powerhouse. She’s built a career as an author-entrepreneur, sharing resources for other authors at The Creative Penn and self-publishing New York Times and USA Today best-selling thriller novels as author J.F. Penn.
And there’s me, Dana Sitar. I share resources, tips and tools for writers at WritersBucketList.com, and I have self-published two collections of essays, a variety of infoproducts and the Amazon Bestselling ebook A Writer’s Bucket List.
Remember to think of the cost of self-publishing as an investment, not a cost. [A book is] an asset that earns you money long-term. – Joanna Penn
How did we do it? Here’s the breakdown of costs for Hope’s nonfiction book The Shy Writer Reborn; Catherine’s second memoir Backpacked; Joanna’s first novel, Pentecost; and my ebook A Writer’s Bucket List. All dollar amounts are listed in USD.
How much does editing cost?
Editing — which includes developmental editing, content editing, copyediting and proofreading — can make the difference between a good book and great one. For a quality, impactful book, you need more than a proofread or spell-check of a first draft.
Beta readers and/or experienced developmental and content editors will help ensure your book shares your message or story coherently, and a strong copyeditor will help you make every sentence pop off the page.
To keep costs low, think outside the box and reach into your network. Make the most of your money, effort and time by working with a genre-specific editor who understands your voice and brand. Not all editors are created equal!
I used beta readers from my critique group and authors I knew. I had one author dislike the book, suggesting I write it in the format used by Writer’s Digest books (she published with Writer’s Digest Books), and [I] just rescinded my request because I did not want [that look].
It was nonfiction so I felt developmental editing wasn’t worth it (the events really happened, so I thought I was safe enough relaying real events while leaving out the boring bits!) and then I hired a copyeditor. She went through it line by line and then she did a proofread afterwards. I also asked a couple of friends to proofread it.
Approximate cost: $600
Even avid readers of fiction don’t know how to structure a book, so for the first book, [it’s a good idea to use a] structural editor. I also rewrote later on with feedback from more editors after publication. For Pentecost, I used five different editors [multiple structural editors, a line-editor and a copyeditor], so that cost the most of all the books.
[On the sixth in the ARKANE series now the process is:] Get to a good second draft myself, then send to my editor for structural and line edits, two passes by the editor, rewrites, then send to the proofreader before publication.
Cost: $1500 per book for one editor and one proofreader“Editing is like dating. You won't find the perfect one for your first book,” says @thecreativepenn Click To Tweet
I first shared the book with beta readers from the Writer’s Bucket List community for structural feedback.
For proofreading and copyediting, I hired new writers who would benefit from the editing experience and offered pay plus a mention at the blog and in the book.
The costs of cover design
To develop an author brand, you want your cover to not only sell your book but to make readers immediately think of you. Book cover design is a unique craft – it takes more than InDesign skills and knowledge of fonts and colors to create a cover that achieves your goals.
As if that wasn’t enough, you also want your cover to stand out and be legible in crowded pages of tiny thumbnail images. It’s a tall order!
Look for quality designers who are just getting started in their careers and develop a relationship early on (the top recommended designers are usually booked quite far in advance!) The Book Designer’s Monthly Ebook Cover Design Awards are a great resource for cover design tips and finding designers who specialize in your genre.
I hired a book cover designer (who happened to be my web designer) to design two covers: ebook and print.
I used Andrew Brown of Design for Writers, who I had used before. I was one of Andrew’s first clients, so I always get a good deal from him. His prices now are, I think, around [$240] for ebook only and [$360] for the ebook “front” cover and a full CreateSpace paperback cover as well.
This is my other big expense [after editing]. I met Joel Friedlander of The Book Designer and paid him as a pro for book cover design for my first book, but he doesn’t do it anymore. I met Derek Murphy at CreativIndie when he was starting out and developed a relationship because of my platform [at TheCreativePenn.com].
I DIYed! I had a big learning curve to overcome, and I went through three iterations of the PDF cover before landing on one I was comfortable with. Then I changed it again later when I published the Kindle edition (with great feedback from the Ebook Cover Design Awards).
I design all my covers in Photoshop, which I owned previously, so I don’t consider it a publishing cost.
Adding illustrations, photography and graphics
While it’s easy to disregard these additions to save money and time, custom images on your cover or throughout your book add a unique touch that gets readers talking. Forging a relationship with an artist is also a cool way to give your brand its own flair throughout your career.
We’ve recommended 99designs in the past for affordable, quality cover design, but Joanna points out that the site is also a great resource for custom illustrations!
I hired a cartoonist friend to do illustrations for the book, and it’s one of the best decisions I made! The illustrations have always gotten great feedback from reviewers.
Cost: I paid her $50 down and share 10 percent of direct sales (about $1 per book).
Handling inner layout, formatting and ebook conversion
Second to cover design, a conventionally formatted book interior (print or ebook) is your key to avoiding a sloppy DIY look.
Many small details (that you might not think of) will red-flag your book as amateurish and sully the reader’s experience, so you want to do your research (or hire a pro who’s already done theirs) on the standards of book interior design.
I did the print layout myself after much research and study of formatting guides. I queried my Facebook fans when I reached one impasse, and they fixed me right up.
As for ebook [conversion], I turned that over to BookBaby. I bartered advertising for publication/preparation of my ebook.
Typical cost for ebook publishing package: $299
I did [inner layout] myself, using Microsoft Word and the templates you can download from CreateSpace. If you have a straightforward interior layout, I think this is a good place to save some money by doing the work yourself.
I did [conversion] myself for this book, but I’ve since started using eBookPartnership.com.
Cost for standard ebook conversion: From $299
I format ebooks on Scrivener. I hate [print] formatting, so I pay for that.
I did these myself. It was another learning curve, as this was the first book I’d published with illustrations and the first I published in fixed (PDF) format.
I designed the PDF version in OpenOffice Writer and converted directly to PDF. I also did the layout for the Kindle edition through OpenOffice, which creates an MS Word .doc. To sell the ebook at Amazon, I just uploaded that doc through KDP.
What does printing a book cost?
Even in a digital age, readers will still ask for a print copy of your book. Print-on-demand services make it possible for you to offer this without the expense or headache of managing and storing a print run. If you do speaking gigs or host author events, you’ll also want the option to keep print copies in stock for back-of-room sales.
Across the board, we all use, have used, or plan to use Amazon’s CreateSpace for print-on-demand books. Choosing this route saves you money because you only print books as readers buy them. You’ll pay manufacturing and shipping costs if you want to approve a proof before listing the book for sale, which is highly recommended.
If you do want to order a print run of your books — which isn’t recommended unless you have a proven distribution method — you’ll also pay manufacturing and shipping costs to receive them.
Publishing through CreateSpace is free, and they will keep between 20 and 60 percent of book sales, depending on the sales channel.
Joanna also recommends IngramSpark for non-Amazon print-on-demand sales.
Sales and distribution costs
Self-publishing an ebook comes with the benefit of not needing to seek bookstores to stock your book. Selling your ebook through online retailers is relatively simple.
Most popular ebook distributors (e.g. Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, etc.) charge no upfront costs to publish, but keep a percentage of book sales. Publishers Weekly put together a great breakdown of royalty rates, pros and cons for each platform.
I used Kindle Direct Publishing to sell through Amazon. For other ebook outlets I used BookBaby. For print I used Amazon and Barnes & Noble. No costs.
KDP and Smashwords, so all free.
I upload directly to ebook stores [e.g. Amazon, iBooks, NOOK, Kobo] as well as using Smashwords for smaller markets. I was selling direct through selz.com until the EU VAT tax laws came in January 1, 2015.
I used E-junkie for direct distribution of the PDF edition and payments via PayPal. I published the Kindle edition to sell on Amazon using KDP. Later, I made the PDF edition a freebie to email subscribers, so I used MailChimp to distribute it.
Cost: $5 per month for E-junkie
Launch and marketing costs
As a self-published author, your relationships are your greatest assets. In addition to tapping into your network for self-publishing services, you also rely on your community to buy and promote your books.
Building and nurturing these relationships shouldn’t come with direct costs, but this is where you need to budget a huge portion of your (non-writing) time as an author.
I used Facebook, my newsletters with FundsforWriters.com, Twitter and a lot of guest blog posting. I feature [the book] at conferences and speaking engagements.
Also, I keep swag for all my books. Usually rack cards or postcards, business cards and stickers. I have a sticker for each of my books so that people can immediately see what’s in the envelope when it comes in the mail.
I didn’t spend any money on [marketing]. I used my blog, Twitter account and Facebook page, and Goodreads for running giveaways [of print books].
I do all the marketing/launch [myself], and collaborate with other authors. I pay for BookBub and other email list advertising after launch once the book has good reviews. This is usually the most effective paid advertising for fiction authors in particular.
Cost: BookBub advertising varies by genre and list price.
My strongest launch effort was my Launch Team. Beyond that, all promotion has cost is my time and effort: I guest blog, run social media promotions, do ebook giveaways, host online events, etc. to engage readers and get my name out there.
What about miscellaneous costs?
Indirect costs like travel, promotional swag, contest fees, audiobook recording and website hosting can help sell books as well as promote your entire business or brand, so consider these items part of your marketing budget.
[When traveling to promote a book], I do not travel outside my state without being compensated for room, board, travel and an honorarium. I make appearances in conjunction with personal travel as well.
I did submit Shy to the EPIC awards for ebooks, and it made finalist in the nonfiction category in early 2014. But keep in mind that I use this book for back-of-the-room sales, to have a tool when I speak. It’s one of several tools I have, so it’s difficult to define individual expenses.
My domain name costs $18 a year (my blog is free on Wordpress.com). I do regularly have travel costs to events but this are offset by the speaking fees.
For my first book, Mousetrapped, I had a bookstore launch but I’d never do it again. I had to buy the stock, print flyers [and] invites, buy an outfit to wear, etc., and while it was fun I didn’t make any money that I wouldn’t have made without it.
I since avoid stock at all costs — if I’m holding a physical edition of my book, I’ve lost money.
The totals: How much does it cost to publish a book?
It’s tough to nail down a final cost because of the number of indirect and one-time expenditures. With that in mind, here are approximate costs for one book from each of our authors:
$250 for cover design
Greatest cost: cover design
Saves by: building relationships for bartering, tapping her network
DIYs: print layout, marketing, sales and distribution
$1,250 (less bartering for cover design) for ebook conversion, cover design and editing
Greatest cost: ebook conversion
Saves by: promoting online, limiting print stock, building relationships for bartering
DIYs: formatting, marketing, sales and distribution
$1,650 for editing and print formatting, bartering for cover design, plus BookBub ad fees
Greatest cost: editing
Saves by: building relationships for bartering
DIYs: marketing, ebook formatting and conversion, sales and distribution
$150 for editing and illustrations, plus $5 per month for distribution
Greatest cost: illustrations
Saves by: bartering for editing and illustrations
DIYs: cover design, formatting and conversion, marketing, sales and distribution
- Look into your network to see how you can trade or barter services, experience, influence or exposure to offset the costs of self-publishing services.
- Editors and cover designers you hire should know your voice and understand your genre — these aren’t one-size-fits-all services!
- All stages and costs of self-publishing differ significantly from nonfiction to fiction.
- Expect the greatest portion of your budget to go toward editing and cover design.
- Very little (or none) of your budget should go toward paid advertising, other promotional services or print runs of the book.
- To save money without sacrificing quality, you can DIY formatting and conversion with a little research and practice, if you’re willing to put in the time. Here’s a guide to formatting and converting an ebook for Kindle from TWL Assistant Editor Heather van der Hoop.
- You’ll make a number of one-time investments early on, like purchasing software for word processing and design or taking courses in self-publishing and marketing. Your first self-publishing project is likely to be the biggest hit to your wallet — and the greatest investment in your writing career.
Are you ready to self-publish your book?
Stop fretting about those costs, and start planning. Self-publishing is all about innovation and creativity. Now that you’ve created a product or work of art (or both!), flip the switch and use your creativity on the business side of things.Self-publishing is all about innovation and creativity, says @danasitar Click To Tweet
Successful self-publishers are ambitious entrepreneurs who learn to wear several hats and display a variety of talents. To understand and cover the costs of self-publishing your book, dig into your network, do your research and plan ahead how you’ll allocate your time and money.
If you’ve self-published a book, how do these numbers compare to your experience? If you haven’t yet self-published, what do you think your greatest expense will be?