That guide deals step by step with what you need to do to self-publish successfully, but for now, lets talk about costs.
Oh, and before we talk about costs: you probably want to know who I am and whether I know what the heck I’m talking about.
Well, I’m Harry Bingham. I’ve written and self-published a fair few books. (You can see some of them here.) In the last 12 months, I’ve earned $100,000 from my self-published work, and I look to do even better in the future.
If you can write well, and if you have the diligence and commitment to put together a series of books, not just the one, then there is no reason why you should not go all the way to a rich and satisfying career.
Here’s what you need to know.
The seven stats all indies need to know
Simplify your thinking: find out what matters, and forget the rest.
OK, I’m going to start with the headlines, and a giant BUT.
The ‘but’, quite simply, is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer here. Every single book and indie author will do things a bit differently here and that’s just fine. Different writers have different skills, different access to resources, and different audiences.
What follows then is just a broad set of guidelines for you to adapt as you please. I’ll assume you have written a novel of about 80,000 words, and that you are serious about actually making money from this project. That is: you are happy to invest a little in the expectation of a proper future return.
Do read the comments that follow these headlines, because the juice is in the comments, not the headlines.
Okie-doke. Your costs very roughly are:
Structural editing – $800 / £550 You can skip this, but we’d advise against doing so
Copyediting – $1200 / £850 You need to do something here, but this is an area where you can and should, save money
Proofreading – $0 / £0 Don’t do this as well as copyediting. The big publishers do both, but for you it’s a waste of money
Cover design – $70-$400 / (£50-£250) You have to get the cover right, but there are some great low cost options available.
Formatting (for ebook) – $0 / £0 You can do this yourself perfectly easily for free
Typesetting (for print) – $450 / £300 (if you want) This is more a vanity-type cost. You can just upload a Word file and it’ll look OK. But if you want a fancy-shmancy book to give to your mother, then you’ll want to pay a bit more.
OK, that’s not a normal entry on a list like this, but if you jump into a complex area like indie-publishing – an area where you’ll be competing head-on against some very skilful and well-resourced authors and publishers – you’ll just waste a ton of time and money if you don’t learn the ropes in a disciplined way. You have to make room in your budget for intelligently directed learning.
Podcasts, blogs, video – $0
It’s all free. This blog post is free. Reading that stuff makes you a better, more effective entrepreneur.. You’re doing the right thing.
Courses – $50
I’ve done most of the big expensive courses out there, and I’ve learned a lot. But some of those things are $699 and upwards – and that’s crazy money. We have a big expensive self-publishing course of our own and it’s very damn good indeed. (Check it out here.) But why buy it? As a member of Jericho Writers you can get access to it for free. Signing up with us for a month costs just $39. You can just grab the entire super-premium course in that time, download all the notes, and walk away a massively better equipped writer. Basically a good course gives you a step-by-step template for success and you’re just crazy if you don’t do something along these lines. You can take out a simple, cancel-any-time Jericho Writers membership here.
Uploading to retailers
Uploading to Amazon – $0 / £0 I know everyone knows that, but it’s still amazing, isn’t it? You get unlimited access to all the readers in the world. And it costs nothing! How good is that?
Uploading to everyone else – $0 / £0 Same thing, except everyone else combined isn’t worth half of one Amazon.
Creating your platform
Building & hosting your website – $12/month If you use an all-in-one service like Squarespace or Weebly, you can get web-hosting plus drag-and-drop type editing tools that make it unbelievably simple to create your site. It’s crazy-cheap for what you get.
Email list builder – $0 Did I just say free? Yep I did – at least for anything up to 2,000 email addresses with Mailchimp. And within this starter package, you get automation tools which are essential for pinging readers thank you emails whenever and wherever they sign up to your list. Another amazing thing that the modern world just gives you.
Book delivery (Bookfunnel) – $20/year Not strictly essential, but any serious indie author will use Bookfunnel or something like it. And at this price? You gotta have it.
Instafreebie – $20/month You don’t need to be permanently signed up to Instafreebie, but you can use it as a superb mailing-list accelerant. You probably want to budget at least a few months’ membership here as you start out.
Other design costs – $100? You can use your cover design plus Squarespace’s design tools, plus freely available photos, to give you a pretty damn good website along with any other design bits and bobs you might want. But some amazing photos need paying for. Sometimes a designer offers you something too good to turn down. So chuck another $100 into your budget, and consider that as your way to treat yourself to stuff you like.
AMS – Budget $200/month AMS is Amazon’s own in-store advertising system. (You’ve seen those “sponsored result” messages – that’s AMS doing its stuff. AMS is a pretty ropy system, in truth, but it’s pretty easy to get results. So assume you’ll spend some cash here. You should get it all back, and then some.
Bookbub – $500 (if you can get it) If you enter your book for a featured offer type promotion, and Bookbub accepts you, then kiss BB’s sainted feet and hand over your wallet. You will certainly make money. That said, it’s hard to get accepted by BB these days, so that money is likely to stay in your wallet.
Bookbub ads, Facebook ads – ???? You could spend $10,000 here, or nothing. This post is hardly long enough to go into the ins and outs of the two biggest ad platforms for authors, so I’ll just observe that (A) some indie authors essentially make their livings by playing the ad-game with great care and extreme skill, and (b) other indie authors – including me! – make a fat living while making almost zero use of ads on either of these platforms. I am in a minority, but it is possible.
So much for the headlines. But do read on, because there’s real debate about whether some of these costs are necessary – and real opportunities to shave money off these figures if you’re agile enough.
What costs are involved in self-publishing a book?
Editing and copyediting
OK. We’ve talked about headlines, and some of those headlines are uncontroversial.
It just doesn’t cost any money to upload your book to Amazon. And yes, you can pay $2000 for a professionally created website . . . but you’ll end up with less control over it than you would if you build it yourself, and you won’t actually get any additional sales.
But let’s home in on a few areas where it might or might not make sense to save money – and where there might or might not be opportunities to cut corners.
We start with the heart of the entire publishing industry – the editorial process itself.
Structural editing (Also known as developmental editing, or manuscript assessment, or just plain editorial advice.)
What’s involved? An experienced, professional editor reads your text in detail and tells you what’s working, what’s not working and (crucially) how to fix the stuff that isn’t yet right. An editor isn’t there to inflict changes on your work directly – this is your book and you need to be the final judge of what changes are needed – but you should get a very good idea of how to develop and improve your text.
Depends on the length of your book and the quality of the editorial service. An 80,000 word book will generally be charged at around $850 / £550, assuming that you are going to a really good editor with a load of experience and insight.
You will find offers online for a good bit less, but I’d question whether they’re worth it. Good editorial advice can be THE thing that turns it from good-but-not-dazzling to the kind of thing that readers are recommending to their friends. Bad editorial advice on the other hand can actually kill a book.
So if it were me, I’d rather pay a proper wage to a proper editor – or skip editing altogether. And me personally (but see the disclosure below), I’d never send a book out, unedited.
Disclosure I’ve had a dozen novels traditionally published, and have worked with each of the world’s three largest publishers. I’ve had a ton of critical acclaim and have a big fat load of experience. But even so I use third party editorial advice. I have never published a book without it. I never will.
Now, I truly believe that and have always lived by it. But just to be clear: Jericho Writers is (among other things) an editorial agency. We offer editorial help on books such as yours, so you could argue that I’m totally biased. And, OK, I do have a financial interest here, but the single reason why such huge numbers of Jericho clients have gone on to get published and (in some cases) sell millions of copies / win film deals / etc is because we take editorial advice incredibly seriously.
Right. Enough of that. Just two more comments before we move on
Remember that editorial advice may not be a one-shot thing. Especially if you are on your first book and don’t have a ton of previous experience, then your first draft may be horrible. Your second draft will be better. It may take multiple rounds of editorial advice to get your book to where it needs to be. Don’t worry about that. Just put in the time and the investment.
The other thing is this. A bad product can’t sell – but you’re not just investing in the product. You’re investing in yourself. Every time you work with an editor, you will become a better writer. Your next book will come faster, slicker and more confident than it would otherwise. I promise.
Copy-editing and proofreading
What’s involved? A big traditional publisher will typically engage in one or two rounds of editorial work per book. Then the manuscript will be copyedited (or line-edited.) Then it’ll be typeset. Then there’ll be one last set of checks prior to printing, and those final checks are referred to as proofreading.
The two activities – copyediting and proofreading – are much the same, except that copyediting is broader. So where proofreading will only be looking for clear errors (misprints, typos, spelling errors, and the like), a copy-editor should also be looking for:
inconsistencies (grey eyes that turn blue, for example)
erroneous or awkward punctuation
Do I need copyediting and proofreading?
No. Save yourself the money. Do it properly once, and a few remaining typos won’t kill anyone.
How can I save money? To get a formally trained copyeditor doing a Big Publisher quality job on your book is eyewateringly expensive. In the figures above, I suggested $1200 might be a reasonable guide for an 80,000 word book.
But only if you got a hungry copyeditor and your manuscript needed only the lightest of edits. The truth is, because this work is painstaking and done page by page and line by line, it’s slow.
Because standards in the Kindle store have risen over the years, readers have (rightly) become a bit tetchy about sloppy spellings / puncutation / presentation etc. That means you’re in a bind:
On the one hand, you want to do a decent job
On the other hand, you don”t want to pay $2000 and more to fix some commas.
So what do you do?
Well, as it happens Jericho Writers does offer pro-quality copy-editing services (more about that here), but 99% of people reading this will NOT want to use them – and probably shouldn’t: they’re just too expensive for what you get.
So the best advice, really, is as follows:
Train yourself to write a really clean manuscript. Grammarly is a great tool, but better still, you start to build a Grammarly-style app in your own head. Find your own errors. Be your own copy-editor. You still won’t eliminate all errors – you just need a second pair of eyes for that – but you’ll vastly reduce the work (and the cost) involved in copyediting.
And then, once you have your – fairly clean – manuscript, just use whatever resources you can find to work with you cheaply or for free. Are you friends with your local librarian? Have a keen reader who used to be a school teacher? Have a college friend who’d do some work for cash? If you snuffle through your contacts (and reader emails) you’re quite likely to find someone who will work for nothing. I’ve had offers from readers along those lines and have ended up choosing to pay $300 – partly as a thank you, but also as a way to say, “Look, this is a professional relationship and I’d really appreciate it if you did the best job you possible could.”
Will you get a perfect result from this approach? No.
Will you get a perfectly OK one? Yes, if you do it right.
And will you lose any sales as a result of low-balling it? Well, no, not really.
Book production costs
When it comes to design costs – and especially cover design costs – self-publishers face a familiar challenge.
On the one hand, nothing (not even your content!) will make a bigger difference to sales than book cover. After all, what makes people click through from an Amazon search page to your book page, if not the cover image?
At the same time, a pro cover design for your book could run to as much as $800 . . . and you might not even like the cover you end up paying for. So maybe that’s a process you have to engage in more than once . . . and before long, you’re going to be looking at some quite scary bills.
There are answers here, and pretty good ones too.
For one thing, most pro designers will charge a lot less than that $800, which would really only be charged by a top-top NY designer who does most of her work for the trad industry. Designers working with indies will typically charge more like $300-500, which is a much more reasonable fee.
Secondly, a lot of designers will slice their fees in two. So you pay $150, say, to get some draft designs, then the balance of $200 or so to complete the favoured design. That way, if you just don’t like the first draft ideas, you can bail out without having lost too much.
And then as well, the first time you commission a book cover is likely to be the most expensive time. I spent $500 getting the first of my Fiona Griffiths book designs sorted out with my designer. Each cover after that just takes the basic idea – strong monochrome image plus bright text – and pushes it through one more iteration. That’s a $100 job, if that.
But if you’re on a budget and working towards that first cover, then there are two really great options for you. They are:
If you’re on a real budget, then just use Canva, a free design tool with some great book cover templates and a load of reasonably good quality images available either for free or at low cost.
I’d say that Canva works really well for literary-type covers and maybe a bit less well for genre-covers – but what do I know? If you’re reasonably adept at Canva, you’ll do great either way.
Search “pre-made book covers”
Do that,an you’ll find some great sites (like this one) that have gazillions of professionally made book covers available for you to customise at a fraction of the price of a custom-built cover.
How come these things are available? Simply that pro designers will evolve five or more covers for every one that graces the cover of a final book. The discarded ones don’t have anything wrong with them: just on that occasion, for that project, they weren’t right.
The joy of this option is that for prices down at around $70, you can get brilliant covers, for every genre under the sun, and don’t feel like you’re going to end up with something that your teenage sister did on her laptop after school.
And of course, once you have your first pre-made cover, you can either push all further books in the series through the same basic template . . . or, once you know you’re making money in sales, you can recommission an entire series from a place of confidence.
You wanted an overview of how much it costs to publish a book, and I hope I’ve delivered for you. Don’t forget to check out our brilliant editorial services . . . and I do really hope you take a sniff at our membership services – where one single, low-cost monthly membership can deliver you hundreds, or thousands, of dollars in terms of value. I hope I’ve added value – and thanks for stopping by.
The seven stats all indies need to know
Simplify your thinking: find out what matters, and forget the rest.