• Ashley W. Slaughter

My Self-Publishing Antics, Part 3: How much does it cost to self-publish?

Welcome to My Self-Publishing Antics! This is where I lay out the nitty-gritty of the self-publishing process to the best of my ability. I hope this helps you authors make important decisions as you maneuver the confusing and at-times overwhelming roller coaster of publishing your own book!


Photo created on Canva by Ashley W. Slaughter
 

Here's the thing about self-publishing: you yourself are responsible for every aspect of your book. How it looks, how it reads, how many different formats there are, how it's distributed, how it's advertised . . . You get where I'm going!


And the truth is that these things cost money. "How it looks" goes into hiring a cover designer and a book formatter. "How it reads" goes into hiring an editor. "How it's advertised" goes into marketing and paid ads. In self-publishing, it is definitely possible (and preferable!) to make these costs back along with some extra income. Many self-published authors make a decent living wage from their books! That's typically the goal, right?


However, money needs to be put in if you expect to get any money back out.


It's no secret that self-publishing can be pricey, especially when you are first starting out. In order to self-publish, it is essential that you have a bit of money saved up in order to start the process. Read on for a breakdown of where you can expect your dollars to go.


*prices indicated below are in USD*

 

Created on Canva by Ashley W. Slaughter

1. Hiring an Editor


I'm starting this list off with one of the most essential parts of publishing a book. No matter how wonderful of a self-editor you may be, you really need to have someone else do your editing for a couple of reasons:

  1. You are simply too close to the work. Your book is your baby! No one wants to change their babies!

  2. You wrote the book, meaning you've probably read through it so many times that you're going cross-eyed. You will glean over any grammatical errors because you've already seen them so many times.

  3. You need an outsider's view of how your book reads. As the author, you might not realize this certain character is coming off snarky when in your head they were calm, or you might not realize how formal some sections of your dialogue may sound, or you may not realize your character has blue eyes in the beginning of the book and green by the end. Someone needs to catch these things!

  4. You might not know the book market as well as you think you do. (I know I surely don't!) An editor will determine your book's marketability based on its specific genre, story type, and age of audience.

Hiring a professional editor to look over your work will elevate the readability of your book to a whole new level.


Typically, editors charge per word. Between $0.02-$0.04/wrd is a good ballpark estimate. But there are also different types of editing, and those run for different rates as well. Here is a general breakdown:

  • Developmental editor: Helps smooth out and organize your story content; $0.03-$0.039/wrd

  • Line editor: Studies each sentence's style and flow, really heightens reader experience; $0.04-$0.049/wrd

  • Copy editor: Provides an in-depth proofread line by line, focuses on grammar; $0.02-$0.029/wrd

  • Proofreader: Fixes grammatical errors, spelling, and punctuation throughout your novel; $0.02-$0.029/wrd

*rates gathered from Editorial Freelancers Association; based on fiction novels*


Editing is typically where the bulk of your money will go, and for good reason! Reader experience is arguably the most important aspect of supporting your fan base. What better way to ensure your readers have a good experience than to hire a professional?


The price of editing will depend on your novel's length. For example, a 50,000-word romance novel at $0.02-$0.04/wrd will cost about $1,000-$2,000, whereas a 90,000-word fantasy novel will cost around $1,800-$3,600. This is for one editing pass; some authors want or require two or three rounds of different types of editing.


Big takeaway: expect to spend at least $1,500 on editing.


 

2.) Hiring a Cover Designer


You will often hear self-published authors say that if you spend money on anything at all, spend it on getting your book professionally edited and getting a cover professionally designed. This is so true. Editing and cover design are, to me and many others, the two most important aspects of creating a book. Yeah, marketing is of course essential, but will you have a good product to market without a well-edited and gorgeous book?


I read a post recently that said, "The saying 'Don't judge a book by its cover' is applicable to everything except books." The truth is that your book's cover is what attracts the reader to your book in the first place. It's just a fact! The human brain processes images faster than text (60,000x faster!), so a cover will grab your reader faster than your blurb will.


Also, cover design is arguably one of the most enjoyable aspects of creating your book! This is your chance to find someone who will help your wonderful story grab everyone's attention!


When I was receiving quotes from cover designers, the general range was between $500-$1,000. However, some cover designers charge more, and some charge less.


Big takeaway: expect to spend at least $500 on cover design.


Side note: Where can I find these professionals?

Freelance editors and cover designers (and book formatters!) can be found on several different freelancing service sites! I recommend one that requires certain certifications in order for the professionals to post their services, such as Reedsy.com.


Other side note: Can I forego hiring these professionals and just do them myself?

In short, yes. And hey--it's hard just starting out as a self-publisher. If the funds don't allow, then yes, it is possible to publish without an editor or cover designer. However, don't expect a hefty return on your product. That is why I recommend having some money saved up before publishing (think of these as start-up costs for a small business). So, should you forego? No.


 

3. Print-on-Demand and Distribution Services


Making the decision on where to upload your novel is a conversation in itself. This comes down to the market you are aiming for. Several genres do better as ebooks, while others are better read in print.


For ebooks, the most popular (and pretty much necessary) place to publish your book is Amazon KDP. Uploading your book to Amazon is free, and they also allow for printing in paperback and hardcover! And Amazon can distribute your book as they do allow you to set a wholesale discount (a must for physical book distribution), but it is widely accepted that bookstores will not consider stocking a novel published solely on Amazon.


For print books and distribution, IngramSpark checks all the boxes when it comes to authors wanting their books in brick-and-mortar bookstores. This is because IngramSpark gives authors the option to 1.) set wholesale discounts and 2.) allow returns. IngramSpark is run by Ingram Content Group, which is one of the largest book distributors in the U.S. Plus, IngramSpark has some of the best prices per printed book in the industry.


IngramSpark, however, is not free. To upload a book, prices at the time of writing this article are $49 for one print book, $49 for one print book and ebook uploaded at the same time, and $25 for one ebook. These fees are a one-time payment and include distribution of your titles.


So, to upload and distribute hardcover, paperback, and ebook versions of your novel on IngramSpark, you can expect to spend around $98 ($49 for hardcover [or paperback], $49 for paperback [or hardcover] and ebook uploaded together).


There are other print-on-demand services that you can upload your book for free! B&N Press, Lulu, and Draft2Digital are a few. However, B&N Press does not offer distribution services, and Lulu and Draft2Digital have certain fees for distribution.


Big takeaway: expect to spend around $98 for distribution of your book.

*Note: uploading your book to both Amazon KDP and IngramSpark is a very popular path among self-published authors for wider distribution and higher royalties*



 

4. ISBNs


In order to upload your book to any of the platforms mentioned above, you need *ISBNs*.

Many platforms will give you free ISBNs. However, I highly recommend purchasing your own ISBNs. They look more professional with you listed as the publisher (rather than, for example, Amazon, or 'Independently Published') and they give each format of your book a singular number for distribution and cataloging systems. If you are going to self-publish your books from a small business standpoint (because you are your own publishing business, after all, and you've done all the work--not Amazon!), owning your ISBNs is a must.


In the U.S., the only place from which to order ISBNs is Bowker. Don't fall for the scammers! Bowker is run by the U.S. ISBN Agency and is the solely responsible organization for assigning ISBNs to titles published within the U.S.


Prices at the time of this write-up are as follows:

  • 1 ISBN - $125

  • 10 ISBNs - $295

  • 100 ISBNs - $575

The best deal without a doubt is the 10 ISBN bundle. Each format needs its own ISBN, and ISBNs don't expire. So unless you are only publishing one ebook or one paperback ever in your life, 10 ISBNs are the way to go. If you see yourself writing many books or want to take other self-published authors under your wing as a publishing company, 100 ISBNs may be suitable for you (there is a 1,000 ISBN bundle as well). However, for most of us, 10 ISBNs is a really good place to start, and you likely won't have to purchase another ISBN bundle for a while.


Bowker also has other packages that include barcodes and QR codes, but there are websites out there that will generate these for you for free.


Big takeaway: expect to spend $295 on ISBNs



 

5. Copyright Registration Fees


The moment you physically create anything, your creation is protected under copyright law. However, if your book is plagiarized or pirated (which, unfortunately, happens a lot), it should be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office if you hope to have any clout in the legal system. Copyright registration is how you prove your book is yours.


The current registration price for a single published work is $65. There are other registration types such as group registrations of unpublished works (such as if you have a complete series that you are preparing for publication in a rapid-release strategy), but most times, for one title, the single published registration is what you want.


There is some really good info out there about copyright (look up Robert Pimm, Literary Lawyer). You can register your book for copyright at Copyright.gov.


Big takeaway: expect to spend $65 per title on copyright registration.


 

6. Marketing


Ah yes, the bane of every author's existence: marketing. The necessary evil. You've got an awesome book with a strong plot, developed characters, and a beautiful cover--now people need to know it exists!


Marketing covers a lot of different aspects-- ads, book tours, giveaways, newsletters . . . Here I'll focus on paid ads.


A word of advice I was given is not to worry about ads until you are already making a decent return on your books. This is because the amount of money you will spend on an ad will be higher than what you make from ads when you are just starting out as a self-published author. In order for your ad to get any reach and convert to sales, you need to place a high enough bid on your ad campaign--which is something many newbie authors just can't afford.


However, if you have the money to put toward ads, go for it. A higher bid per ad campaign will get more reach. We're talking at least $10 per day of campaign. An Amazon Kindle Lockscreen ad requires a minimum bid of $100 for 30 days (but you end up only paying for the amount of clicks).


For an author just starting out, I would put that money instead toward other marketing opportunities, which I'll talk about briefly later in this blog post and more in-depth in another.


A nice free way to advertise is through your social media accounts. Everyone has social media--why not flood it with images of your book?!

*Note that some SM platforms do not allow promotion on personal accounts, so you will need a business or creator account. Also free!*


Big takeaway: if you choose to set up ad campaigns, expect to spend $50-$100 per month on ad campaigns



 

7. Miscellaneous Expenses


It's smart to have some money set aside for miscellaneous or unexpected expenses, such as software subscriptions, general business expenses, and ordering any books you would like to keep on-hand. Below is a quick list of things you might want (or should) expect to pay for:

  • Business license - varies by state

  • Website platform subscription - varies by platform

  • Domain reservation - varies by platform

  • Other marketing opportunities:

  • Business E-mailbox subscription (for newsletters) - varies by software

  • Giveaways - cost of book and/or merchandise + shipping

  • Book Tour Organization - varies by company


A good estimate for all misc. expenses - $500-$1,000 starting out



 


The Big Picture


When taking a real bet on yourself and your books, self-publishing isn't cheap. There are so many factors that go into making a book successful, and if those steps are taken, you give your book the best chance you possibly can.


So, here is a tally of the amount you should have saved up before you hit that 'Publish' button:

  • Editing - $1,500-$3,000

  • Cover Design - $500-$1,000

  • POD and Distribution Services - $98

  • ISBNs - $295

  • Copyright Registration - $65

  • Marketing - $50/month (ads or otherwise)

  • Misc. Expenses - $500-$1,000

Grand total: $3,000 - $5,500


Don't let your dreams be dreams. By investing in yourself and in your book, you can become a published author as well as reap the monetary benefits of self-publishing. And now, with a guide in mind, you can begin to plan out your savings and anticipate your expenses in preparing your book for the world to see and enjoy!


Go get 'em! You've got this!!


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