How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book? 4 Authors Share Their Numbers

How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book? 4 Authors Share Their Numbers

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

In addition to her and two traditionally-published , C. Hope Clark is the author of the self-published non-fiction book .

Catherine Ryan Howard is author of two travel memoirs, and , and a guide to self-publishing, . She blogs about self-publishing and more at .

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 and self-publishing New York Times and USA Today best-selling thriller novels as author .

And there’s me, Dana Sitar. I share resources, tips and tools for writers at , and I have self-published two collections of essays, a variety of infoproducts and the Amazon Bestselling ebook .

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, ; and my ebook A Writer’s Bucket List. All dollar amounts are listed in USD.

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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!

Hope:

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 ), and [I] just rescinded my request because I did not want [that look].

Catherine:

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

Joanna:

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] . 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 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

[bctt tweet=”“Editing is like dating. You won’t find the perfect one for your first book,” says @thecreativepenn”]

Dana:

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 a mention at the blog and in the book.

Cost: $60

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!

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 are a great resource for cover design tips and finding designers who specialize in your genre.

Hope:

I hired a book cover designer (who happened to be my web designer) to design two covers: ebook and print.

Cost: $250

Catherine:

I used Andrew Brown of , 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.

Joanna:

This is my other big expense [after editing]. I met Joel Friedlander of 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 when he was starting out and developed a relationship because of my platform [at TheCreativePenn.com].

Dana:

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 edition (with great feedback from the ).

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!

Dana:

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 .

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 .

To DIY typesetting for print, try one of the , or a paid option from .

Hope:

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 . I bartered advertising for publication/preparation of my ebook.

Typical cost for : $299

Catherine:

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 .

Cost for : From $299

Joanna:

I format ebooks on . I hate [print] formatting, so I pay for that.

Cost: $150 for print formatter for full-length book; $40-45 one-time for Scrivener software (available for both and )

Dana:

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 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 .

Cost: Free

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 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 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 , pros and cons for each platform.

Hope:

I used Kindle Direct Publishing to sell through Amazon. For other ebook outlets I used . For print I used Amazon and Barnes & Noble. No costs.

Catherine:

KDP and , so all free.

Joanna:

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 until the came in January 1, 2015.

Dana:

I used 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 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 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.

Hope:

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 use for postcards and rackcards, and I use for business cards and the stickers. Moo is more expensive, but the quality is astounding.

Catherine:

I didn’t spend any money on [marketing]. I used my blog, Twitter account and Facebook page, and [of print books].

Joanna:

I do all the marketing/launch [myself], and collaborate with other authors. I pay for 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: varies by genre and list price.

Dana:

My strongest launch effort was my . 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.

Hope:

[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 , 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.

Catherine:

My domain name costs $18 a year (my blog is free on ). 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:

Hope:

$250 for cover design

Greatest cost: cover design

Saves by: building relationships for bartering, tapping her network

DIYs: print layout, marketing, sales and distribution

Catherine:

$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

Joanna:

$1,650 for editing and print formatting, bartering for cover design, BookBub ad fees

Greatest cost: editing

Saves by: building relationships for bartering

DIYs: marketing, ebook formatting and conversion, sales and distribution

Dana:

$150 for editing and illustrations, $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

Key takeaways

  • 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 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.

[bctt tweet=”Self-publishing is all about innovation and creativity, says @danasitar”]

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?

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Chris Guillebeau introduces the plan you need to finally share your book with the world. Make this your year of becoming an author.

162 comments

  • Emma says:

    This is really interesting, I think a lot of writers don’t factor in editing, design, formatting etc into their idea of what’s necessary to publish. Just because I can write doesn’t mean I can edit – sometimes I can’t even spell! Luckily I have an editor and a designer to help out with this.
    It’s very helpful to have everything laid out like this and explained the way it has been here – this is a nicely done, neat and balanced article.
    Some of the costs mentioned seem pretty steep to me as we include editing, design, formatting, a pre-print run of 50-200 books and a bit of publicizing in our packages (£350-750) but i suppose English costs are lower and it’s cheaper for us as we do it all in-house.

  • Kelsy says:

    Someone is talking about charging $7k! she’s like anyone can write a book, she just left her teaching career of 15 years I believe she said…and its trying to be a ghost write and/or writer and saying that its about $7K..is that even right..sounds steep

  • Nicola says:

    I’m currently reading up on self publishing and came across this article. One cost that I haven’t noticed here though is the Copyright Registration.

    • Emma says:

      You don’t really need to register for copyright protection – it’s automatic under international law, as long as your own work is published before any subsequent work (infringement you your work) then copyright is implied as being yours. you can write your own copyright notice for your book and it IS legally binding. (www.copyrightservice.co.uk)

  • gina a says:

    I am new at publishing but have been writing with a passion since I was 12 and I’m now 51. I feel it’s time to try to publish something. I don’t even know where to start. Please advise. How to you know/find legitimate editors?

  • Marvellous says:

    i am a student and i want to publish my first book. please how can i get my book edited with little or no cost..

  • Thanks Dana for your valuable article…
    I have learned about the cost to self-publish a book..But still confused as to select which particular resource..
    Can you help me in providing the right pathway for achieving success? As i am beginner in this field so do not have sufficient knowledge.
    Regards,
    Vickie

  • Christain Alcauter says:

    Thank you so much for this information. I’m almost finished writing my book and have done some of my own research into self publishing. I was wondering what you thought of third party houses that help with self- publishing. I have talked to a few and I never really get a clear answer from them. I was wondering what your thoughts are on these type of companies.

  • Janine Rabie says:

    Hi,
    Please…
    Assist me with the reply below from a publisher.
    If they pose a “statement” like this, what should I ask or what does it mean to me in layman’s terms…
    ————————————
    Should you agree this book will be distributed and marketed by all our marketing agents, subagents and book stores, as well as through our various other outlets.
    Please let us know if you want us to proceed with cost estimation for your contribution towards project.

    We also require the amount A5 pages if you have not provided a full manuscript. If you are going to make use of illustrations, please provide us with the amount, as well as if it is in black or white, or in colour.
    —————————
    Kind regards
    Janine

    • Lj says:

      I’m not really sure what they mean. You might want to clarify with them. If your book is written in English and they are a company from an English as a first (or only) language I’d be wary if I was in your shoes.

      The bit about the A5 just means that if you aren’t sending them your MS ahead of time, they need a page count when it’s on A5 paper.

  • Erik says:

    Hello, there is a lot of dollars being mentioned about editing cost and so forth. But is it worth it? How much money did you make from the books after spending 2000$? Did any of you make large profits off your investments?

    Thanks

    • Guy Fitter says:

      Hi Erik,
      An honest question deserves an honest answer. I spent close to $2000AUD editing and formatting and $450AUD on cover art for my 55,000 self help book and 4 weeks after being published I have made about $25USD in royalties. Clearly nowhere near redeeming my editing costs. This is not an issue for me. I wrote the book to be a work of art. Something I was proud to have out there. As a self help book people will come accross my book many, many years later. I want the book to stand the test of time, so the impeccable editing I desired will ensure the reader gets a seamless reading experience where the sharing of information and knowledge (and hopefully wisdom!) is not lost amongst poor grammar, spelling and tiring layout. Feel free to look at the book (Going The Distance by Guy Fitter) to see if you think its worth it!

  • Raghdah says:

    Do you think it’s necessary to hire an editor for poems/prose since it’s not a traditional book?

  • With all the discussion about cost of self publishing, I would like to know the results of their efforts. What sales figures did they achieve? Surely, that is the bottom line. Thanks for your reply

  • Caty says:

    This has to be the most tedious site I’ve ever come across. If a person makes idiotic mistakes writing English, it just might be a good idea to study the language before attempting a writing task.

  • Victoria Nelson says:

    Hello, I really enjoyed this post. It really opened my mind on the possible expenses it takes to publish. I am a junior in high school right now and I have this novel I have written within my creative writing class. I’m trying to go a route with little to no expenses to publish it as an ebook. Could someone give me some advice as to what steps I should take as to get my work edited and out there?

  • Ellen says:

    I have written a children’s book, with a theme, to show all children how much they have to offer. This book is based on my experience, working with children who have special needs. I have an illustrator and the book will be between 12-15 pages. I want help self-publishing, but as an English major, editing is not necessary. Any suggestions where to receive support?

  • Hava says:

    Hello!

    As lesbian identified, identical twins, my twin sister and I are in the process of writing a memoir, to also include short stories on other LGBTQ twins & their siblings.

    Ideally, we’re looking for individuals or companies who cover all of the moving parts (editing, cover design, publishing, etc.). Does this exist? If not, is there a go-to place for stellar references?

    Best,
    Hava

  • Amit says:

    The fairytale beginning to this article where the success story pulled in the readers, it is still not mentioned anywhere, how one should concentrate on writing, literature to be precise, hone the skills by writing for quite some time, even before considering publishing. The only way to do this is to write, write, and write some more. Although, it is easy to be published these days, as a writer one should carry the responsibility of contributing meaningful literature and not fluff. So many books nowadays do not have a shelf life, the appear and lose themselves amidst a plethora of books (at least they resemble books). Everyone wants to get on to the publishing bandwagon, without considering the reader’s plight, having to deal with sub-standard writing (they may be grammatically perfect, but lack a sound plot, characterisation, and theme). A book publishing and launch have become an event akin to some music album, with rockstar writers promoting their product. When literature becomes a product, it loses credibility and value.

  • loja says:

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  • Mark Carroll says:

    Fascinating read. Thanks!

    I’m currently working on a fantasy fiction novel of an original characters and story I’ve had in my head for several years now (it was originally going to be a computer game that I shelved)

    Wow. I knew little about publishing, and I still sounds rather pricy if I want to share it beyond people I know, which actually feels slightly discouraging 🙁

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