If you’re polishing your manuscript, or perhaps just in the planning stage of your big project, you’ve likely considered the two ways you can release your book out into the world: traditional publishing or self-publishing.
If you choose to publish your manuscript through a publishing house, the publisher foots the bill for the editor and the proofreader, design, printing, marketing, and distribution—but you retain less control over the creative process and the final product.
If you self-publish, you’re responsible for all of the above—but you retain all control. There is a lot of freedom, and speed, that comes with self-publishing, but you may be wondering: How much does it cost to self-publish a book?
Even though you don’t have the financial backing of a publishing house, self-publishing a book can be an affordable and enjoyable venture.
So, how much does it cost to self-publish a book?
The estimated total cost to self-publish a book in 2022 is between $150 and $2,000.
Some authors spend tens of thousands of dollars publishing their book, while others spend nothing at all. In this guide, we’ll address why neither of those extremes is a good idea.
There are a number of costs associated with self-publishing, all of which can be managed to fit your budget.
Costs associated with self-publishing a book
1. Hiring an editor and/or proofreader
To make sure your manuscript is polished, consistent, and free of typographical mistakes, it’s a good idea to hire a developmental editor, a copy editor, and/or a proofreader.
Developmental editors check things like:
- Story arcs: For example, how your characters develop or whether a sequence of events makes sense.
- Subject matter: If you’re writing a book about business strategy, for example, a developmental editor can help you structure your chapters, arguments, and case studies to make them stronger and more clear.
Copy editors check things like:
- Consistency: If your main character has blue eyes on page two, and green eyes on page thirty-two, the copy editor will catch that.
- Grammar: Things like subject-verb agreement, run-on sentences, and clunky wording.
- Facts: Most copy editors will double-check the spellings of people’s names, dates of historic events, quotes, stats and figures, etc.
Proofreaders check things like:
- Small grammatical and typographical errors.
- Any leftover mistakes the copy editor missed or ones introduced during the back-and-forth between the writer and copy editor.
- Visual problems with the text, like bad line breaks, rivers in the text, text flow problems, etc.
You can find editors willing to fill all three roles, but this may cost you more money. You should also confirm in your contract with the editor exactly what elements of your manuscript they will check. For example, not all copy editors will check facts.
Alternatives to hiring an editor
If you prefer to skip the editor to save costs, it’s still a good idea to ask someone else to read your work before you publish it. Ask a friend or colleague (or a few) to give you their take on the project.
And no matter what you do—always, always proofread. If you want to attempt it alone, it’s a good idea to take a break from your manuscript for at least a couple of days so you can look for errors with fresh eyes.
2. Hiring a book designer
Book design includes two parts: interior and exterior design.
- The interior includes decisions like font, font size, line spacing, page numbers, title pages, chapter titles, illustrations and graphics, etc.
- The exterior includes the front and back covers and the spine of the book.
Some designers specialize in only one or the other, but there are book cover designers that will do both. You can find designers on sites like Reedsy or on social media using the hashtags #bookdesigner and #bookdesign.
Alternatives to hiring a book designer
If you’d like to DIY the design of your book, you can use a site like Canva, which provides book templates. Self-publishing platforms like Lulu also include templates and design tools that are easy to use, even for design novices.
3. Production costs of creating an audiobook
As you’re considering the format of your indie book, don’t forget to consider making it an audiobook. Platforms like Amazon’s ACX make it easy and reasonably affordable to create, publish, and distribute an ebook; this includes finding, hiring, and paying a professional to read and record your manuscript.
To learn more about publishing an audiobook using ACX, and how much it costs, check out our guide here.
4. The self-publishing platform you choose
Indie authors need a self-publishing platform to create, distribute, and promote their new book project. Many are very affordable and most offer tools to help you design and promote your book. Some can even help you find an editor and designer for your project.
The costs of using these platforms varies, but typically, the more you pay, the more bells and whistles and promotional opportunities you get. For example, some platforms are also aggregators, which allow you to add your book to a searchable database where fans of independent authors can find, buy, and review your book.
Popular self-publishing platforms include:
Need help choosing a self-publishing partner? Check out our guide to the 15 best self-publishing companies.
5. Printing costs
It can cost anywhere from about $0.60 to $5.00 (or more for particularly long books or those with lots of images) to print an individual book. If you decide to buy a shipment of books upfront (as opposed to print on demand), you can save on printing costs, but remember that some printers require minimum orders.
How to save on printing costs
- Shop around for the right self-publishing platform. Publishing platforms vary widely in cost, so there’s likely one out there that fits your budget.
- Choose to distribute ebooks instead of print books, which can cost very little, or even nothing, to host and distribute.
- Use a print-on-demand service. While the individual unit cost may be higher, you don’t have to worry about footing the bill for a large order or storing unsold stock.
- Alternatively, if you’re confident you can sell a large number of books, which you can test by taking pre-orders, buy books in bulk from your publisher to save on unit costs.
- Consider black-and-white printing instead of color.
6. Shipping costs
If you choose to publish your book in print, you’ll have to pay to ship those books to your readers. Depending on how you choose to print your book, you may be paying the printer to ship, or you may be shipping them yourself, paying the courier directly.
It can cost anywhere from $3.00 to $15.00 per book to ship, depending on the size and weight.
How to save on shipping costs
- Consider publishing your book in paperback instead of in hardback. The heavier the book, the higher the shipping cost.
- It’s not unreasonable to have your buyers pay for shipping, or you could offer them shipping at a discounted price.
- Some self-publishing partners offer free or low-cost shipping, so shop around with comparing platforms.
If you want to sell your book, you’ll need to market it to potential readers—and this is often the most fun part of being an independent author (aside from the writing, of course).
Marketing for your book can include social media, email marketing, bookstore readings, and book club appearances. You can also print flyers to distribute or put up at local bookstores, coffee shops, or libraries.
Marketing can be one of the most time-consuming parts of the publishing process, but it can also be one of the cheapest, thanks to free digital design tools. There are dozens of free design and marketing tools, like Canva, that cater specifically to self-published writers, and your publishing partner may give you access to some of them, like aggregator platforms or discounts on Facebook ads.
How to save on marketing costs
- Skip the print marketing and promote your book through social media and email.
- Try promoting your book using organic social media posts rather than paid ads.
- Swap posts and promotions with other authors or Bookstagrammers eager to boost independent writers.
Can you self-publish a book for free?
Yes. It is possible to self-publish your book for free or almost no cost.
How to self-publish for free (except for the cost of your time)
- Skip hiring an editor and edit and proofread the book yourself, or ask friends, family, and colleagues to help.
- Use a self-publishing platform with a free option or a program like Adobe or Google Docs to format an ebook.
- Distribute your ebook directly to buyers via a service like Dropbox.
- Market your book using social media and email newsletters.
Downsides to publishing a book for free
There are downsides, though, if you choose to not invest money in your indie project. Your book may contain errors, which can damage your credibility, your design may not feel polished, and the customer experience may suffer for it. If you’re distributing an ebook via Dropbox or email in a single PDF, it can feel like an unprofessional experience. And if you don’t invest in marketing your book, you may also see fewer sales.
Investing even a small amount in your indie book project can mean more credibility as an author, and ultimately, more book sales.
So, should you spend $20,000 self-publishing your book?
Some independent authors spend tens of thousands of dollars self-publishing their manuscript, but we don’t recommend this, especially if you’re a first-time author.
Consider how much of your investment you’re likely to recoup in book sales. Writers publishing their first book will likely see fewer sales than authors with established readerships. It’s possible to self-publish a polished, successful book for $1,200 or less.
4 things that can affect the cost of self-publishing your book
1. The subject matter
If you write about very technical subjects, like botany or economics, or esoteric topics, like nineteenth-century firefighting practices in the state of California, you will likely have to pay more for an editor. This is because it may be harder to find someone who is comfortable editing that subject matter or someone willing to take on the fact-checking work. Those people are out there, though, so don’t be afraid to dig around.
2. The length of your manuscript
The longer your manuscript, the most it will cost to edit, print, and possibly ship. If your project is particularly long, consider selling ebooks for a while or printing in paperback instead of hardback.
3. Whether you choose to sell print books, ebooks, or audiobooks
Printing a book or recording an audiobook costs more than distributing your published book in ebook form, which can cost very little.
4. Your timeline
Self-publishing is a lot faster than publishing through a traditional publishing house. Self-publishing can take as little as a month while traditional publishing can take years.
But even though self-publishing is more expedient than traditional publishing, how quickly you want to go to press will affect cost. If you hire an editor and book designer and want deliverables done within two weeks, you’ll likely have to pay a premium.
Don’t be afraid to be patient and take a little more time to get the project done well. You’ll be glad you did, and so will your readers.
How to keep self-publishing costs down
Compare self-publishing platforms carefully
There are dozens of really good self-publishing platforms available, and the costs can vary widely. Before you shop around, create a stack-ranked list of what matters most to you—maybe it’s a professional-looking cover, a strong fact-checker, or as many distribution options as possible—and shop with those in mind.
Choose ebooks or print-on-demand
If you need to keep costs down, sell ebooks instead of print books or audiobooks.
If you prefer physical books, try print-on-demand. Print-on-demand means books are printed only when a reader buys one, so you don’t have to foot the bill for books upfront or worry about storing unsold stock.
Barter with other writers for help
If you can’t afford the cost of an editor, ask a fellow writer to read and provide feedback on your manuscript in exchange for reading and commenting on one of theirs.
Take your time
The faster you go, the more it will cost, so go slowly and be patient with editors and designers—you’ll end up with a better product that way.