The Real Cost of Self-Publishing a Book: What New Writers Need to Know

Updated: October 2017

The Real Cost of Self-Publishing a Book: What New Writers Need to KnowDo you want to self-publish your book?

What services do you need to pay for when publishing your first book?

How much does it cost to self-publish a book for the first time?

I think you'll agree with me that there's a lot to self-publishing a book for the first time.

These are just three of the questions I faced when I started self-publishing books.

In this blog post, I’ll explain how much it costs to self-publish a book on Amazon and other digital stores.

(Read to the end of the post to find out how you can save money self-publishing your book).

But first off… self-publishing a book is easy and free… right?

Well, you could finalise a draft today. You could prepare your digital book file, knock up a book cover in Paint (oh, my eyes, it burns!), upload it all to Amazon and have a book for sale within hours.

But should you?

Well, professional authors take care to create books that readers love.

They work with trained editors, professional designers and more. If you’re self-publishing book and you take your craft and readers seriously, you should too.

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

According to the Write Life, the average amount a writer spends on self-publishing a book falls between $200 and $300. While according to Book Promotion, more experienced writers spend several thousand dollars on self-publishing services. Finally, Scott Allan explains on Self Publishing School that writers can spend less than $1000 or up to $20000.

I’ve spent less than $500 and more than $2000 on self-publishing different books. There are advantages and disadvantages to working on a shoe-string and a larger budget.

Let’s dive in.

Self-Publishing a Book
What You Need to Self-Publish Your Book

Writing and Self-Publishing Software

Expect to pay anywhere from nothing to $75 for writing software.

You're going to need a computer and writing software like Google Docs, Word or Scrivener.

Once you’ve written your book, you can either hire a designer to prepare your digital book files or do it yourself.

It’s easy enough if you learn Scrivener’s advanced features or use book design software like Vellum (Mac only).

I’ll presume you already own or have access to a computer for writing. Here's a list of free and premium writing software you can use.

A license for software like Scrivener and Vellum Scrivener costs $45 and $29, respectively. If you can’t afford to spend this modest amount on writing software, you’re in the wrong game.

How Much Does it Cost for Someone to Edit a Book?

Most authors work with a development editor, a proofreader and sometimes a copyeditor or line editor. You can hire an editor and also a copyeditor for $40 – $50 per hour, each. You can also expect to pay an editor and a proofreader $5 – $10 per 1000-words, each. 

Rates vary widely, so shop around. The answer depends on how clean your draft is, your subject matter and what level of editorial support you want.

A development editor will provide critical feedback about the tone and direction of your book in the form of a reader’s report. He or she may also provide some light copyediting, depending on your contract.

A copyeditor or line editor will go through each sentence and polish them for you. They will also check that your spelling, word choice and the overall style of your book is consistent.

A proofreader will eliminate typos and grammar mistakes and may also look for factual inaccuracies.

Some editors also provide developmental copyedits if you pay extra.

My Experiences Working With Editors and Proofreaders

A sample edit
A sample edit: In this case, the editor left comments in a PDF document for me.

While self-publishing my first book, I hired a proofreader, but I didn’t hire an editor.

Having worked as a journalist and sub-editor, I felt confident about editing a non-fiction book myself.

That wasn’t my only mistake.

I hired a cheap proofreader for $200 to check my first book. This proofreader found some errors (but not all of them) in the book before I self-published it. Then, after I uploaded the first version of my book, I found some additional errors and typos (the shame!).

After a reader complained to me about some typos, I rained furious hellfire down upon him. When that didn’t work, I used the online proofreading service Grammarly to recheck every chapter. Then, I resent this book to a professional proofreader for $300.

A month after self-publishing the first version of my book, I uploaded a new version to Amazon.

Later, I paid to have much of the book re-edited. I also retitled and recovered the book so that I could position it to the right readers more effectively and increase sales.

For every book since, I’ve worked with an editor, proofreader and occasionally a line editor.

Tips for Hiring an Editor or Proofreader

Typically, an editor will send you a reader report with an annotated version of your manuscript. The proofreader and line editor also make changes in a document and send it back to you to accept or reject.

Feedback like this, while sometimes tough, will improve the quality of your book and teaches you more about writing (a nice added bonus).

Now, you can hire an editor, proofreader and copyeditor based on:

  • Your total word count
  • The hours you want the editor/proofreader to spend on your book
  • Your total page count
  • Your project as a whole

Before hiring an editor or proofreader, ask them:

  • What style they’ll use? The Chicago Manual of Style is pretty popular.
  • Will they edit your book in British or US English?
  • Can they provide a sample edit for you to review (usually free)?
  • Do they specialise in any type of writing?
  • Can they provide testimonials from satisfied clients?
  • How long will an edit take?
  • What are their rates?

For Authors on a Tight Budget

If you can’t afford an editor or proofreader, start saving! Working with an editor is the single best way to improve your book and your craft.

That said, joining a creative writing group or class is a great way to get free feedback on your writing. All you have to do is provide other people feedback on their work too.

So the only real cost is your time.

Similarly, if you write guest blog posts based on your draft, you can get free editorial feedback about your non-fiction. After your guest post goes live, you can always reuse elements of the post as chapters in your book (with some light rewriting).

I caution against self-publishing your book without hiring or getting an eagle-eyed friend to proofread your book.

Those typos will come back to haunt you.

How Much Does it Cost to Get a Book Cover Design?

It costs $50 – $500+ to hire a good book cover designer, and like hiring an editor, you get what you pay for. Competitions on crowdsourcing websites like 99designs start at $240.

How to Get a Great Book Cover

self-publishing book covers
A book cover I designed (I didn't use it)

Picking a great book cover is one of your most important creative decisions.

It’s your book’s best chance of standing out against the hundreds of thousands of others on stores like Amazon.

When I was starting off, I stayed up till two am for nights on end taking online design tutorials.

I created a cover that had almost nothing to do with the contents of my book.

Since then, I’ve run competitions on sites like 99designs and worked directly with book cover designers.

As a writer, your time is better spent writing than it is tinkering in Photoshop or Illustrator.

So either start saving or reframe the expense as an investment in your craft.

Hiring a Book Cover Designer

The Power of Creativity (book 1)
The Power of Creativity book cover, as created by a book cover designer

It’s relatively easy to find a professional book cover designer.

Joel Frielander, and the team at The Book Designer run a monthly competition that showcases some of the best indie book covers.

Simply browse the categories and reach out to one you like, who has experience creating book covers in your niche.

Then, you’ll need to determine if he or she is free to work on your cover and then come to an agreement on price and deliverables.

Some budget-friendly designers will let you pick from various book cover templates. More expensive designers will create something new for you. Before you pay your designer, let them know if you want a cover for digital publishing, a cover for print, and a 3D mockup of your book for your website.

These extras cost more. Also, insist on the source files (that’s the Photoshop or Illustrator files and not just the book cover image).

Decide on Your Budget

You can spend a lot or a little on your book cover. If you spend a modest amount (less than $100), you’ll probably have to pick from various pre-designed templates. If you spend more, you can work one-on-one with a designer.

Do Your Research

The covers of thriller books look different than the covers of self-help books. The former relies on dark imagery, while the latter relies on hopeful imagery.

So, spend at least an hour browsing stores like Amazon and saving book covers in your niche that you like (Pinterest and Evernote are both good for this).

Write a Design Brief

If you’ve commissioned a new cover rather than using a pre-designed template, write a short brief for your designer. Explain what your book is about, the title, key concepts, what book covers you like/dislike and so on.

  • Are you okay with stock imagery?
  • Do you prefer simple designs, or do you have an image in mind?
  • Are there particular colours and fonts you like?

If your writing draws on key imagery or metaphors, let your designer know as they could work an element into your cover. Include a sample chapter for them to read too.

Providing this information will reduce the amount of time both of you spend going backwards and forwards about a design later.

Give Proactive Feedback

Depending on how much you pay, your designer will go through one or two rounds of changes with you. Tell them what you like and dislike about the cover, and what you want changed.

Remember, your book cover needs to look good at small sizes so it stands out in digital bookstores.

But what if you don’t know what you like? Ask a friend or your early readers for their opinions about the book cover. They may have a good eye for design or captivating images.

Crowdsourcing Your Book Cover

Sites like 99designs, CrowdSpring and DesignCrowd enable you to run competitions. If you host one, designers will submit covers for you to review. When you pick the best one, the winner gets a prize that you front.

I used 99designs in the past for a book cover, and I was happy with the results.

Two years ago, I wrote an article about my experiences. Some unhappy designers complained in the comments about crowdsourcing websites. They argued losers get nothing for their submission or hard-work.

If you decide on this approach, you’ll still need to brief your designer and work with the winner to finalise it.

For Authors on a Tight Budget

Yes, you could design a cover yourself in Paint or Photoshop or buy a cheap cover for a couple of dollars on a site like Fiverr. You could also rub lemons in your eyes, but that doesn’t mean you should.

Unless you’ve got ace design skills, please don’t – a cheap cover screams cheap writing. If you can’t afford to hire a designer, Canva provides a series of free ebook cover templates that you can adapt. Later on, you can always swap this cover for a more professional design.

There’s no cheap shortcut to preparing a book for print, unfortunately.

You can always prepare your book file using Vellum, but you’ll need the help of a designer to get the cover right for print. If that’s an issue, publish a digital copy of your book first and a print copy later on.

How Much Does a Print Book Cost?

The Power of Creativity print
Me feeling overly proud of my print book The Power of Creativity

It costs about $250 – $300 to hire a designer to prepare a 40,000 – 50,000-word book for print. I expect this cost to come down as self-publishing software becomes easier to use. At the time of writing, Vellum Press (for creating print books) costs $249.

What writer doesn’t want to hold their book in their hands? If you follow the guidelines on Amazon and CreateSpace, you can do just that. Vellum (Mac only at the time of writing) also enables writers to compile a print version of their book.

If you can’t or don’t want to use Vellum, I recommend hiring a designer to prepare your print book. They will take care of headaches like laying out each page correctly. They will also check that your cover is the right depth, break up run-on sentences and so on.

The Bottom Line

Authors today don’t have to ask for permission from publishers, editors or even readers! However, you still need the funds to create a great book.

Every time I self-published a book, I hired more expensive editors, designers and so on to improve the quality of the books in question. I also haven’t included extra costs like what I spent on marketing my book using Facebook ads.

Look…

You can spend as much or as little as you want self-publishing your non-fiction book.

If you invest a little money, you’ll break even on the cost of your book faster. But if you invest more, you’ll create a better product and improve your craft with the help of a professional.

Unlike years ago, you control your creative choices (including the budget), and that’s a liberating place to be for most indie authors.

I Need Help Self-Publishing My book

I know it's hard finding professional but affordable book editors, book cover designers and proofreaders that you can trust. Dozens of websites claim to offer these services, but there's one I recommend.

I've used Reedsy to find all of the above for my books and was more than happy with the results. Using the form below, you can claim your exclusive Reedsy discount.

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I based these figures based on 40,000-word book that requires a modest amount of editing a budget-friendly book cover.

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53 thoughts on “The Real Cost of Self-Publishing a Book: What New Writers Need to Know”

      1. Catherine Schaffer

        Great info. I am in early stages of an 8×8 photographic, inspirational book. Need help on figuring whether photos will be crisp and sharp . Can’t find software to help determine this. Christian publishing company i spoke with gave me a quote of 5k . Not sure if they would kick back if photos are lacking..or just go to print. Any thoughts?

        1. I caution against paying that much. It’s must easier and cheaper to do it yourself. You can find a designer who specialises in this type of work on Reedsy.

  1. Great post, Bryan.

    It doesn’t have to be books only. I’ve had at least one guest post cost that much. But if you’re monetized and have a back end, it comes back quickly.

  2. Hi,
    I found this very helpful. I am in the midst of writing a second book and the first hasn’t published yet. I was trying to find a way to get it out a self-publishing seemed like the right way to go. Thanks for the help.

    1. Anywhere between free and several thousand dollars. It depends how long your book is, how much editing you need and what you’re prepared to do yourself/outsource.

      Typically, it costs between USD1000-2000 to self-publish. That includes an editor, proof-reader and designer.

  3. A very helpful article, thanks! I’ve been trialing editors for my current romance WIP, including industry stalwarts from The Big Four, to freelancers and hobbyists, *budget* options and the gurus who cost a pretty penny. From 9 to 5 I’m an editor myself, so it’s been great experiencing the process from a writer’s perspective. I’ve documented some tips below on what to look for in an editor (and what should send you running) , which you might find interesting.
    http://catehogan.com/25-things-look-for-romance-editor/

  4. Thanks for posting this blog. My beloved friend is an excellent writer. We all have wished that he publish its own book. He put his thoughts to the front of people. Your blog is so helpful to me.

  5. Good article! I think you should mention adapting the print book for ebook. You can totally do it yourself, but it is kind of a pain, especially for any book with photos and charts. So for the sake of disclosure, it might be nice to at least mention this. Perhaps also the cost of getting your own ISBN. Then there’s the whole issue of marketing, and the time spent navigating Amazon and other channels. But but of course those are separate topics, and you’re talking about cold hard cash, not time spent. Still, a word to the wise to plan for all of it.

  6. Good article as far as it goes. The costs don’t stop once the book is published. A book with excellent content, beautiful cover, perfect editing, and wonderful layout will get lost in the millions of books on Amazon if it is not marketed. Most self-published authors sell less than fifty books. Once friends and family are depleted, how are people going to find the book? Plan on spending more time and money marketing the book than you did writing and publishing it. To be perfectly honest, for most authors there is a very poor return on investment.

    1. True, but once you have a book that’s earning an income, you’ll have a larger budget. It’s publishing that first book which is tricky.

  7. Hi. I’m trying to publish my first book, but its not a book with words. I really would like to talk to someone who could help me out. Thanks

    1. Your costs might vary as I imagine a poetry collection is smaller than a novel or non-fiction book. You’ll still need a cover, editor and proofreader.

  8. My sister just wrote her first children’s book….she just have to add some illustration/// I just want to know what are her next steps?

    1. She should hire a designer to ensure hire images are suitable for a print and a children’s book editor to tidy up her story. Check out Reedsy.com

  9. I have never wrote a book but I’ve always wanted to share my story. I came across a website that offers ghostwriting services but the book is completely credited to you. You interview with the ghost writer intensely and they put everything into creating your vision. The package includes the isbn, barcode, book design, a website for purchase and other marketing tools. The cost comes to about $13,000. It sounded really legit. But is this price too high for what I’m getting out of it or is it reasonable?

  10. Venkatesh Athreya

    Thanks Bryan for the useful info when I am planning to publish my first book in the next 6 months

  11. I would like to know who I can look for to know if my book is under the law. I say like I want to compare some subject and worry if it is ok or not.

  12. Hi Brian. Thank you for all your great advice on your site. I have written a book and I’m going through the editing process. I have a large physical audience for my book where I live and will be able to promote it daily and sell at least a few books per week or possibly each day. I need to print several thousand copies and am wondering if you have any suggestions on the most economical service to do this through. It will be a paperback chapter book with a color cover. Thank you! My e-mail is: auberries@gmail.com

      1. Hi Bryan, How nice of you to help us. I am in the process of writing a self-help book on Tapping. I teach group Tapping workshops so I would sell it there and hopefully through Amazon. I created an outline and have 40 pages (word docs) completed. I need a structural editor, right now before I go down the wrong rabbit hole. Then I will need the rest including where to get economical copies to sell at the workshops. Someone is trying to sell me a coaching program for $500 a month and previously I paid $700 for a different project and there were typo’s and incorrect grammar. I am so tired of getting taken advantage of —sorry for ending the sentence in a preposition 🙂

        Even with this public response, can you email the info that you are sending to aubrey about economical printing

        Seriously, Thank you again for all that you do for us seekers 🙂

    1. If you use Amazon Print on demand, it will tell you the cost per individual book printed. It’s based on the number of pages in your book and the size it. As an example, I pay Amazon $4.91 on printing costs for a 300 page print book. They also take a cut of the sale 60%. This leaves me with a profit of $3.48 per book at that price point.

  13. Thanks a lot for this article! I wanted to ask what are the different ways that we can use to deliver the books, so what’s the book journey once it gets printed. Thanks!

  14. Great article. There is so much to learn and how well you have explained things. Writing is an art which requires our time and effort to learn it from masters like you.

    We appreciate your effort in putting up this wonderful post.

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