Breaking Down the Cost of Self-Publishing
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There are many ways to self-publish a book.
If you're simply looking to make your book available online for whomever would like to read it, it's entirely possible to self-publish without spending a dime. If, however, you're interested in self-publishing a book that can rival the quality of those produced by traditional publishing houses, a few expenses will indeed come into play.
Throughout our publishing series, we've taken a look at both traditional and self-publishing options as a means of launching our writing careers. With that in mind, let's break down the costs of self-publishing a professional quality novel today.
An Overview of Self-Publishing Costs
A writer can self-publish a book at nearly any price range. For a high quality book, however, most self-published authors choose to invest a bit of money into several key tasks, including:
• Developmental / Structural Editing
• Copy / Line Editing
• Formatting and Interior Design
• Cover Design
These tasks are completed for every novel that works its way through the traditional publishing process. But without a publishing team already by their side, it's an indie author's job to build their own.
How much each of these services will cost varies depending on several factors, including the length (and possibly the genre & age market) of a writer's manuscript, the types of services they choose to invest in, and the quality of those services.
Generally speaking, you get what you pay for when you hire companies or freelance professionals to work with you on your book. With that in mind, the cost of self-publishing a professional quality novel can fall anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000 USD. But where is all that money going?
Breaking Down Self-Publishing Expenses
Let's take a look at each of the five key tasks we listed above, breaking down what each task entails and the average cost you can expect to pay when investing in them.
Developmental / Structural Editing
After completing your manuscript, you may wish to hire a professional editor to complete developmental edits (a.k.a. structural edits). Working with a developmental editor can help you produce the very best version of your story's plot, characters, themes, and more.
How exactly these edits are completed varies from editor to editor.
Most editors offer full manuscript reviews, in which they work with you on every element of your story in depth. But many editors also offer cheaper manuscript evaluation & critique packages that include less-detailed overviews that are still incredibly valuable.
Price range: $500 - $2,500 USD
Copy / Line Editing
After your developmental edits are complete, you may wish to hire a copy editor to comb through your manuscript line by line and make detailed suggestions concerning your sentence structure, word choice, voice, tense, point-of-view, consistency, etc.
A professional copy edit (a.k.a. line edit) can drastically improve the quality, clarity, and power of your prose, making for a far more immersive and enjoyable reading experience for your readers.
The cost of a professional copy edit will depend on the length, and possibly the genre and age market, of your novel.
Price range: $500 - $1,500 USD
A professional proofreader will scan through your manuscript with a figurative fine-toothed comb, making vital corrections to spelling, grammar, usage, formatting, and other such errors.
Many writers don't realize that copy editing and proofreading are two separate tasks. The key difference between the two lies in their purpose; Copy editors largely seek to improve a writer's prose, while proofreaders seek to correct it.
The cost of a professional proofread will also depend on the length, and possibly the genre and age market, of your novel.
Price range: $150 - $700 USD
(Note: Many freelancers bundle copy editing + proofreading services at cheaper rates, so keep an eye out for good deals!)
Formatting and Interior Design
Typically, a manuscript must be formatted individually for the print and ebook versions of your novel. Some authors also choose to format differently for the paperback and hardback versions of their book.
There are many different ways self-published authors can successfully format their books.
Some use Scrivener or Microsoft Word to DIY their book's formatting, though producing a high quality interior design this way can be a difficult and tedious process. To simplify it, some writers utilize downloadable formatting templates.
Alternatively, many writers choose to hire a professional formatter to design their book's interior. Keep in mind that the cost of this service will rise if you choose to have your book prepared for both print and ebook publication.
Price range: $0.00 - $1,000 USD
- DIY with Microsoft Word: $0
- DIY with Scrivener: $40 - $45 for Scrivener license (affiliate link)
- DIY with Template: $50 - $100
- Services: $200 - $1,000
Regardless of the saying, customers do judge books by their covers, which is exactly why a professional cover design is a must for any author looking to launch their writing career.
The cost of cover design will vary depending on how you plan to publish your book. Print cover designs will cost more than ebook cover designs because it requires the designer to create the back cover as well as the front.
Print and ebook designs are bundled at a cheaper rate. Some cover designers also offer bundles that include formatting and interior design services, which can help cut down on your expenses.
Price range: $300 - $1,500 USD
Additional Self-Publishing Costs
After these initial expenses, there are many additional items an author may choose to invest in, including:
• Interior illustrations and/or map design
• Professional head-shots
• Professional blurb copy or blurb editing
• Print books for in-person bookselling events
• Author website domain name, hosting, and maintenance
• Marketing tools, merchandise, and book swag
• Launch parties
• An ISBN: International Standard Book Number
And more! These expenses are in no way necessary, but they may improve the quality of your book and/or your publishing and marketing experience.
Can you cut corners on a tight budget?
I'm often asked whether some or all of the five key self-publishing expenses we broke down today are truly necessary. Though there will always be authors whose experiences prove to be the exception, my answer is almost always yes.
If you're looking to self-publish a book of the same caliber as those produced by professional publishing houses, there unfortunately isn't much room for cutting corners. Publishing truly is a team effort. As I mentioned at the top of this post, there is a team of professionals behind every novel you see on bookstore shelves. When you choose to self-publish, it’s your responsibility to build this team for yourself.
While hiring out these services comes at a cost, the good news is that self-published authors get to keep nearly 100% of their royalties, a far greater percentage than that of traditionally published authors. All that said, do keep an eye out for bundled services and seasonal discounts from reputable companies and freelancers, as this can help cut down on your expenses.
Some authors have also had success with crowdfunding their book's publication via Kickstarter, Patreon, and other donation sites, though this option tends to work best for writers who've already established their online platform prior to publishing their book.
Finally, if you're hoping to build a writing career but the cost of self-publishing is simply too high, consider pursuing the traditional route instead. One of traditional publishing's biggest advantages is that it costs the author absolutely nothing to publish their book; many even receive cash advances prior to publication. You can read more about the pros & cons of traditional publishing here.