How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book in 2019?
Finding out how much it costs to self-publish a book is almost always the first thing authors do when they start to think of independent publishing. In this post, we’re cutting straight to the chase and answering that question using data taken from Reedsy’s marketplace. And with the help of some insider knowledge, we’ll show you how to slash your cost of publishing by almost 50% without sacrificing an ounce of quality.
How much does it cost to self-publish a book?
The average cost self-publishing an 80,000-word book is $4,300 USD — assuming that it receives developmental editing, copy editing, proofreading, cover design, and professional typesetting. The average cost also varies depending on the book’s genre:
|Thriller, Mystery, and Crime||$4,159|
|Business, Self-Help & Health||$5,239|
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 also vary depending on the freelancers’ levels of experience 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. But to compete in the modern market, self-publishing authors must match the quality of what traditional presses (and Amazon Publishing — Amazon's own imprint) puts out. For the sake of this post, we will assume that you’re looking at creating a best-in-class book that has a chance of becoming a bestseller.
So, first things first...
What is the cost of editing a book?
The average costs of editing an 80,000-word manuscript, according to Reedsy data, are as follows:
Depending on the needs of your project, you will see a range of quotes around these averages. For the editing services listed above, the final cost relies on:
- The length of the manuscript
- The editor’s experience
- How ‘advanced’ the manuscript is (does it require a lot of work?)
- The genre
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-word tome costs twice as much to edit and proofread as an average 70,000-word 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.
Free: Book 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.
What is the cost of cover design?
Based on quotes provided by freelancers on Reedsy, the average ranges for the cost of professional book cover design are as follows:
|Experienced Professional (2+ years with major publishers)||$500-$800|
|Veteran (10+ years with major publishers)||$800-$1,500|
As is the case with editing, additional factors 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.
If you're planning on a print edition of your book, you'll need your designer to make a back cover and spine as well, which will spike your costs a bit. Later on in this post, we'll give you our best tips for getting a better cover for less. But for now, let's look at another type of design.
What is the cost of book formatting?
Based on quotes provided by freelancers on Reedsy, the costs of professional book interior design fall into the following ranges:
By ‘interior book design,’ we’re essentially talking about ‘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 go into a printing press. These days, it’s all done on a computer. Despite this convenience, interior design is still 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:
- Word count. The more pages your book has, the longer the job will take.
- How ‘graphically intense’ the project is. A novel, for example, is much simpler and quicker to format than a cookbook.
- Whether you're in a niche category. 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.
- Your 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.
If an experienced designer finds your project interesting, they might give you a lower quote. So don’t immediately count out seasoned professionals when you’re looking to save money.
Additional Costs: Marketing, Distribution, etc...
Once you have your finished book in your hand (or on your hard drive), there are other costs you need to factor in.
Ebook Distribution: $0–250 upfront
With all major online book retailers, you should expect to pay nothing upfront for ebook distribution. Some retailers may charge you a “delivery cost” for each ebook you sell. You might also use an “aggregator” as an easy way to reach a large number of retailers. Some of these will charge you an upfront fee or a subscription. Others will simply take a 10% cut of every sale.
Check out our comprehensive guide to ebook distribution to learn more.
Printing: $0–$299 upfront
Indie authors of yore would spend thousands on a single “print run” of their book. Then they’d also have to pay to store all those copies! You’ll be glad to hear that technology has fixed that particular problem and print on demand services will let you turn out copies as and when they’re purchased.
PoD services will charge you for the cost of printing each copy but some of them will also have a setup fee. IngramSpark, one of the largest companies in this field, charges a flat $49 setup fee (which is refunded if you purchase 50 copies within 60 days). You can learn more about the various costs in our post about PoD services.
How much can you expect to spend on marketing? How long is a piece of string? Generally speaking, marketing a book should be measured in time and effort, rather than dollars and cents. But there are certain costs you should be aware of.
You will probably need a website, which could range from under $50 a year for Squarespace/Wix site, to hundreds of dollars to have one created especially for you. You may also want to look at Facebook advertising, which will cost you at least $5 for each day of your campaign.
6 Ways to Save Money When Self-Publishing
We're here to tell you that professional editing and design is an indispensable part of self-publishing. But that doesn't mean you can't save a lot of money while still getting the services you need. In this section, we'll reveal six tips that could save you thousands without sacrificing an ounce of quality.
#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. Many authors will send a manuscript to an editor, knowing that certain chapters won’t the final cut. This is like tossing money into an open fire, so get your word count under control first.
#2. Consider an editorial assessment instead of a developmental edit
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.
#3. Use stock images for your cover design
Despite what you might think, the majority of books published by traditional publishers are created by manipulating stock images. And if you’re looking to keep your design costs down, the first thing you should do is to avoid bespoke illustrations or photography, both of which take time and money. It’s as simple as that.
#4. Let your designer bring their ideas to the table
One of the worst things you can do is hire a designer to execute a design that you already have in your head. “I want a bridge in the foreground and a full moon lighting up a southern plantation in the background,” you might say. “And there’s a woman in a red dress…” and so on.
Professional designers know what trends are currently working in your genre. They can help you create a cover that will sell but only if you let them do their job. If you ask a designer to simply execute your vision, more often than not, you’ll struggle to communicate precisely what you want. This results in rounds and rounds of expensive revisions and you might still not end up with a cover you like and it will struggle to sell.
#5. Choose professionals who specialize in your genre
This applies to editors and designers alike. 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 will sometimes offer an inflated quote: they’re not dying to work on the project, but if someone’s willing to pay them that much, why not?
So, look for editors with a history of working with books similar to yours.
#6. Use a free tool to typeset your book (maybe)
There are a few free tools online — including our own Reedsy Book Editor — which let you format ebooks and print books to a professional standard. And some of them have a pretty simple learning curve as well!
The big “maybe” is that you should only really consider this for text-heavy books. So if you’ve written a cookbook or something else that relies on a lot of images, you still might want to get a professional typesetter.
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 publishing, drop them in the comments below.