You’ve Got to Spend Money to Make Money: How Much Does it Cost to Self-Publish?

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We’ve all heard the saying: “You’ve got to spend money to make money.” But how is that relevant to writers? It’s not like we’re running our own business. Or are we? In many respects, writing for a living is just like running a business. You’ve got to create an excellent product and brand. You have to build the platform from which you’ll market your books, and so on and so forth. Sounds like a business to me. And like any business, the key to success is investment.

So, how much should you invest in the creation of your novel? That’s a tricky question, considering there is no set payoff. It’s not like Amazon purchases your novel upfront. But there are several things to consider.

Your Personal Budget. You can’t spend what you don’t have. If you’re drafting a novel, start saving for preproduction costs now!

Expected Earnings. It’s not a secret that self-published authors don’t make a lot. My research shows most self-published authors make between 10-30k annually. The highest being somewhere around 100k. And that does not count taxes.

The Quality of Your Work. Often times, you can tell a self-published novel by the quality of the cover. It’s just not quite up to par. Some of these covers were created by the authors themselves or purchased at a discount. For a professional looking product, sometimes you have to pay more up front.

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How much does it cost to self-publish?

So, how much does it cost to self-publish? Well, going by my own research and experience, this is what I came up with.

Professional Editing: To hire an editor cost anywhere from $15-30 dollars and hour or $15 per 1,000 words. Do the math, and the rough cost estimate is around $1,500 for one manuscript. My own edits costs approx. $700, and that was at an amazing discount!

Cover Design: Whether you find your artist on deviantART, DreamUp, or Elance, the average proposal is between $300-500 per project. Not that you can’t find an artist who will do the work for less. The general rule of thumb is you get what you pay for. The higher proposals usually come with more experience and fancy offers, but that’s not always the case. The key is to find an artist whose style best represents the tone and feel of your novel. Price will vary.

Marketing: In my opinion, it is not beneficial to spend a lot in marketing. Paying for ads is a waste of money. Most of your marketing can be done for free via Twitter and WordPress. If you go through Amazon, the site does most of the work. Goodreads is another great site to promote your novel and host giveaways, etc. Booths for author signings or conventions might be worth the cost. These usually run anywhere from $50 to $1,500 per booth.

ISBN and Copyright Registration: These fees run anywhere from $10 to $500 dollars just depending on who you go through. This is one of those areas where it’s fine to go cheaper. I believe Amazon offers free to low rates on these expenses, but don’t quote me on that.

Supplies: Laptops, paper, pens, scanners, printers, coffee. These expenses cannot be factored into each book but should be considered when factoring overall expenses. After all, printer ink is not cheap.

Extras: Author photographs, book trailers, and other expenses should also be considered.

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Are you willing to spend what is cost to self-publish?

So, what does that come to? By my calculations, you should expect to spend anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 per manuscript, depending on the quality you are hoping to achieve. Of course, you can spend less, but the quality of your book might reflect that. And there is always the exception to the rule.

What is the benefit of investing in these expenses? Payoff, of course. Research shows readers purchase books based on the quality of the cover, blurb, and sample, so you want a cover that is professional and eye catching. You also want your writing to be readable and free of errors. In order to achieve this, you might have to pay an editor and a cover artist. In the long run, your investments should pay off.

Do you agree or disagree? Is it worth the expense? Can a self-published author be just as successful editing their own work and creating their own cover design? Let me know what you think by completing the poll below:

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18 thoughts on “You’ve Got to Spend Money to Make Money: How Much Does it Cost to Self-Publish?

  1. armenpogharian

    Admittedly most of these expenses (not much in the way of marketing) are covered by my publisher (a very small press), but before I signed with them I did hire an editor for my MS. That was several years ago and the going rate for an editor was 2-3 cents/word, which is quite a bit higher than your estimate (perhaps it’s cheaper now). Instead of a full edit I opted to go for the much less expensive Critique & Evaluation (about 10% of the cost). In return I received a fully annotated MS – typos, grammar, and style suggestions as well as a few plot suggestions. The editor didn’t make any of the corrections, but it was all laid out for me. Armed with that I completed the editing myself. As an aside I cut 30K words from the 110K MS and made the other changes in about 2 weeks (40-50 hours). Dozens of rejections later, I eventually received two small press offers. I saved a lot of upfront money by self-editing and going with a small press, but I did give up some control and future royalties for the term of my contract (3 years).

    • Thank you for sharing your experience. I expect it might be cheaper or the editors I’ve researched are offering competitive rates. The editor I work with is extremely affordable compared to others, and like yours, she does not make the edits but makes suggestions for editing. Invaluable services, to say the least. How do you like working with a small press?

      • armenpogharian

        One clarification, my C&E cost $300 the 2-3 cent price included a full edit with all suggestions implemented, although they’re all easily reversible if you don’t like them. That said I’m pretty happy with a small press. I don’t make much money – nothing like the numbers you’ve quoted, but I expected that going in. I like not having to format the e-books or deal with the printing and I’ve been pretty happy with the editing (it’s mostly line, very little plot). I have considered leaving when my contract is up. Not so much for the money, but for the control. From what I gather my publisher is pretty open and responsive, but I still need to get her buy-in to offer discounts or sales. I suppose that lag keeps me from making some dumb mistakes, which I doubtlessly undervalue, but part of me wants to control the whole deal.

      • Thanks for sharing. I opted for self-publishing for that exact reason–the control. Of course, you also get stuck with all the work. I’m sure it’s worth it. I am currently in the process of publishing a work, so I’m undecided. haha.

  2. smwright

    I am so undecided at this point of time as far as what approach I’m going to take. The complete control of a book is very appealing, yet all the work of going it alone is a bit overwhelming, especially when I can’t shake the feeling that I will epically fail at marketing myself. However, if I do decide to go this route, I do have the right set of skills and programs to really cut some of the costs associated with self-publishing.

    • armenpogharian

      FWIW, you’ll have to do most of your own marketing even if you sign with a major publishing house – so that shouldn’t really factor into your decision. As for going it alone, there’s a very vibrant community of Indies out there who are willing to share the benefits of their experience. It won’t all appeal to you, but if you’re in control you can pick and choose. If you’re not already following Indies Unlimited, I would encourage you to start.

      • smwright

        I actually just started following Indies Unlimited earlier this week! Yeah, I understand that most publishing companies, at least the major ones, don’t really help with marketing, especially for new authors; it’s just sometimes it doesn’t always connect in my head that I’ll probably be doing the same amount of work.

    • Yeah, it was a tough decision for me too, but I figured as a new writer, either way, I’m going to be marketing myself. Might as well fail or succeed with a cover I like. Haha.

      Best of luck to you!

  3. I’m not looking to self publish at the moment, I would love to be traditionally published, but I will never say never. Though If I do go this way I would put the money into it because I agree with you, if it doesn’t have a good cover, and it’s not professionally edited, chances are it’s not going to go anywhere. You do need to put the money in. Great advice.

    • Thank you. You might be interested in reading Karen Lamb’s Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World. Very informative about what it means to publish traditionally and independently. Check it out! Or check out her blog. Hope that helps.

      Thank you for stopping by!

    • I’m glad you think so. It’s definitely been a process for me and I’m only finding out there is more and more and more. Argh! But, I think it will be worth it in the end. I’ll let you all know how it’s going:)

  4. smwright

    Reblogged this on Blood & Ink and commented:
    Often times as we right our stories, we seldom consider what the cost of seeing them to print can be. Currently, one of the books I’m reading (will post a full review very soon) states in its “Publish Thy Self” section that in an ultimate worse case scenario an self-published author can end up with $20,000 worth of debt on their credit card and a basement filled with unsold books. Of course, this is definitely not the fate of every indie author, because with good common sense practices, you don’t have to go deep into debt to see your dreams come true.

    My good friend, Kylie Betzner, outlines some of the costs indie writers face. It truly is eye-opening.

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