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How to Assess the Costs of Self Publishing a Book

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 22, 2019 • 5 min read

While some writers shop their manuscripts to traditional publishing houses, indie authors opt for an alternative option—self-publishing. This method gives writers more control over the layout, edit, and distribution of their book, but it also requires a financial investment. There are several variables to consider before determining the exact cost of self-publishing your own book without the support of a publishing company.



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What Factors Affect Publishing Costs?

If you’re an author self-publishing your first book, take these factors into consideration early in the publishing process when you're creating your budget:

  • Length of your book: In book publishing, length is measured by word count (i.e. you might have a 75,000-word manuscript), and editing costs are often broken down to a per-word cost. The more words you have, the higher the costs you’ll incur when it comes to editing and proofreading. If you are planning to print physical copies of your book, a longer book will incur higher printing costs as well.
  • State of the draft: If you’re handing over a rough first draft to a copy editor without doing any self-editing, the book will have to go through heavier editing and several revisions.
  • The genre and complexity of your book: If you’ve written a children’s book that is under 1,000 words, the edit will require less than a bigger work of fiction. If you’re publishing a non-fiction book, historical fiction, or an academic publication, an editor may be responsible for fact checking and footnotes, necessitating a more in-depth edit.
  • The experience of your contractors: If you’re looking to publish a high-quality book you’ll need to hire people well-versed in the book publishing industry. You’ll pay more for highly-trained and experienced professionals.
  • The medium of your book: As you begin down the publishing path, you’ll have to decide if you want to create a print book or an ebook (to be read on devices like the Kindle or Nook)—or both. If you want to have printed copies of your book on hand, you’ll have to make a minimum order and pay upfront.

What Is the Cost of Self Publishing a Book?

Authors spend an average of $2,000 to $5,000 publishing their own books. Some spend much less, while others spend upwards of $20,000. Here is how the costs of self-publishing break down:

  • Professional editing: There are several different levels of editing your book might need. A developmental editor does an in-depth, big-picture edit, focusing on overall structure, character development, and content. Based on a 60,000-word manuscript you’ll be spending $1,400 for developmental editing. Copy editing (fixing mechanical issues like grammar and sentence structure) will cost approximately $1,000. A proofreader often does a final pass for typos, and their fee is in the ballpark of $600.
  • Cover design: People do judge a book by its cover, so make sure you find a book cover designer who captures the essence of your story and understands the graphic elements that a cover needs to catch the eye of a reader. Book cover design averages $500 but can cost anywhere from $250 to $1,500 and up. A good designer who is experienced will understand the role a book cover plays in book sales.
  • Book formatting: Formatting is essentially creating the interior design of a book. This includes typesetting, which involves aligning text and images to the dimensional needs of both printing and ebooks. Most authors pay formatters between $500 and $1,000, give or take several hundred dollars. Cost will depend on their experience, the length of the book, and how much visual material is included in the book.
  • Marketing: Marketing costs vary. Some writers have an online following and announce their book launch over social media and their author website, and their book marketing costs are zero. Authors, on average spend zero to $2,000 if they handle the marketing themselves or use online retailers to market their book.
  • Printing: While most self-publishers use print-on-demand services, some published authors like to have physical copies of their books on hand. Prices vary depending on how many you need, and most printers require a bulk order. It might cost you one to two dollars per book for 1,000 books.
  • Distribution: There are generally no up-front distribution costs with self-published books. If you sell your book through an online retailer, they will take a percentage of the sales.
  • Audiobook: Producing an audiobook version costs between several hundred and several thousand dollars depending on who narrates and how long your book is.
  • ISBN: An international standard book number, or ISBN, is a 13-digit number, with accompanying barcode, that is assigned to every published book. Getting your own ISBN costs $100 for one or $295 for 10 codes.
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6 Tips for Saving on Publishing Costs

For first-time authors eschewing traditional publishers, there are ways to make self-publishing a low-cost investment. Follow these six steps to save money on publishing your book:

  1. Wear many hats. The more work you put into your book, the less you’ll need to outsource. Learn to self-edit. Proofing your own work takes time but can reduce both the workload and price tag for a professional editor.
  2. Get free feedback. Before you invest in a development editor, hand your draft over to beta readers—people who volunteer or get paid to read your book and give feedback. After they’ve read your manuscript, ask them how they felt about the structure, flow, and overall storyline. Barter with them to see if they’ll read your draft for a finished copy of your book. Recruit beta readers from any writing groups you’re a part of and offer to be a beta reader for their book in return.
  3. Hire an editor and book designer who are early in their careers. Since most of the big expenses associated with self publishing go to freelancers, find an editor and book designer who are just starting out. You’ll be giving them a great opportunity and their rates will be lower than more experienced editors and book designers.
  4. Embrace DIY formatting. Invest in your own writing software and book formatting tools through a website like Scrivener, a company that offers self-publishing products. For under $200 you can format your book yourself and get it ready for print or ebook sales.
  5. Print on demand. Authors no longer have to print hundreds of books at a time and find a place to store them. Print on demand (POD) books are printed when a customer orders them, and the printing cost is deducted from the writer’s profit.
  6. Be your own brand ambassador. When it comes to book promotion, there are many ways to market your book for free these days. Use social media to create a buzz about your book. Create an email list so you can announce your book launch. If you have a following, have a drawing and give away a free book. Send a copy of your book to media outlets, and see if any of them will do an interview so you can promote your book.


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