The Cost to Self-Publish Explained

How Much Does It cost to Self-Publish a Book?

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.

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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:

  1. Writing and Editing
  2. Publishing and Printing
  3. Marketing

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:

EFA editing rates chart (partial)
Some rates, like Line Editing and Proofreading, are not shown here. See the full list for all editing rates: https://www.the-efa.org/rates/

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.

Likewise, you’ll want an AI editor like Grammarly or ProWritingAid, but both ‌tools offer free versions too. 

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, 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, 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

Marketing Costs

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.

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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 H, Content Marketing Manager
Paul H

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.

21 thoughts on “How Much Does It cost to Self-Publish a Book?”

  1. The minimum level of editing is a single professional copy edit. If you have a solid group of friends and family who’ll be reading and giving notes, you can get away with just paying for a single review for spelling and grammar.

    Editing Cost: $600
    Layout – Some authors will be able to han

  2. This is a very helpful article, but I respectfully take issue with your suggested $600 budget for editing. Though you do reference the EFA chart and note that there’s a wide range of editorial services, your suggested budget seems to be based on the absolute BARE minimum of a single copyedit, when most authors really need developmental editing or at the very least some kind of editorial evaluation to help them spot the weaknesses in their work. (Full disclosure: I run a team of editorial professionals and have been in this business for nearly 20 years, so I admit to bias, but it’s tempered by experience.) Professional authors receive developmental editing from their house editors, but indie authors must seek it out for themselves, and it is especially critical in the beginning of one’s career when one is still learning the craft. Using the same rate chart and assuming the maximum pages per hour and minimum suggested rate, that’s still $1800, leaving a huge gap between what you’re suggesting authors estimate and what they are more likely to actually need to spend. Yet you’re allotting $900 for layout when that is a task that many authors can perform themselves using attractive templates, often provided by publishing services or even for purchase from qualified book designers. Moreover, a “solid group of friends and family” are not a replacement for a professional edit at any level. You need objective feedback from someone who not only understands what makes your specific type of book marketable, but who can articulate the problems and suggest solutions at the root level. Friends and family in almost all cases cannot do either. You’re confusing the value of beta reads with an editorial process. Authors on a budget need to trim costs where they can, but trimming it from the editing, which is arguably the most critical outsourced service next to a cover design, is unwise at best. And suggesting that $2,000 is a “high end” estimated budget is way off.

  3. I’m sorry to hear about your experience. But there’s a lot of available platforms now. Keep on writing. It may be your
    audience has not discovered you yet. Though there are 2 things I discovered about publishing: (a) a book editor is a must and (b) a good cover (but don’t spend too much. Plus Canva and other free online sites for book cover making are available).

  4. I intend to publish a documentary in Arabic language, about my late father. It is printed and ready to go with photos.If everything goes alright,Is it possible to use your services? and if yes ,How do I go about it,??
    regards

    1. Hi Ayham,
      Sounds like a great project! You’d create your book in exactly the same way as any other – on lulu.com/create/books – but be sure to set up your file to read from “back to front” to accommodate our left to right printing.

  5. I love to write, but I don’t write for glory. I would like to make a career from that. I have so many ideas, such a rich life story, but I don’t have enough time to do that because I have to earn a living. I am afraid I won’t live enough to write all I want to write. I would like to write every day from sunrise to sunset. This is my dream. I am happy to read that an author who commented above had such a success without investing in publishing a book. I wish I could say the same, but I can’t. I have published with a self-publishing company and my first novel was a total fiasco. I lost all my savings. Then I published alone and I am doing much better. What I can say is if you are a author who writes for live and not for a living, keep writing, smiling and spreading the love. This is life. Thank you for this post. Insightful.

    1. Hi Christina. Just read your post. I’m sorry to hear about your experience. But there’s a lot of available platforms now. Keep on writing. It may be your audience has not discovered you yet. Though there are 2 things I discovered about publishing: (a) a book editor is a must and (b) a good cover (but don’t spend too much. Plus Canva and other free online sites for book cover making are available).
      Best of luck.

  6. I’ve had books published by ‘proper’ publishers (Mainly I write and illustrate books for children) but more recently I’ve gotten into self-publishing. And you can make a profit, although it’s a completely different ballgame. (For example I can keep a book in print for longer” publishers tend to churn through titles quickly) The main difference is that now I have to not only write the book but also do the marketing- and pay for everything myself. Personally, I’m not as good at marketing as I am at writing so I’m more than happy to accept any help and advice in that area, as long as it makes economic sense. LULU- I’ll be talking to you about marketing my latest book soon. Don’t go away.

    1. Hi Stephen,
      Marketing is – for most – the real challenge in self-publishing. We’ve got a few posts that look at some general marketing advice, and we’re always happy to offer more!
      Check out these ones if you’re interested:
      http://www.lulu.com/blog/2017/10/06/5-basics-for-creating-a-marketing-plan-that-doesnt-suck/#sthash.UGROKcdM.dpbs
      http://www.lulu.com/blog/2017/09/08/email-marketing-for-authors/#sthash.2OavIM23.dpbs
      Best of luck with the self-publishing!

    1. Hi Doug,
      That’s a question that could have a very long answer. The simple way to think about it this:
      Traditional publishing hinges on a deal struck with a publisher, usually involving an agent. If you are lucky enough to get a publishing deal, the publisher will take your book, edit it, print out a large run, and do their best to sell it. You’ll earn a small percentage on each sale, plus you’ll likely get an advance when the deal is signed.
      Self-publishing usually involves doing all the work yourself. This means editing, design, marketing, and all of that is on the author. It can be done entirely by the author, or you can hire out for experts (which is largely what this blog post looks at). Self-publishing almost always employs on-demand printing, so there is little to no overhead for books. The upside of self-publishing is that the author earns significantly more and retains control, the downside is that the author has to be motivated and able to do all the work involved in preparing and selling their book.

  7. I am motivated to publish a book.
    First of all I love to write .
    Secondly I want to share my ideas with a lot of different people around the world.
    I am convinced they would love to know; how they could begin improving their lives with just a word, a commitment and a passion.

  8. can you please help me self-publish my book? I writes a lot but I don’t have the money to be on prints.

    1. Hi Christopher,
      Our platform is free to use! Head over to Lulu.com/create to start a book. You only need to pay for copies you want to be printed and delivered to you. If finances are a concern for ordering copies, you might try an ebook. Those are always free to produce and sell.
      Best of luck with your self publishing!

    1. Hi Shirlene,
      I didn’t touch much on this part of the process as it falls more into the creation end of self-publishing, but you’re right that it deserved some mention.
      The key piece when budgeting would be to remember that an ISBN is going to run you around $100 USD unless you opt for a free one from your self-publisher (not all self-publishers offer this, but many do. Including Lulu).
      For the copyright, you’ll claim that as soon as you publish. I believe in the USA getting registered with the copyright office requires sending them a copy of the book, so that too would be an added expense.

  9. I’m sorry but I have to disagree. Writing is a passion. A desire to explore your ideas and concepts. And share them with others. Not all will agree with you. Even if everybody disagrees, at least you have one satisfied customer. Yourself. I write but I don’t consider myself as an author. The word makes me uncomfortable.
    Anyway, it’s now a reader-driven market. People get to look inside your book even before they buy. If you write crap, they would know and word gets around quite fast.
    Me? A newbie. Started writing as a hobby five months ago. Never did consider writing as a business. Haven’t quit my day job and I still write on a website offering free serialized novels. I did publish on Amazon three months ago. My first work. More to protect it as mine than to make money from it (long story). Even did my own cover. Minimal advertising. Around 30 dollars worth. I loved writing the book, the first of series.
    It’s now December. The first book is still in the top 20 of its subgenre. Has sold 3,000 copies. Has almost 3 million in Kindle Unlimited reads. The 2nd of the series came out late November. 1,000 copies sold and 1 million in KU reads. Became No. 1 in its subgenre for a time.
    Write because you want to. Write because you love writing. Write because you have an idea you wish to see in black and white. Write first to satisfy yourself. Otherwise, it’s a miserable and pathetic greedy path.

    1. Hi Flyte,
      Glad to hear you’ve found so much success with your self-published work, and so quickly! You’ve managed what millions upon millions of self-published authors could only dream.
      I’d like to clear up a misconception here: nothing is this piece indicates that one should enter into self-publishing as a means to make money or “get rich quick.” But many self-published authors do try to at least break even or bring in some supplemental income from their work. There is nothing greedy or pathetic about wanting to earn something from one’s art and passion. While I’m glad you’ve found success so easily, that is rarely the path of the self-published author. And if you’re going to invest in your art, it only makes sense to do so with a well thought out budget, right?

    2. Thanks, Paul. Lucky that people liked the story, I guess. The third book is going to be published within the month. But the truth is – I started writing because I love the story. I’ll stop if ever I get tired of telling the mythos of the fantasy.
      But here’s the rub – I published because I was concerned about booknapping. So it went out, warts and all. Brickbats started flying and I was forced to adapt to a format I was vaguely familiar with (A lie. I was a noob).
      For other writers – keep writing what you love to write. As I said, even if the world hates it, you’ll have one satisfied reader.
      P.S. Still have my day job and I still write free serialized novels. Actually, all the books I published (or intend to publish) were first posted as free reading.

  10. I studied architecture in Warsaw. Absolutely fantastic. I developed a taste for Polish vodka and women. Even dated a Polish girl for about a year afterwards.

  11. Totally Agree.
    Before writing a book, you must always decide the goals you want to reach and plan accordingly to spend your time and money.
    If you want to make it big, spend more time marketing your book.
    Publishing a book has become even more competitive with so many self-publishing options available today.
    It’s 20% writing and 80% promoting if you want to make it big.

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