The Cost of Self-Publishing… Revealed!
Last updated: 10/30/2018
The cost of self-publishing is almost always the first thing that authors consider when weighing up the pros and cons of putting their own book out. And so it should be: projecting and managing costs is an integral part of starting any business — which is exactly what you’ll be doing when you enter the exciting world of indie publishing.
For this brand new post, we’ve crunched over 10,000 quotes sent by professional editors and designers on Reedsy. By analyzing them, we are able to identify how much authors can expect to spend on self-publishing a professional-grade book. And with the help of some insider knowledge, you will also learn how to reduce the cost of self-publishing by almost 50% without sacrificing an ounce of quality.
- How much does it cost to self-publish a book?
- How much does it cost to hire an editor?
- How much does cover design cost?
- What is the cost of book formatting?
- Infographic: The costs of self-publishing
How Much Does it Cost to Self-Publish a Book?
The average cost of developmental editing, copy editing, proofreading, cover design and typesetting for an 80,000-word book is as follows:
|Thriller, Mystery, and Crime||$4,184|
|Science Fiction and Fantasy||$4,300|
|Business, Self-Help & Health||$6,172|
These numbers are based on the median value of quotes offered on the Reedsy marketplace — which is comprised of freelance professionals with traditional publishing experience. For any project, the final cost will vary depending on the author’s level of experience, the book’s genre, and the length of the manuscript.
Of course, with the availability of free writing, formatting, and design tools — and the ability to list books for sale with zero set-up cost — it’s possible to put an ebook up on Amazon without paying a penny. However, in order to compete in a competitive market, self-publishing authors need to ensure that their books can match the quality of what traditional presses put out.
How much does it cost to hire an editor?
Based on Reedsy data, here are the average rates charged by editors on an 80,000-word manuscript:
These are, of course, average costs. Depending on the needs of your project, you will see a range of quotes from professional editors. For the editing services listed above, what you can expect to pay will rely on:
- The length of the manuscript
- The editor’s experience
- How ‘advanced’ the manuscript is (does it require a lot of work?)
- The genre
The single largest factor in determining the cost of editing is, without a doubt, word count. Freelance editors will try to figure out how much work they need to put into any job by glancing at the length of the manuscript — so don’t be surprised when a 150,000 tome costs twice as much to edit and proofread as an average 70,000 book.
It may surprise you that ‘genre’ is a factor in editing costs. However, by analyzing the quotes offered by editors on Reedsy, we learned the following:
- A developmental edit for historical fiction is more expensive (+45%), mainly because of the research and fact-checking required,
- Mainstream fiction genres tend to be cheaper to edit. In particular, editing romance is cheaper by 10%,
- Nonfiction titles are often more specialized and can be up to 40% more expensive.
If you're not sure exactly what each type of editor does, check out this short guide.
Editing Cost Calculator
If you’re looking for ballpark figures on how much it might cost you to hire editors for your book, take a spin on this calculator which we’ve created off the back of the data extracted from Reedsy.
Just choose your genre, enter your word count, and away you go.
4 tips for saving money on editing
Successful self-publishing authors will happily tell you that professional editing is an indispensable part of their process. Not only can a second, experienced pair of eyes help you hone your craft and make your book better, it will also prevent typos and other errors from instantly shredding your credibility. With that in mind, you shouldn’t have to break the bank to get what you need.
Here are some tips for saving money on editing services:
1. Do as much as you can yourself before hiring an editor
Remember that you are paying for an editor’s time. If you haven’t rewritten your manuscript as much as you can before working with a developmental editor, you’ll end up paying them to tell you things you already knew about the structure or pace. The same thing goes with copy editing. Their job should be to help you turn good writing into great writing — not to fix your basic grammar and spelling mistakes.
From reading your sample chapter, the editor will assess how much work your manuscript will require. If your sample is in a good state, you can expect a lower quote.
Similarly, many authors will send a manuscript off to an editor, knowing full well that certain chapters aren’t making the final cut. This is the equivalent of tossing money into an open fire. If you want to save money, get your word count under control first.
2. Choose editors who specialize in your genre
Make sure you fully research your editor before asking them for a quote. Look through their online profiles and portfolios to get a sense of their track record. If a literary fiction editor is asked to work on a detective novel, they might offer an inflated quote: they’re not dying to work on the project (or have the relevant experience), but if someone’s willing to pay them that much for it, why not?
To keep your quotes low, look for editors with a history of working with books similar to yours.
3. Consider an editorial assessment
This is where a developmental editor reads your manuscript and gives you a detailed report of what works, what doesn’t, and what you can do to improve it. An editorial assessment checks a lot of the same boxes as a developmental edit but often at half the price — as the editor doesn’t go through the manuscript multiple times and they don’t actively work on the manuscript.
Very often, authors will get an expensive developmental edit way too early, when what they really need is a bit more guidance with their rewrites.
4. Don't cut out human editors altogether
Now, you might be tempted to reduce your editing budget to the cost of a subscription for editing programs like Grammarly or ProWritingAid but few (if any) successful publishers would recommend this. While they've come a long way since the early days of spell-checkers, even their makers will admit that they're nowhere close to replacing the insight of an experienced editor.
How much does cover design cost?
Based on quotes provided by freelancers on Reedsy, here are average ranges for the cost of professional book cover design:
|Experienced Professional (2+ years with major publishers)||$500-$800|
|Veteran (10+ years with major publishers)||$800-$1,500|
Just as it is the case with editing, there are a number of additional factors that will determine whether the cost of a cover will fall at the high or low end of those ranges. Those include:
- The style of design,
- How many rounds of ‘iterations’ the design requires, and
- Whether it’s only an ebook cover.
Let’s have a quick peek at how each of these elements might affect design costs.
The Style of Design
Broadly speaking, book cover designs can be broken down into three categories, based on how they were created:
Stock Photo Manipulation
This is where the designer uses pre-existing images from libraries like Shutterstock to create a cover. This tends to be the most cost-efficient approach as the designer is not required to create too many elements from scratch.
Illustrated covers are popular in a number of genres, as the aesthetic can vary between the simple and the incredibly ornate. This style of cover requires the designer to spend time crafting the design, or outsourcing some work to a specialist illustrator. As a result, this type of design is pricier than the stock photo approach.
The only book covers that require new photos tend to be for memoirs — and celebrity memoirs at that. (If you’re not famous, having your face on the front cover will not shift units). However, if you do insist on arranging a professional photo shoot, you can expect your budget to balloon by another $1,000 at the least.
How many rounds of ‘iterations’ the design requires
You might notice a trend: the more time a freelancer expects to work on a project, the more they will quote. When you negotiate with a designer, you will lay down how many design stages you can expect during the process. This could include:
- Concept stages, where the designer presents a range of diverse ideas, and
- Iterations, where a chosen concept will be tweaked with a range of options and reworked based on the author’s feedback.
Allowing for more rounds of work will give you the freedom to experiment and tinker, but at a cost. Based on a Reedsy survey, over 60% of freelance designers standardly provide two to three rounds of refinements after a concept is chosen.
Whether it’s only an ebook cover
Ebooks only require a front cover, which makes it nice and easy to keep costs down. If you’re thinking of selling soft or hardcover editions, you will also need ‘mechanical’ designs, which include a spine and back cover. The designer will have to make sure the final file is compatible with whatever printing company you’re using, which requires their experience and understanding of trims, bleeds, margins and spine widths.
64% of designers surveyed will charge 15-30% less for a cover design that’s ebook-only.
2 tips for saving money on professional cover design
Many self-publishing authors will attempt to design their own covers, as there is a widespread belief that professional design is expensive — which it can be. However, there are a few things that authors can do to minimize cost without sacrificing quality.
1. Use stock images
The majority of books published by traditional publishers are created by manipulating stock images. And if you’re looking to keep your cover costs down, the first thing you should do is to avoid bespoke illustrations or photography. It’s as simple as that.
2. Let your designer bring ideas to the table
One of the most inadvisable things you can do is hire a designer to execute a design that you already have in your head. Professional designers will know what trends are currently working in your genre and can help you create a cover that will sell but only if you let them show you their concepts.
If you go down the other road and hire them to simply execute your vision, you will struggle to communicate precisely what you want more often than not. This can result in rounds and rounds of expensive revisions and you might still end up with a cover you’re disappointed with and one that won’t sell.
If you’re looking to truly publish a professional-grade book, however, your design can’t just stop at the cover. In this next section, we’ll look at the cost of interior book design.
What is the cost of book formatting?
Based on quotes provided by freelancers on Reedsy, here is the range of costs for professional book interior design:
By ‘interior book design,’ we’re essentially talking about the same thing as ‘book formatting’ and ‘typesetting.’ These three terms are pretty much interchangeable: it’s the process of setting text onto a page.
Back in ye olde days, this would involve bashing tiles onto metal plates which would then be put through a printing press. These days, it’s all done on a computer. But despite this convenience, interior design is a time-consuming task. Every page of a book is different, which is why typesetting is often more expensive than cover design.
In general, the cost of professional interior book design (or typesetting) will be affected by:
1. Word count
The more pages your book has, the longer the job will take. Freelancers will have a per-word baseline rate that they’ll use to generate their quotes. They might share this rate with you, but chances are, this is for their own use only.
2. How ‘graphically intense’ the project is
A novel, for example, is much simpler and quicker to format than a cookbook or a ‘how-to’ guide with tables, illustrations, and graphs.
3. Your interior designer’s experience
A ten-year veteran is more likely to charge more for a project than someone who’s relatively new to the profession. However, if they take an interest in your pitch and find your project interesting, they might give you a lower quote. So don’t immediately count out more experienced designers when you’re looking to save money.
4. How niche the book’s category is
If there are only three formatting professionals in the world with a lot of experience in your type of book, you can bet that they will charge more. But on the other hand, they will know exactly what to do with your project, which can prevent a need for multiple revisions and give you a superior end-result.
3 tips for saving money on professional book formatting
Beyond hiring a designer who is relatively new to the profession — and will, therefore, charge less — here are a couple ways to cut back on formatting costs.
1. Keep your project under control
You probably should have figured this out back at the editing stage, but by making sure your book is no longer than it needs to be — and doesn’t have diagrams or pictures that are unnecessary — you can mitigate costs at this stage.
2. Get cover and interior design together
Many cover designers will also be interior designers. If you find a cover designer you love, and notice that they have typeset a number of books as well, you could talk about striking a package deal.
3. Do it yourself
In most other stages of book production, DIY is highly inadvisable. However, if you are publishing a book that’s mostly text-based (like a novel or memoir), there are some free tools you can use to typeset your own book.
- There is an open-source programme called LaTex, which is powerful but not user-friendly at all.
- Or, you can check out the Reedsy Book Editor, a one-click formatting tool that offers a number of themes and stylistic options. It also exports both ebook and print book files.
Head to the Reedsy Book Editor right now to format your book for free
Infographic: The cost of self-publishing
Get access to all of Reedsy’s self-publishing data, presented in a single infographic. If you want to know more about the range of costs indie authors are facing, it’s all here in one place.
If there’s one piece of advice to take away from this article, let it be this:
For your book to thrive, and for you to succeed as an author, you need to learn from those with experience and work with people who can make your book the best it can be. It won’t be free, but no successful business has ever been built without some sort of investment. And that’s what it is: you’re investing in yourself and your career.
But like any entrepreneur, you also have to be lean and not throw money at every problem. So figure out what you can do by yourself — and which tasks require the help of a professional. If you can work that out, you’ll be well on your way to creating an amazing book at a cost you can be happy with.
If you have any questions or thoughts about the cost of self-publishing, drop them in the comments below.