The question of how much it costs to self-publish a book comes up at least three times a week in the various online writing groups that I participate in. There are so many people who want to write a book and have it published that they are easy pickings for vanity presses and scam artists.
I have met with too many people who have paid upwards of $10,000 (Yikes!) for a self publishing package that includes minimal editing, cover and layout design, and actual uploading. In this post, I’m going to break down some of the costs, give you some guidelines on what is necessary and what is not, and throw in a few trusted resources.
There are two places you should spend your money when it comes to self-publishing: editing and cover design. Good editing is expensive. Bad editing turns out to be even more expensive because you either end up paying for a second edit or you publish a poorly edited book that makes you look incompetent. There are several types of editing ranging from basic proofreading to full on developmental editing. Many of the lowest cost editing services merely run your manuscript through spellcheck and Grammarly and call it an edit. (This is the type of “editing” that is usually included in the pricey packages.) I’ll say it here and now: The person you find to edit your book on Fiverr is not the person you want. Expect to pay at least $500 for basic copy editing of a 25,000 word manuscript ($0.02 a word). Line editing and developmental editing will run you more. A full edit—copy, line, and developmental—can run about $0.10 a word. Medical and technical editing can go as high as $0.50 per word. Editing can get pricey fast. Can’t afford editing? See if you can arrange a trade with another author or ask for volunteer beta readers.
A company I have found with excellent service and fair prices is Edit911. All of its editors are PhDs (doctors—get it?) and they have been in business for over 20 years. That link, by the way, is an affiliate link that will get you a 5% discount on your first order. Many of the print on demand publishers recommend Kirkus which has levels of editing that range from $0.02 for basic proofing to $99 plus $0.065 per word for full editing.
Editing takes time. Budget at least a month for longer books and be happy if you get it back sooner. And editing, no matter how good, will always miss something. The cleaner your manuscript when the editor receives it, the better the editing job you will get.
Cover design, again, is a service that can range from very cheap to very expensive. Before I tell you that you can “do it yourself” if you’re graphically gifted, please know that cover design is a specialized art. The goal is to have your book cover stand out from all those other thumbnails of book covers on Amazon. Each book genre has its own specific look that signals to the genre reader “this is your kind of book.” If you’re going to make your own covers, take some time to study books in your genre, whether it’s urban fantasy fiction or holistic self help.
If you’re like me and can’t figure out basic graphics programs and don’t have an eye for design, hire this out. Your cover sells the book and it is even more important than the content. (And yes, it kills me to say that.) People DO judge a book by its cover. So, again, don’t use that guy on Fiverr. You may get lucky and find the one person on Fiverr who does a good job. Yay. You most likely won’t. Also, don’t use a pre-formatted cover. These are inexpensive. The designer will add your title and name to the pre-made cover but there is no guarantee of exclusivity, even when they say there is.
This is why you should pay for a custom cover. Two different authors, two different books. Same cover image.
KDP (Amazon’s publishing branch) has a cover creator that I have (confession time) used for a quick cover. You can drop in your own cover image, rearrange the formatting colors, elements, and fonts. A professional could make a beautiful cover using it. I have used pre-formatted templates and Kindle cover creator and while the covers look better than what I could do on my own, they still look homemade. It’s painfully obvious that I’m not a graphics girl.
A lot of people with graphics skills make their own covers using Canva, InDesign, or some other graphics program. Some make very pretty covers but those covers won’t necessarily attract the right readers. If you’re not skilled in graphics or don’t want to learn what makes a cover sell a book, hire out your cover.
Cover design can range from about $100 up to (and over) $5,000. I have been using 100Covers for my latest nonfiction series. They charge $100 for an eBook cover, $200 for eBook and print cover suitable for KDP. If you’re publishing through IngramSpark, they have a package for $300 which includes extra graphics and a promotional spot. They also run specials and discounts from time to time. 100Covers has moved into interior formatting and do an especially lovely job on children’s picture books.
I worked with someone who paid a company several thousand dollars for cover design and interior formatting. I choked a bit at the price but I have to say the end result was gorgeous. I am quite sure he never made his money back on the book, but that wasn’t an issue for him. The book was a labor of love. So yes, you can spend more. You have to decide what you want to pay based on your budget and expected (read: realistic) Return on Investment. Buy the best cover you can afford. When you have more money and you suspect the cover isn’t working, you can change it out. Authors do this all the time.
I have found terrific cover designers on Upwork and you can also run a cover contest on 99designs for about $400. No matter who you use, take a look at the artist’s portfolio to make sure you like their style and that they understand what is necessary for your genre.
Gone are the days where you just uploaded a Word doc of your book to KDP. Yes, KDP is still accepting that for eBooks, but tables, lists, and images, as well as chapters and spacing sometimes get smushed around in the format conversion.
You can do a basic formatting of your book yourself using various templates that are available. KDP has a downloadable program that you can put your Word doc into and then massage it so it looks good. Draft2Digital, which publishes eBooks to a number of publishing platforms also has a program for this. Prepare to spend several hours on this to get a serviceable layout.
There are print templates available, some free, some that you pay for. However, there are also lovely people who format your book for you, saving you time and frustration. Smashwords (an eBook distributer) has a list of vetted formatters with prices ranging from about $50 to $150, depending on number of words and complexity of layouts. Most book formatters (print and eBook) include a certain number of graphics in their basic fee, usually 10.
I send my clients to Stand Out Books. They do a beautiful job, are fairly priced, and have reasonable turnaround times (averages about three weeks for most books). I’ve only used them for interior formatting, but they offer a full line of publishing services from editing to covers and are true professionals.
Copyright, Library of Congress and ISBNs
Copyright: In the US, your work is automatically protected. Copyright becomes an issue when someone else decides to appropriate your work and you need to defend your ownership. Technically, you don’t need to file for copyright on your work. If your work includes groundbreaking research with a financial upside, then yes, copyright it. You can file online at Copyright.gov. They have an incredibly helpful video that walks you through the process. Copyright is $45 per work for a single author; $65 if there is more than one author or you are using a corporation.
Just as with copyright, getting a Library of Congress number is optional. LOC numbers are free, but you need to send two print copies of your book to the Library within three months of publishing your book. There are two classifications of books: The CIP (Cataloging in Publication) Program is for books that will most likely be widely acquired (read: traditionally published, important books) and the PCN (Preassigned Control Number) program is for everyone else.
Note: New authors are overly concerned with people stealing their work, particularly when sending out advance review copies. It does happen, but not all that often. More likely, your work will end up on a torrent site hosted in Eastern Europe. The standard response to this is that the people who steal books most likely aren’t your people. They don’t buy books; they steal. Print books from major publishing houses with copyrights are shoplifted every day. Keep your eyes on your paying customers.
ISBN (International Standard Book Number): You can purchase an ISBN through Amazon, IngramSpark or other online platform, but they are listed as the publisher, not you. You still retain full rights to your work, so for many authors, this isn’t an issue. If you’re not going exclusively with Amazon, you will want your own ISBN. Purchase these at Bowker.com. ISBNs are $125 each, but I recommend you buy a package of 10 for $300. (They are sometimes on sale for $250.) You need a separate ISBN for each book format: eBook, print, audio. The beauty of ISBNs is that they don’t go stale. You can buy 10, publish a book a year, and buy 10 more when you need them.
Uploading Your Book to a Publishing Platform
There are plenty of publishing platforms available to the indy author, but the 800 pound gorilla is, of course, Amazon. The self-publishing arm of Amazon is KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) which now does both eBook and print books. I recommend doing a direct upload to Amazon and if that’s the only place you want to publish, you are done.
If you want to “go wide”—that is, distribute your book to other platforms besides Amazon, you have some options.
Many indy authors only publish in eBook format. Distribution sites like Smashwords and Draft2Digital publish to dozens of different online eBook retailers.
If you’re doing both print and eBook, I have used both IngramSpark and Lulu. IngramSpark also has wholesale pricing available if you plan to sell in bulk.
Many people think that putting their book on a publishing platform is complicated. It’s not. All of these sites are menu driven, guiding you step by step through the publishing process. If you can upload a file to email, you can publish a book.
The only time self-publishing gets difficult is when your book doesn’t lay out correctly, either in print or eBook format. KDP (and other online publishers) provide a previewer which allows you to see the layout of your book as readers will see it. Many of my nonfiction books have worksheets. Since I usually work in 8.5 x 11 format in Word, I spend a lot of time re-doing lines and columns so the book looks acceptable. If your book doesn’t have a complicated layout, you’re probably not going to run into this problem. If you use a professional interior formatter, you are golden.
Get Your Self Publishing Cost and Resource Cheat Sheet
Self-publishing help as a package is definitely not a “you get what you pay for” deal. The hard costs for editing, formatting, and cover design can range from very cheap to very expensive. But the actual cost of publishing the book using Print On Demand technology is less than $100 and can be free. I have created a Self Publishing Pricing and Resource Cheat Sheet to help you evaluate the costs involved.
Full Disclosure: I offer Self Publishing Concierge Services. If you want help publishing the first time (or if it’s been a while), I am happy to do that. I also include keyword and category research to help people find your book once it is published.