As you consider your publishing journey, you’ll find a market saturated with options. This is a great thing for authors looking for better quality and services, as competition has driven self-publishing services both old and new to strive for even greater excellence. But to make an informed choice, you need to consider your budget and understand the average cost to publish a book.
If you’re new to publishing, you might not be aware of all that goes into successfully writing and publishing a book. Allow me a moment to create some anxiety.
First, you’ll need to write the book. That part mostly just costs time on your part. But after the manuscript is done, you’ll need to think about hiring an editor (or multiple editors), getting a cover designed, if you’ll do an initial print run, building an author website, and the kinds of advertising you’ll need to drive sales.
Overwhelmed yet? Don’t be. Today I’m going to break down for you one of the scariest pieces of the self-publishing puzzle—budgeting.
Before the budget comes the goal
We have to begin this with a very important disclaimer. Publishing means different things to different people. Your goals will inform how much you should spend on your book.
You can publish a book for $0.00 dollars. Absolutely and completely free.
Before you can consider the cost to self-publish a paperback or hardcover book, you need to know why you’re publishing. Without clearly defining a goal, you won’t be successful. No one decides to build a skyscraper or an airplane and then just does it. They plan, they draft outlines and blueprints; they conceptualize and budget their resources.
Traditional publishing taught authors that the money should always flow from publisher to author. But self-publishing platforms ditch the gatekeepers of traditional publishing. If you’re an indie author, you have to be prepared to invest in your publishing experience.
What Does It Really Cost To Self-Publish A Book?
We can simplify the math with a step-by-step guide for budgeting to publish. You’ll need to account for three major expenses:
- Writing and Editing
- Publishing and Printing
As you work on your book publishing plan and budget, you’ll need to address the many pieces that make up these three expenses. You’ll also need to think about the format (or formats) you’ll publish. The cost to self-publish a paperback book may not be the same as the cost to self-publish a hardcover book; factors like printing costs and unique formatting or cover design can affect your budget.
Writing And Editing Costs
For an industry standard look at pricing, I strongly suggest using the Editorial Freelancer Association’s rate chart:
Thankfully, the writing part of publishing doesn’t bring with it any extreme costs. You’ll likely need a computer or laptop, but most of us already have a device we can write on. Writing software is important too, but you can easily use Google Docs to write your book with no additional costs.
Writing Cost: $0.00
Once you’ve got the writing done, it’s time for the arduous book editing process. You’ll want to allow plenty of time for editing. Months at least, if not an entire year. Editing is one of the hardest aspects of publishing to pin down. It can vary from a simple process of correcting spelling and grammar (copy editing) to redesigning the story from the ground up (developmental editing). And everything in between.
The minimum level of editing is a professional copy edit. This will include fine-tuning the manuscript, and cleaning up spelling errors and inconsistencies, with a focus on the prose itself.
That’s the very bare minimum. You should aim to work with a developmental editor too: someone who can examine your book from cover to cover. A developmental editor will help ensure your book’s plot is clear and concise, with suggestions to help you revise your manuscript.
Finally, you’ll want to include a round of proofreading too. Similar to your copy editor, the proofreader will look for spelling and grammar issues to give that final manuscript the polish it needs.
Putting that all together, editing can be expensive. The last price will vary based on your word count and the genre you’re writing in. Here’s a breakdown of what editing might cost for a 60,000-word fiction book, using the EFA rates:
- Copy editing = $1,200
- Developmental editing = $1,800
- Proofreading = $1,200
That works out to $4,200 for editing alone. Which is a lot. Fortunately, you can often find freelancers and service providers who can offer better rates. It’s not uncommon to hire a copy editor who can bundle proofreading the revised manuscript, too, potentially saving you a lot of money.
Still, keep your editing budget high. If you want people to buy your book, you owe it to those readers to offer a clean, well-edited book.
Editing Cost: $3,000
Publishing And Printing Costs
Publishing involves formatting the book and the book cover design. If you’re working with a publisher who intends to charge you for publishing the book, take care to scrutinize what that cost includes. Most legitimate self-publishing platforms will not charge you anything to upload your book.
Some authors will handle the page layout themselves, while others will need to hire a professional to design their file. Even though a fiction book might seem like a simple project, there is a lot that goes into designing and laying out a book.
Remember that designing the file is more than slapping some page numbers on your Word file. Formatting for print is a complex, time-consuming process. Not to mention you’ll want to have an ebook file and you’ll definitely need to hire a pro to design your cover.
Your cover is very important for selling your book. It is the first and often only visual representation of your book. It has to make the right impression.
Finally, you’ll want to include an initial run of print books to sell. Yes, this is print-on-demand and readers will buy directly from you with no need to have books on hand. But having a dozen or more books is worthwhile—some will likely be given away to fans or friends. Others you might need to entice your local bookstore to sell on consignment.
Layout And Formatting Cost: $1,000
Once you begin the publishing process, you also have to dive into marketing. Don’t put this off! I’ve said it before, as has every other publishing professional in the world: you cannot hope to be successful without priming some readers, building some hype, and delivering on your promise in a timely, professional manner.
Lucky for you, marketing a self-published book can be very cost-effective. You’ll need an author website, which will include some fees for domain hosting and ecommerce. And you’ll be on social media in some form, which might include paid ads.
All in all, marketing can be the least expensive publishing cost you encounter. Don’t let that fool you though. Marketing is a huge time sink, easily comparable to the time you’ll spend actually writing your book.
For the actual budget, it’s smart to figure about $300 (annually) for your website. That affords you a site hosted by a trusted service like WordPress or Shopify and access to ecommerce. The rest of your budget can vary wildly based on your marketing strategy. If you’re going for the bare minimum, you should still allow a few hundred dollars, at least for some social media ads, an email marketing platform, Amazon ads, and qualified reviews.
Marketing Costs: $1,000
Preparing For Publishing Costs
If you take my (rough) estimates from this post, you’ll need to budget at least $5,000 for your self-publishing. That’s a lot of money, especially if you’re a new author just trying to get your first book out there.
It is also worth noting that the EFA pricing estimates are quickly becoming outdated. As self-publishing grows more and more cost-effective, the freelance market for services to publish has grown too. These freelancers and professionals are offering services at decreasing price points to remain competitive with big service providers. And with a freelancer, you have an individual designer you can work with, often directly by phone or email.
In the end, it’s most important to know your options. You can piece together services from a variety of freelancers, exerting more control but also having to coordinate the process and potentially pay more. Or you can hire a service provider to do the work for you and extract yourself from the process entirely.
Putting It All Together
Publishing is not cheap. I think we’ve established that. And once you’ve got that book published, you then have to work out how much you need to earn from each book sale to put together a solid plan. Your budget isn’t just how much you’ll spend to get published, it’s also a measure of how much you’ll need to earn for each copy of your book you sell to earn back that initial investment.
Budgeting is all about having goals. Selling 500 books in a year is an attainable goal for most writers—but it won’t happen without a devotion of time, money, and energy to your book. The cost to publish may seem prohibitive, but if your goal is to sell books, some kind of initial investment is almost always required.
Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person but considers himself cat tolerant.