How Much Does it Cost to Self-Publish?

How much are you willing to pay?

Okay, all jokes aside, “how much” depends on a lot of factors such as:

  1. Your particular set of skills (can you do your own cover/interior formatting?)
  2. Relatives/people you know (if your cousin’s a book designer/freelance editor… you get the idea.)
  3. The length of your book (yes, this affects the overall production cost, especially when it comes to editing.)
  4. The quality you’re aiming for.
  5. Whether or not you’re planning on having both an e-book version and a print version of your book.

Looking back on this list I think I could have summed it all up like this: it’s all about how much you’re willing to outsource.

So costs vary. From close to nothing (that’s when you’re basically doing everything yourself) to thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars (that’s when you have an entire team working for you: editor, proofreader, publicist, etc.)

But like I always say, nothing can guarantee that your book will sell. Not even spending thousands of dollars on a fancy press release. Not even paying a publicist, or setting up a huge ad in front of a bookstore – John Locke tried this one.

There are self-published authors out there who have sold a ridiculous amount of books without investing a cent on marketing/promotion. There are also authors who have sold hundreds of thousands of books without bothering to pay for a professional edit.

So what do I need money for?

Well, first you need to pay for editing. This is extremely important – probably the most important aspect of self-publishing, and at the same time, the part that gets ignored the most, simply because most people don’t know what editors really do.

Editors aren’t the human equivalent of a spellchecker,  searching and fixing typos, spelling, and grammar. Oh, and punctuation, of course. That’s proofreading, and even so, there’s a lot more to proofreading as well.

The thing is that a good editor has to keep your voice intact. So it’s a lot trickier than changing what doesn’t work. As an analogy, I like to think of an editor as a translator.

No matter how much time you’ve spent editing and rewriting, or how many times you’ve read your manuscript, there will still be parts that just don’t get to the reader in the same way the writer wished they would.  Those parts need to be translated – in such a way that the essence of what you’re trying to transmit remains intact.

If I were rich (which I’m not), I’d go about this in three steps: developmental edit (to revise the story as a whole), copy-edit, and proofread. This can cost 2,000-3,000 dollars, maybe more.

Instead, I rely on beta-readers to offer me feedback on the structure of the story, then I make my edits. But I still need to pay for a proofread.

You can get away with as little as a hundred-two hundred dollars, depending on the length of your book, style, and how many errors you have. Usually editors are willing to work on a sample, so they can give you an exact price. Also, it’s good, because it allows you to decide whether or not you want to work with that editor.

I know some writers use those online software thingies like Grammarly. I’ve tried some, but they’re not really as good at catching mistakes as a human person is. As advanced as technology has become, grammar is pretty flexible and, well, complex.

Where do I find an editor?

You might want to go to your favorite self-publisher’s website, if you have one, and see if that author mentions his/hers editor. If not, ask nicely in an e-mail.

As a side note, I find that this stalkerish behavior is one of the best ways to understand a lot about author’s websites/blogs, about some of the conventions regarding blurbs and covers in the genre you’re writing, etc.

 There’s also an extensive list of editors on Preditors and Editors. There’s also this website, Book Editing Services, and the neat thing is that when you submit your manuscript you can tell them how much money you’re willing to spend, so their editors can tell you what types of services they’re able to offer.

And agent Rachelle Gardner also has a nice list of freelance editors here.

Covers, covers, covers

Why? Simply because first impressions matter. And a professional looking cover can help you make a great first impression.

I use Adobe Photoshop. You can use it as well, or something similar.

For cover art, sometimes I buy stock photos (there’s quite a plethora of sites that specialize in selling stock photos.)

Other times I use paintings whose copyright has expired. What’s probably worth sharing here is that photographs of paintings whose copyright has expired are in the Public Domain. In the US, this means that any painting before 1923 is considered to be in the Public Domain.

But where to find a database of such photographs? Of course, if you know the name of the painting, you can search for a good quality photograph on the internet. As I said earlier, if the photograph is an accurate depiction of the painting, meaning that there’s no other element in it, it can be safely used as long as you give credit to the author of that painting.

If you have a general idea of what type of painting to use, or you just want to browse around for something that will fit the tone of your story, there’s The Web Gallery of Art — a very extensive database.

Then there’s Art Renewal Center, where you can find paintings by more than two thousand painters. And then, of course, there’s the York project on Wikimedia, where you can find over ten thousand paintings.

I also browse around the BookCoverArchiveIt’s a fantastic website where you can find a ton of book covers, and great info such as the fonts that were used.

If you’re not crafty enough with Adobe Photoshop or similar software, you can send an email to and you’ll get a reply with a list of cover designers and e-book formatters. With prices ranging from $40 to $100, I say it’s well worth the money.

Interior Formatting

This one’s not as tricky as designing a book cover, so I’ll just recommend you download the Smashwords Style Guide. After all, you only need Microsoft Word and patience.

It’s really not that difficult.

For KDP, there’s this cool guide available for free on Amazon.

You might also want to check out Guide Henkel’s formatting guide for more insight into the matter.

The Print Book

If you want a print version of your book, then you need a different cover and a different type of interior formatting. I do all this by myself, using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe InDesign.

I spend a lot of time downloading free fonts, reading tutorials, and just making a fool out of myself.

There’s a lot of great info available on both Createspace and Lulu. You can download templates for covers and even a simple Word template for the interior design.

I want to recommend another great resource. Joel Friedlander. Visit his blog, read all the posts, and, if you feel that all this is too much work, hire the guy. He seems very passionate about his work, and all I’ve seen of his covers and interior designs are stunning.

Also, you might want to check this great post by fellow self-publisher Catherine Ryan Howard.

If you go with Createspace, the only expense, besides interior and cover design, will be related to the cost of ordering a proof, and, if you want, there’s an Expanded Distribution option available for $25 per year — this makes your print version available on other retailers, different from Amazon, such as Powell, B&N, etc.


There’s a bunch of stuff to pay for in this category. But I think it’s best to keep things into perspective. And analyze all the opportunities you’re presented with to see which ones suit you best.

I’ve talked a bit about paying for ads and reviews in a previous post.

But there’s so much more to marketing than just paying for advertisement. An author website, a blog, promotional stuff, such as posters and bookmarks, and even more exotic options like press releases and book trailers.

Like I said, don’t go too crazy and spend a bucket load of money on marketing. And don’t waste too much time either.

After all, some self-publishers have managed to sell a ton of books with just a simple blog.

I’d say a nice blog is very important. You can use whatever platform you feel more comfortable with. If you want, pay for a premium theme. But more important, buy a domain. It sounds more professional.

There are a lot of great promotional tools available for free. Set up a Goodreads Author account, order a few copies of your printed book, and do a giveaway. Do another e-book giveaway using Rafflecopter.

Go to LibraryThing and host another e-book giveaway there.

Send Advanced Review Copies to book bloggers.

Host a contest on your site, offer signed copies of your book, release a limited, hardcover edition of your book for your most loyal of fans. Write guest blogs, do interviews, even do character interviews if you feel like it.

Nowadays, marketing opportunities aren’t limited by how deep your pockets are. No. They’re limited by your imagination.


My advice to all this? Spend just enough to make your book look as professional as possible. And don’t rush. Probably the most harmful thing you can do to your career as a self-published writer is to release a book too early – trust me, I know a thing or two about that.

You can do a great job with a few hundred dollars and make it to the New York Times Bestseller’s List as easily as you can spend thousands of dollars and break even in twelve years.

Information is the most valuable asset of our age, so do a bit of research before sending out checks to the people you want to work with. There are a lot of scammers out there. A lot of so-called publishing platforms asking for money to upload your story to Amazon. Don’t use them. Use KDP, use Smashwords, PubIt, etc. There’s no reason to use a middle man when you can upload your book direct (and for no fee) to retailers/distributors.

And never, ever write about yourself in the third person. With the exception of a funny bio, of course.

Tomorrow, How Much Should I Charge For My Book?


48 thoughts on “How Much Does it Cost to Self-Publish?

  1. This is an extremely good post! I self-published a book (on coral identification) last fall. 230 pages with full-colour photos. As you said, the editing was crucial…I had it reviewed by about 30 people including subject matter experts, copy-editors, etc. It is amazing how much work and time goes into producing a quality publication…



  2. Great post! It can't be emphasized enough how important a role professional editors playing in developing a book into its final version. Too bad I'm not married to one for free editing services.

  3. Great post. It's really important how your book looks like. I can say it's even more important than the actual content. Because when you buy a book the first thing you see it's the cover, the title and maybe you want to read the first pages, so in this case, the font, the size of the font and the adjustment of text in page are other factors that might influence the buyer. I think you have to invest in your book to look professionally. Congratulations again for this great article.

  4. Well said. I noticed you left out who publishes, converts and distributes to a number of retailers and charges a low fee, depending on what you like them to add to their service.
    I am reading your book for a review.

  5. Like, love this post. The time and effort to help writers Diy it. I know i can write but pulling it together like this seems like an operation. Top tips thanks, Felicity Fox

  6. Love this! I'm someday hoping to get a book of nursing stories published. Not the lovey caring nurse stories, but the crazy ones that people never hear about.

    Thanks for the tips :)

  7. As always, great advice! It's going to be a long time before I get a decent book together, but when I'm ready I'm going to for both a paperback and e-book release.

    My main problem is going to be the cover: I'm my own editor and proofreader, but I can't draw or design anything. On the other hand I have several artist friends who might do something for me as a favour.

    I am learning a lot through reading your blog. Thank you so much for helping aspiring writers everywhere!

  8. Interesting comments Christian. Let's not forget though that the creation of a book is secondary to what you actually write. It is possible to get bogged down with all the minutiae of detail and forget the reason for writing the book in the first place. I still see mistakes in books by popular famous authors of today and wonder how they got through the editing process. I'm sure you all on here would agree with that.

    If Dickens had his books edited today, they would be torn apart.

    There has to be some kind of artistic licence in writing. Faddy things catch on, don't they. e.g. if I was to write a book without using capital letters at all but I wrote it in such a way that people thought it was 'cool', then it would be a success, wouldn't it? Might try that sometime.

    For people just starting out, your advice is invaluable. Keep writing :)

  9. I am impressed with your blog. I have blogged for two years now. I am trying to get my final draft for my book done to publish. I am glad I stopped here. Bless you

  10. Allow me to present a dissenting view. The paradigm has shifted. All of the steps outlined in this excellent blog are true but will bring you no closer to the desired goal, that of being a best selling author than to simply put it out there and hope. Unless you can create sufficient buzz in the right places there is no apparent correlation between quality of product and success. A case in point: I have a dear friend who recently self-published her opus after a few years of polishing the manuscript. She enlisted the aid of a highly regarded editing service, hired a cover art 'specialist', joined in no less than a half dozen worldwide distribution networks and even leased a well placed billboard on a major local highway. After spending many thousands of dollars promoting what is a actually fairly decent action-adventure novel, the end results were fewer than a dozen copies sold. On the other hand I have self-published five novels in the past year with no outside assistance. provided the publication services at no cost other than for mandatory proof copies of each and I have sold at least a dozen of each title with no advertising whatever. That is not nearly best seller distribution but the work is out there with no budgetary considerations. While I would never attempt to dissuade anyone from following the steps outlined above, I feel that perhaps an additional approach might be to get something in print in the most expedient manner possible and then focus on getting that work noticed by a major publishing house. If the core work is good then the cosmetic appeal, and more importantly, the major portion of the distribution and marketing, will be done for you.

    • That's exactly what I keep telling people. Nothing can guarantee that a book will sell. Ultimately, luck plays an important part in this.

      While I agree with what you said, there's one thing I'd like to point out. There are countless ways to spend money on a self-published book, which can be more or less effective, but leasing a billboard… has the same effect as appearing on national television — it doesn't work. It offers exposure, but people like to be one click away from buying your book. No one's going to go home after seeing your book on a billboard and buy it.

      You know what's funny about his world now? That all these book bloggers, who have big or small followings, are more efficient at making a bestseller out of an indie writer than any publishing house has ever been with its writers. Actually, the vast majority of titles published by the big six will barely cover expenses.

      It's a very treacherous game. If someone knew how to write a bestseller or how to market a book into becoming one, then we would know about it.

  11. Hi Cristian! These tips and pointers are extremely helpful in getting your book to look as professional as possible.

    I self-published both my books and am currently working on my third:

    Murky Waters –

    And although I am in no way a "best-selling author" and have never imagined myself to be, I feel blessed to have sold as many copies as I have of each of my books.

    I've also been fortunate enough to have a weekly column that has increased my readership following.

    I believe visibility and consistancy is key to selling. As self-published authours we don't have agents or publishing houses to back us up so it's up to us to make those sales. Besides writing a blog here at WP I repost on FB. I've never spent a huge amount of money on marketing, but would encourage all novelists to take out ads in newspapers and put yourself out there by personally handing out business cards and having meet and greets at libraries, bookstores and shows where vendors are able to sell their wares.

    These ideas may sound hokey and old-fashioned, but I believe it's important to let customers know that you have a product to sell and that you believe in it. People want to know who they're buying from and if the product is any good. The best way to do that is talk to them. Anyone can put up a website and direct people to it, but is that going to generate sales? In essence that simply makes you just another website amongst thousands of others. You have to make customers want to buy your product, to even take the time to click on your link to your website. You need to stand out and who better than yourself to make your product stand out?

    Thanks for letting me put my two cents worth (maybe three) in.

  12. Thank you for all you shared here. I'm amazed at the wealth of information in this one post. I'll be printing it out and putting it in the front of my notebook. I just love paper, I know that may be showing my age!

  13. wow, this was extremely interesting and very full! I saved. Enjoyed the writing too.

    One thing (I'm not really a writer!) – why mustn't one write in the third person? Ever?

  14. Self-Publishing can be completely free. I published through and only spent time! My Dad is an Editor and my Mum used to be a journalist so they both proof read it. Layout and cover design were simple and my finished product was so good I was hired to layout and cover design my college tutors sports book.

    It was a book for charity so I couldn't afford to spend anything. I spent months collecting stories from animal rescues and putting them together.

    Ok it will never be a best seller but it is being stocked in the online shop of a couple of rescues I worked with and also on a sale or return basis in a couple of visitor centres.

    You don't have to be a genius to work lulu so if anyone wants a practice go then it is great for that. It is such a thrill when you hold that book in your hands and your name is on it!

  15. Editors – not an easy job. I once told someone I edit, and he said, "Oh, you proofread." UGH!!!! Didn't argue with him, but….. Thank you for this information :) Angie

  16. So nice to see someone who understands what an editor does and seems to have respect for that process. I've worked as an editor and it's amazing how many people don't realize just how crucial getting someone else to edit your work really is. I think it's also worth bringing up that editors aren't there to add or take away things that aren't 'their style.' they're meant to be the reader's advocate and stay true to the author's voice.

  17. Christian, if (and here is the big IF) I would have found you a couple of years ago and therefor would have been able to read all your words of wisdom, how much heartache I would have saved myself trying to publish a book. In the end I refused to hand it over to a publisher and decided to keep it. Instead, with my clever husbands help, I made copies for our 2 daughters (20 + 22) and they and their college friends are the ones who are urging me to go on writing – nothing too clever, just easy to read every day life stories. I write for myself and them – and I am happy. Good luck to all of you who journey on the publishing road.

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