It’s a question we get asked often...
"How much does it really cost to self-publish a book?"
The answer, like so much in life, is “it depends”.
If you opened this post hoping to see a nice round figure that totals exactly the cost for everyone, apologies for disappointing you!
Quite honestly, there really is no limit to how much you could spend on self-publishing your book.
There is, however, a floor.
If you have a book that you’d like to publish yourself on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, etc. in ebook and print, you can do it with a budget of exactly $0.
That’s not a typo.
Despite what some self-publishing and author services companies may tell you, you can do everything yourself and you can do it for free. We did.
We’ve been writing and self-publishing our own books for nearly six years. Our first books were terrible. Tons of missed typos (we’ve since learned the importance of a good editor), not great formatting, truly wretched covers, dismal sales. Okay, we're being a little bit overdramatic here, but we honestly had no idea what we were doing at first! But with the exception of spending a bit of money on stock photos for covers, we did our self-publishing for free. You can too!
You can create accounts with all of the online retailers, edit your book, create your own cover, format your book, publish your book, get an ISBN, and promote your book for free.
Or, you can choose to spend money to have someone help you with some, or all of these steps.
I have a small budget, so where should I spend my money?
Again, it depends on what you feel most comfortable with. Do you have a friend who is a fantastic editor and will edit your book in exchange for pizza and beer? Do it, and spend your budget on a cover!
Breaking Down the Options
When self-publishing, you are the publisher. In each of these areas, you have the option to do everything yourself, or outsource tasks. Below we'll break down where you can spend your money and where you shouldn't.
Setting up your accounts
This should cost NOTHING. Creating accounts with retailers is free now and will (most likely) always be free. You do not need to set up a publishing company. You do not need to set up a DBA name. Your legal name will not be visible to any of your readers unless you decide to publish under that name. If you really don’t understand the process and want to pay someone to help, you can. Or feel free to shoot us an email and ask! We’re happy to answer any questions you may have!
You totally could do this yourself. We wouldn’t recommend it, but you can edit your book alone or with the help of friends and family. If you do have some money in your budget for an editor then you should shop around, get recommendations from people in writing forums and choose wisely. A good editor can turn rough work into beautiful dialogue and is money well spent. We quite like The Author Studio - she’s wonderfully talented and very reasonably priced.
Again, you can do this yourself and for free. Get yourself a good quality image and use a free web-based program. Research your genre and find out what similar book covers look like. Play around, design something. Have fun!
But remember… any image that you use must be yours to use.
Do not just download a photo from a Google Image search and hope for the best - you must have a license for commercial use and you must understand the terms of that license. We cannot stress this enough!
Should you decide to buy a cover, there are a lot of talented designers out there offering both premade and custom covers. There is a significant difference in price between premade and custom of course.
Premade covers can be found for as little as $5-10, but you should beware of covers in that price range. It costs designers money to buy licenses for photos, artwork and fonts. If someone is charging that little for a cover, they may not own the rights to the images. Most legitimate premade covers range from $50-150.
If you want something very specific, or have a particular vision for your cover, hiring a designer is also an option. A good quality custom cover designer will charge in the region of $300-500. Covers sell books, so if you have limited funds, but want some bang for your buck, spending on a good cover isn’t a bad idea.
We’ve formatted hundreds of our own books and countless others for friends, family and customers, and we’re here to tell you that you can format your book yourself. There are YouTube tutorials, you can learn how to create a clickable table of contents for your eBook (which is strongly recommended by Amazon), how to embed your social media links and how to create a mobi file for your print copy. You can upload a word file without spending money. Word files don’t always translate perfectly to an eBook, and it may not look 100% professional, but it’s how we did the bulk of our books our first few years before we bought fancy software and learned some tricks.
With any formatter, your price will vary based on the formatter that you choose, the formats that you require (.mobi, ePub, print PDF) and the length and type of your book. For example, nonfiction with lots of charts and graphs, certain poetry books, cookbooks, and children’s book may cost more to format as they often require fixed layout formatting. Shop around and ask questions!
The easiest customers to get will be the ones that already know you. Make sure to let friends and family know that you’ve published a book and how they can read it! If your budget is low, make the most of free promotion - create a Facebook page, join writing communities and get out there and sell!
If you have a promotion budget then look into Amazon ads, Facebook ads, Bookbub, Hidden Gems - all are tried and tested and all give you plenty of opportunity to put your book in the hands of readers.
The Bottom Line
When you self publish, you should think about what your personal goal is. If that goal is to simply get your book out there and fulfill a dream of being a published author, and will mostly be selling books to those close to you, then you seriously don’t have to spend any money at all doing it.
If you're hoping to make some money with your writing, you may need to consider putting a little into your product. If your budget is very limited then think about those pieces you are least willing, able, or comfortable doing yourself - the cover? Editing? Formatting? Marketing? And put your money there.
And as always, if you have questions about any part of the self-publishing process, feel free to get in touch. We’re here to help make self-publishing less complicated.