The Great Self Publishing Myth: Self Publishing is Expensive
Let’s talk about the costs that go into self publishing three versions of a book: ebook (Kindle), paperback, and audiobook.
Cost of Self Publishing an Ebook
Editing will often be the biggest expense for many authors. I highly recommend hiring a professional editor, but the truth is you don’t have to. I know many authors who have had one or more fellow writers, friends or colleagues edit their book for them. If you’re on a budget, this can be a great option.
When I published my first few books, I did all my editing myself. It was only later when my books were earning a steady income that I hired an editor to go back and polish up the manuscripts. The great thing about an ebook is that you can edit your manuscript, upload the new version to Kindle, and within 48 hours, your new version is now live and available for your readers.
But how much does editing actually cost? I’ve seen highly qualified editors with advanced degrees editing fiction and nonfiction for as little as half a cent per word, and as much as 8 cents a word. Costs vary dramatically, which is why it’s very important you always get at least three bids for any editing work, and do your research on the editors before paying any money. I recommend you don’t pay more than half the fee upfront.
Here are the ranges for editing fees from qualified editors that I’ve seen recently for three sample book sizes:
10,000 word manuscript (about 40 pages) $50 to $800
40,000 word manuscript (about 160 pages) $200 to $3,200
80,000 word manuscript (about 320 pages) $400 to $6,400
Most self published authors will probably want to hire an editor in the $400-$1,000 range for a full-length novel of around 80,000 words. Shorter manuscripts will cost less.
Of course, you can find ultra-expensive editors who will charge even more, but it’s probably not the best choice for most authors.
You can format your manuscript for Kindle yourself for free or hire someone to do it for you. If you hire someone, it shouldn’t cost more than $50 to $300 at most, depending on the complexity and size of your book.
There are numerous options for cover designs.
Really Cheap: Fiverr.com $5
Cheap: Hire a freelance designer (you can find one on Craigslist, Odesk.com, Guru.com, and other freelance design sites) $50-$100
Expensive: 99designs.com $299 up to $1,199
I wouldn’t recommend ever spending more than $500 for a book cover unless it’s the best book cover in the world.
Stock Images for Book Covers
Remember that you will have to own the rights to any images you use on the book cover. Many designers, like those from Fiverr, may not follow the rules on this so it’s important that you understand where the images on your book covers are coming from. Always buy a license or use photos that you own. Stock photos may cost you anywhere from $10 to $500, depending on the images you buy and where you buy them from.
Self publishing is free. You can upload your ebook for free at www.kdp.amazon.com once you have your finalized book cover and formatted manuscript.
You can market yourself and your books for free using social media, publicity connections like Help a Reporter Out (HARO). Most book marketing packages tend to be a waste of money. If you can’t sell your books using free marketing strategies, advertising probably won’t help you.
Total Cost of Self Publishing an Ebook: $5 to $1,000
Yes, you can spend more, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Cost of Publishing a Paperback
Your editing costs for a paperback will be exactly the same as the ebook version, so once you’ve decided to publish an ebook, the paperback version won’t cost you anything to edit.
Paperback formatting and layout is a little more technical and detailed than formatting for Kindle. You can find someone on Odesk or Guru.com to do it pretty cheaply, between $100 and $400. I wouldn’t spend more than $500 for paperback formatting unless it’s a very large book, you need extensive layout work, or you’re hiring one of the world’s best book designers.
Cover design for a paperback will cost about the same as an ebook. You will need a designer who can create the spine and back cover for you, so it will often cost 10% to 50% more than an ebook-only cover, depending on the designer. On average, I’d say it costs about $25 for a good designer to create the back/spine once the front cover has been created.
You’ll need to order at least one physical proof copy. That can cost between $8 and $20, maybe more if you order extra copies.
Buying an ISBN
You’ll need to acquire an ISBN. There’s only one source for ISBN’s and that’s Bowkers. You can buy them here. The pricing is $125 for a single ISBN, $250 for 10, $575 for 100 or $1,000 for 1,000.
CreateSpace will sell you an ISBN for $10, so if you’re a self published author and don’t want to buy your own ISBN’s, you can take CreateSpace’s offer. However, this offer limits your distribution options for your book so you won’t be able to sell through libraries or academic institutions, and you can only use that ISBN with CreateSpace. There’s also a $99 ISBN option from CreateSpace that gives you a little more flexibility as to who your publisher is, but that probably won’t be the best option for most authors.
Again, this is totally free through CreateSpace. You might want to pay for Expanded Distribution ($15).
Again, you can market your books for free.
Total Cost of Self Publishing a Paperback: $265 to $1,000 without editing
Note: This is assuming you already paid for your stock photos, most of the cover design, and editing for the ebook version first. If you’re only publishing your book in paperback without an ebook version (which would probably be a mistake because of the huge growth in ebook sales), your costs will likely be much higher.
Cost of Publishing an Audiobook
Same as before.
There are two parts to the production of an audiobook: voice talent and editing/mixing. Most often, the editing/mixing is the expensive component. If you record your own audiobook, it will rarely save you any money unless you have a high quality microphone and recording room and also know how to edit the audio properly.
Here are some samples of total audiobook production costs (full production, including voice talent, editing and mixing) I’ve seen:
10,000 spoken words $250 to $2,000
40,000 spoken words $1,000 to $4,000
80,000 spoken words $2,000 to $8,000
Your cover designer should be able to throw in an audiobook cover for free or a minimal fee. It’s basically just a 2400 x 2400 square version of your ebook cover.
Again, publishing an audiobook is free at ACX.com
Most authors find about 10% or so of their sales are audiobooks, so you would normally focus on marketing the ebook and paperback versions, and customers will naturally select your audiobooks if they’re interested.
Other Options for Audiobook Production
Some audiobook producers will take a share of royalties instead of charging an upfront price, or will at least lower the upfront price in order to share some of the royalties. Generally, you should never give away more than 50% of the royalties for voice talent/production. This might be a better option for authors on a tight budget.
Total Cost of Self Publishing an Audiobook: $0 to $5,000 (a “free” audiobook will often cost you 50% of royalties to the production company and/or voice talent)