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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.