I was at a publishing workshop for entrepreneurs. The guru stood on stage in front of a slide with a picture of an ambulance on display. He was preparing us for the cost of self-publishing a book through his company.
“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!”
How much do you think he charged? $15,000? $20,000? $30,000?
The total price of his publishing program was $60,000. Sixty thousand dollars. Wow.
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 know the cost of self-publishing a book?
There's a wide range of costs out there
At one end, blogs and forums and Reddits claim you can publish a book for next to nothing. Get a cover on Fiverr. Find a freelancer to proofread. Upload it to Amazon. You’re done! At the other end, are high-end coaching programs charging tens of thousands to help get 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 $60,000 but don’t have time (or desire) to learn it all themselves?
At Grammar Factory, we turn business leaders, entrepreneurs and professional speakers into authors. In the past six years we’ve helped more than 200 professionals turn their intellectual property into published paperbacks. It started as a freelance business, then started partnering with external suppliers to cover different parts of the process. Now we manage it all, end-to-end.
In this guide, I’ve outlined the real cost of self-publishing a book, including a detailed breakdown of costs at every stage of the process.
First some disclaimers
When I started writing this article, I realized that my figures were based on a number of assumptions. Here they are, to ensure we’re all on the same page:
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 go through a steep learning curve to do so. This article is based on what you can expect if you hire a self-publishing company or a team of freelancers to produce your book. Read more on the difference between the two in this article on assembling a self-publishing team.
Our direct experience, our authors, and our team are predominantly based in Australia and Canada. This means these costs are focused on the cost of self-publishing a book in these regions. They're based on our work with 200+ clients as well as research on what our local colleagues charge. If you're based elsewhere, the costs might be different but you should still find this to be helpful as a basis for comparison.
These costs are based on the typical books we publish. Usually paperbacks between 30,000 and 45,000 words (about 180–220 pages), 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 custom quote.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s get into the costs you can expect.
How much does editing affect the cost of self-publishing a book?
Editing is the first stage of your self-publishing journey. It's where your content gets polished until it’s a gleaming jewel that sets you apart as a business leader.
For most, editing is the most expensive part of the process, so it adds significantly to the overall cost of publishing a book. It’s also the part where quotes can vary widely between suppliers — starting from $500 and going up to $6,000 and beyond.
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. There's a proofread to correct spelling, grammar and typos but without feedback on what you’ve actually written. Then there's 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. Each requires a different skill-set and a different investment of time by the editor. A proofreader usually takes 7–10 hours. A structural edit usually takes 40–50 hours. Ultimately, this means very different quotes for you.
2. The number of rounds of edits.
Also, 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, so be sure you know what your quote includes so you can compare apples to apples.
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.
A note about hourly rates
I’ve considered both flat-rate editing packages and editors who charge an hourly or per-word rate in this price range, however, be aware that editors who charge hourly rates may end up being more expensive than anticipated, especially if you:
- Have an exceptionally long book
- Drip-feed content (e.g. you send through one chapter at a time, or continually send back old content with changes and updates)
- Have a lot of questions and need a lot of hand holding when it comes to the changes you need to make and new content you need to add
None of these are bad things. And as authors we all have different needs when it comes to our working relationship with an editor. But when considering costs, note that these elements will all add to the number of hours and thus to the total cost if an editor who charges by the hour.
So how much should you pay?
It really depends on you. It depends on your writing skills and the state of your raw manuscript. Do you have people in your network who will volunteer to do part of the process? How value do you place on publishing quality vs. just having a book in print.
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 skills required to see how a book can be pulled apart and put back together. I know — I’ve had to train them! This means you’re unlikely to find a friend or colleague who can do this for free. By contrast, if you have enough volunteer proofreaders with strong English skills — avid readers, copywriters, journalists, English teachers, etc. — they should catch most typos and grammatical errors before you go to print.
TL;DR: Editing costs range from $500 to $6,000+
How much does design affect the cost of self-publishing 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.
Ideally, 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 from about $1,000 ($500 for the cover and $500 for the internal layout) up to $4,000 (between $1,000 and $2,000 for each).
Why the range? Here, there are four factors at play that can impact the cost of self-publishing a book:
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 complexity of the design requirements
This is especially true with interior layout and typesetting. At the lower end is a basic text with few if any visuals, simple structure, and minimal need for design solutions to help the reader navigate and understand the content. At the higher end, your designer needs to integrate many visual and textual elements into an intuitive layout that helps rather than hinders comprehension.
4. 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. 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 of 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.
Like editing, whether you choose a designer who offers a flat-rate package or one who charges an hourly rate can have a significant impact on costs here. While Grammar Factory offers flat-rate publishing packages, our internal layout designer gets paid an hourly rate, and things can quickly blow out when books are complex or clients keep changing their mind. We’re currently working on a project where our internal layout costs are over $4,000 alone – and the client has just requested another round of changes.
So, keep hourly costs and flat-rate packages in mind if you know you like to change your mind a lot. While an hourly rate might seem cheaper up front, it can quickly balloon out of control.
TL;DR: Paperback design costs range from $1,000 to $4,000
How much does eBook production impact the cost of self-publishing a book?
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, Booktopia, Barnes & Noble, 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). If you are focusing on Amazon only, they can convert a Word document on your behalf, assuming it meets their design specifications.
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 (let’s be generous and say $500 just in case).
TL;DR: Expect to pay $0 to $500 for your eBook design.
How much does printing affect the cost of self-publishing a book?
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 how much it costs to print a book locally.
If you’re planning to sell on Amazon and the like, why would you want to get some books printed locally?
As a business leader or 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.
Additional marketing materials
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.
Economies of scale
Third, you can usually get discounts for larger print runs. Suppose an industry partner wants to gift a copy of your book to their clients, or you get a speaking engagement where the organizer wants all attendees to get a copy of your book. You'll likely get a better deal and faster turnaround time if you organize this locally than if you go to Amazon and order 5,000 of them.
How much does printing cost? For standard paperbacks, this will range from about $3 a book to $8 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 $3 per book end of the spectrum. If you get 200 printed you’d be looking at closer to the $8 per book end of the spectrum.
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 quality of internal pages and the cover, and whether you’re printing in colour or black and white. This can get quite complex with all of the variables involved, so it’s best to get a custom quote.
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 $3 and $8 per copy of your book (including shipping), depending on your quantity, printing specifications and shipping costs.
How do distribution costs affect the cost of self-publishing a book?
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
Distributing your book online means your book is available on retailer websites. This includes those that operate strictly online, like Amazon, the Book Depository, and Booktopia. But it also includes the online versions of bricks and mortar retailers, like Chapters-Indigo, Barnes & Noble, and Dymocks. These retailers can sell your book as a paperback and, in some cases, as an eBook.
eBook sales are fairly straight forward. You upload digital files, and the retailers send these files to readers’ devices when they buy.
Paperbacks and POD
Paperbacks are sold through a system called Print on Demand (POD). With POD, you upload digital files (your cover and internal pages) to online retailers. Then, rather than storing 5,000 copies of your book in a warehouse, they simply print and ship 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 how much does it cost to sell eBooks and print books online? For eBooks, the retailer will deduct a percentage from each eBook sale 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'll then deduct a percentage as their fee along with the cost of printing the book and 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, you’ll be paying their fees on top of this.
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. You'll also pay a fixed charge and a per-page charge to print it (for books around 200 pages, you’ll be looking at $3-$5 a book).
Bookstore distribution costs
The second way to distribute your book is through bricks and mortar bookstores. This is usually organized by a distributor, 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 or Chapters-Indigo!’), 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. This 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 suggested retail price (SRP). Most of this goes to the book store. You'll also typically wait 90+ days to receive payment.
Of course, there is no guarantee your books will sell, especially without paying for in-store marketing with the bookstores. In most cases, you’ll sell some copies, but it's hard to make up for the initial printing expense when you're only making 30% of each sale.
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 other factors might change the cost of self-publishing a book?
One of the things that often surprises our 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 impact the cost of self-publishing a book 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. In Canada, ISBNs are distributed by Library and Archives Canada and are free for Canadian publishers.
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.
Don’t want to write your book? You can hire a ghost writer to do it for you. Rates start from $10,000-20,000 on the lower end to $40,000+ based on union-recommended rates. You can spend well into the multiple six-figures for high-profile celebrity writers. You can learn more about ghost writing here and here.
Depending on your topic, you may want illustrations to help readers visualize some concepts. The costs vary widely depending on the artist and the complexity, but a current client just spent more than $6,000 on illustrations (though I must say, they look incredible!)
Do you have professional head-shots 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 photos you need and the experience and 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, and pitching organisations about 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 math: So what is the total cost of self-publishing a book?
The grand total…
Not including extras, the upfront cost of self-publishing a book will range from about $4,500-17,000 as a reasonable ballpark estimate.
If you go for the works – coaching, photography, marketing support – expect to add another $10,000 to $20,000 to the cost of self-publishing a book.
Excellent, informative advice on the labyrinth of book publishing