Path to self-publication: considering the costs
After the writing part is done, the hard part begins. I’m not talking about revisions and editing. Those steps are necessary; however, you need money to get your book out there. You have to pay for a cover designer (unless you’re a designer, yourself), you need an editor, a formatter, an ISBN number, and a printer. You’ll need ads, giveaways for a launch, and funds for marketing if you plan on doing book tours or paid ads.
Price range: $125+
I’m covering this first because it’s simple. ISBN numbers are expensive, around $125 for one or $250 for ten. Obviously, it will be worth it to buy in bulk. One-hundred ISBN numbers is an even better deal, but you get the point. Printers like Createspace and B&N offer free ISBN numbers, but your book will be connected to them. Technically, they’ll be your publisher. Well, they will be. It doesn’t mean too much, but you want your name tied to your book. It will benefit you to have your own ISBN numbers if you want to try to get your book on shelves.
Price range: $50-$300
Again, if you’re a graphic designer or artist with an eye for cover design, you might be able to avoid that expense. Don’t try to design your cover if you don’t have experience with design.
It’s difficult to explain what it means to have an eye for design. Instead, here’s a little bit of a visual. There’s a difference between this
I’m only an editor and a newspaper designer. My skill for book design is young so my better example isn’t what I’d call professionally done. However, I’ve seen many self-published book covers that resemble the first example more than the second. Don’t let yourself resemble the first. Don’t design your own book cover.
Book covers aren’t the most expensive part of the publishing process. The prices I provided are also not exact. Some high-end designers can charge more, but don’t depend on prices. Look at covers they’ve created. Portfolios are incredibly important when considering a designer. You must be pleased with their work. You must trust their judgment.
Choose wisely. Trust your gut. Ask for recommendations.
Price: a lot
This won’t apply to most writers, but children’s book writers who want an illustrator need to know this: An illustrator will be the most expensive part of your publishing endeavor. Likely.
I can’t provide a range because it’s an enormous gap. Some illustrators are quick, and you might want a simple sketch. Or, you might want watercolor. Maybe graphic design. Maybe photos. Illustrators choose their own prices because their turnaround time is different, they might offer multiple options, and many other things I can’t begin to imagine.
You could pay $200 (not likely) or you could pay $4,000. Maybe more. Like cover designers, you want recommendations. Research it. Be wise. Be careful. Trust your instincts.
Price range: $300-$3,000
This is another price range I can’t tell you to depend on. The range starts at proofreading and ends with developmental editing, and if your word count is high, the price will be, too.
Some editors charge more, and I honestly wouldn’t trust many who charge less. You can find them, maybe, but beware. Don’t be fooled by quick turnaround times or fancy slogans.
This is another one you’ll want recommendations for. I charge .008 per word for copyediting and $25 an hour for developmental. I also offer a free sample edit, and my developmental edit includes a final copyedit and a consultation. Look for things like that. Look for what the services include. My developmental editing service isn’t the same as someone else’s. Someone else might offer less, maybe more. Do your research. Read reviews. Ask for a sample edit. Most editors will provide all those things. I do. I have nothing to hide, and neither should any other editor.
This one requires a bit more detail because you can budget for it differently. Editing can be broken into categories. If you’ve had many beta readers, and you know your story is solid, you might not need developmental editing. Perhaps, you aren’t completely sure, but you don’t want to pay that big number on the developmental end. I offer a consultation, which is a flat rate for me to read, take notes, and discuss. It’s more affordable, it takes less time, and it offers something similar to the developmental edit. I share this because what you need is what you should budget for. You can do that by paying attention to what services are offered (whether or not you choose me as your editor) and what services your book needs.
If your editor doesn’t offer formatting, you’ll need to find one. You can do it yourself if you are willing to do the research required to understand the process. It’s tedious, but it’s not impossible. If it doesn’t fit your budget to hire a formatter, start researching. Likewise, if it doesn’t fit your budget to pay for developmental editing, look for strong readers and writers, and that doesn’t include family members and friends. You’ll at least get the biggest plot holes and errors fixed that way.
Printing costs money. Whatever printer you choose, hopefully you choose a print-on-demand (POD) like Createspace, Ingram Spark, etc. Anything that requires you to pay prior to publishing is not the printer for you.
DO NOT PAY SOMEONE TO HELP YOU SELF-PUBLISH.
I’m not talking about marketing or blog touring. I’m talking about vanity publishers. Avoid them. Self-publishing costs zero dollars. Well, you have to pay for your print copies. But, putting your book online for sale doesn’t cost anything.
Bookmarks, free print copies, book blog tours, ads, etc. cost money. They’re penny-grabbers, meaning they look cheap until you look at everything you purchased over time. Bookmarks are inexpensive by themselves. Cute little calendars aren’t that bad. Mugs are pricey but neat and great for giveaways. Signed copies aren’t too bad if you only get a few.
Until you look at your expenses for the year. Go screen-shopping for a bit. Add up how much things would cost for you to get your book out there and in the reader’s hands. Don’t assume anything. Don’t count your sales before you have them.
Pretend you’re not going to sell a single book
How much are you willing to spend? How much can you afford? Pretending you’re not going to sell anything will help you put this in perspective. You don’t know what you’ll make, so don’t pretend you’ll make anything at all. Don’t empty your bank account and hope you make it in the self-publishing world.
The prices I provided above are only examples. If you want, you can find out who you want and what you want for every step before you start pulling out your checkbook. If someone tells you something along the lines of, “Well, my schedule will fill up,” or, “I can’t give you a design sample without a soft payment,” don’t worry. Don’t feel pressured. Keep the price in mind, record it, and plan your budget. Not everyone does this, and some people are okay. But, I don’t want you to be one of those who curls into a ball when you realize how much you accumulated in expenses just to get a book out there.
When you do publish, remember one more thing: You don’t get one-hundred-percent of what’s sold. It costs to print, and your printer receives a percentage.
Don’t let this discourage you
Seriously. I know talking about money is boring and somewhat painful, but the money isn’t the only reason you’re publishing. You’re writing a book to share it with the world. Hopefully, you’re not just in it to get a paycheck.
Expenses are necessary. It’s wise to remember that you’ll have expenses, and it’s wiser to prepare for them. That’s what this post is for. Your research isn’t done yet, but now you can start.
I wish you luck on your journey. The fact that you were willing to read this all the way through means a lot, not to me but to your book and to you. Perseverance and determination are what you’ll need, and I hope you keep those things with you as you continue your next steps. Again, good luck, and let me know if you have any questions!
Write for yourself, but edit for your reader
Get a free self-publishing guide!
Sign up to receive a free step-by-step graphic list of what you need to do to become a self-published author.
You'll also be updated on future editing tips and writing advice.