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

When you start out as a self-publishing author you can feel like a renegade wandering the wild west, a lone writer in a vast uncertain territory with only the tool of your trade at your side. When choosing to brave this uncharted landscape, you might want a partner or guide, of which there are an overwhelming number of options, but not all can give you exactly what you seek.

The cost to self-publish your book will depend on: the length of the manuscript, the complexity of the manuscript, and the level of quality. Most authors will spend thousands of dollars to self-publish their books. You can pick and choose the use of some services and how much you invest in them, but there are some essential services you need in order to find success and specifically book sales: editing, cover & interior design, printing & distribution, and marketing services.

For most authors, all they really want to do is focus on writing their book and releasing it to the masses, they’re not interested in the finer points of logistics. There are plenty of free self-publishing tools and resources for you to develop and list your book without any set-up costs. You could simply accomplish a minimum level product for nothing or something next to it. But if you’re a self-publishing author looking to sell your book on the open market, you’ll be competing with books professionally made at a high level of quality from traditional publishers. If your book doesn’t meet that same quality, it could be swiftly dismissed.

The goal of this page is to outline your options for self-publishing and detail their respective costs. We’ve grouped the industry into four categories:

  • Freelancers: offer specific services usually in one particular area of expertise. Found via freelance websites and standardized organizations - a wide range of skill from amateur to professional.

  • Aggregators: connect authors with digital retailers that can distribute their ebook. Authors can also get additional services both small (basic formatting) and large (cover design) or are directed to freelance partners.

  • Retailers: are outlets to directly sell your books. You can upload and sell on their platforms independently.

  • Publishing Services Companies: offer a comprehensive range of professional publishing services to authors looking to self-publish (design, distribution, promotion, editing).

Now let’s review the essential services for self-publishing your book, and see the price ranges & offerings according to these different categories. Since your book will undoubtedly start with the writing, let’s begin with the most important expense to consider, professional editing: 


What is the Cost of Book Editing?


When you’re in your own head and begin to memorize sections you’ve read over and over again, you’re brain can sometimes fill in the blanks according to what you expect to read and not the mistakes in front of you. This is why everyone needs at least a second set of eyes reviewing their manuscript, and not just anyone, but a professional that is meticulous and trained to find the edits others would likely miss or wouldn’t even recognize as needing an adjustment.

A professionally edited manuscript is a detailed work that needs to address all the complexities of content, mechanics, format, and structure. As a result, they’re separated into several types of edits: Substantive Edit, Copy Edit, Content Edit, and Proofread. (The FriesenPress model separates Substantive Editing into two different edits: Developmental and Content.)

  • Substantive Edit: This type is is the most expensive as it’s a holistic edit, focused on structural and creative feedback. The primary focus is on developing a solid, well-written manuscript, but also looking after technical details.

  • Copy Edit: This type of edit focuses on correcting errors in grammar, usage, spelling, punctuation and other mechanics of style, internal consistency, cross-referencing, labeling, syntax, abbreviation errors and verification of citations for manuscripts – ensuring on a line-by-line basis that it’s clear, consistent, and correct. 

  • Proofread: This edit is the least expensive – covering corrections of erroneous cross-references, looking for and correcting missing words, catching and correcting misspellings. An editor should also complete a visual check for formatting issues, such as incorrect word breaks, headings and line spacing, to ensure consistency in the overall layout.

At this point, you may not even know what edits your manuscript will require to get started. In this case, a service like an Editor’s Manuscript Evaluation can assess your work and determine the next steps.

As there are varying needs one project to the next, you will see a range of quotes surrounding the average costs. The cost of editing services listed below are the initial stated prices, whose final cost are further influenced according to:

  1. Complexity: How advanced is your manuscript? i.e. Theoretical Physics textbook vs a novella 

  2. Length: many editors base their pricing on the number of words (usually priced per word or by the hundred) or per hour. You can usually expect a minimum charge, no matter the length.

  3. Fiction or Nonfiction: each has a different central focus in the goals of the books and are structured differently.

  4. Genre: can be a factor but it’s really the variables within the genre that have the impact, like the complexity of the work or the needed subject matter expertise of an editor to appropriately assess your work in context.

  5. Editor’s Qualifications: naturally, the greater the experience or expertise of an editor, the higher the price.

*Also, don’t forget that you’ll have many iterations and different types of edits over time.


What is the Cost of Book Design?


We’re told not to judge a book by it’s cover, yet the reality is that when it comes to books that’s exactly what people do. Potential readers often make assumptions about the content of a book based on the quality of its exterior. A cheap amateur cover is going to reflect, however unreasonably, on the quality of your written work.


What is the Cost of A Cover Design?

When it comes to cover design costs there are a few factors that will determine where within the price range your project will fall, including:

  1. Design Style: (detail, complexity, color, method)

  2. Print vs Ebook Cover

  3. Number of Options & Revisions: (iterations)

  4. Designer Qualifications: (freelancer vs company, experience, specific skills)


The print version of your book will require design for the front cover, back cover, and spine, which increases costs relative to the ebook that has no need for the latter two. Even though both will be sold online, the digital exclusivity of selling ebooks using online platforms could influence the approach to the design and thus the cost. Although it’s subtle, the differences in the design between the two covers can result in price differences.

In many cases, we see print and ebook covers provided together for a single price, as many authors will want their book sold both physically & digitally. Those that only need an ebook cover will almost always spend less.

Freelancer Numbers Publishing Services Company Numbers


What is the Cost of Interior Book Design?

Interior book design, book formatting, or typesetting are all the same words referring to how we arrange the book's interior for the purposes of visual presentation, and readability. This means considering the size of the margins, choosing the typeface & size, style of the chapter opening, and any visual structure in the book. It's all about the process of placing text onto the page and visual communication.

(*It also depends on the content of what the freelancer or company offers, there is not entirely a consistent standard of what is provided in an interior design, some offer more and others less, and that price is a basis which can be expanded if you wish, at which point they’ll likely begin charging you per hour of work.)


Freelancer Numbers Publishing Services Company Numbers

There are two different types of interior layout:

  • Rigid: Print books have a fixed layout that the designer has precise control of, and remains unchanged after printing.

  • Flow: Ebooks have a reflowable layout that appears different depending on the device, application, and settings used to view the ebook.

The printed book requires you to have as much control as possible (i.e. text alignment, headers, page numbers). It needs to be precise in order to develop the best print reading experience you can for the readers.

Ebooks don’t need that same precision, and simply need to flow. Since you can’t know which device your reader is using or the model or what settings that have input, a well designed ebook will minimize the amount of additional formatting. Above all it must be a reflowable layout, which refers to the text automatically wrapping words in a document to the next line no matter the change of settings. Making sure the document is flexible is the key to preserving the reading experience across devices and applications.

The print books having one standard layout for all to read versus the liquid nature of the reflowable layout filling pages according to the particular device, means it will always be more costly to precisely, and meticulously design the rigid layout.


Softcover and Hardcover

Although the most significant layout styles, in terms of cost, are found between rigid and flow – softcover and hardcover copies can have some cost differences as well. For instance, hardcovers are typically bulkier with larger font, thicker paper, and are often in larger dimensions, all factors influencing the cost and even design in small ways. As paperbacks are usually the first choice among the wider audience, hardbacks are often left for permanent collections such as special edition copies that will be stylistically altered and formatted for that purpose.

Books can be almost any size and made of a variety of materials, but it should be noted that the trim size will dictate the words per page and with that the look and feel of the book. If a 75,000 word manuscript is designed too small it can end up being a really thick, heavy book, while a shorter manuscript designed too large to can feel too flimsy and more like a booklet.


What is the Cost of Illustrations?

Much like the costs of a book cover, illustrations are impacted by your publishing goals and preferences. Similarly, the aspects that can increase or decrease the cost include:

  1. Design Style: (detail, complexity, number of characters, color, cartoon vs realism)

  2. Number of Options & Revisions: (iterations)

  3. Designer Qualifications: (freelancer vs company, experience, skill set)

We’ve chosen to characterize tiers of Illustrations according to the FriesenPress model:

    • Personal Touch

      • Illustrations in this tier use bold and vibrant color palettes and clean line art that’s both simple and imaginative, but with less detail, depth, and richness than Intricate Design or Fine Art illustrations

    • Intricate Design

      • These illustrations have vibrant colour and design with professional shading, highlighting, and blending to create a three-dimensional look and feel.

    • Fine Art

      • Fine Art illustrations provide a mastery of the visual language. They are highly rendered pieces with immense detail and a goal of realism.


Freelancer Numbers Publishing Services Company Numbers


What is the Cost of Printing and Distribution Services?


You can digitally circulated an ebook for no upfront costs – instead likely paid for as a percentage of your book sales. As for print books, it's important to consider not only the cost per book but also the logistics, feature options, and the extent of retail networks. Knowledge of the best suited print options, how to get books to your potential customers, and how much that’s going to cost is imperative not only for your price margin but ultimately for your book’s success.

To demonstrate the potential costs of printing and distributing your book, we’ve established some criteria for a sample book, including:

  • Trim Size: Paperback (5x8 - 198mmx129mm) – Hardback (6x9 - 229mmx152mm)

  • 200 Pages (50,000-60,000 words)

  • Low-End: Black & White ink, Gloss, etc.

  • High-End: Premium Color, Matte, dust jacket, etc.

Publishing Services Company Numbers (CANADA & US)

Printing and Distribution:

As a self-published author there are two main options for printing your book - Batch Printing & Print-On-Demand:

Batch Printing is typically sought for high volume printing, starting around (~250 copies). The large quantity requires considerable setup and print time (~4-8 weeks), meaning you can’t immediately start selling your book like the Print-On-Demand counterpart. This also means that you’ll be paying to ship your books from the printer and storing them yourself until purchase.

With the advent of Print-On-Demand (POD), independent authors no longer need to worry about logistics or the storage of their books and can instead have them printed as they’re purchased.

There are several such services available, many of which will charge you a title setup fee along with the cost of printing each copy of your book. Though some will refund this fee under certain circumstances such as “purchasing 50 copies within 60 days”.

These fees range from $49-$75 and can include an annual fee of around $12 to maintain the market access of your book.

*The fee for print can also include ebooks or they can be acquired by themselves for the cheaper price of $25.

Ebook Distribution:

There are a few options available for distributing your ebook across markets:

  • Aggregators: provide your book access to a large number of retailers. In many cases aggregators have no upfront costs and opt instead for a Royalty Based model (~10%). Otherwise there’s a Flat Fee or Subscription Model for circulation.

  • Retailers: If you choose to deal directly with online retailers, coordinating with them each individually, there won’t be any upfront costs for ebook distribution. Although upon purchase of your ebook, there are some retailers that will charge a Delivery Fee under certain contexts - for instance Amazon can include a charge depending on your ebook’s file size and pricing ($0.15 per megabyte).

  • Publishing Services Companies: can give authors access to retailers as an aggregator would, but go much further beyond the online retailer relationships into an expanded distribution network. The cost is typically included in a package of services that can reduce the prices of individual services.


What is the Cost of Marketing, Promotion, and Publicity Services?


One of the most important parts in this modern age of publishing is how you promote your book. There are so many books filling shelves across the world, the choices are effectively infinite for readers. And if you’re not getting your potential readers attention the market won’t care how brilliant your book is because they won’t even know it exists. 

Some important aspects of Marketing & Promotion:

  • Author Website: The need for a professionally designed website can’t be overstated. Many potential readers are searching for books and buying them online, so a website equipped to sell them directly or simply provide a hub for purchasing outlets is important. Beyond just the sales, it’s an opportunity to solidify your brand, connect with readers, and establish an image of professionalism. Includes: site setup, design, functionality

  • Social Media: a necessary tool to build an online audience is via social networking. It can be used to develop your brand and foster reader interaction - and consultative services will help you avoid the common mistakes in book marketing. Includes: account setup, strategy

  • Book Promotion Plan: Although there are unique approaches specifically to book marketing, it’s still much like any other product you would promote. It still takes time, energy, and especially, good planning. A plan of action that outlines your goals, unique selling proposition, target audience, competitors, and selling platforms will ensure a comprehensive understanding to navigate the environment and maximize your book’s success. Includes: plan, strategy, tools 

What do we mean by Publicity:

  • Media Outreach & Press Releases: It can be difficult to get noticed by traditional media in the crowded modern marketplace, but those books that gain attention can increase their reviews, improve presence & recognition, and stimulate sales with new readers. Of course, such rewards are generally earned by the shrewd planning and guidance of industry experts preparing materials and reaching out to media outlets on an author’s behalf. Includes: press release distribution/tracking, pitching outlets a newsworthy angle to your book, etc


Freelancer Numbers Publishing Services Company Numbers


What is the Cost of Project Management?


By now the numbers are swirling around in your head, and it's all starting to mount into a pretty substantial investment. But what is commonly overlooked is the financially unquantified, intangible element of time.

How much time do you have to spend researching/finding/managing/fulfilling all these disparate aspects of publishing a book? You've spent years writing your manuscript, why wouldn't you spend the time required to properly turn that manuscript into a book?

You can probably trust a mechanic to work on your car. Sure, you could learn the ins and outs of vehicle maintenance and try to fix your car yourself, but that’s not a pursuit that most of us have the time, energy or inclination to undertake, nor do we want to deal with the consequences of making a rookie mistake. Self-publishing a book is no different.

As a self-publisher, you are effectively a business, and as such you don’t need to accomplish everything yourself. You don’t want to try and solve all your problems by spending money, but there are many cases where you will need to delegate and defer to the skills of knowledgeable experts in order to ensure your success.

”By consolidating the costs of individual publishing services into a publishing package/path the overall costs can lower…”

PUBLISHING TIMELINE?

6 months - 1 year?


What is the Cost to Self-Publish A Book?


Editing ?

Design ?

Printing/Distribution ?

Marketing/Publicity ?

*What proportion of the total costs is spent on each aspect of publishing? (Initial investment)

Example book:

  • 50,000- 60,000 words, ~200 pages

  • Average paperback size (5x8?)

  • Features (Low-High End)

  • Median/average cost per book (POD/Offset)

Average Time Spent:

Editing

  • Developmental: 16-30 hours

  • Copy: 12-20 hours

  • Proofread: 7-18 hours

  • Content: 12-45 hours

Design

  • Book Cover: (5 - 20 hours?)

  • Interior: (10-40 hours?)

  • Illustrations: (5-10 hours?)

Marketing

  • Author Website:

  • Social Media Start Up:

  • Strategy Consultation:

  • Publicity (press releases, media outreach):


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