How much does it cost to self-publish a book?

How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book?

How much does it cost to self-publish a book?For many writers considering self-publishing, cost is the first question and concern. The amount authors spend to self-publish varies dramatically. You need to know how much it will cost to self-publish your book. You can choose to self-publish for free by doing everything yourself, or you can spend thousands upon thousands of dollars paying for printing, marketing, and other services. The trick is to find a happy medium between buying what you need and doing what you can on your own. Read on to see three distinct budgets for authors that wish to self-publish a book.

I see authors spending an average of $2,300 on each self-publishing project. In his book APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Guy Kawasaki puts this amount higher at about $4,000.

A writer can easily spend a few thousand dollars getting books printed, only to have them become a permanent fixture in their garage because she has no idea how to get them into bookstores. Or a writer can create an eBook completely on their own, and his mom and his friends will buy it, but then sales will stop completely because he is not a book marketer.

So where does the money go? Let’s assume you have an 80,000 word novel you’d like to publish. What will you spend? Let’s break down some possible scenarios.

Budget publishing – Under $500

  • Developmental edit – free (Use workshops, friends, and classes.)
  • Copyediting – $300 (Hire a college student.)
  • Cover design – $30 (Purchase cover art and do it yourself.)
  • Book formatting and layout – free (Use free conversion tools.)
  • Printing – free (Print on demand only.)
  • ISBN – Don’t get one
  • Author photo – free (Your Facebook profile picture is fine.)
  • Marketing – free (Rely on social media and friends and family only.)
  • Website – free (Use free WordPress option.)

Big spender – Upwards of  $20,000

  • Developmental edit – $3,000
  • Copyediting – $1,500
  • Cover design – $800
  • Book formatting and layout – $1,500
  • Printing – $4,000 (Purchase 500 trade paperback copies.)
  • ISBN – $100
  • Author photo – $400
  • Kirkus Review – $425
  • Google Adwords – $500
  • Facebook Ads – $500
  • Print advertising – $1,200
  • Marketing collateral – $1,000
  • Marketing consultant / PR – $2,000
  • Events / launch party – $1,000
  • Website – $2,000

Considering that half of self-published authors earn less that $500, any amount more than this may seem disheartening. However, consider that a book a is a product. Quality products are supported by a whole team of services and experts. According to a survey reported by The Guardian, the average earnings for self-published authors is $10,000 a year. What separates those earning $500 from those earning $10,000? Visibility and quality of product. If you invest nothing in your book, don’t expect readers to be very impressed or compelled to buy. While it’s easier than ever to get a book to market, readers are savvy and spot subpar products easily. Even if you create a beautiful product, wonderfully written with professional presentation, if no one hears about it, your book will sit untouched online, gathering virtual dust.

You can keep the cost to self-publish down. Here is a breakdown I find reasonable for many authors:

Smart spender – About  $4,000

  • Developmental edit – $1,000
  • Copy editing – $800
  • Cover design – $300
  • Book formatting and layout – $300
  • Printing – free (Print on demand only.)
  • ISBN – $100
  • Author photo – $100
  • Total marketing spend – $1,000
  • Website – $100 (Buy custom WordPress theme.)

This scenario may be tweaked. For example, you can find brilliant marketing help for just a couple hundred dollars. Maybe you spend a reasonable $2,000 on a developmental edit, but then find a student to do your final proofing for just $500.

This is still a formidable amount of money for many authors. Few have $5,000 extra laying around. Luckily, there is much you can do to make this investment achievable. For example, you don’t need to be paying for editing at the same time you’re buying marketing. These expenses can be spread out over many months. Plus, many editors and marketers will work out payment plans with you as well.

Just as there are few writers with extra cash laying around, there are few writers that are only writers. Most of us have a few other marketable skills as well. Perhaps you are a fantastic editor, or an illustrator. Maybe you’re a social media whiz, or can build webpages. Consider taking on freelance work, or even trading services with other authors, in order to get the help you need for your project.

Bottom line, self-publishing costs money. If you want readers to buy your book, you will need to make an investment in order to produce a quality product above and beyond your beautiful writing. The good news is that with so many self-publishing paths, there is a way to get the help you need without going broke.

 


NOTE: You can find the original post of this article on the incredible BookPromotion.com. We recommend the site as another great source for book marketing information!

 

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  1. “All my money goes to feeding my family” publishing – Under $50

    Developmental edit – free (Workshops, friends, class)
    Copy editing – free (friends, family, fans, numerous time doing it yourself while constantly improving)
    Cover Design – $0 (Public Domain photos, spouse as photographer, GIMP)
    Book formatting and layout – free (I’ve gotten pretty good at this)
    Printing – $33 (Print on demand, optional $25 expanded distribution, $4.00 proof, $4.00 shipping.)
    ISBN – Smashwords/Kobo/Createspace free.
    Author photo – free (Your Facebook profile picture is fine)
    Marketing – free (Rely on social media and friends and family only)
    Website – free (Use free WordPress option(or Blogger))
    Mailing List – free (Mad Mimi for me)
    All other labor – hugs (for the emo bunny minions)

      1. I gave up sleep a few years ago. 😉

        Actually, I have a full time job and a family to take care of too. Writing is my only other activity. I don’t go out to bars, or socialize, or . . . talk to anyone really. 😉

        I’m the sort of worker who puts his nose to the grindstone . . . which is silly, because that hurts my nose . . . but I focus intensely on whatever I’m doing at the time and get it done.

        I’ve taught myself every aspect of the business of self-publishing and continue to learn with each book. It’s certainly hard to do all of this, but I’m loving it. :)

  2. “All my money goes to feeding my family” publishing – Under $50

    Developmental edit – free (Workshops, friends, class)
    Copy editing – free (friends, family, fans, numerous time doing it yourself while constantly improving)
    Cover Design – $0 (Public Domain photos, spouse as photographer, GIMP)
    Book formatting and layout – free (I’ve gotten pretty good at this)
    Printing – $33 (Print on demand, optional $25 expanded distribution, $4.00 proof, $4.00 shipping.)
    ISBN – Smashwords/Kobo/Createspace free.
    Author photo – free (Your Facebook profile picture is fine)
    Marketing – free (Rely on social media and friends and family only)
    Website – free (Use free WordPress option(or Blogger))
    Mailing List – free (Mad Mimi for me)
    All other labor – hugs (for the emo bunny minions)

      1. I gave up sleep a few years ago. 😉

        Actually, I have a full time job and a family to take care of too. Writing is my only other activity. I don’t go out to bars, or socialize, or . . . talk to anyone really. 😉

        I’m the sort of worker who puts his nose to the grindstone . . . which is silly, because that hurts my nose . . . but I focus intensely on whatever I’m doing at the time and get it done.

        I’ve taught myself every aspect of the business of self-publishing and continue to learn with each book. It’s certainly hard to do all of this, but I’m loving it. :)

  3. Just wanted to address the copy editing aspect of your estimate. Check out Facebook and blogs for professional, independent editors. Many will come in far less than the $300 you estimate for a college student, and you will get a better value, since their livelihood depends on doing a good job. I found a great one who charged only $125 for my YA novel – and she also reviewed the book and promoted it on Facebook.

    1. How wonderful that you found a copyeditor that also reviewed your book. That is so helpful!

      On Writer.ly, we have a number of editors that provide services for a very low rate. Although, sometimes I wonder how such low rates are sustainable to them as a living.

  4. Just wanted to address the copy editing aspect of your estimate. Check out Facebook and blogs for professional, independent editors. Many will come in far less than the $300 you estimate for a college student, and you will get a better value, since their livelihood depends on doing a good job. I found a great one who charged only $125 for my YA novel – and she also reviewed the book and promoted it on Facebook.

    1. How wonderful that you found a copyeditor that also reviewed your book. That is so helpful!

      On Writer.ly, we have a number of editors that provide services for a very low rate. Although, sometimes I wonder how such low rates are sustainable to them as a living.

  5. How does this skew for a printed, full-color, hardcover children’s book? I’ve researched CreateSpace, Lulu, Blurb, and Lightening Source, and the costs seem daunting if not impossible. On Lulu, for instance, I’d need to print 1200 ($10k out of pocket) before I could make a penny, and that doesn’t even include paying for illustrations, edits, and layout.

    1. I’m honestly not very familiar with the publishing process for children’s books. Perhaps another reader who knows can comment. However, for printing, I’m a big fan of Blurb. No one makes more beautiful books. Have you checked them out? http://www.blurb.com/

    2. Children’s Books are considerably different because of cost of illustration. My remarks below do not include cost of illustration.

      I did my first edition on the $500 budget (plus $2K for professional website), and was not happy at all with the results. You get what you pay for, and the crappy product was not what I envisioned. Also, very difficult to get children’s books through free meat grinder venues like Smashwords. OMG! Not if you want to associated the pictures and text.

      The next edition:
      $4K professional book design (includes cover) — to address balance of flow/pace of story around artwork [critical, in my view]
      $300 BookBaby for management of e-book across platforms (Sony, Apple, B&N, etc)
      $200 developmental editor
      $200 copy editor
      $10 ISBN (purchased in bulk)

      Options:
      $300 to create a fixed layout e-book, where text goes with pictures, as they would in a hardcopy book. This is tricky, as each platform is wildly different in what it will support & likely to keep morphing. I choose the Apple platform for iPad only.
      $12,000 for a print run of 2K books. That’s about $6 per book. If you do a smaller run, say 100-500 books, your overall costs are lower, but your net profit per book is correspondingly smaller, as the cost per book can be very high. Difficult choice there between limited run & higher cost per book, vs big investment in larger run. Many options exist in terms of quality of how the illustrations are reproduced, so you have to do your homework. And obviously each estimate will vary (mine is a picture chapter book of about 80 pages, for STEM science-learning, where most children’s picture books are 20-40 pages. That means cost per book can be lowered to $3-4 for a large print run).

      On BLURB – I agree they do a fantastic job, but you have to use their templates for pictures & text layout. Same with Apple’s iBook for graphic novels/children’s books. That will be a good option for some people.

      My strategy is to sell the e-books first and see if the response justifies a big print run. The problem is, kids aren’t as into Kindle, or reading picture books on a tablet. Not yet, and not in the volume one would expect.

      Bottom line – producing your own children’s book is scary expensive if you want to do a good quality job.

      Lesson learned – don’t invest $2K in a huge website. Invest the time into learning WordPress & keep those $$$$$ in your pocket.

      1. Thanks so much for sharing all this Claudia! Children’s books is an area in which I have no expertise. Your experience and listed prices were very interesting.

      2. Hi Claudia,
        Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with childrens books self-publishing! Can you give a bit more info about your purchase of ISBN #s in bulk – your decisions that led to it, how many you purchased, and how you did it?

    3. one more comment on children’s e-books — these will come in two very different styles. (A) One will be what is known as ‘dynamic layout,’ which resembles what you get with a novel. That is, the text will move around as dictated by the tablet orientation, and the pictures get moved around too. It means that pictures and text might be separated from each other in a way that’s not intended by the author. (B) the other is known as ‘fixed’ layout, where the author chooses the orientation, and the tablet does not let the reader change it. Software fixes the pictures to their place in the text, but the size of the page & font is allowed to adjust as the reader requires.

      Dynamic Layout (A) is easy to format & create. Meatgrinders can do it with a single piece of software (except Smashwords).

      Fixed Layout (B) is difficult & timeconsuming to create. And its going to be different for each platform. You wont use the same file for iPad as you will for Kindle. Kindle’s software for Fixed Layout has not yet stabilized. (While iPad seems to be bug free now).

  6. How does this skew for a printed, full-color, hardcover children’s book? I’ve researched CreateSpace, Lulu, Blurb, and Lightening Source, and the costs seem daunting if not impossible. On Lulu, for instance, I’d need to print 1200 ($10k out of pocket) before I could make a penny, and that doesn’t even include paying for illustrations, edits, and layout.

    1. I’m honestly not very familiar with the publishing process for children’s books. Perhaps another reader who knows can comment. However, for printing, I’m a big fan of Blurb. No one makes more beautiful books. Have you checked them out? http://www.blurb.com/

    2. Children’s Books are considerably different because of cost of illustration. My remarks below do not include cost of illustration.

      I did my first edition on the $500 budget (plus $2K for professional website), and was not happy at all with the results. You get what you pay for, and the crappy product was not what I envisioned. Also, very difficult to get children’s books through free meat grinder venues like Smashwords. OMG! Not if you want to associated the pictures and text.

      The next edition:
      $4K professional book design (includes cover) — to address balance of flow/pace of story around artwork [critical, in my view]
      $300 BookBaby for management of e-book across platforms (Sony, Apple, B&N, etc)
      $200 developmental editor
      $200 copy editor
      $10 ISBN (purchased in bulk)

      Options:
      $300 to create a fixed layout e-book, where text goes with pictures, as they would in a hardcopy book. This is tricky, as each platform is wildly different in what it will support & likely to keep morphing. I choose the Apple platform for iPad only.
      $12,000 for a print run of 2K books. That’s about $6 per book. If you do a smaller run, say 100-500 books, your overall costs are lower, but your net profit per book is correspondingly smaller, as the cost per book can be very high. Difficult choice there between limited run & higher cost per book, vs big investment in larger run. Many options exist in terms of quality of how the illustrations are reproduced, so you have to do your homework. And obviously each estimate will vary (mine is a picture chapter book of about 80 pages, for STEM science-learning, where most children’s picture books are 20-40 pages. That means cost per book can be lowered to $3-4 for a large print run).

      On BLURB – I agree they do a fantastic job, but you have to use their templates for pictures & text layout. Same with Apple’s iBook for graphic novels/children’s books. That will be a good option for some people.

      My strategy is to sell the e-books first and see if the response justifies a big print run. The problem is, kids aren’t as into Kindle, or reading picture books on a tablet. Not yet, and not in the volume one would expect.

      Bottom line – producing your own children’s book is scary expensive if you want to do a good quality job.

      Lesson learned – don’t invest $2K in a huge website. Invest the time into learning WordPress & keep those $$$$$ in your pocket.

      1. Thanks so much for sharing all this Claudia! Children’s books is an area in which I have no expertise. Your experience and listed prices were very interesting.

      2. Hi Claudia,
        Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with childrens books self-publishing! Can you give a bit more info about your purchase of ISBN #s in bulk – your decisions that led to it, how many you purchased, and how you did it?

    3. one more comment on children’s e-books — these will come in two very different styles. (A) One will be what is known as ‘dynamic layout,’ which resembles what you get with a novel. That is, the text will move around as dictated by the tablet orientation, and the pictures get moved around too. It means that pictures and text might be separated from each other in a way that’s not intended by the author. (B) the other is known as ‘fixed’ layout, where the author chooses the orientation, and the tablet does not let the reader change it. Software fixes the pictures to their place in the text, but the size of the page & font is allowed to adjust as the reader requires.

      Dynamic Layout (A) is easy to format & create. Meatgrinders can do it with a single piece of software (except Smashwords).

      Fixed Layout (B) is difficult & timeconsuming to create. And its going to be different for each platform. You wont use the same file for iPad as you will for Kindle. Kindle’s software for Fixed Layout has not yet stabilized. (While iPad seems to be bug free now).

  7. OK, even one more ‘final’ comment — I can’t say enough about doing a good cover for the children’s book. I learned the hard way that the cover is everything. I had to learn about typography, because my first cover’s title was not readable at a glance. There were so many things wrong with it. For the next edition, I chose to spend the money on a professional, for cover and interior layout, because, especially for children’s books, the font face, the cover layout, and interior design of the book, are AT Least as Important as any thing else (writing/illustration). Children’s books are an artform in themselves. One should respect the art of the design of this type of book, in order to have success with this particular artform. Don’t invest all that money, and then try to cut corners in the area of cover & interior design.

      1. Thanks so much! We’re working as fast as we can on the new editions. I’ve unpublished the old editions from Amazon, they were so bad compared to the new stuff. I’m hopeful the new editions will be ready for release in 60 days.

        At this Pinterest site you can see examples of old & new covers. The new stuff still has draft (pencil) cover artwork, but you can see much improved typography & experiments with use of colors. I’ll load up the most recent cover concepts here shortly.

        http://pinterest.com/RedPhoenixBooks/red-phoenix-books-covers/

        Here’s another Pinterest Board with artwork for Book 2 of the series (about Planet Venus):
        http://pinterest.com/RedPhoenixBooks/book-2-windows-to-adventure-venus-artwork/

    1. Reading through these comments again, I did try out Lightning Source (LS) & Createspace (CS). For me, the vast difference in usability between LS & CS meant I’ve dropped LS as a venue, and will only use CS. LS would charge you $60 for every change, & the GUI was not user-friendly at all. On the positive side, LS is supposed to create a better product (CS has covers that will curl over time, and the colors are not true). Nonetheless, the increase in quality with LS was more than offset with the pain-in-the-neck issues, and stupid costs of correcting mistakes. I found myself always on the phone with their customer service folks. The so-called quality improvements where not that significant, to my eyes. CS doesn’t charge you every time you upload a new file. I’ve used CS to create a number of different drafts for me to work with. 10-20 drafts, to facilitate the designing process, to adjust artwork sizing, pacing between pages, other things that you have to judge when building a picture book. And in the end, Ingram & their distribution partners will simply take the product from Amazon. You don’t need LS in order to gain access to Ingram & their distribution channels.

      I don’t have any comment on LuLu.

  8. OK, even one more ‘final’ comment — I can’t say enough about doing a good cover for the children’s book. I learned the hard way that the cover is everything. I had to learn about typography, because my first cover’s title was not readable at a glance. There were so many things wrong with it. For the next edition, I chose to spend the money on a professional, for cover and interior layout, because, especially for children’s books, the font face, the cover layout, and interior design of the book, are AT Least as Important as any thing else (writing/illustration). Children’s books are an artform in themselves. One should respect the art of the design of this type of book, in order to have success with this particular artform. Don’t invest all that money, and then try to cut corners in the area of cover & interior design.

      1. Thanks so much! We’re working as fast as we can on the new editions. I’ve unpublished the old editions from Amazon, they were so bad compared to the new stuff. I’m hopeful the new editions will be ready for release in 60 days.

        At this Pinterest site you can see examples of old & new covers. The new stuff still has draft (pencil) cover artwork, but you can see much improved typography & experiments with use of colors. I’ll load up the most recent cover concepts here shortly.

        http://pinterest.com/RedPhoenixBooks/red-phoenix-books-covers/

        Here’s another Pinterest Board with artwork for Book 2 of the series (about Planet Venus):
        http://pinterest.com/RedPhoenixBooks/book-2-windows-to-adventure-venus-artwork/

    1. Reading through these comments again, I did try out Lightning Source (LS) & Createspace (CS). For me, the vast difference in usability between LS & CS meant I’ve dropped LS as a venue, and will only use CS. LS would charge you $60 for every change, & the GUI was not user-friendly at all. On the positive side, LS is supposed to create a better product (CS has covers that will curl over time, and the colors are not true). Nonetheless, the increase in quality with LS was more than offset with the pain-in-the-neck issues, and stupid costs of correcting mistakes. I found myself always on the phone with their customer service folks. The so-called quality improvements where not that significant, to my eyes. CS doesn’t charge you every time you upload a new file. I’ve used CS to create a number of different drafts for me to work with. 10-20 drafts, to facilitate the designing process, to adjust artwork sizing, pacing between pages, other things that you have to judge when building a picture book. And in the end, Ingram & their distribution partners will simply take the product from Amazon. You don’t need LS in order to gain access to Ingram & their distribution channels.

      I don’t have any comment on LuLu.

  9. Marketing/PR is the most difficult aspect of a publishing project. In your ‘Big Spender’ scenario you budget $2,000 for marketing. I think authors need to recognize that it will probably be $2,000 at a minimum, for minimum exposure. On top of that, authors will need to invest 40 hours per month of their own time to pitch reviewers, use social media, plan events, write, and create other interesting means or partnerships to receive media or social media attention. Authors are competing with hundreds of thousands of new and older titles, all vying for readership. Marketing needs to start early, preferably months before your publication date, and not as an after thought. That is my two cents.

  10. Marketing/PR is the most difficult aspect of a publishing project. In your ‘Big Spender’ scenario you budget $2,000 for marketing. I think authors need to recognize that it will probably be $2,000 at a minimum, for minimum exposure. On top of that, authors will need to invest 40 hours per month of their own time to pitch reviewers, use social media, plan events, write, and create other interesting means or partnerships to receive media or social media attention. Authors are competing with hundreds of thousands of new and older titles, all vying for readership. Marketing needs to start early, preferably months before your publication date, and not as an after thought. That is my two cents.

  11. I think that is one of the such a lot vital info
    for me. And i am glad reading your article. But want to observation on few
    basic issues, The website taste is great, the articles is actually great : D.
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  12. I think that is one of the such a lot vital info
    for me. And i am glad reading your article. But want to observation on few
    basic issues, The website taste is great, the articles is actually great : D.
    Good process, cheers

  13. $35–(per book) for copyright registration. Stamping your name and the word copyright isn’t enough. Registering the copyright gives you extra legal protection.

    $250–for a block of 10 ISBN numbers. Sure, you can get them free from self-publishing services, but they put restrictions on you for that. Use you own and you control your work.

    $500–Form a LLC business, then file it as an S-Corp. If you want to sell books, don’t forget that writing is a business! All business transactions are done through my LLC. This keeps my personal bank accounts private, allows me to pay taxes more easily, and creates a protective buffer between my private accounts and the public business activities. Now I don’t have to pay self-employment taxes, I get taxed like everybody else.

    EEbook generating done by myself, editing done by talented friends and family. Cover art, myself. Submitting to distributors, myself. Etc.

    Expected future expense: $10K–$14K for a high-quality print run, depending on the number of copies. Sure, I can set up POD books through CreateSpace, but I want high quality books for doing book signings and shows. Plus, the per copy cost is lower than POD, so I will make more profit on those sales, and I can ship these books to any indie book stores that want to sell them.

  14. $35–(per book) for copyright registration. Stamping your name and the word copyright isn’t enough. Registering the copyright gives you extra legal protection.

    $250–for a block of 10 ISBN numbers. Sure, you can get them free from self-publishing services, but they put restrictions on you for that. Use you own and you control your work.

    $500–Form a LLC business, then file it as an S-Corp. If you want to sell books, don’t forget that writing is a business! All business transactions are done through my LLC. This keeps my personal bank accounts private, allows me to pay taxes more easily, and creates a protective buffer between my private accounts and the public business activities. Now I don’t have to pay self-employment taxes, I get taxed like everybody else.

    EEbook generating done by myself, editing done by talented friends and family. Cover art, myself. Submitting to distributors, myself. Etc.

    Expected future expense: $10K–$14K for a high-quality print run, depending on the number of copies. Sure, I can set up POD books through CreateSpace, but I want high quality books for doing book signings and shows. Plus, the per copy cost is lower than POD, so I will make more profit on those sales, and I can ship these books to any indie book stores that want to sell them.

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  17. Great article! I’m a professional artist and designer and I design covers and provide interior layout and design every day that would fall in the Smart Spender range (a bit less usually depending on what is needed). I’m happy to help anyone who may have questions or need help! Thank you! :) Heather

  18. Great article! I’m a professional artist and designer and I design covers and provide interior layout and design every day that would fall in the Smart Spender range (a bit less usually depending on what is needed). I’m happy to help anyone who may have questions or need help! Thank you! :) Heather

  19. Great article!!! =)
    I have a 12 year daughter that would LOVE to publish her stories. Some would be considered graphic novels or comic books and others could be considered a series of short stories. I do not have even $500 to help her with this…..
    I can do the copy editing, design stuff, photos….it is the part of getting her work onto paper that terrifies me!!!

  20. Great article!!! =)
    I have a 12 year daughter that would LOVE to publish her stories. Some would be considered graphic novels or comic books and others could be considered a series of short stories. I do not have even $500 to help her with this…..
    I can do the copy editing, design stuff, photos….it is the part of getting her work onto paper that terrifies me!!!