How Much Does Self-Publishing Cost? (11 Cost Types)

by | Mar 2, 2020

How much does self-publishing cost?

Something new writers who plan to self-publish don’t often think about before they start writing a book is how much it’s going to cost to get it published. After all, it costs nothing (except their time) to write it and putting it on Amazon is free. Well, if that’s what you’re counting on, I have news that may surprise you.

How much you spend on publishing a book depends on how much you are willing to invest in its quality. Quality sells, and quality costs money. If you go cheap, you run the risk of ending up with a book that doesn’t sell well.

Here is a breakdown of the cost of goods and services you will likely incur to self-publish a 200-page book (or about 60,000 words).

Editing

There is substantial work involved when it comes to shaping a manuscript into a market-ready book, and one of the most important aspects of this process is in the editing. While there is a certain amount of self-editing you can and should do yourself, a professional editor will help you make your work accurate, clear, credible, and marketable—comparable to traditionally published books.

There are arguably five different levels of editing:

  • manuscript assessment
  • developmental editing
  • line editing
  • copy editing
  • proofreading

I say arguably because there appear to be no industry standards for what is included in each of these categories. Talk to one publisher, and he’ll list ten different things his line editors look for in a manuscript. Talk to another and she’ll list six of the same things and add three of her own.

Following are what I most often see differentiating the levels of editing and their associated costs. The cost ranges are wide depending on the skill level of the editor and the condition of the manuscript.

  1. Manuscript assessment ($600–$3,000). This is the most basic level of editing—the big-picture evaluation of a manuscript where a content editor points out the strengths and weaknesses of the manuscript, usually in a multipage report. The elements assessed may include all or some of the following.
    • Story line
    • Character development
    • Setting
    • Narrative flow and style
    • Plot structure/scene development
    • Point of view
    • Organization
    • Pacing
    • Format
    • Suitability for intended audience and marketability
    • Accuracy of facts
    • Clarity
    • Tone
    • Voice
    • Dialogue
    • Book title and chapter titles
  2. Developmental editing ($3,600–$6,000). A developmental editor provides fixes or suggested fixes for the manuscript (chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph, scene by scene) that will correct the deficiencies identified in the assessment. This intensive edit is ideal for writers who have been made aware there are problems with their work but don’t know how to fix them.
  3. Line editing ($1,800–$4,800). A line editor analyzes and then polishes each sentence with respect to clarity and style. Some or all the following elements may be taken into consideration.
    • Sentence and paragraph structure and flow
    • Syntax
    • Clarity
    • Repetitiveness
    • Transitions
    • Paragraph breaks
    • Vocabulary level
    • Use of clichés and undesirable verbal tics
    • Diction
    • Grammar
    • Punctuation
    • Spelling
  4. Copy editing ($600–$3,000). Copy editing focuses on technical errors, including the following.
    • Subject-verb agreement
    • Verb tense
    • Diction
    • Grammar
    • Spelling
    • Punctuation
  5. Proofreading ($600–$1,800). The proofreader does a final check of the manuscript before it gets published and is responsible for correcting any remaining technical errors (primarily spelling, punctuation, typographical, and formatting).

Cover Design

The good news for self-publishers is there are cover designs available for just about any budget—you can pick up a decent pre-made, full-color cover for $50 or have one designed that will compete with books published by Penguin, Harper Collins, and Random House for up to $1,200.

Here are typical price ranges for different types of covers:

  • Pre-made: $50–$100
  • Designed using stock photographs: $125–$400
  • Custom designed: $500–$1,200

Formatting

If they have the expertise, writers can obviously format their book themselves. It’s not that complicated. But there are so many things that can go wrong in book formatting that I think it pays to have a professional do it. There are differing processes and requirements for formatting books in paper, digital, and Kindle formats—the formatting that looks good in print isn’t necessarily the best or easiest to read for Kindle readers, for example.

Here are the formatting price ranges for four different formats:

  • Print: $80-$120
  • E-book (EPUB & Kindle): $75-$100

Printing

There are numerous places where you can your book printed. If you choose IngramSpark (who I think are in line with other printers), expect to pay about $0.015 per page for a 6×9, black-and-white interior, full-color cover with no inside illustrations. For a 200-page book, this adds up to $3 per copy.

ISBN

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a thirteen-digit number that identifies the registrant as well as:

  • the specific title
  • edition
  • format of the book

It is essentially a product identifier used by:

  • publishers
  • booksellers
  • libraries
  • Internet retailers
  • other supply-chain participants

for ordering, listing, sales records, and stock control purposes. ISBNs may be purchased from an affiliate of the International ISBN Agency, such as Bowker, for $125 if you purchase a single one and $295 if you purchase ten. They are required only if you want your book available in libraries, bookstores, and other retailers.

Editor’s note: The ISBN price mentioned above is for US ISBNs. Cost and where to purchase ISBNs varies country to country. If you are not in the US and plan to publish, please find your country here and contact that agency for information specific to your country.

Distribution

Today, more than half of all book sales (regardless of format) take place online, and self-published authors have the same access to online retail distribution as the major publishers and without many up-front costs.

If you choose to sell your book on Amazon—the number one retailer of books in both print and digital formats—there is no cost involved in the distribution of your books. Or you can choose to work with any number of distribution services for a nominal fee or percentage of your profits. For example, IngramSpark charges a $49-per-title setup fee for print books, and then wholesale distribution is free.

Paid Promotion and Advertising

In most cases, self-published authors have limited money to spend on promoting their books. But free promotional opportunities go only so far in helping your book gain the exposure it needs to become profitable.

The amount of money you budget for book promotion and advertising really comes down to how much you can afford to spend, and the figure I hear very often is $100 per month. This may be too high or too low for some, but it’s a starting point. See how far it will go, track results, and modify it as needed.

Education

One can learn a lot about writing and the publishing industry for free, but there will be times when you will want to take a class or attend a webinar that isn’t free. Costs start from $50 for a decent webinar and $135 for a college-level class.

Reference Materials, Dues, and Subscriptions

Expenses vary in this category depending on your needs. Included are:

  • how-to books
  • software licenses
  • website domain fees
  • online subscriptions
  • trade journals
  • writing association dues

Office Supplies and Equipment

Don’t forget to budget for things like business cards, mailing envelopes, printer ink, and anything else you might need in the way of office supplies. If you need to purchase computer equipment specifically for the purpose of writing books, include the associated cost in your budget as well as the cost to maintain them.

Postage

You will probably send out copies of your printed book to friends, family, and reviewers. Depending on the number of books sent and their destinations, this cost will vary.

How much does self-publishing cost? A summary

So, let’s recap. You can expect the following expenses to publish a 200-page (60,000-word) black and white book with a full-color front and back cover:

Editing—As little as $600 if your manuscript is in excellent shape and all you need is minimal proofreading. As much as $18,000 if your manuscript has multiple issues, and you engage services from experienced editors for all five levels of editing.

Cover design—As little as $50 for a pre-made, fully-illustrated cover. As much as $1,200 for a custom-made one.

Formatting—As little as $25 for a simple PDF file. As much as $280 for a package of PDF, print, e-pub, and Kindle files.

Printing—Paying $3 a copy for a 200-page printed book is standard.

ISBN—As little as $29.50 each if you purchase ten. As much as $125 if you purchase a single one.

Distribution—As little as $0 for standard online retail distribution. $60 per title is a common price to pay for expanded distribution.

Promotion & advertising—As little or as much as you want to invest in getting exposure for your book.

Education—The national range for a single community college class is $135 – $750. Webinars usually start at $50.

Reference materials—This cost will vary depending on individual needs. Consider how-to books, software licenses, website domain fees, online subscriptions, trade journals, and writing association dues.

Office supplies & equipment—This cost will vary depending on individual needs. Consider business cards, mailing envelopes, printer ink, and computer equipment.

Postage—Consider the cost to send copies of your book to friends, family, and reviewers.

As in other aspects of our lives—personal and business—having a budget in place before the spending begins is a wise thing to do to keep on a good financial track. Expenses required to write, publish, and promote books can get out of hand quickly if not properly managed, so it’s beneficial to take time early in the process to prepare a budget.

Photo: BigStockPhoto

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24 Comments

  1. Jacob Lemon

    Hi Florence Osmund!
    Thanks for your sharing, this is quite informative and Now I can direct anyone who asks this article!
    Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Ava Greene

    May be mistaken, but I believe you can list a book in Ingram’s catalogue for $60 a year. (I think I did it with my first book.) That could be where that number came from. Otherwise, $49 per title is their usual. And, fyi, they have a current promotion until March 31, 2020 for either one free title set-up or one free revision: “NANO2020”

    Reply
    • Florence Osmund

      Thank you for the heads up on the free promotion, Ava. Good to know!

      Reply
  3. Carlene

    I’ve been formatting books for print for over 25 years, and $120 is what I charge for a basic 120-page book (formatted in InDesign) with no math, tables, footnotes, or extensive Photoshop. It averages around $1 per page, unless you are advocating hiring someone outside the US, from a country where minimum wage is much lower than it is here.

    Reply
    • Florence Osmund

      Thank you for this feedback, Carlene. It’s money well spent having a book professionally formatted. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cringed at seeing formatting errors, especially in e-books.

      Reply
      • Carlene

        Thank you, I agree.

        Reply
  4. Debbi

    Hi again,

    I see now you’ve already received a correction. Sorry to add yet another comment about that.

    FWIW, the $49 is a one-time set-up fee, rather than a distribution fee, which IngramSpark indicates on its chart is free.

    Cheers,
    Debbi

    Reply
    • Florence Osmund

      Noted, and we’ve now corrected this information in the article. Thank you.

      Reply
  5. Debbi Mack

    Hi,

    I publish and distribute my print books through IngramSpark.

    I’ve never been charged $60 for distribution. And I don’t see that fee listed here: https://myaccount.ingramspark.com/Tools/Home

    What is the source of that particular number?

    Best,
    Debbi

    Reply
  6. Sherelle Winters

    IngramSpark is only $49/title to list, not $60. There are also frequently codes to have that waived, including ones every year for NaNo and some of the big self-publishing conferences. :-)

    Reply
    • Florence Osmund

      Thank you for the correction, Sherelle, and the added information.

      Reply
  7. Sherelle Winters

    FYI, there are lots of places to get your barcodes free – there are free online generators or you can download them using IngramSpark’s free cover templates.

    Reply
  8. Ava Greene

    ** I don’t even know what to say to you.

    Reply
  9. Ava Greene

    Great summation, Florence! Courageous of you to condense this BIG topic into one page, wow. I wrote a whole book about it, “Surviving Self-Publishing or Why Ernest Hemingway Committed Suicide.”

    The breakdown of the editing process is so useful for new authors. And I’d lean into self-editing first, as part and parcel to writing. For $18,000 worth of assistance…you might want to consider some other passion (while traveling around the world).

    Interesting to see Ernie Zelinski’s (below) candid numbers, because he’s a multi-titled author who never rests. Yeah, calculating true costs can be a tear-jerker for self-pubbers. As I say in my book, “If you’re in this for the money, I don’t even what to say to you.” LOL.

    Reply
    • Florence Osmund

      Thank you, Ava. Writing this article was a little like condensing a novel into the back cover blurb (except I tried to give away all the spoilers in the article). The costs associated with writing a book were eye-opening for me, so I figured they might be for others as well.

      Reply
  10. Harald Johnson

    A good, comprehensive overview of Indie costs. But slightly disagree with “but free promotional opportunities go only so far in helping your book gain the exposure it need to become profitable.” One of my guidelines is: always push Free to the max before expending money on Paid. And even then, there are ways to do Paid that are profit sources, e.g., Amazon Advertising, if done correctly. But you provide a good starting-point laundry list.

    Reply
    • Florence Osmund

      I completely agree, Harald…utilize “free” advertising first before spending money on promotions. If “free” gets you to where you want to be, that’s great.

      Reply
  11. George

    Great information. Possibly the most comprehensive ever. Thanks.
    Now I can direct anyone who asks to this article. :-)

    Reply
  12. Judith Briles

    Ernie … I always love your number crunching and getting that publishing is a business. Judith

    Florence … you are wise to lay out the huge range of costs that can be incurred. That this is a business. And that the author to day needs to have a PLAN to market and sell books. Judith

    Reply
    • Florence Osmund

      Thank you, Judith. Some authors don’t go into it thinking of it as a business, but it really is if they’re serious about it.

      Reply
  13. Ernie Zelinski

    For what it’s worth, here is my experience. I didn’t use any editing or proof reading services for my latest book.

    These are the costs in Canadian dollars incurred for publishing my “The Joy of Being Retired: 365 Reasons Why Retirement Rocks — and Work Sucks!” which I published in January 2019 in both a POD print edition and in a offset print edition (no ebook editions yet).

    Initial Costs

    Bar Codes $26.98
    Cover Design – Fiverr $316.74
    Revise Cover Design – Upwork $142.14
    New Bar Codes $27.52
    Printing Costs for Offset Print Edition $5,010.25 (1,813 copies @ $2.76 per copy)
    8 POD Copies from Amazon $189.25

    TOTAL INITIAL COSTS $5,712.88

    Amazon and Other Advertising Costs

    February. 2019 $2.14
    March. 2019 $61.24
    April, 2019 $134.25
    May, 2019 $158.03
    June, 2019 $196.10
    July, 2019 $231.87
    Aug, 2019 $172.60
    Sept. 2019 $196.07
    October, 2019 $120.80
    November, 2019 $132.99
    December. 2, 2019 $287.95
    December. 16, 2019 $475.11
    Jan. 2020 $638.53
    Feb. 2020 $379.57
    Sandhill Book Mtg Ad – in BC Bookworld $175.00

    TOTAL $3,362.25 (Total Spent on Amazon Ads and BC Bookworld)

    TOTAL COSTS TO DATE $9,075.13

    TOTAL COPIES SOLD AND TOTAL REVENUES 1,938 $16,204.05

    NET PROFIT TO DATE $7,128.92

    Note that I still have around 800 copies of the offset print edition that have not been sold but have been fully paid for.

    Reply

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