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How Much Does Self-Publishing Cost? The Ultimate Guide

For real-life stories from indie authors on how much they spent to self-publish their work, check out our discussion: How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book?

Stepping into Wal-Mart is kind of like falling into a black hole (only without the stretching/exploding).

Seriously, though, think about it. You walk in, ready to purchase your few needed items and walk out. Hours later, you emerge into the garish sunlight, staring at your recipt and thinking, “how did I spend $100 on socks and Pop-Tarts?!”

For first-time indie authors, the process is much the same. You start out intending only to purchase editing and a cover but end up spending WAY more than anticipated.

As any money-saving guru will tell you, the way to avoid this black hole syndrome is by going in with a plan, a specific list of items to purchase and blinders to costs not essential to your task.

While I can’t help you turn a blind eye to those tempting purchases, I can lay out the possible costs associated with self-publishing so you can create that all-important shopping list!

NOTE: The below is simply a list of *possible* costs. Don’t let your eyes glaze over as you try to figure out how to raid your child’s college fund to raise enough money! Every author’s needs and goals are different — what’s essential to you may not be essential to your fellow author. Self-Publishing can cost tens of thousands or nothing at all, depending on the route you take. 

The Costs of Writing

Organizational Materials: $25

You know, all those idea notebooks, sticky notes, calendars, and smartphone apps to capture your thoughts and keep you on track.

Coaching: $250+

If you need a bit of a kick in the butt to keep your fingers to the keys (or would benefit from a consistent sounding board as you write), professional writing coaches will do their best to help you finish your book — at a price. Writing coaching packages start at around $250, but I’ve seen them go for $1000+!

Books and Courses: $25+

Be your *own* writing coach! Books like Roz Morris’ Nail Your Novel and courses like Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone teach you the skills to finish your novel. PS: Shannon created a great ecourse, How NOT to Write a Novel, exclusively for our Indie Ninjas!

Software: FREE-$125

Follow the free route and choose something like OpenOffice or Storybook  to write your novel or go a bit fancier with Microsoft Office or Scrivener.

The Costs of Editing/Revision

Beta Readers: FREE+

The easiest way to recruit beta readers is from your already crazy-dedicated fanbase. Ask your tribe nicely and you’re bound to get a few volunteers! To show your gratitude, however, consider throwing in a $5-10 Amazon or iTunes gift card.

Proofreader: $250+

Proofreaders check for typos and are generally more thorough than beta readers, but much less so than professional editing service. Be sure to check out proofreaders in our Self-Publishing Resource Directory.

Professional Editor: $500+

Hiring a professional editor is one of the true *musts* for any indie author. Don’t skimp here! For a list of editors who work with indie authors, check out our Resource Directory.

The Costs of Professional Design/Layout

Cover Design: $250+

If you’re going to go pro in one design arena, your cover is the place to spend the bucks. Be sure to visit our Self-Publishing Resource Directory for designers who work with self-publishing authors.

Layout Design: FREE – $150+

Many indies stick to Word for the interior layout of their book, but (especially for your paperback) we highly recommend going pro. Again, check out the Self-Publishing Resource Directory for self-pub approved layout designers!

The Costs of DIY Design/Layout

Software: FREE-$1000+

Design your book cover for free using included templates with publishers like CreateSpace or go the true DIY route with something free like GIMP or (for the true pro) Adobe Photoshop. As for the layout, you can stick with your word processing program (covered in the Costs of Writing section above) or use Adobe InDesign like the pros.

Stock Images/Photography: FREE-$20+

Free stock images can be found on sites like sxc.hu, but Fotolia or iStock offer a bigger selection of quality high-resolution images, which will run you $20 or more.

Fonts: FREE-$200

You can choose to use free fonts (already hanging out on your computer) such as Times New Roman or Garamond for your interior layout. If you want your book to look like others in your local Barnes and Noble, however, use a true professional font such as Minion Pro (which comes with Adobe Creative Suite) or Caslon.

When it comes to your cover, you can get a bit more creative with fonts — check out the selection at DaFont or MyFont.

The Costs of Publishing

ISBN: $125+ (total control) or $10+ (certain restrictions)

Purchasing a single ISBN from Bowker will run you $125. If you’re planning to write more than one book or are publishing your book in multiple formats (print, eBook, etc), you’ll save a ton by purchasing a block of 10 for $250.

Some publishers (like CreateSpace or Smashwords) provide much cheaper ISBN options if you’re willing to meet certain requirements, such as listing them as your publisher.

Setup Fees: $75

Certain POD publishers, such as Lightning Source, charge you a certain amount to setup your files for printing. LSI charges $37.50 for cover setup and $37.50 for interior setup for a total of $75.

Distribution: $12+

Lightning Source charges $12 a year to be distributed through Ingram, the largest book wholesaler. The fee also includes distribution through Baker & Taylor (who you could register with separately for $300 — ouch).

Proof: $30

When printing through Lightning Source, a proof copy of your book costs $30, including expedited shipping. This is an essential step because there are many issues you don’t notice until you actually hold your printed book (side note: it also feels *really* awesome).

Review Copies: FREE-$5+

After approving your proof, consider personally ordering copies to give away for review. You’ll pay the wholesale price, usually around $5 for a 300-page book.

Alternately, you could provide electronic review copies of your book by converting your interior file into a PDF.

The Costs of Promotion/Marketing

Author Website

  • Design: FREE – $350+
    If you choose custom design for your website, make sure you will easily be able to make updates as your career progresses. Just getting started? Consider a free website hosted on wordpress.com to get your feet wet! Note: we offer quality custom WordPress designs for our indie friends :-) 
  • Domain Name: FREE – $15/yr
    This is sometimes included in your hosting package (see below), but if you want to register multiple domains through a provider such as GoDaddy, they generally run around $15 apiece.
  • Hosting: FREE-$5/mo+
    A place for your website to live. Personally, we use InMotion Hosting (awesome, so far)!
  • Theme: FREE-$20+
    If you can’t afford a custom design but want something a little more spiffy than the default WordPress theme, purchase a premium theme from WooThemes  or ElegantThemes.
  • Mailing List: FREE-$20+
    A mailing list is the best way for you to keep in touch with readers you know are crazy-dedicated to you and your work. We use MailChimp, but have heard amazing things about AWeber. Most are priced by the number of subscribers you have (and MailChimp also offers an awesome ‘Forever Free‘ plan, perfect for getting started).

Book Trailer: FREE-$799+

To DIY your book trailer, check out Shannon’s post ’4 Steps to Making Your Own Book Trailer.’ If you’d rather leave it to the pros, a 90-second trailer goes for $500+.

The Biggest Self-Publishing Cost

As any indie author will attest, the biggest cost of self-publishing is your own time. Unless you have a hefty sum saved up to outsource everything, you’ll spend at least 50-100 hours on this endeavor!

Put Away That Calculator!

Again, remember, the above are simply the possible self-publishing costs. Some authors have spent thousands and others invested nothing but time. The route you choose is up to you!

Did I leave any costs out? Let me know in the comments!

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  • http://www.youngaspiringwriter.blogspot.com/ Chihuahua Zero

    Great extensive guide! I’m putting this into my round-up as a reference for whoever is considering self-publishing.
    Including me, although it’s only a consideration, taking account the cost.

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      Thank you! It’s definitely easy to get overwhelmed with the cost, but all the costs above are simply possibilities — if you can swing professional editing and cover design, you might be okay DIYing the rest. Just something to think about :-)

  • http://www.turndogmillionaire.com/ Turndog Millionaire

    Superb guide. Very thorough, and a few things on the list I hadn’t thought about/didn’t know what it would cose

    Stat saving the pennies :)

    Matthew (Turndog Millionaire)

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      I’m so glad it was helpful, Matt! Start saving the pennies, indeed — or see what you can barter out!

    • http://www.turndogmillionaire.com/ Turndog Millionaire

      very true, bartering can help :)

  • http://www.ryancaseybooks.com/ Ryan Casey

    Another great reference guide. I am in the process of rewriting my debut novel at the moment, so will certainly be looking into some editorial services once I’ve finished.mfortunately, I’ve already had my cover designed professionally,Mao at least that’s one thing I can tick off the checklist. :)

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      Woohoo! Thanks, Ryan. I’ll go on record as saying that the only purchases I think are *essential* for self-pubbers are professional editing and cover design. And, like I noted to Matt below, those can certainly be bartered out for other favors/services!

  • http://www.facebook.com/AuthorMariaGrace Maria Grace

    Very comprehensive list. I agree, not all of these are necessary to purchase, but some certainly are. It is easy to let costs get out of control if you don’t want things carefully. My personal weakness is office supplies, I have pretty notebooks and colored pens and highlighters to impress any middle school girl!

    I am not sure where the $125 number for an ISBN came from, though. I purchased an ISBN for my createspace paperback for $10. Additionally Createspace will assign a free ISBN if they are listed as the publisher.

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      Man, office supplies are addicting, aren’t they, Maria? I can never resist that Target back-to-school sale, even though I’ve been done for years! :-)

      As for the ISBN figure, that was for purchasing from Bowker. Createspace, I noted in the post that Smashwords and other publishers offer a break on ISBN purchase for fulfilling certain requirements (such as listing them as the publisher, like you said). I’ll go back and clarify that, though!

  • moosh7

    Excellent guide! I’m putting out an enhanced ebook as a mobile app. I’m using an app container product from Nov8rix. Since it’s an app i don’t have any print costs and it’s cool because it can scale – I’ll never run out of copies! Also doing a version as a kindle ebook but found reformatting to an epub was really difficult.

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      Thank you! Ebooks totally rock for keeping costs down, and releasing your enhanced ebook as an app sounds like an awesome idea. Scalability FTW!

  • Michael Sullivan

    Although I appreciate your detail – it can be misleading. When I started self-publishing my only cost was for ISBN’s and when bought in packs of 10 come out to be about $25 each. I released 5 self-published books and spent about $1,200 between them. My profits are measured in multiple six-figures so I think it was an invest well worth it. Best way to ensure a good return on investment is to watch your costs.

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      Thanks, Michael! For the record, I totally agree — I simply wanted to list all the possible costs so folks had an idea of what to expect, but, as I noted in the post, you certainly don’t have to raid your childrens’ college fund. There are indies who spent nothing but time and those who spend tens of thousands, with roughly the same sales results. It all depends on your wants and needs!

  • http://twitter.com/LaurenClark_Bks Lauren Clark

    This is a great list — one that I WISH I had before I began work on publishing novel # 1!!! I agree with Michael that watching costs is the best way to see a return on your investment … but even with careful budgeting, there’s no way to “ensure” that return, especially on a debut novel. All of the royalties for my book 1 went straight into book 2. I’m hoping to see a profit with books 2 and 3, but I won’t be buying an island in the Bahamas anytime soon!!! In my opinion, don’t skimp on the important items: cover design, formatting, and proofreading are MUSTS for a quality ebook or paperback. :)

    xx, Lauren

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      Amen, Lauren. I wish I had something more to add, but you summed up my feelings perfectly!

  • monica4567

    This is an awesome guide & I’m bookmarking it! I’m not ready to publish yet, but this will be of so much help when the time comes. Although I knew a lot of these expenses lay ahead for me, having a price range helps so much with budgeting & so you can judge when something is overpriced. Thanks for doing this!

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      Thank you, Monica! I’m so glad it was helpful. Good luck with finishing up your book and just give us a shout if there’s anything we can help you with :-)

  • http://twitter.com/ShawnLBird Shawn L. Bird

    For the record, in Canada, all ISBNs are issued without charge by a wing of the Federal Government’s National Library and Archives. These ISBNs are valid worldwide. Information and apply here:
    http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/ciss-ssci/index-e.html

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      Thank you for this, Shawn! Mind if I add that info to the guide above (crediting you, of course)? :-)

    • Carrie Seymour

      Do you have to be Canadian?

  • michael mckee

    Great reference. You forgot the psychotherapy fees, though.

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      LOL – You are very right, Michael. I’ll have to go back and add those in ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/dhallaj Dixiane Hallaj

    I think each of these can run much higher, or even lower. My husband keeps reminding me that writing is supposed to make money, not give me an excuse to keep spending more.
    Having a book launch next month and have to add the cost of wine and cheese to the list. :-) See http://www.itsjustlola.com for your invitation. My daughter-in-law says I should buy glasses with the title on them to give attendees. Cha-ching $$$

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      Love the idea of wine and cheese at your book launch! Like Katharina said above, you definitely have to invest in your book before you start seeing those monetary rewards. Good luck with your launch — come back and let us know how it went!

  • Katharina Gerlach

    If someone is serious about becoming an Indie author, (s)he has to treat it like a business. As in every good business, you need to invest money before you can reap the gains. I think your price range is very much in the ballpark with some items going even higher in price than mentioned. This post was very informative and not at all pushy (just to ease your worry)

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      Thank you, Katharina, and I totally agree with your point. Going into the process with a clear idea of what your investment will be is key to success. That way, you can save appropriately and spend your money wisely!
      I also agree that many of the prices can be higher than what I mentioned — I kept them on the low-end as to not freak people out *too* badly!

  • http://twitter.com/LauraPepWu Laura Pepper Wu

    Fantastic post, Toni! Love how you’ve broken it down. Trying to see what I can add to the discussion, and I think it would be that paying for quality work will pay off in the long run – it simply sets people apart. According to the Taleist self publishing survey, authors who paid for editing and proofreading, as well as a professional cover designer earned 34% more than those who didn’t hire anyone. I do think that adhering to professional standards (and yes that means paying something up front) will pay off later down the line. A bad review that picks up on poor grammar, typos, a hole in the plot OR simply an amateur cover will kill sales for a long time.

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      Absolutely, Laura! Many authors would like to think differently, but spending money in those areas pays off BIG time. With all the odds stacked against you as an indie author, why make it harder on yourself by not investing in editing and design up front?

  • http://twitter.com/danasitar Dana Sitar

    Thanks for this list! It must have been challenging to put this into such detail when there are so many variables, but it’s great to see it all laid out, just to get an idea of all of the steps involved in self-publishing.

    (Also great for anyone who wants to OFFER these services and doesn’t know where to begin with rates :)

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      Thanks, Dana! It was a bit of a challenge! My mind was going crazy with “well, what if this?” and “but what about that?” In the end, I tried to go with the middle-low end of things, whenever possible. :-)

  • Lisa Buie-Collard

    This list is great! I found, through my own fault, that I added cost when I (at first) didn’t use a pro editor. The added cost came from having to resubmit to the publisher after correcting errors, etc. I used selfpublishing.com for the first print run. For my second print run I’m using CreateSpace. So far the out put is less expensive and better quality on Createspace. I chose in both cases to do ebook and paperback. Also, paid ($60 a year) for a widget on Bowker that never worked. Won’t do that again after using Bookbuzzer’s widget (on my blog, readers can read the first chapter no cost). Theirs works like a charm and is free! Thanks for posting! I’m off to check out the links you gave us…

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Lisa! At least for the next go-around, it’ll be much smoother, right?

  • http://www.facebook.com/virginia.ripple Virginia Ripple

    Your research really shows. I’ll have to check your resource page because I have a few of those items yet to check off. Thanks! :)

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      Thanks, Virginia :-) Just give us a shout if you need any help!

  • Anne R. Allen

    Brilliant. Great to have all this in one place so people can look at the big picture. I love the Walmart analogy. BTW, there’s also a new book called HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE…AND KEEP YOUR E-SANITY. Cost is FREE until midnight July 16. Written by Catherine Ryan Hyde,( the author of Pay it Forward) and moi. Goes up to $2.99 tomorrow. Don’t mean to spam. I was about to RT this great post and saw Michael’s comment about psychotherapy and thought people might be interested :-)

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      Haha, no problem Anne. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  • http://twitter.com/meaghangray meaghangray

    Question– If I were to publish with KDP (NOT select), B&N PubIt! and Kobo’s new Writing Life, would I need to purchase an ISBN? Not printing the book, just digital format. Thanks!

  • qwantu33

    Agree, great reference. I would add online advertising such as Facebook ads (to find and build your reader community, google adwords, and goodreads) – let’s say $25-$50/month…

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      Thank you! I debated on that one, but we don’t have a lot of experience with using those effectively to earn new readers: have you had good luck with them? Would love to hear about it! :-)

    • qwantu33

      I have had great success with FB ads and Goodreads ads as well. Still tinkering with google adwords. The key to successful use of FB ads is really honing in on a target audience based on the very specific demographic data that FB has collected on us. You can target people who read the author’s in your genre, like films and/or other general interest topics that are similar to your own. Once you get the fans to your page, you can use free opt-in services to get fans to allow you to e-mail them off FB (which is the key).

      Goodreads allows similar targeting and doesn’t have all the spam that FB does. These are readers looking for good (and great) reads. And the best part is that readers can add your book without clicking the ad, so you don’t always pay for fan engagement. I set a $300 budget 6 months ago, my ad has been viewed by half a million viewers, clicked some 40K times and I’ve still only spent half my ad budget!

      I’d be glad to walk anyone through the process if interested, or even write a guest post on the topic!

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      We would *love* to have you write a guest post on your experiences! Could you shoot me an email? toni (at) selfpublishingteam.com

      Thank you, thank you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/K.OMooreKLopf Katharine O’Moore-Klopf

    As a professional editor, I have to say that even for fiction, professional editing costs a lot more than the “$500+” listed above. And professional proofreading, which should come after “professional design/layout,” costs lots more than “$250+.”

    • http://selfpublishingteam.com/ Toni @ Duolit

      Hi Katharine! Thanks so much for your input. Costs certainly vary wildly, so it was hard to nail down any kind of range. I do think, however, that proofreading/editing is one of those “you get what you pay for” kind of things, and your suggestions are very realistic for authors to take into consideration!

    • saima khan

      Totally agree with your suggestion… Very nice post and good information here… Thanks for posting that….

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  • http://twitter.com/eBooks2go eBooks2go

    Very cool piece! Love the way the costs are split up – makes for easy absorption – easy on the eyes and heart :) Time IS the biggest cost indeed.

    We at eBooks2go never throw in any “hidden” costs, and we can create, for instance, an enhanced eBook at just $149! It is a competitive market, indubitably, but what draws the attention of wannabe-published authors is definitely the prospect of owning it and not having to see another rejection letter in the mail. The stats of sales are staggering too, and perhaps there’s more $ in this than they imagine. Oh, and there’s social media branding packages out there too, ranging from $100, I suppose? :)

  • chrisleach

    Terrific check list! thanks. A friend of mine recently had to almost take out a second mortgage, but fortunately the blood of her first born just sufficed.

  • Jacob

    So once you’ve paid all these fees and are ready to publish/print your book, what I’m curious about is how many books do you get? Is there a printing company/cost associated with the number of copies you want printed? Do they just send them to you in a big box? I’m not quite sure how it works…

    • http://monicatrodriguez.com/ Monica T. Rodriguez

      If you do POD (print on demand), books are only printed when a book is ordered. You don’t print a slew of books ahead of time, which makes this all much more affordable. You pay for only the books you sell. If you do only ebooks, this isn’t a factor at all.
      Toni, how much on average does it cost the author for a POD book (the per-book price)?

  • Tom LaForce

    Good guide to costs. I’m interested in at least breaking even on my book project. Any resources that might help me realistically forecast revenue?

  • http://twitter.com/SaleekJay Jaymi Mozeak

    I’m going to see if I can post this to the writer’s group I belong to on FaceBook. There’s lots of good suggestions and links here.Thanks from me and all my writer friends on FB.

  • Hina khan

    Chihuahua Zero says right that Great extensive guide! I’m putting this into my round-up as a reference for whoever is considering self-publishing.
    Including me, although it’s only a consideration, taking account the cost. http://trendz4ever.com/

  • Darran Bravo

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  • Nizaam

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  • Karan Kapoor

    this is a great reference guide. I am in the way of rewriting my debut novel at the moment, so i want looking into some editorial services once my novel end. View More

  • Muhammad Aslam

    Chihuahua Zero says right that Great extensive guide! I’m putting this into my round-up as a reference for whoever is considering self-publishing.
    Including me, although it’s only a consideration, taking account the cost. http://www.techups.co.uk/

  • Bushra crazy

    great reference guide about self publishing and it provide good information about it
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  • JDandJ

    It’s worth pointing out that the design costs can vary depending upon the authors expectations and also requirements, for example, pre-made covers ( see here http://www.jdandj.com/#/pre-made-covers/4583994599 ) can start from $45, you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune, but getting a cover professionally made will give your work the edge over the many books launched each and every day.
    Many thanks, Josh

  • http://hartmanmedia.com/ Hartman Media Company

    Thanks for the guideline and breakdown in costs! There are several authors whose noses are stuck in their books that they don’t realize the real costs that go into publishing their material. On the Speaking of Wealth Show (http://www.speakingofwealth.com) with host Jason Hartman, we interview successful authors and helps other professionals overcome great dilemma’s like this one you talk about, helping achieve problems they go through and overcome obstacles.