How much to Self-Publish

How much will it cost to self-publish? - (updated for 2019)

 

So you have a book in mind or one that’s halfway through, or perhaps it’s completed its first draft and you think it’s nearly ready for production. At this stage your main options are three:

  1. An agent or publisher.
    If this is your first book, or you have scant reputation built as an author, landing a publisher is a little like asking to win the lottery with your first ticket – not impossible but realistically it’s unlikely. They will pay for and do the production work from here on in: edit – proof-check – format – jacket – print – channel to distributors and buyers etc, and you can expect a little marketing. You then get royalty payments. If you’re very lucky you may even get an advance.

    Landing an agent, if you can, increases your chances of landing a publisher. The agent will take a significant commission for this, but they know the business and it’s in their best interest that you succeed and so normally provide a lot of help.

  1. A vanity publisher. 
    All vanity publishers will tell you your book is great and will ask for a substantial fee to produce it. For most of them their business model is to take your money – produce your book – do the minimum marketing to meet the contract – and, two years later when the book sales have dried up, drop you, to have you start all over again. You take all the risk.
  1. Self-publish.
    Only a few years ago self-publishing was seen as a dirty word “oh, you couldn’t get a publisher then?” Nowadays, there are many great self-published authors and even top traditionally published authors are trying it out on new books.

The two main advantages of self-publishing are that you have control over your work, and you can get some very nice royalty percentages. The downside is you have to do all the production work, and unless you’re multi-talented with an array of differing skills in I.T., writing and publishing, you’re going to fall short of producing a competitive book. 

And there’s the rub; self-published books have received a bad rap for being poor quality in materials, formatting, story cohesion, jacket design and even basic grammar. The reason is that each of these disciplines require years of experience and training to do well, and when writers try to do them all themselves, they fall far short of what’s needed.

Now there’s no reason you can’t produce a book for zero cost, on Amazon kindle for example, for personal and family consumption. It maybe something you want to tick off your bucket list. Creating a book for professional purposes though, requires a helping hand and you need to be engaging others to bring your work to a professional standard. But what should you be subbing out and how much should you be paying?

Yes - do this!

Copy-editing

The experience that comes with a good copy-editor is invaluable to any story or piece, and essential for a new author. No serious writer or publisher would dream of putting out a book without the scrutiny of a trained independent eye. The odd thing is, few new authors believe in the value of this. They feel they have written it, checked it, modified it, and now it’s as good as it needs to be. Some may even have engaged the services of a friend or spouse/partner to read it and feed back comments. Some of those may even have English degrees or be English school teachers. The fact is though, unless they are specifically trained and experienced as copy-editors, there is little chance of them doing the job successfully.

For typical copy-editor fees, based on around 100,000 words, you should be looking at £1000+. It will vary depending on the track record of the editor, and the state of the writing submitted.

Proof-checking

The number one gripe of readers is when they come across spelling errors in your book. It always amazes me that the industry standard for proofing is 99.99%; that’s one word in every ten-thousand. There are few sectors of manufacturing with such high standards, and yet, with a typical novel of 100,000 words, the standard allows ten errors! If you came across ten errors in a book you were reading, would you be happy? No, because it takes you ‘out of the moment’ and it really spoils the story.

This skill is especially hard as our brains love to fill in mistakes for us. Without proper proof-checking, even after you’ve carefully checked it yourself, your 100,000-word novel will have as many as 50+ mistakes!

Proof-checking comes in at around £600+ for 100,000 words, and you can expect around six mistakes to remain, even then. That’s why main publishing houses know to use two or more. Having said that, most readers will miss several too, so eight mistakes will reduce to three or four in their eyes, so is perhaps liveable. I always recommend two independent proof-checks (yes, doubling the cost), which takes the overall error count down to two to four (but after two proof-checkers have gone through it, the errors remaining are likely to be ones most readers wouldn’t catch either).

Jacket design

You may be tempted into thinking you can do this yourself by taking a picture and placing some PowerPoint text over the top. This is always a terrible idea, as the jacket is one of the most important marketing tools you have. After all, if nobody knows you, a good jacket is what people will be clicking on or pulling from a shelf. And home-made jackets have a certain look, subconsciously implanting in the potential buyer the quality to be expected inside.

Top bespoke jacket designers are expensive and worth it. Expect to pay £400+. They provide uniqueness to your book that smacks of quality to the potential reader from the get-go. You can try premade stock from the web, and some of these are included in printing packages. Some are quite good and a lot cheaper, but I recommend getting the best bespoke design you can afford if possible.

Marketing

Yes, this is under the YES DO IT category. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your book will fly off the shelves or be downloaded in the hundreds. It’s not going to happen, you have too many competitors out there and the market is currently saturated with choice (another reason why your jacket and writing quality has to be top-notch).

Marketing and budgets vary from little to whatever. However, as a minimum you should have an online author platform consisting of website, blog, Facebook, twitter (and Instagram if it’s a picture book). 

Also ensure you’re on Goodreads, and fill out an Author Central page for you on Amazon (both for your country and the US sites).

The website you can try yourself through such platforms as WordPress, which also includes a blog. They are very affordable although can be a little tricky to get up and running for the less I.T. literate. If you can afford it, pay hundreds of pounds for a bespoke one by a proven designer, who will also ensure it’s Google-search friendly, and advise you on such things as landing pages so you can direct people there from your other online platforms and make sales. Again, it’s quite expensive, but worth it when designed and used well.

And make sure you save budget for Facebook ads, they continue to be great value for money, but learn how to do it effectively first, otherwise you’ll waste a lot of time getting poor results. There are plenty of free youtube videos to get you started.

Optional

Formatting

With your text now nicely edited, the next job is layout. This is where the words and images, currently in MS Word or another system, are organised to fit the target book size. It’s also where font styles and sizes are chosen, along with headers, footers, copyright pages etc.

This is one of the areas you could have a stab yourself. It is getting easier nowadays to do this, with a reasonable amount of searching on-line. However, it’s not normally that expensive, and the results a professional produces is worth the expenditure, especially for picture books, children’s books and business books that benefit greatly from experienced flair.

Formatting will typically cost you £150 for 100,000 words for a standard b5-size paperback, although picture books and business you will have to work on individual estimates as the final product can vary so much.

Note: at the time of revision and re-posting of this article in 2019, Amazon’s upload system for Kindle (Word documents and some other formats) work very well. It’s free to do, and you’ll even get back a spell check report. There is an excellent preview tool included which you should always use, so you can see what it looks like on the various types of readers. Make sure you follow their guidelines otherwise you’ll get unflattering formatting of some pages).

Development Editor

They’ll be plenty of debate whether this should be in the YES, DO IT section. It’s always worth it if you can find an editor in your genre that gels with you. These professionals will deal with story issues, weak characters, poor starts and finishes, and a host of other subtle and not-so-subtle story attributes. Use the best you can afford as their feedback strengthens your story impact and author success immensely.

Developmental Editor charges vary greatly depending on whether you chose a single report, or require the editor to work with you throughout the writing of the story. 

For a single report, you can expect to pay £800+ for 100,000 words. 

For working with you throughout the story – it can be thousands, so you may decide to use the report option to start with, and work with an editor when you’ve got a strong following and you want to crank things up to the next level.

Printing

eBooks are great, and in most cases, such as Amazon for example, are free to upload. But they do have limitations. Having paper versions of your book is not only nice to have, but can open up a whole arena of marketing opportunities. Book-signings, talks and special appearances.

Yes, you’re an author now. Many people who meet you will love a signed copy of your book. These are especially useful for well-written business books, as they act as great alternatives to business cards and help to establish you as an authority in your field.

Printing varies, depending on the quantities you want. Typically you can get a 100,000-word novel (no colour images inside) printed in paperback for as little as £3 a book if you order 150 at a time.

Make sure you get a proof copy first, and rigorously check every page to ensure it’s formatted correctly, as well as checking the cover, before committing to a full run.

There is an alternative form of printing called lithographic that prints for around £1-£1.50 a book, but that’s for a run of a few thousand copies.

In both cases it gets cheaper the more you print in one go.

So, there it is…

Self-publishing for serious authors has costs, and it’s not cheap – writing is a long haul profession and you have to keep at it to get your returns.

So why do people write a book?

Because simply put – it’s one of the most satisfying and fulfilling achievements that life has to offer…

Would you self-publish?

Miles Allen Author picture

About Miles Allen

Miles changed careers in 2008 from Senior Systems Designer in aviation to become a self-published fantasy author. His first book hit No 1 on Amazon for Epic Fantasy and knocked The Hunger Games from the top slot in Waterstones. In 2010 he started a self-publishing business, and began creative writing meet-ups in Kent called NAGwhich have been running bi-weekly for four years.

He now writes, runs NAGS, and teaches a range of frank and honest courses for new authors on creative writing, self-publishing and book marketing, including for the Canterbury Christchurch University and North Kent College.

“It was great having Miles teaching to us today.
It’s given me some fantastic things to
think about – a very inspiring speaker,
thank you for a brilliant session.”

Emily Dorsett Beard


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3 thoughts on “How much will it cost to self-publish?”

  1. This is really interesting, I think a lot of writers don’t factor in editing, design, formatting etc into their idea of what’s necessary to publish. Just because I can write doesn’t mean I can edit – sometimes I can’t even spell! Luckily I have an editor and a designer to help out with this.

    It’s very helpful to have everything laid out like this and explained the way it has been here and it’s nice to see people beginning to see self publishing as a valid and important platform.

    Some of the costs mentioned seem pretty steep to me as we include editing, design, formatting, a pre-print run of 50-200 books and a bit of publicizing in our packages (£350-750) but i suppose it’s much much cheaper for us as we do it all in-house.

    1. Hi Emma, thank you for your comment. Self-Publishing is becoming ever more popular as the costs of independently publishing your own book comes down. Certainly there is a range of costs out there, and you make a good point about bundled packages being cheaper overall that you provide, and I’ll be updating the post to mention that. The costs I quote are to match the top publishers quality and so should be considered middle to high-end. There are certainly far more expensive out there too, so shopping around is key.

  2. Lots of different options and costs (including print on demand with services like CreateSpace).

    Editing you may be able to do yourself, proof reading can have a first pass done by the grammar and spell checker in your word processor but a human proof reader will spot things that computers can’t.

    A great cover design can make the world of difference. Give your designer some examples of what you like and don’t like to maximise the chance they’ll do something impressive.

    Marketing is definitely massive in order to stand out from the crowd. It’s unlikely you’ll do like JK Rowling and get press releases published months in advance to build up anticipation but you can still take a leaf out of her book (no pun intended) and get a press release out to help build excitement.

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