It costs HOW MUCH?! The price of self-publishing a book

“My prices are high. They are so high that you’re not going to believe it. We even have paramedics on call because my prices are so high that you might go into cardiac arrest!”

I was at a publishing workshop for entrepreneurs, and the guru stood on stage in front of a slide with a picture of an ambulance as he prepared us for how much he would charge if we wanted him to help us publish a book.

How much do you think he charged? $10,000? $20,000? $25,000?

The total price of his publishing program was $60,000. Sixty thousand dollars. Almost the average annual wage (in Australia, the average wage is sitting around $75,000 a year).

Admittedly, if you bought that weekend and paid up front, you could get the program for the bargain price of $39,000, but that’s still a lot of money for most people.

I was in the audience as a bit of a corporate spy — doing competitor research and investigating his sales pitch and seeing how I could improve my own. And the fact was that, despite the numbers, it worked. He had people signing up then and there.

And it made me wonder, do people actually know how much it costs to publish a book?

At one end of the spectrum you see blogs and forums and Reddits claiming that you can publish a book for next to nothing — get a cover on Fiverr, find a freelancer to proofread, upload it to Amazon and you’re done! At the other end of the spectrum you get high-end coaching programs charging tens of thousands to help you put your book into print.

Surely there must be a middle ground? Surely there’s a price point for those who can’t write a cheque for $39,000, but who don’t have the time or desire to learn how to do it all themselves?

There is. I run a company that helps entrepreneurs write awesome books, and in the last three years we’ve helped over 100 entrepreneurs turn their intellectual property into published paperbacks. I started as a freelancer, then started partnering with external suppliers to offer different parts of the process, and now we manage it all in house.

And in this post I’ve outlined what you can expect to pay to self-publish your book, at every stage of the process.

All the disclaimers!

When I started writing this article, I realised that all of the figures I was including were based on a number of assumptions. Here they are, to ensure we’re all on the same page:

  • Disclaimer 1: I’ve written this article based on the assumption that you want to publish a professional, high-quality book. Yes, some people manage to do this themselves for very little money, but you’ll need to undergo a steep learning curve to do so. This article is based on what you can expect if you hire a self-publishing company or freelancers to produce your book. (More on the difference between the two in this article on assembling a self-publishing team.)
  • Disclaimer 2: These prices are all in Australian dollars and are based on work with over 100 clients. This includes what we charge when we’re project managing the process, as well as how much I’ve been quoted by other self-publishing suppliers. If you’re not in Australia, these numbers may vary.
  • Disclaimer 3: These prices are based on the typical books we work on — paperbacks between 30,000 and 45,000 words (about 180–220 pages in print), printed in a standard format with black and white pages. If you’re thinking of producing something different (like a photo book), then it’s best to get a quote.

Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s get into the dollars!

How much does editing cost?

For most of our clients, editing is the most expensive part of the self-publishing process. It’s also the part where quotes can vary widely between suppliers — from $500 to $5,000+.

Why is there such a large range? It comes down to the following three areas:

  1. The type of editing. There are different types of editing, ranging from a proofread — where a proofreader will correct spelling, grammar and typos but won’t provide feedback on what you’ve actually written — to a hands-on structural edit — where an editor will rewrite your book for you if they need to. As you can imagine, these are very different levels of service which each require a different skillset and a different investment of time on behalf of the editor (a proofreader usually takes 7–10 hours. A structural edit usually takes 40–50). Ultimately, this means very different quotes for you.
  2. The number of rounds of edits. Some editors quote a single round of edits, while others quote more comprehensive packages that include three or four rounds (often with a separate proofreader doing the final proof). More rounds of edits = more expensive editing.
  3. The editor’s experience/reputation. As in any business, as editors become more popular and the demand for their services increases, they tend to increase their prices. So when you’re paying more, you’re often paying for more experience.

At the $500 end of the spectrum, your editor is probably quoting you for a single proofread or copyedit (see my article on the different types of editing for more info about these terms). At the $5,000 end, your editor is probably quoting a package that includes more than one round of edits, and one of those rounds is likely to be a structural edit where they reorganise your content, cut repetition, cut rambling and make detailed suggestions on what you can add to your book to improve your argument.

So how much should you pay? It really depends on you — your writing skills and the state of your raw manuscript, whether you have people in your network who will volunteer to do part of the process, and how much you value publishing a high-quality book over just publishing anything.

I believe that every book needs both structural editing and proofreading, but whether you pay an editor to deliver those services is up to you. If you do need to choose between the two, I recommend investing in a structural edit — not many people (even professional editors) have the skillset required to see how a book can be pulled apart and put back together (I know — I’ve had to train them!), which means you’re unlikely to find a friend or colleague who can do this for free. By contrast, if you have enough volunteer proofreaders (pick people with strong English skills — avid readers, copywriters, journalists, English teachers, etc.) they should catch most of your typos and grammatical errors before you go to print.

TL;DR: Editing costs range from $500 to $5,000+

How much does it cost to design a book?

Once your book is edited, the next stage is designing it! This includes the cover, back cover and spine, and the internal layout, or the pages.

Often you’ll work with two separate designers for these areas, but some designers offer packages with both cover design and internal layout design, which is why I’ve grouped these. The factors that will cause this price to go up and down are also the same, hence the grouping.

How much does book design cost? Usually between about $1,000 ($500 for the cover and $500 for the internal layout) and $3,000.

Why the range? Again, there are three factors at play:

  1. The clarity of your design brief. Designers have a tough job. They need to translate your ideas about how you want a book to look and feel into an actual book design. If you give clear guidance up front, this process is much easier and the designer’s concepts should be somewhere in the vicinity of what you want. If you give vague (or no) guidance, then the designer will be trying everything they can to figure out what you do and don’t want. This leads to more revisions, which increases the cost of your design.
  2. The number of revisions. More revisions = more work = more money. Most designers will quote a set number of initial concepts and revisions in their packages to keep prices low (e.g. three initial concepts and two rounds of revisions). The issue with this is that, unless you’re happy with one of the initial concepts, you could risk prices blowing out if you ask for more ideas. Meanwhile, a designer who offers unlimited revisions and/or a large number of initial concepts (e.g. 10+) will charge more up front, but costs won’t blow out.
  3. The experience/reputation of your designer/s. Like editing, design is an area where supply and demand is at play. If your designer is in demand, they will likely charge more than an unknown.

How much should you pay? I think this comes down to how clear you are on what you want up front.

In my case, I was very worried about my book’s cover design — I think in words, not images, and other than knowing that I wanted my book to look quirky and clever while still looking like a business book, I didn’t have much guidance for my designer. Because if this, it made sense for me to be willing to engage a designer who would be open to a higher number of revisions.

By contrast, if you have a very clear idea of what you want, then you could probably find someone at the cheaper end of the spectrum to bring it to life for you.

TL;DR: Paperback design costs range from $1,000 to $3,000

How much does it cost to make an eBook?

Unless your book is quite complex with a lot of images, diagrams and tables, eBook design is usually pretty cheap, ranging from free to a few hundred dollars.

For eBook design to be free, you’ll need your designer to design your print book with the eBook in mind. This means designing the print book so that it also meets the eBook specifications of major online retailers (Amazon, Book Depository, etc.).

For instance, take a look at the eBook design specs at BookBaby (BookBaby is a service that allows you to bulk upload your book to the major online retailers, rather than having to sign up with Amazon, Book Depository, Barnes & Noble, Booktopia and the rest individually).

So if your book has been designed according to these specifications, you can upload your existing files. If it doesn’t, this is when you’ll need to hire a designer to convert your existing design into something that is eReader friendly (or do it yourself using a service like Tablo).

If you’d like a designer to do it, head over to Upwork, Freelancer or Fiverr and post an ad for the job — it’s unlikely to cost more than a few hundred dollars (it will usually be less than $100, but let’s be generous and say $300 just in case).

TL;DR: Expect to pay $0 to $300 for your eBook design.

How much does book printing cost?

Before we continue, know that I’m not talking about print on demand — more on that in the next section (including what ‘print on demand’ actually means, if you’re new to the world of self-publishing). Here I’m talking about getting an initial run of books printed locally.

If you’re planning to sell on Amazon and the like, why would you want to get some books printed locally?

If you’re an entrepreneur, there are a number of benefits.

First, you have more control over a local print run than you do when printing through Amazon’s Create Space and similar services. With a local print company you can choose the size of the book, weight and finish of the cover, weight of the internal paper and more. This means you can print books with a higher-quality feel, which you might prefer to use when giving them to potential partners or clients.

Second, you can have complementary marketing materials printed with your book, like bookmarks and postcards, that direct people to your website and encourage them to sign up to your list.

Third, you can usually get discounts for larger print runs. If an industry partner wants to gift a copy of your book to their clients, or you get a speaking engagement where the organiser wants all attendees to get a copy of your book, then you will likely get a better deal and faster turnaround time if you organise this locally than if you go to Amazon or another retailer selling your book and order 500 of them. (Again, you also get to include your marketing material, which is an opportunity you don’t want to pass up.)

How much does printing cost? For standard paperbacks, this will range from about $2 a book to $7 a book, and this depends on a number of factors:

  1. The number of copies you print. The more copies you get printed, the lower the per-unit cost. For instance, if you get 3,000 copies printed you’d be looking at the $2 per book end of the spectrum, while if you get 200 printed you’d be looking at the $7 per book end of the spectrum. (That doesn’t always mean you should get more books printed — stay tuned for an article on why I recommend printing a few hundred in your first print run.)
  2. Your printing specifications. Books printed to standard specifications cost less to produce, which means your printer will charge you less. What does this cover? The size of your book, the weight/thickness of the internal pages, the weight/thickness of the cover, cover finishes and whether you’re printing in colour or black and white. Again, stay tuned for an article that goes into more detail about printing options and the impact they’ll have on price.
  3. Postage/shipping costs. Once your book is printed, it will need to be delivered to you. Obviously this will cost less if you’re working with a local printer versus one that is in another city, state or country. While a lot of people look at offshore printing as a cheaper option, it’s important to keep in mind the amount that shipping may add to your printing costs, as well as the amount of time it could add to your publishing schedule — in most cases, it isn’t worth going offshore unless you’re printing a few thousand copies of your book.

How much should you pay? I’ve found that most local printers are priced in a similar range, with any difference coming down to $1 to $2 per copy of your book. If you’re getting a lot of books printed, this can have a big impact, but if not, I’d focus on quality rather than price.

TL;DR: Expect to pay between $2 and $7 per copy of your book (including shipping), depending on your quantity, printing specifications and shipping costs.

Distribution costs: how much do I need to pay to get my book out into the world?

Your book isn’t going to do anyone any good if they can’t find it. This is why you need some way of getting it into the hands of your target audience.

What are your options? Online and bookshop distribution.

Online distribution costs

Online distribution means retailers like Amazon, Book Depository, Barnes & Noble, Booktopia and more, which can distribute your book as a paperback and, in some cases, as an eBook.

eBook sales are fairly straight forward — you upload digital files, and these files get sent to customers’ devices when they buy.

Paperbacks are sold through a system called Print on Demand (POD). This is a system where you upload digital files (your cover and internal pages) to online retailers and, rather than them storing 5,000 copies of your book in a warehouse, they simply print out a copy every time someone orders one. This saves you the cost of storage, as there’s nothing to store, and the time involved in fulfilling orders, as it’s all automated.

So what does this cost? For eBooks, the retailer will sell your eBook and deduct a percentage before sending you the balance. This percentage varies depending on the cost of your book.

For POD, the retailers will sell your book for the retail price plus shipping, they will deduct a percentage as their fee along with the cost of printing the book, and they will send you the balance. Again, the percentage may vary and the cost of printing the book will vary depending on the length of your book.

See how this works on Amazon:

If you use a bulk uploading service like BookBaby, you’ll be paying their fees on top of this (currently $149 for eBooks, and $199 to add POD to any order for 25+ print books).

TL;DR: For eBook distribution, expect to pay between 30% and 65% of the book’s list price per sale. For print on demand, expect to pay 20% and 60% of the book’s list price per sale, plus a fixed charge and a per-page charge to print it (for books around 200 pages, you’ll be looking at $3-$4 a book).

Bookstore distribution costs

The second way to distribute your book is through bricks and mortar bookstores. This is usually organised by a distributor (Dennis Jones is the go-to distributor in Australia), though some authors will contact bookstores directly.

I don’t recommend distributing to bookstores — other than getting a nice little ego boost (‘Oh look — my book’s in Dymocks!’), it’s an expensive exercise where there is often little return on your investment.

Let’s look at the expense. You will need to print an additional 250–500 copies of your book so there is something to distribute to the stores, which will cost between $1,500 and $3,000, depending on your quantity, specifications and the printer. After this initial outlay, if any books sell your distributor will take almost 70% of your book’s recommended retail price (most of this goes to the book store) and you will usually need to wait 90+ days to receive payment.

When it comes to return, you’ll receive 30% of the RRP for any books that sell, usually 90+ days after they sell. However, there is no guarantee your books will sell. In most cases, you’ll sell some copies, but not enough to make up for that initial printing expense.

TL;DR: To sell in bookstores, expect to pay $1,500-$3,000 for a print run to distribute to the stores, then 70% of the RRP on all book sales to your distributor.

Extras: what else is there?

One of the things that often surprises my clients is how much goes around the major stages of the publishing process — the things they didn’t think to budget for.

What is there? Some of the other expenses that might crop up include:

  • ISBNs and barcodes — in Australia it costs $42 to get an ISBN or $84 for a pack of 10. You’ll need one for each format of your book (so print, eBook and audio book, if you have one). Barcodes are $45 each, and you only need one for your printed book.
  • Coaching — if you haven’t written your book yet, you might be looking into writing and publishing coaching programs. These range from books about writing, which will be anywhere between $0 and $35, to online courses for a few hundred dollars, to high-end mentoring and coaching, which can be tens of thousands.
  • Photography — do you have professional headshots you can use for your marketing material, and on the back cover of your book? If not, these start from a few hundred and go up to the thousands, depending on the number of shots you want and the experience/reputation of the photographer.
  • A book website — if you already have a business website, one option is just adding a new page to it for your book. If you don’t have a website, or you want a new one that focuses on you as a thought leader rather than on your business, a new website’s in order. If you’re not the DIY type, expect to pay from a few hundred for a template, WordPress website, to several thousand for something custom made.
  • Marketing and PR — while most authors do their own marketing, some invest in professional help. If you’re doing it yourself, expect to spend a lot of time writing articles, posting on social media, pitching the media for interviews and pitching organisations about speaking (and then doing said interviews and speaking). You might also invest in online advertising, like Facebook ads. If you’re hiring a PR company, expect to spend several thousand.

Doing the maths: how much does it add up to?

So what’s the grand total?Not including extras, the upfront cost to take your book from a rough draft to an eBook and printed paperback will range from about $4,500 ($3,000 not including bookstore distribution) to about $14,250 ($11,450 not including bookstore distribution).

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Anna Cahill - October 16, 2016 Reply

Excellent, informative advice on the labyrinth of book publishing

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