What Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book?

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A friend who’s active in a lively writer’s group sends along an infographic showing what Reedsy, an ambitious outfit providing services to self-publishing authors, estimates to be the cost of self-publishing, based on its own internal data

It’s pretty interesting. After many little pictures and much self-promotion, the authors conclude that the cost of a self-published book runs from $2,500 to $4,000.

I’m not going to argue with their figures, except to say that if they’re charging less than two cents a word for their contract editors, then their editors, who presumably split the fee with the referring company, are not earning market rates. Not by a long shot. This would mean many or most of them are in Third World countries — India, for example, does a brisk business in providing editorial and design services at less than US minimum wage. Reedsy’s site features editors living in the UK, but without signing up for their service, you can’t see more than two or three bios.

What I will argue with, though, is the assertion that the costs they’ve included add up to “how much it costs to self-publish a book.”

The figures they offer do not include marketing, distribution, or fulfillment. And truth to tell: if no one knows about your book, no one is gonna buy it.

Marketing is and should be a major line item in your self-publishing business plan budget.

And once you’ve sold the book to a customer or two, getting it to them isn’t free, either. Although some people will tell you that CreateSpace will print and distribute your hard-copy book for free, that is not true.

Amazon itself takes a cut of 20% to 40% of sale price. CreateSpace then takes its cut: a fixed charge and a per-page charge. These depend on the length and design of the book:

Fixed Charges

Fixed charges vary depending on your book’s page count and whether your book’s interior is black and white or full-color.

Amazon.com, CreateSpace eStore, and Expanded Distribution
Black and white books with 24-108 pages $2.15 per book
Black and white books with 110-828 pages $0.85 per book
Full-color books with 24-40 pages $3.65 per book
Full-color books with 42-500 pages $0.85 per book
Amazon Europe
Books printed in Great Britain £0.70 per book
Books printed in continental Europe €0.60 per book

Per-Page Charge

Books with higher page counts may also have a per-page charge.

Amazon.com, CreateSpace eStore, and Expanded Distribution
Black and white books with 24-108 pages None
Black and white books with 110-828 pages $0.012 per page
Full-color books with 24-40 pages None
Full-color books with 42-500 pages $0.07 per page
Amazon Europe
Black and white books printed in Great Britain £0.01 per page
Full-color books printed in Great Britain £0.045 per page
Black and white books printed in continental Europe €0.012 per page
Full-color books printed in continental Europe €0.06 per page

That is not free, especially when Amazon (of which CreateSpace is a creature) constantly exerts downward pressure on pricing.

Let’s take a look at what some other folks say about the cost of a self-published book.

Over at The Creative Penn, a pretty credible and dependable site, proprietor Joanna Penn ticks off a list of standard services:

Editing: $300 to $2,000
Cover design: $50 to $300
Formatting: $50 to $200

That gives a range of $400 to $2,500…again not counting marketing, printing (for hard copy), and fulfillment. (“Fulfillment” in publishing means the process of delivering a book, magazine, or newspaper.)

The Write Life got four writers to report costs for editing; cover design; interior layout, formatting, and ebook conversion (odd, because these are three different things); printing; sales and distribution costs (most of the writers mistakenly believed these were free through Amazon or Smashwords), and launch and marketing costs.

The results here, I’m afraid, reflect the respondents’ naiveté. Sales and distribution, as explained above, are not free services: you pay a cut of the sales price to Amazon and (for print books) to CreateSpace. The so-called “royalty” you receive (more properly termed “net revenue”) reflects these cuts.

Additionally, some of the respondents did one or more of the publishing tasks themselves. This is fine if you’re an editor and a trained designer; otherwise…well, you’re in “where angels fear to tread” territory.

The four authors self-report their costs:

Hope: $250 for cover design; all other aspects DIY
Catherine: $1,250 for ebook conversion, cover design, and editing
Joanna: $1,650 for “editing and print formatting, bartering for cover design, plus BookBub ad fees”
Dana: $150 for editing and illustration, and “$5 per month for distribution”

That’s a far cry from $2,500 to $4,000. On the other hand, with that much amateur editing and design, you can be sure the low-end books looked like their authors spent next to nothing on them. Nothing but their time, that is.

Let’s visit one more site: MediaShift. There we find a different set of estimates for what is described as “a high-quality book” of about 70,000 words.

Developmental editing: $2,520 to $18,200
Copyediting: $840 to $7,000
Cover design: $150 to $3,500
Formatting for print and digital conversion: free to $2,500
ISBN: $125 for one (if you buy in bulk the per-item price is much lower)
Distribution: free (again, this is questionable)
Printing: depends on length and design (I pay $6 to $8 per book, give or take)
Pre-publication reviews: Kirkus, $425; BlueInk Reviews, $396; PW Select, $149
Marketing and PR: $100 to $5,000

Since the other websites neglect to mention the cost of marketing, selling, and distribution, by way of comparing apples and oranges let’s pull out the editing, design and e-book conversion, then add up the cost of peddling the thing, and then tote up all the costs.

  • Editing, copyediting, cover design, and formatting: $3,510 to $31,200
    ISBN, distribution, printing (for, let us say, 100 books), reviews (low end: one review on PW Select, high end, all three outlets), and marketing and PR: $974 to $6,895
  • Total: $4484 to $38,095

Holy sh!t.

Welp, I’d advise that you are screaming crazy if you pony up $39,000 to self-publish your book.

On the other hand, you’re not much less crazy if you try to do most or all of the job yourself —  unless, of course, you’re an expert in writing, editing, design, layout, book marketing, and fulfillment.

The problem is, some of us may indeed be expert in some of these areas. If you know how to do page layout or cover design, you can save some dollars in book production. If you’re a really good writer (in reality, not in your own mind) and you have some copyediting skills, maybe you can cut some costs there, though you should at least have a proofreader go over the manuscript before taking the thing to press. But most of us are not expert in all the areas.

In my experience — which is now considerable, for I have self-published five books and published three others through real, mainline presses — the Creative Penn’s estimates for editing, cover design, and formatting are about right. Though I think MediaShift’s low-end guess for all the rest of the necessary services is too low, as a start-up cost for printing, distribution, and marketing, $975 is about right. Seven grand for those services seems a little high, unless you’re making money on the book; probably a realistic figure is $2,000 to $5,000. If you’re not turning a profit by the time you’ve spent that much, it’s time to cut your losses.

So, what does it cost to self-publish a book? You can do it on the cheap, if you don’t care how the product looks or how many copies you sell: maybe $150 to around $1,250. If you’re serious about selling it, probably something upward of $4,000.

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