Guest Post: Indies Unlimited

What It Really Costs to Self-Publish A Book

Yes, you can self-publish for under $500

There are a lot of numbers flying around these days, telling authors what they should expect to pay to publish a book. I’m here to tell you to ignore those. Who am I? I’m someone who’s published over thirty titles, and I run IndiesUnlimited.com, so I have access to an infinite number of other authors who are also publishing their own work. So, I asked them what they paid, on average, to publish a project. I think the numbers – or lack thereof – will surprise you.

Let me say, first off, that big numbers are usually meant to scare authors into using services you might not normally otherwise consider. Some of those services will be on the up-and-up, but many of them will be predators or scammers. Remember, if the publisher makes its money off authors, not readers – run like your hair is on fire. If you’ve already been scammed, don’t feel bad – it happens all the time. But let me tell you, right now, right here, that publishing your book can cost you next to nothing – and you can still have a professional product.

Editing

The one place where you will have to shell out some cash is editing – unless you are skilled at bartering and have a service you can offer in exchange. Not all editors are open to that, but some are. So, if you’re short on money, make sure to explore that option.

I surveyed a number of authors on their costs, and most of them trade for editing. But four came back with actual costs, giving me a high and a low number. Here they are:

So, as you can see, even with one number up near $1000 for a very long book, the average amount paid for editing was well under $500. Not as scary as you thought, is it? Don’t forget, the use of Beta readers can greatly reduce your editing costs since their feedback polishes your manuscript before your editor sees it. That way, there’s a lot less for them to correct, saving you money! Keep in mind, these numbers are for line editing – not developmental editing or proofreading.

Proofreading

No, running Word’s spellchecker is not good enough. Yes, you need to proofread your manuscript, but you also need a fresh set of eyes on it. Only one author out of all the ones I spoke with actually paid for proofreading, and it ran her $200. Everyone else uses ARC (Advanced Review Copy) readers, who do it for free. Not all ARC readers will give you a list of typos (their only responsibility in actuality is to review your book), so you’ll have to make sure to find out who is willing to do that for you. Or, you can hold back some Beta readers until after your editing is completed in order to have them perform that final proofread. All things considered, we’re not even going to count this as an expense.

Book Covers

For book covers, many of the authors surveyed made their own for free, using sites like Canva, or other free tools available online. Many of them used sites like Pixabay.com to find their royalty-free images. So yes, you really can make a good quality book cover for free. Others didn’t want to spend the time or didn’t have what they felt was enough talent, to make their own covers, so they hired artists. Here are the costs, including highs and lows:

The average cost came in at under $200, but the majority of authors paid around $125 for a good quality book cover. Again, not a huge amount, but if you can use the resources made available on the internet for free, that’s money that stays in your pocket.

Book Formatting

There’s been a lot of talk about “interior design” or “book design” – whatever. These are fancy terms for having the inside of your book – usually the print edition – prettied up so it enhances the reader’s experience towards the formal. This is NOT necessary. Good formatting is FAR more important than this type of aesthetics.

Like book covers, formatting is something you can do yourself FOR FREE. The industry bible for eBook formatting is the free Smashwords Style Guide, which looks enormous and daunting, but honestly, just peck away at it as you go. When I first self-published in 2011, I only used it to search for the items I didn’t know how to do. And trust me, since I’d been traditionally published up until then, I knew nothing! And I’m not that good at MS Word, either, so if I can do it – you can do it. And, once it’s formatted via the style guide methods, your book is now ready for any of the online eBook distributors. I know you can do it!

For print books, Createspace offers free templates – all you have to do is copy and paste your manuscript into them. So, again, no expense required.

But, maybe you don’t want to learn how to do this, or you have more money than you have time. Well then, here’s what our authors paid for formatting:

Again, the cost is under $100 – and in most cases, this includes having the print AND eBook versions formatted for you. Keep in mind that many authors are doing their own formatting to keep their costs low. Honestly, if you just have text in your books (novels), and no pictures, then that makes your formatting job pretty easy.

ISBNs

This is your call, really. If you publish through Createspace, you can get ISBN numbers for free. If you are Canadian, then you can get ISBN numbers for free anyway. If you choose to publish through a different POD (Print-on-Demand) publisher, they can require you to supply your own ISBN, which will cost you money. If you’re happy enough with the distribution channels of Createspace, then there’s no need to incur that cost.

Distribution

This should be free. Always. Never, ever, should you have to pay a fee for this. Some print publishers will ask you for a small fee to get your book into distribution. I’m not sure why, honestly, since they get a percentage of each book you sell, and the more they sell, the more money they make. So it behooves them to get your book in front of the most potential customers possible. But, it’s your decision if you want to pay that fee to get access to what they offer. Otherwise, for print, Createspace charges nothing for expanded distribution (but they may not be able to get your book into some of the same places the “fee-based” distribution networks can).

For eBooks, you have a choice as to whether to be exclusive with Amazon or to also distribute through Smashwords and/or Draft2Digital. Both of these places will distribute to Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and other retailers. Again, these services just cost you a percentage of each book sold – there are no upfront fees. Of course, new eBook distributors are coming online all the time. Where you list your book is up to you.

Recap

So, let’s review the average costs of publishing your own book. Let’s start with the author who pays for everything: editing, book cover, and formatting. Let’s use the average costs from the tables above:

There you have it – a total cost of $670 if you pay for those three items. But, if you are like many indies, and you figure out how to create your own professional-looking book covers, and do your own formatting, you can reduce that cost by $170, meaning your book will only cost you the editing to produce – $400.

Of course, there will always be little expenses here and there – like if you want to get a print proof before releasing your book (highly recommended, especially for those new to the process), or if you want to have business cards made, swag items, etc. But those aren’t really included in the cost of publishing your book.

If you’d like more information about how a larger number of authors handled the different types of production expenses, including copy editing, formatting, and proofreading, check out this survey conducted by Indies Unlimited.

If you can be versatile and learn how to wear a couple of different hats, you’ll go far – and you’ll save a lot of money.

About K.S. Brooks

K. S. Brooks’ first novel was traditionally published in 2001. In 2011, she began her self-publishing journey and joined Indies Unlimited as an administrator to help other authors along their road to publication. IndiesUnlimited.com was listed in Publishers Weekly Magazine as one of six great blogs for authors, and everything on the site – from advice pieces, tutorials, and social media events, to resource pages on writing, publishing, and promotion – is absolutely free for authors. Learn more at IndiesUnlimited.com.

Comments(30)

  • July 11, 2017, 2:08 pm  Reply

    It pays to do your research and make connections. It can make a huge difference in costs.

  • July 11, 2017, 2:12 pm  Reply

    This is an excellent yardstick for newbie authors to keep in mind. When I teach self-publishing classes, I am constantly debunking the persistent rumors about how much it costs and how long it takes. No, it does not have to take thousands of dollars; no, it does not have to take two years. Anyone can do it very affordably and very quickly, if you take the time to learn how.

  • July 11, 2017, 2:22 pm  Reply

    Thank you! I follow IndiesUnlimited happily and this article is yet one more reason why–your site offers such authenticity and is always helpful.

    I almost got trapped by editorial costs that were way over the limit, a thousand dollars for a book already edited once. Fortunately, sites like yours, Joel Friedlander’s, and Joanna Penn’s give us true stats and alternatives. Kudos!

  • July 11, 2017, 2:23 pm  Reply

    Yvonne – absolutely! And there are so many resources out there online – for free – hopefully authors will take advantage of them and learn that it can be done economically. Thanks for commenting.

  • July 11, 2017, 2:24 pm  Reply

    Hi Melissa, Good for you! Your students are lucky to have you. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  • July 11, 2017, 2:29 pm  Reply

    Hi Regina, so glad you took the initiative and did your research. Kudos! And thanks for the kind words about IU. We appreciate the support. 🙂

  • jim
    July 11, 2017, 2:54 pm  Reply

    Spot on article. It really shows how people can be “taken” by the services out there. All the tools you described that are free can be accessed and mastered by just about everyone. The real key is time. If you don’t have the time to do each part, then you have to pay, but you won’t have to mortgage the house!

    Thanks, Kat!

  • July 11, 2017, 3:08 pm  Reply

    Great informative article. Thank you so much. I’ve done it exactly as suggested when I published my book, and will repeat the process when publishing again. The process cost under $500 and, with new knowledge, will be less next time!

  • July 11, 2017, 3:13 pm  Reply

    Hi Jim, thanks for the great comment. You’re right, it really does just take time and a willingness to learn. 🙂

  • July 11, 2017, 3:23 pm  Reply

    That’s wonderful news, Ester! I love hearing that. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • July 11, 2017, 3:49 pm  Reply

    This is so on point and great research. My only cost was a custom book cover bc I knew exactly what I wanted and that was just a couple hundred for the graphic designer. Everything else was free! Createspace takes their cut after the book prints so you’re not shelling out dinero. Ask around. Contact other indie authors. They will be glad to help. And IndiesUnlimited was an invaluable resource.

    • July 11, 2017, 4:34 pm

      Thanks, RB. And you’re right, all it takes is doing a little bit of research. There’s so much out there to help authors today. So glad you found IU helpful. Thanks for letting us know. 🙂

  • July 11, 2017, 4:00 pm  Reply

    Many first-time authors have spent years thinking about writing a book, and reading back issues of Writer’s Digest, back before it became respectable to be an indie. Those old articles stick to your subconscious like yesterday’s mashed potatoes. A decade or two back, it did cost more to self-publish, and then you and your book were met with derision. THOSE DAYS ARE OVER. Great article.

  • July 11, 2017, 4:13 pm  Reply

    Finally! A realistic breakdown of the costs instead of something outrageously inflated. Thank you!

    • July 11, 2017, 4:32 pm

      Thank YOU, Melinda. My pleasure. 🙂

  • July 11, 2017, 4:27 pm  Reply

    This is a great article! I recently did my financials for my first self-published book launch that was done at the end of June (I am a corp accountant by day, so it’s in my nature to put a financial statement together), if you exclude the cost of my laptop and my website+domain name, my total costs were $92.19 for a 280+ page 5×8 paperback. Don’t let the fear of Cost get in the way of your book!

    • July 11, 2017, 4:33 pm

      Wow, that’s great, Katie. Thanks for sharing your numbers.

  • July 11, 2017, 4:31 pm  Reply

    “THOSE DAYS ARE OVER” – LOVE that, Smoky! Thanks for the great comment.

  • July 11, 2017, 5:50 pm  Reply

    I concur with those numbers. I just wish everyone had access to the above information. Thanks for posting and thank you for responding to the comments. That seems to be rare these days.

    • July 11, 2017, 6:25 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Martin. I agree with you, I wish that there was a way to get this out so everyone would know.

  • July 11, 2017, 7:18 pm  Reply

    Great article! Publishing my first novel cost me a grand total of $9 (for the cover art from a stock photo site). People who are thinking of publishing need to know they don’t have to drain their bank account to do it.

    • July 12, 2017, 12:43 am

      $9? I want to be you when I grow up! Well done. Thanks for commenting.

  • July 11, 2017, 8:05 pm  Reply

    The legal term is “due diligence” and it always pays us to do proper due diligence on any new venture on which we embark, and self-publishing is no different. Kat has comprehensively shown that you do NOT need to spend a fortune to self-publish your book, although, like others, I would strongly recommend finding a good, well-respected editor and paying for that service.
    And well done Kat!

    • July 12, 2017, 12:55 am

      Thanks for the great comment, Chris. Yes, due diligence is so important, especially when you’re spending money. And, just because you CAN do things yourself, doesn’t mean that people necessarily SHOULD – but the point is, as you have stated, that you do NOT need to spend a fortune.

  • July 11, 2017, 8:43 pm  Reply

    Great article.

  • July 12, 2017, 1:33 pm  Reply

    Great post, and excellent numbers. I think all the articles that suggest the costs are high tend to make people ripe for scammers. If you do a little research, and are willing to learn, the costs don’t have to be high. If you have money to spend on this (and some people do, which is why there are so many scammers), the key is to research who you plan to pay. Get recommendations.

    • July 12, 2017, 5:39 pm

      Thanks, RJ. And you’re so right. If people just take a little bit of time to do some Google searching, they will find what they need. Unfortunately, many don’t research until after they’re scammed. I wish there was a better way to prevent that from happening.

  • July 15, 2017, 4:24 am  Reply

    I agree with all the above. My first book cost me $0, because I bartered services. But now I lean towards a professional book cover designer. Note, I didn’t say professional artist. Book cover design is a special field all on its own, and being a great photographer or graphic artist doesn’t make anyone a cover designer. My self-designed covers are fine, but the ones I pay $250 for are far better.

    • July 20, 2017, 4:25 am

      Hi Gordon, thanks for commenting. I agree – I love being able to pay a designer to do my covers. I feel a lot happier about the end result. But back before I could afford to do that, I had to make my own. Luckily, I’m very good and mocking stuff up, and I’m even more fortunate to have friends who were good at photoshop who could tweak those for me.

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