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The Ultimate Guide to Self-Publishing Costs

Self-publishing costs

Self-publishing is portrayed as a free or low-cost alternative to traditional publishing. But is self-publishing truly free? If you are thinking about writing a book, it’s important to know about the potential self-publishing costs. In this article, we’ll explain the cost of self-publishing a book. We’ll break down the free, cheap, and professional quality options to know.

Publishing a book yourself can be free or cost thousands of dollars. The difference lies in the details. There is no step that you couldn’t do by yourself, but sometimes it’s better to hire a professional. When you’re aware of the kind of expenses to expect, you can make your own compromises.

Also, a quick PSA about vanity self-publishing prices. If you’re approached by a publisher who asks for a sum, think twice. “Vanity presses” (often appearing as “self-publishing companies”) can be trustworthy; others not so much. There have been instances where an author takes on all of the vanity publishing costs. Be wary of that, cause those are items traditional publishers do for free.

(Article was updated on May 30, 2018 with substantial changes.)

Self Publishing Costs - Table of Contents

1. Writing a book

When you write a book, your time is your biggest cost (time is money!) If you don’t want to invest your time, you can try co-writing your book or hiring a ghostwriter. Both options could have up-front costs and can involve splitting your royalties. If you decide to hire a ghostwriter (or if you are a ghostwriter yourself interested in picking up a project), make sure that you sign a contract. It should clearly contain who is the copyright holder and what happens to your royalties.

Skills neededWriting, creativity, tons of patience

Writing apps

When writing your own book, you’ll need writing software. You can use Google Docs or Reedsy Write for free, get a Microsoft Office license, or buy the popular Scrivener. Be sure to double-check the type of your computer. If you decide to go for a cloud service, you won’t have to worry about accidentally losing your work. We like Reedsy Write because of the free epub export. We also like Scrivener because of its organizational functions.

Free optionsGoogle Docs, Reedsy Write, Open Office
Paid optionsMicrosoft Word (various), Scrivener (45 USD)

Dictation apps

If you’re writing professionally, invest in a dictation tool. There is free dictation software like Google Voice typing. Premium options can be worth it if you’re taking writing (dictating) seriously. We share more about dictation software.

Free optionsGoogle Voice Typing, Dictation on iPhone or Mac
Paid optionsDragon (300 USD) or Dragon Anywhere (15 USD / m)

2. Editing and proofreading your book

Developmental editing

It’s SO important to look over your manuscript again and again. Invest in editing costs if you can. After being satisfied with what you have, it’s time to get another pair of eyes. There are two ways to go about this. 1) Hire a developmental editor. 2) Find a beta reader or critique partner.

Developmental editors not only check your grammar, but make major suggestions regarding your storyline, style, and structure. Hiring a developmental editor can be quite costly. Professional editors can cost around 40 USD / 1,000 words or more. The Society for Editors and Proofreaders recommends an hourly rate of around 43 USD. 

We are in touch with a few professionals whom we recommend. Or find an editor on Reedsy. If you don’t have the funds for your first book, try finding a beta reader or critique partner.

Skills neededSocial skills + patience for finding a beta
Free optionsBeta readers or critique partners
Paid optionsDevelopmental editor (40 USD / 1,000 words)

Copy editing

Another option is copy editors who look out for bad grammar and inconsistencies in your manuscript. They work meticulously on your text line by line to make your writing shine. If English is not your first language, we suggest copy editors even more. Check out this great write-up on why having an editor is absolutely crucial.

PublishDrive provides copy editing for 20 USD / 1,000 words. Or try browsing on Reedsy for an editor.

If you can’t afford an editor, take a few weeks off after completing your manuscript. Then, come back to it with fresh eyes. Read these golden rules for self-editing.

Skills neededImpeccable grammar skills + a few weeks off for fresh eyes
Free optionsSelf-editing
Paid optionsCopy editor (20 USD / 1,000 words)

Proofreading

Proofreaders look for the tiniest errors. Which is correct: data is or are? Don’t know what to do with your quotation marks? Your proofreader will help you make your book spotless.

Hiring a proofreader starts at 10 USD / 1,000 words. If you want to save money, open up the Chicago Manual of Style or your chosen style guide. Also, use the spell checker from Microsoft Word or Grammarly (they’re free!) Do a proofreading exchange with another writer. 

Skills neededImpeccable grammar skills + a few weeks off for fresh eyes
Free optionsManuscript swap, spell check, Grammarly
Paid optionsProofreader, Grammarly Premium (11 USD / m)
The Ultimate Guide to Self-Publishing Costs

3. Book cover design

If you want your book to stand out, you need a stunning book cover. A good book cover can develop the brand of publishing authors (and boost sales). Make sure your book cover attracts your potential reader’s eyes. Your cover should not only be “nice” but shout: “choose me!”

Designing an outstanding cover is far more work than simply choosing the fonts and colors. A book cover – that draws interest – demands advanced design skills. A professional should be proficient in Photoshop, InDesign, or Illustrator. A good cover designer should also know your genre well. Your cover should position your book on the market.

If you have some design skills (or have a low-cost self-publishing budget), try designing your own book cover

Skills neededAn eye for design + photo editing skills

However, we recommend investing in a designer. You can find one on Reedsy or Fiverr. Indie author Joanna Penn has an amazingly long list of cover designers on her website to choose from.

If you are thinking of getting a print copy of your book, don’t forget to design and order your print cover layout as well.

Free optionsDIY
Paid optionsStarting fom 5 USD to 4-500 USD

4. Ebook conversion and print layout

For either ebook or print, you’ll need your layout sorted. You’ll need an epub for online distribution (this is a format all stores accept). You’ll need a pdf for print distribution. Convert your ebook using our free tool. Reedsy Write also offers a print-ready pdf and a valid epub for free. (The cost of self-publishing an ebook is less.)

For print, most pros go for InDesign. You’d have to pay for the software and it has a steep learning curve. But if you have many books to convert, it could be worth it. Like finding other contractors, hire a designer on Reedsy or Fiverr.

Skills neededAn eye for design, InDesign skills
Free optionsDIY
Paid optionsInDesign (21 USD / m), hire a pro (0.5 USD / word)

5. ISBN

An ISBN is a unique identifier that helps stores identify a book. You’d need a separate ISBN for your ebook and your print copy. Traditionally published books needed one. But ISBNs are no longer a must for self-publishing ebooks. Read more about ISBNs.

ISBN for ebooks

You most likely don’t need an ISBN for your ebook. Most stores assign their own identifiers to your book. For example, a book on Amazon uses ASIN. Stores also accept ISBN-like identifiers. PublishDrive generates a widely accepted identifier for you: PUI.

If you decide to get an ISBN, contact your local (national) ISBN agency. In some countries, it is free. In the United States, get one from Bowker for 125 USD.

Free optionsGo through a distributor like PublishDrive
Paid optionsContact your local ISBN agency for pricing

ISBN for print books

In most countries, it is a legal requirement to get an ISBN for print books. Even where it isn’t, most bookstores don’t accept books without ISBNs. Stores need a standard identifier to identify your book in its catalog, order stock, and report book sales. It’s how they keep track of different versions. For example, books with a paperback and a hardcover version have two ISBNs. (Actually, most barcodes on books contain the ISBN for best results.) You can go through CreateSpace which costs 99 USD for an ISBN that is accepted worldwide.

Free optionsContact your local ISBN agency for pricing
Paid options99 USD at CreateSpace

6. Distribution

Distribution is all about getting your book in bookshops, Amazon, iBooks, OverDrive, and so much more. But does it cost money to sell your book?

Ebook distribution

Ebook distribution rarely has upfront costs. (One exception is IngramSpark where they have a 25 USD setup fee per title for ebook distribution.) In most business models, ebook distribution costs you a chunk of your royalties. You can approach stores directly or go to an aggregator to manage all of your stores together. Depending on the business model, you are most likely to earn between 75-50% of your sales as royalties.

No upfront cost optionsAmazon KDP, aggregators like PublishDrive
Paid optionsIngramSpark, BookBaby

Self-publishing printing costs a lot more. Traditionally, you’d have to print books in bulk and pay for storing and shipping. With print-on-demand, print distribution no longer cripples you financially. When someone orders a copy, your distributor will manage printing and shipping.

For this service, you usually have to pay for the title setup and/or a yearly fee to keep your book available in the catalog. In other models, you pay a share of your royalties for the service. There is no “good” or “bad” option. You choose what works best.

No upfront cost optionsCreateSpace
Paid optionsIngramSpark, BookBaby

7. Marketing

Marketing your book is crucial! There’s a ton of things you can do here. Building a website, running ads on social media, or paying for a BookBub promo costs money. There are also many things you can do to promote your book for free.

Skills neededSoft social skills for building relationships, basic IT skills

Creating an author website

It’s important to have a home page where your readers can find you. Building a site on WordPress.com is a free and popular option. Don’t forget to optimize it for mobile. And be sure to create a Facebook page and an Amazon Author page. To run an actual website, you’d have to pay for hosting the domain. Bluehost is a cheap based websites.

Free optionsFacebook Author Page, Goodreads, Amazon
Paid optionsWordPress and Bluehost, Squarespace

Establishing a social media presence

Using social media for your book is absolutely free. You just have to invest your time into building an audience.

Book promotion

On Facebook, ad cost depends on your audience, industry, country, and many other things. The good thing about these ads is that you start with as little as 10 USD.

On Amazon, you can start advertising from 1 USD. The minimum cost per click is 0.02 USD. See this guide about using Amazon ads for books.

BookBub is a popular option for book promotions. It has an immediate effect on sales. Many authors report positive long-term effects too. The cost depends on your book’s price, genre, and whether you’re running a US only or international promo. Politics, African American Interest, and LGBT authors can get a promo for 62-70 USD. Writers of Crime Fiction or Historical Fiction have to pay around 430 USD for a 0.99 USD book. So it varies.

FacebookBetween 0.2-0.8 USD per click
Amazon AMSFrom 0.002 USD per click
BookBubFrom 62 USD to 3,066 USD

The cost to self-publish a book: summary

Can the price to publish a book be free? Yes, but some things are worth spending money on. The total average cost to publish a book can add up to 1,5-2,500 USD.

  • Writing: free
  • Editing and proofreading: free to 1,500-2,000$
  • Cover design: free to 3-400$
  • Conversion and layout: free to 100$
  • ISBN: free to 125$ per title
  • Distribution: depends on your business model – usually a percentage of sales
  • Marketing: depends on your budget – from free to beyond

We hope you got everything you need to know about the real costs of self-publishing a book.

When you’re ready, check out PublishDrive. Our pricing is one of the cheapest self-publishing options out there. You can start distributing in thousands of stores worldwide for as low as $9.99 a month. Or try out the all-in-one publishing platform for free:

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