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How Much Does it Cost to Self Publish a Book?

by Tom Ashford

A lot of people worry over the cost of self-publishing a book, and I think it sends a lot of potentially successful indie authors down a path towards the traditional publishing houses – a path that might work out very well for that author, if they’re very lucky, but will almost certainly carry its own financial costs. After all, you’re not going to want to send an unedited manuscript to an agent or publisher, and a lot of traditional publishers now expect their authors to do a lot of the marketing leg-work (unless you’re already an established name, of course).

So how much does self publishing cost?

The short answer? Not a lot, if you don’t want it to.

I’m not talking about throwing your first draft up onto Amazon’s KDP with a homemade cover designed in MS Paint and WordArt, either. Read on for what you can save a few dollars on if you’re on a budget, and what you can’t afford to miss.

Getting Started

No matter which route you take – self or traditionally published – you’re going to need to set yourself up with some word processing equipment, right?

You’ve got your paid options; Microsoft Word probably springs to mind. Although a good piece of kit (and its Track Changes mode is incredibly valuable when it comes to working with an editor), Office is actually one of the most expensive options out there. You’re probably better off going with Scrivener, which carries a one-off cost of $40 for Windows and $45 for Mac and not only gives you boards on which arrange your planning and reference material, but will also format your book into .mobi and .epub formats too (the files needed for Kindles and other eReaders, respectively).

Of course, you can do all of this for free. Google Docs is a simple online tool that costs absolutely nothing, besides the time it takes to set up a gmail account (which isn’t long). And there’s no need to pay $250 for Vellum to convert your finished manuscript into the correct eBook format (though I would argue that this is the best way to end up with a professional looking final product). There are good platforms that offer book formatting for free – Draft2Digital being one of them. There are no strings attached, either. If you want to format your book with them but not use them to publish your book, that’s absolutely fine.

Editing

But wait a second before you upload that manuscript. I don’t care how good a writer you are, someone else needs to take a look at it first.

Some writers are also very good editors, but most aren’t… particularly when it comes to their own work! Even if editing is your day job and you’ve used everything you know to eradicate all the grammatical errors and spelling mistakes in your book, how do you know if your book is any good or not? You don’t want the first person who picks up a problem to be a reader.

So how much will editing cost you?

Unless you’re lucky enough to know a professional editor (or at the very least, a particularly avid and informed reader) who’ll do it for free, this is something you’re going to need to shell out for.

Editing is often split into two parts – developmental editing and proof reading. You may decide that you can skip the developmental editing stage, and that’s not the end of the world. Maybe you really have written the perfect story! It’s still worth getting somebody – be it that avid reader friend or a team of beta readers – to check it over beforehand. It’s all too common that a writer creates a world in their head but fails to put a pivotal detail down on paper. A character’s intention might make sense in your head because you’ve got a whole universe in there, but if something doesn’t fit right with your reader, you’ve lost them. Always get another pair of eyes, whether you’re paying them or not.

But try and dodge a proofreader and you’re playing with fire. Everyone ends up with the occasional mistake – in one book I had someone ‘rustle’ a boy’s hair instead of ruffle, which absolutely nobody noticed until a reader pointed it out – but common, frequent mistakes can bring down even the best story.

Different editors will charge different amounts, but you’re probably looking at about $300.

Front cover

This is the first thing your potential reader will see while they’re browsing the eBook store – don’t make a bad first impression. Your book needs to look indistinguishable from those that have been traditionally published. Nobody wants to pay good money for something that looks unprofessional.

As with editing, some people are already good at graphic design. Some people can design their own book covers. And that’s great, so long as you understand not just what makes for a beautiful cover but a beautiful cover that sells. It’s more important to grab the right person’s attention than to create the next timeless work of art.

If you can make your own covers, then it can cost as little as $10 (presuming you’re using free or existing graphic design software and you’ve sourced a single picture from a website like Shutterstock).

Let’s presume that, like most writers, designing a cover isn’t a core part of your skillset. How much is that going to cost?

As with editing, it depends on whom you go to. Unlike with editing, costs of a cover can vary drastically. At the more expensive end are companies such as Books Covered, run by Stuart Bache (cover designer for Mark Dawson, Stephen King, etc.). A cover from these guys will set you back $450 for an eBook cover and $580 if that includes the full paperback design. They’re not cheap – but then again, they’re very good covers.

There are plenty of ‘pre-made’ options out there, where you choose a design you like the look of and then the designer will update the author name and book title to suit you. These can be bought for between $40 and $150, and are often of very high quality – the only downside is that you don’t get to have something tailored specifically for your book (which most of the time isn’t all that important – it’s about grabbing a buyer’s attention, remember?).

If you’re really strapped for cash, you can try websites like Fiverr. Here you’ll find cover designs as cheap as, well, $5. But beware: for every brilliant designer (and there are a few people on there who can create truly beautiful covers) there are a hundred who won’t do even as good a job as you could do yourself. As always, you get what you pay for.

Marketing

Okay, so you’ve paid for an editor and you’ve got yourself a lovely book cover. You’ve probably spent between $340 and $600 making your book as professional a product as possible. It’s up on the Kindle store. Everyone’s going to buy it now, right?

Unfortunately, no.

Whether you’re self published or your book is released through a traditional publishing house, you’re likely going to have to do the bulk of your book’s marketing yourself. You might get lucky – some self-published authors have put their book online and made millions without much in the way of promo. But they’re few and far between, and the chances of that happening grow slimmer every day.

If you want people to buy your book, first those people need to know about it. And they’ll never know about it unless you advertise.

How much you spend is up to you, but here’s a tip: start small, with what you can afford to lose. Don’t put it all on red; it takes time to master Facebook and Amazon ads. And then, when those adverts start to work, scale up slowly.

Good luck. Once you’re turning a profit, you’ll be glad you didn’t skimp on that editing and cover!

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford is a professional copywriter, author of numerous dark fantasy and sci-fi novels, and the Head of Content at the Self Publishing Formula Blog. His books include the Blackwater trilogy and the Checking Out series.

He lives in London with his wife, in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets. Find out more about Tom here.