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

How much are you willing to pay?

Okay, all jokes aside, “how much” depends on a lot of factors such as:

  1. Your particular set of skills (can you do your own cover/interior formatting?)
  2. Relatives/people you know (if your cousin’s a book designer/freelance editor…)
  3. How big of a book you have (yes, this affects the overall production cost, especially when it comes to editing.)
  4. The quality you’re aiming for
  5. Whether or not you’re planning on having both an e-book version and a print version of your book

Looking back on this list I think I could have summed it all up like this: it’s all about how much you’re willing to outsource.

So costs vary. From close to nothing (that’s when you’re basically doing everything yourself) to thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars (that’s when you have an entire team working for you: editor, proofreader, publicist, etc.)

But like I always say, nothing can guarantee that your book will sell. Not even spending thousands of dollars on a fancy press release. Not even paying a publicist, or setting up a huge ad in front of a bookstore.

There are self-published authors out there who have sold a ridiculous amount of books without investing a cent on marketing/promotion. There are also authors who have sold hundreds of thousands of books without bothering to pay for a professional edit.

So what do I need money for?

Well, first you need to pay for editing. This is extremely important – probably the most important aspect of self-publishing, and at the same time, the part that gets ignored the most, simply because most people don’t know what editors really do.

Editors aren’t the human equivalent of a spellchecker,  searching and fixing typos, spelling, and grammar. Oh, and punctuation, of course. That’s proofreading, and even so, there’s a lot more to proofreading as well.

The thing is that a good editor has to keep your voice intact. So it’s a lot trickier than changing what doesn’t work. As an analogy, I like to think of an editor as a translator.

No matter how much time you’ve spent editing and rewriting, or how many times you’ve read your manuscript, there will still be parts that just don’t get to the reader in the same way the writer wished they would.  Those parts need to be translated – in such a way that the essence of what you’re trying to transmit remains intact.

If I were rich (which I’m not), I’d go about this in three steps: developmental edit (to revise the story as a whole), copy-edit, and proofread. This can cost 2,000-3,000 dollars, maybe more.

Instead, I rely on beta-readers to offer me feedback on the structure of the story, then I make my edits. But I still need to pay for a proofread.

You can get away with as little as a hundred-two hundred dollars, depending on the length of your book, style, and how many errors you have. Usually editors are willing to work on a sample, so they can give you an exact price. Also, it’s good, because it allows you to decide whether or not you want to work with that editor.

I know some writers use those online software thingies like Grammarly. I’ve tried some, but they’re not really as good at catching mistakes as a human person is. As advanced as technology has become, grammar is pretty flexible and, well, complex.

Where do I find an editor?

You might want to go to your favorite self-publisher’s website, if you have one, and see if that author mentions his/hers editor. If not, ask nicely in an e-mail.

As a side note, I find that this stalkerish behavior is one of the best ways to understand a lot about author’s websites/blogs, about some of the conventions regarding blurbs and covers in the genre you’re writing, etc.

Covers, covers, covers

Why? Simply because first impressions matter. And a professional looking cover can help you make a great first impression.

I use Adobe Photoshop. You can use it as well, or something similar.

For cover art, sometimes I buy stock photos (there’s quite a plethora of sites that specialize in selling stock photos), other times I use paintings whose copyright has expired. What’s probably worth sharing here is that you should check whether the photographs of paintings whose copyright has expired are made available as Public Domain works.

In the US, this means that any painting before 1923 is considered to be in the Public Domain.

But where to find a database of such photographs?

There’s the York project on Wikimedia, where you can find over ten thousand paintings.

I also browse around the BookCoverArchiveIt’s a fantastic website where you can find a ton of book covers, and great info such as the fonts that were used.

If you’re not crafty enough with Adobe Photoshop or similar software, you can send an email to list@smashwords.com and you’ll get a reply with a list of cover designers and e-book formatters. With prices ranging from $40 to $100, I say it’s well worth the money.

Interior Formatting

This one’s not as tricky as designing a book cover, so I’ll just recommend you download the Smashwords Style Guide. After all, you only need Microsoft Word and patience.

It’s really not that difficult.

For KDP, there’s this cool guide available for free on Amazon.

You might also want to check out Guide Henkel’s formatting guide for more insight into the matter.

The Print Book

If you want a print version of your book, then you need a different cover and a different type of interior formatting. I do all this by myself, using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe InDesign.

I spend a lot of time downloading free fonts, reading tutorials, and just making a fool out of myself.

There’s a lot of great info available on both Createspace and Lulu. You can download templates for covers and even a simple Word template for the interior design.

I want to recommend another great resource. Joel Friedlander. Visit his blog, read all the posts, and, if you feel that all this is too much work, hire the guy. He seems very passionate about his work, and all I’ve seen of his covers and interior designs are stunning.

If you go with Createspace, the only expense, besides interior and cover design, will be related to the cost of ordering books for your own use/enjoyment/gifting to friends.

Marketing

There’s a bunch of stuff to pay for in this category. But I think it’s best to keep things into perspective. And analyze all the opportunities you’re presented with to see which ones suit you best.

An author website, a blog, promotional stuff, such as posters and bookmarks, and even more exotic options like press releases and book trailers can help you sell more books, but I think it’s important not to spend a bucket load of money on marketing. And don’t waste too much time either.

After all, some self-publishers have managed to sell a ton of books with just a simple blog.

I’d say a nice blog is very important. You can use whatever platform you feel more comfortable with. If you want, pay for a premium theme. But more important, buy a domain. It sounds more professional.

There are a lot of great promotional tools available for free. Set up a Goodreads Author account, order a few copies of your printed book, and do a giveaway. Host another e-book giveaway on your blog.

Send Advanced Review Copies to book bloggers.

Host a contest on your site, offer signed copies of your book, release a limited, hardcover edition of your book for your most loyal of fans. Write guest blogs, do interviews, even do character interviews if you feel like it.

Nowadays, marketing opportunities aren’t limited by how deep your pockets are. No. They’re limited by your imagination.

***

My advice to all this? Spend just enough to make your book look as professional as possible. And don’t rush. Probably the most harmful thing you can do to your career as a self-published writer is to release a book too early – trust me, I know a thing or two about that.

You can do a great job with a few hundred dollars and make it to the New York Times Bestseller’s List as easily as you can spend thousands of dollars and break even in twelve years.

Information is the most valuable asset of our age, so do a bit of research before sending out checks to the people you want to work with. There are a lot of scammers out there. A lot of so-called publishing platforms asking for money to upload your story to Amazon. Don’t use them. Use KDP, use Smashwords, PubIt, etc. There’s no reason to use a middle man when you can upload your book direct (and for no fee) to retailers/distributors.

And never, ever write about yourself in the third person. Except when writing a funny bio, of course.

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15 thoughts on “How much does it cost to self-publish a book?

  1. Overall not bad advice. Having self-published one book, I know. Thankfully my son knew his way around the self-publishing sites much better than I did and did all the formatting. It’s not quite as easy as createspace and others make it sound. The marketing thing is the biggest drawback to self-publishing which is why I’m going to shop my other novel to publishers when I’m done editing it. There’s a lot of crap that gets self-published too and that taint can rub off so that your book gets dismissed out of hand. Never use third person when writing about yourself?? Nick Adam stories and The Sun Also Rises, just to name two. I know they’re fiction but we all know who is who in those books.

  2. great info, I am a pensioner in South Africa and God told me I was going to write a book, I have no idea what I will write about, but have been writing down, my journey with God in the last 28 years, I never thought I would write, do not have a passion to write, except that God told me to write letters which I have been doing, So I have no idea what it takes to write, and publish etc. a book, I thought I would start with an ebook.

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