The path to a high quality self-published book is strewn with expenses. Annoying, maybe, but necessary. So, how much does it cost to self-publish? We’ve discussed most of the cost issues in the past, but here I’m pulling them all together so you won’t stumble on any surprises as you make your way.
Please don’t let anyone persuade you that you can produce a printed book that is up to publishing industry standards—and also market it—for free, because that’s simply not true.
If all the costs of self-publishing seem a bit overwhelming, think about crowd funding for your project. Or produce an ebook only, which eliminates printing (but not most of the other) expenses. And remember that you can always start a blog for nothing! Many people find that they are really writing for the pleasure of it, and they don’t want to reach an ending. If that sounds like you, consider blogging or even podcasting. That way you can branch out into topics not covered in your book. And sometimes a blog eventually leads to a book that’s better than the original one. Just keep it in the back of your mind as you read through the self-publishing expenses below.Most new #self-publishing authors have little idea what they're getting into when they start out, especially money-wise. We reveal the all expenses: https://bit.ly/2TnAJ6b. Click To Tweet
To view this entire list (minus the commentary) click on this link to the PDF: SelfPubCostsChecklist. We suggest printing it out and using it to make notes or keep records as you proceed.
To skip to the parts you’re most interested in, use this guide:
- First, join a group
- Book marketing costs
- Business setup costs
- Publishing formalities
- Book production costs
- Ebook conversion costs
- Book distribution costs
Let’s start with a self-publishing expense that will save you money. Join the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) ($109+ per year) and/or a regional affiliate group in the U.S., or the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) ($89+ per year). Membership benefits include discounts on many of the services discussed below. All the expenses mentioned in this blog post are the “list price,” but we’ve added an asterisk (*) when you should look up the relevant IBPA discount. (ALLi offers discounts but does not reveal them to nonmembers.) In addition to saving some cash, you’ll also learn an awful lot about the industry you’re plunging into and how to proceed with your own project.
When I taught self-publishing workshops, I’d devote the entire first session to book marketing. I’m sure the students often thought this was crazy, but by the end of the session, they understood what the fuss was about. Without marketing, a book will go nowhere. So let’s look at it now.
Author or publisher website
You need a website. Your readers expect it and the media expects it. We recommend setting one up before you go to print so you can post teasers, spread word of your progress, gain some fans, and collect advance orders.
You can read “Author website 101” to get the details, but here’s a summary of the costs:
- Domain name—your web address ($12–$20 per year)
- Website building template (free) or
- Tutorials on site building by LinkedIn Learning, formerly lynda.com (free through some public libraries, or $30 a month with the first month free) or
- Website building service, if you don’t want to use a template or learn on your own (prices vary)
- Web hosting, which is the server that keeps your site running ($9–$40 per month)
- Web security ($15–$300 per year, but often included in your hosting fee)
- Email list service to keep track of your fans or subscribers (free until you have a very long list)
Professional book reviews
Many public libraries will not order any book unless it has at least one editorial review. That means a review from a professional reviewer at a magazine or book review service. In most cases, these reviews must be done months before publication. Here are a few possible sources for indie publishers:
- BlueInk Reviews ($395 and up)
- BookLife Reviews by Publishers Weekly ($399–$499)
- Foreword Reviews (free if accepted) or Clarion Reviews ($499)
- Kirkus Reviews ($425)
- Library Journal (free if accepted)
All reviews are posted online for easy access by librarians.
Naturally you’ll want to get other book reviews, too. Some are essential to receive before publication.
Before printing. Reviews to put on your book cover should cost you next to nothing. Have some advance review copies printed (see below) and mail them off to reviewers, or send a PDF. Give the reviewer a byline on your back cover or in the first few pages, and send them a free copy when the book is out.
NetGalley.com* (from $399 per title for 6 months) gives you reviews you can put on social media and on bookseller sites as soon as the book is available for sale.
After printing. You’ll need as many good reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and other online sources as possible. This shouldn’t cost you anything beyond your other marketing expenses.
Advance review copies (ARCs) can be printed by a POD printer. Setup fees at IngramSpark (for instance) are normally $49* but free for IBPA members. Actual printing costs are completely dependent on the format and number of pages. With POD printing, there’s no such thing as a volume discount, so each copy will cost the same amount.
As you probably know, most sites are free to use, but their effectiveness is minimal without a large following or paying for advertising. Try these sites (and others of your choice) both before and after publication:
- LinkedIn (the AuthorYOU group plus other groups on your nonfiction topic)
The cost of advertising on Amazon, Google, etc. can vary so much that we can’t even begin to give you an idea. Do not advertise unless you really, truly know what you’re doing; otherwise you’ll be throwing your money away.
If you find an effective way to use ads in magazines or newspapers, we salute you! We have tried and failed at this for our own book several times. But for the right book, and aimed at the right audience, you could do very well. Expenses are generally high, so decide if they’re worth it for your book, and then start out cautiously.
These are lots of fun (read our blog post about them): mugs, bookmarks, postcards, posters, flyers, tee shirts . . . . But save them for later. Costs will vary, of course.
Book award contests
Once you’ve published a book or ebook, you can enter it in contests. Winning brings a small marketing boost but a big confidence boost. Read our discussion in our blog post called Book award contests: Are they worthwhile?
Costs associated with book award contests are:
- Entry fees (approximately $50–$100)
- Shipping your printed book (varies)
- Travel to the awards ceremony (optional)
We’ve been selling our book for several years now and have tried many marketing techniques. (In our blog, we revealed our successes and failures for your benefit.) Our best advice is to find one, two, or at most three methods that work for you and stick with them until they’re no longer effective. Then try something else. Do not give up!
To be in publishing, you really should establish a business. The main steps are:
- Registering your publishing business at the local city or town hall (around $35+ for 2–5 years)
- Starting a bank account for your business (cost varies)
- Using a tax accountant (optional)
Your copyright page and back cover need some important bits of information. Check out our blog post that explains all your copyright page requirements in detail, but here’s a summary:
- In the U.S., it’s best to get an official copyright notice for $35 from the U.S. Copyright Office.
- In Canada your copyright is automatic; learn more at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.
- In the UK, it’s automatic but get the details from the Intellectual Property Office.
- In Australia, there’s no copyright registration system.
An International Standard Book Number is necessary for all books that will be sold to the public. Please obtain your own number. Do not allow a publishing service or POD printer to provide you with a free one—tempting as that might be—because that will make them the publisher, not just the printer, of your book.
You will need one ISBN for each format of your book (paperback, hard cover, audio book, ebook), and also for each future edition (not each printing). Most folks buy a block of 10 to keep them going for a while.
- In the U.S., go to Bowker.* (1 for $125, 10 for $295)
- In Canada, go to Library and Archives Canada (free)
- In the UK, go to the Nielsen Book ISBN Agency (1 for £89, 10 for £169)
- In Australia, go to Thorpe-Bowker (1 for $44, 10 for $88)
- In other countries, find your agency here.
A printed book needs a bar code that corresponds with its ISBN on the back cover. Book printers often provide the bar code for free, but if not, you can buy one at Bar Code Graphics ($10 USD) or Bowker ($25 USD).
Library of Congress Control Number
The LCCN registers your U.S.-published book with the Library of Congress. It’s free. Go to https://www.loc.gov/publish/pcn/.
Cataloging-in-Publication (CIP)—which looks like a library catalog entry—is a big help to librarians who want to put your book on their shelves. Our blog post about what it is, why you need it, and how to get it should persuade you on this topic. Cost: $60–$150. Providers:
- Cassidy Cataloging Services (U.S.)
- CIPblock.com (U.S.)
- The Donohue Group (U.S.)
- Five Rainbows Cataloging Services (U.S.)
Finally we arrive at the costs for producing the actual book. I hope you’re still with me.
Though we don’t advocate using any of these services because you lose control of your book, we know that many of you want the whole process to be packaged up and streamlined for you. As long as you understand that using such a service is not the same as finding a publisher, feel free to go ahead. Just ask around, read reviews about them, study the fine print, and be wary in general. Here are some you can consider:
- Bookbaby* (the biggest but not necessarily the best)
- DartFrog Books
- Encircle Publications
- Little Steps Publishing (in the UK)
Prices, quality, and the actual services offered vary all over the place, so ask questions, do some research, and then engage in a bit of arithmetic to figure out how much each copy of your book is going to cost you. Use ALLi’s list to find the best services. And don’t forget to find out what marketing efforts they will make on your behalf, and how effective they are.
From this point on, I’m going to assume that you have not hired a publishing service, and are continuing on your own.
Please, please hire a professional editor. Do not rely on Uncle Joe to do it for free. We’ve written about this, and you can find dozens of other articles saying the same thing: Editing is completely worth every penny. Ah, but how many pennies? That depends entirely on how much and what type of editing you need, whether your topic is technical or not, and how long your book is.
To find a reliable editor, we suggest contacting other members of your regional publishing organization for recommendations (and many of the organizations have members who are themselves editors). Or go online to the Editorial Freelance Association (U.S.), ACES: The Society for Editing (U.S.), or Editors Canada. Also check the list of IBPA membership benefits.
For an illustrated book, hire the best artist you can afford. Especially in a children’s book, the art is everything. We’ve discussed in our blog how to find and work with an illustrator, which we hope will be helpful, and here are some additional resources:
- The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)
- Association of Illustrators (based in the UK)
- Fiverr.com is normally used by artists who are starting out and willing to work for next to nothing ($5 and up).
- Artist representatives abound! Try individual reps such as Agent Pekka or Richard Solomon; or folioplanet.com, which is a list of artist agencies.
- Stock (ready made) illustrations can be found at Shutterstock.com ($2–$29 per image), Pixabay.com (free), Alamy.com (based in the UK, $19.99 and up)—and many other places.
Obviously your art expenses will depend on the size and number of illustrations, the artist you choose, and the agency (if any) that you go through. Quality is critically important, so don’t base your decision on cost alone.
Unless you’re a photographer yourself, you can start by looking for royalty-free stock photos:
- Alamy.com (based in the UK, $19.99 and up)
- Morguefile.com (free)
- Pixabay.com (free)
- Shutterstock.com ($2–$29 per image)
- and many others; search online for “stock photography”
The prices above may increase if you plan to use the images on your website, on tee shirts and mugs, or in ads. Read the fine print.
Using Adobe InDesign and our book. You can do this yourself, and that is exactly why we wrote Book Design Made Simple! The cost associated with designing your own book with InDesign is Adobe’s subscription charge, which currently runs from $50+ per month. And the price of Book Design Made Simple, Second Edition ($59.95, but available for much less online). Click here to order the print book, here for the fixed layout epub, and here for the Kindle edition.
Using less expensive software. An alternative to InDesign is Affinity Publisher, which is available for a one-time purchase price of $49.99. You would most likely also need Affinity Photo ($49.99) if you have any images in your book or on your cover. These programs are supposed to be as good as the Adobe products, and we’ve purchased them ourselves but haven’t had a chance to try them yet. Photo has an official handbook ($49.99 plus shipping). Publisher has video tutorials but no handbook yet. If you’re already an experienced book designer, the Affinity products could be an ideal solution.
Using a template. There are book design templates out there for the interior of your book. The best have been developed by a book designer, so check them out if this idea interests you. Prices: $59 (one-time use) or $119 (multiple uses). They work with various software applications, including InDesign and Word.
You can find offers online for both free book interior templates and free cover design templates. But you generally get what you pay for.
Hiring a designer.* If you’re convinced that design is simply not your thing, ask around at your regional publishing organization for references or to find designer members. The IBPA offers discounts through a few vendors, too. Once again, ALLi has a list of good designers.
You will need a cover designer and also a designer for the pages of your book. This can be the same person, but if not, ask them to work with each other so you get a coordinated look between cover and interior.
The cost: Book covers run from $150 to perhaps $2000, depending on the type of cover and complexity of the design. The interior of a book can cost from $150–$1500 for the design, plus $1–$12 per page for layout. With design services, the most expensive is not necessarily the best, but you can be pretty sure that the cheapest is not going to be very good. Go for the middle ground.
Proofreading is a self-publishing cost that some novices ignore, probably because they confuse it with editing. Proofreading is done after the book has been designed and laid out. Because the proofreader is a different person from the editor, he or she will discover an amazing number of mistakes that neither you nor the editor noticed. Some proofreaders are specialists, but some also do editing.
Proofreaders often charge by the hour ($15–$40). Others charge by the word or by the page, but probably they are figuring their fee in order to get an hourly rate that will keep them in business. As with editing, proofreading is worth every single penny. Please do not skimp on this last chance to discover errors before you go to print. Printers charge you for every change you make after your first printing, so this is another self-publishing expense that can actually save you money.
There are lots of printing options! Here’s a brief rundown.
Offset printing. This is the traditional printing method that uses ink, where many copies are printed at once, and higher volume brings a lower cost per unit. With offset and digital printing, you have more trim size and book binding options than with POD printing.
Digital printing. Similar to offset printing, this method also brings volume discounts, and it may be less expensive than offset printing overall. The difference is in the equipment used; digital is more like a copier, using toner rather than ink. There is a slight visible difference between this and offset, and if your book has illustrations or fine detail, you’d better ask the printer for some samples so you can examine the quality.
Print on demand (POD). This is the most popular method for beginning self publishers. It’s a variation on digital printing in which each book is produced separately in an Espresso Book Machine, and each copy costs the same to print, regardless of volume. Binding options are limited to paperback and hardcover.
Please understand that most of the publishing services also offer just plain POD printing. So if you don’t want to use The Big Guys (Amazon KDP and IngramSpark), you can get the same product at BookBaby, Lulu, or elsewhere.
ARCs. Remember that you can use POD for your advance review copies (see above) and then use another method for the rest of your books.
We’ve written in more detail about these printing methods to help you decide which way to go. Be sure to choose a method that matches your plan for book distribution (below). See these articles:
As for the price of printing, there are so many options that I can only make a stab at estimating expenses. As an example, though, for a small book of 100 pages the range might be from $3 per book (POD) to $1.50 (digital or offset for 1,000 copies).
You can create an ebook online for nothing through these and other services:
- Kindle Direct Publishing (Kindle books only)
- Lulu (non-Kindle and PDFs)
- Smashwords (only non-Kindle)
With these and other companies, you can use a template for your cover and interior pages. As long as you’ve already had your editing done and found all your images, you should do OK with this. Not great, but OK.
Instead of using a template yourself, you can have the formatting done for you, for a fee. At BookBaby, for instance, it’s $249 for 200 pages.
If you have a print version of your book, and you want your ebook and your print book to look alike, be sure to produce the print book first and then convert it to ebook format using your InDesign files.
Before you choose a company, be sure to check out what ebook format(s) you will get, and read about how they will sell your product and pay you. For Kindle books the file format is MOBI. For all other ebooks the file format is EPUB.
How are you going to get your book into readers’ hands? Book distribution is not something that most self-publishing authors think of. Your three basic options are described below.
1. Online retail. Sell through Amazon, bn.com, and other online retailers. Printing, shipping, and handling can be done in these ways:
- Choose POD printing by the retailer (usually Amazon KDP and/or IngramSpark) and never touch the books yourself.
- Sell your ebooks through Amazon (Kindle version only) and other ebook retailers, regardless of your method for selling the printed books.
- Print in volume, store the books yourself, and send them to the retailer in bulk as needed.
- Print in volume, store the books yourself, and send them out directly to purchasers as they are ordered.
The advertising fees that they charge so your book will appear in “also read” lists will be up to you to understand, navigate, and pay for.
2. Book warehouse. Use a warehouse to store your books and send them out as they are ordered. Most warehouses will accept any book as long as its content is not illegal or pornographic. They charge for this service, obviously, but are less expensive than a full service distributor. They do not work with POD printed books and most do not handle ebooks.
3. Full service book distributor. This type of company will store, market, and send out your books. A distributor is more fussy about the books they take on. They want you to have a proven sales record, and they require review copies many months before publication. Some will not accept self-published books at all. They charge for their services, which include having a sales team working for you, dealing with all the online retailers and their advertising programs, and filling retail and library orders. A few of them even have their own POD printing service. All of these factors may make a full service distributor seem difficult to find, but keep the possibility in mind once you become established in the marketplace because the distributor can save you a lot of time and headaches.
Naturally, the more service you require, the smaller chunk of the book’s sales price you get to keep. Balancing the factors of printing costs (higher for POD), distribution costs (lower for POD), and your personal tolerance for continual shipping and handling will help you decide which way to go for your book.
* * *
This is a lot of information! Because even I can’t keep it all in mind at the same time, here’s a checklist (SelfPubCostsChecklist) to help you as you work your way through the myriad of options and costs. I hope this speeds you along on a successful journey through the world of self publishing.
Book Design Made Simple. You can do it yourself.