At every writers conference or self-publishing panel the question that almost always inevitably comes up is: “How much will self-publishing really cost me?”
Because the book publishing industry is one of the last industries to go digital, it’s going through a quick transition. As a result of this shift, authors no longer need to go through the traditional gatekeepers to publish high-quality books and are instead moving toward self-publishing. Launching a book is like launching a startup. Putting together a quality book involves not just writing it, but getting it edited, then formatted, designing a cover, and having a marketing strategy around it.
Below, I break down the costs of how much professional services will cost you for a high-quality book.
(For the purposes of calculation we’ll assume you have a manuscript that is 70,000 words.)
1. Developmental editing
Once you’ve written your book, a developmental editor is important. Many authors think they don’t need an editor. Everyone needs at least some type of editor. Not having an editor is like not QA’ing a software product or not testing a drug before it goes out into the marketplace. An editor will evaluate and critique your manuscript, suggest and provide revisions, and shape it into a smooth, workable piece. They’ll look at the big picture and make sure everything flows and is consistent.
1-5 manuscript pages/hour for a manuscript page that’s 250 words, according to the Editorial Freelancers Association.
$45-65/hour based on the experience of the editor
70,000/250 = 280 pages
280 pages /5 pages per hour = 56 hours
Low end is 56 x $45 = $2,520
High end is = $18,200
Once your manuscript is in good shape, the next thing you need to do is hire another editor called a copy editor or line editor to go through and catch spelling mistakes and adjust for grammar, punctuation and consistency.
2-10 manuscript pages/hour
$25-50/hour based on the experience of the editor
Low end: $840
High end: $7,000 (if it needs a lot of work)
3. Cover design. Yes, books are judged by their covers
Readers judge how a book looks on a shelf and how it looks on an iPad or black-and-white Kindle. For iPhone users, a thumbnail of the cover is probably the first thing a reader sees. It’s important that your cover design be optimized for print, digital, thumbnail sizes, and how it looks on an e-reader or mobile device. You might have your own images, or you might need to buy a license to use the images. Some designers even sell premade cover designs for as low as $50.
But if you want to hire someone to make a custom cover design, you can expect to pay anywhere from $150 to $3,500. The higher end is for award-winning designers who have done Random House- or HarperCollins-type covers, according to book design maven Joel Friedlander.
Low end: $150
High end: $3,500
4. Formatting for print and and digital conversion
If you’re tech-savvy, you can set up your book on your own for free using programs called Sigil, Calibre or Pages. If you’re looking to hire an expert, you can find someone to do the print-on-demand conversions for as little as $150 or as much as $2,500 to convert from Word or InDesign. The costs will usually be $200 for a text book that’s less than 400 pages. The higher costs are if your original file is in PDF, has a lot of pictures, or is highly illustrated. PDFs are much more complex to convert.
Low end: Free
High end: $2,500 or more based on interactivity and pages, according to book design maven Joel Friedlander.
5. Getting an ISBN
An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is recommended if you’re doing a print book or want it placed in a library. A lot of third parties sell ISBNs, but if you don’t purchase your own ISBN you may not be listed as the publisher of your own work! Not everyone believes you need an ISBN. If you plan on only selling your book in e-book form, then you do have the option of skipping the ISBN and using the default numbering system for Amazon, iBooks or BN.
$125 for one ISBN
10 ISBNs for $250
Bowker is the authorized ISBN retailer in the U.S.
6. Distribution: FREE
You can do this yourself by following the instructions to get your books distributed into the various retailers. However, if you use a third party they do take a percentage of each book sold.
- Amazon distribution instructions
- Barnes and Noble distribution instructions
- Apple iBooks distribution instructions
- Kobo distribution instructions
7. Getting your book printed
You no longer have to pay upfront for printing costs because now there are so many print-on-demand options. With print-on-demand services like CreateSpace or Lightning Source, the book only gets printed when someone buys it. It’s also not recommended to print books if you don’t already have a distribution deal in place. Otherwise, you might end up housing 1,000 books in your garage.
8. Getting reviews pre-publication
There are many resources for authors to get professional reviews. Sites like Kirkus, Blue Ink, and Publishers Weekly all sell review packages for indie or self-published authors. There’s also a great list of bloggers that you can reach out to for reviews for your book.
- Cost of review from Kirkus: $425
- Cost of review from BlueInk Reviews: $396
- Cost of review from Publishers Weekly PW Select: $149
8. Marketing & PR
This is probably the toughest part after you’ve written the book. You can pay someone to help you market and set up blog tours for $10 to $40 per hour on BiblioCrunch (my company). For $10 you can get a college student, for $40 to $65 an hour you can get a professional marketer. We recommend you pay someone at least 10 hours to market and on the high end 40 hours. If you have the time, you can do a lot of the marketing yourself. Also, good book publicists can get you radio spots and press pickups for anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 per month.
Low end: $100
High end: $5,000 and up.
It’s a lot of information, but spending money on quality editorial services will set your book apart from the sea of books in the marketplace.
Miral Sattar is founder and CEO of BiblioCrunch, an award-winning author services marketplace that matches authors with quality, award-winning professionals to get new books and apps to market. She has worked in the media industry for 11 years, most recently at TIME where she launched several digital initiatives including an iPad and mobile site, mobile apps, a video and podcast channel, blogs, and SEO strategy. Her writing has been featured in TIME, CNN, NY Daily News, among other media publications. She has a MS in Publishing (Digital + Print Media) from NYU and a BS from Columbia University in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. You can follow Miral on Twitter @miralsattar or @bibliocrunch.