Authors often dream of seeing their books in print and calculate the royalties they expect to earn per book once their baby hits the market. Few stop to consider how much capital they need up-front to cover pre-publication expenses. These expenses can be broken into three general categories: product development, business development, and marketing.
This post contains summaries of common expenses, a downloadable worksheet authors can use to create budgets for their own books, and ideas for ways to save cash along the way. The cost estimates provided below are not intended to scare off would-be self-publishers. Rather, they illustrate why self-publishers struggle to compete with even the smallest publishing houses in the book market. They also serve as a reminder that authors should not give their work away free . . . everything in publishing comes with a cost and some of those costs have staggering price tags.
Before an indie author can even begin thinking about publishing, they must first have a marketable product. Product development is more than just writing the story. It’s also quality control and encompasses the early phases of marketing. During product development there are three costs to consider: editing, formatting, and graphics.
Download the budgeting worksheet here: Budgeting for Success
Editing is likely to be the single biggest expense an indie publisher will face. To find an editor, peruse editors’ profiles at professional editing organizations, such as, the Editorial Freelancers Association and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Those who intend to publish via Ingram may wish to review their pro list.
There are many types of editing available. It’s up to the author and publisher to determine how much editing the book needs. Below are editing cost estimates for a 100,000 word novel. These estimates come from the Editorial Rates – Editorial Freelancers Association (the-efa.org).
Complete Cost Estimate
- Editorial Assessment, $240 ($60 to $70/hr)
- Structural Editing, $6,000 (average $0.06/word)
- Developmental Editing, $3,000 (average $0.03/word)
- Content Editing, $5,000 (average $50/hr to $85/hr)
- Fact Checking, $5,000 (average $0.05/word)
- Sensitivity Readers, $1,000 (average $0.01/word)
- Line Editing, $4,000 (average $0.04/word)
- Copy Editing, $2,000 (average $0.02/word)
- Proofreading, $1,000 (average $0.01/word)
At a minimum, each book needs a developmental edit, line edit, copy edit, and proofreading. The best way to save on editing cost is to find a graduate student or adjunct professor who edits books for a flat rate. Depending on length of book, these flat rates typically run between $300 and $500 per edit. That drops editing cost down to a much more reasonable $2,000.
See my post on editing for more information: Editing: From Alphas to Betas and Beyond
A book’s readability is, in part, determined by how well it’s formatted. Odd fonts, misaligned text, and awkward line breaks all distract the reader. Other things included in book design are setting up a table of contents, adding drop caps at the beginning of chapters, and knowing how page count affects gutter width. It’s well worth it to pay for professional book design, to ensure chapter and page layout, typesetting, and formatting are pleasing to the reader.
Editorial and Freelancers Association Formatting Rates:
- Print Design/Layout/Formatting, $2,000 (average $.02 per word)
- Ebook Design/Layout/Formatting, $3,000 (average $.03 per word)
Those who plan to use Ingram for POD services can save on formatting cost by using their ebook conversion service. For $0.60/page a book that has already been formatted for print publication can be converted to an ebook file. In the absence of a lot of front and back matter, a 100,000-word book with a 6X9 trim size should come in around 400 pages, for a total cost of $240.00
Learn more about book formatting here: DIY Guide to Book Formatting
Audio Book Recording
Audio books are becoming an increasingly popular way to consume books and those with the funds available should consider tapping into this market. There are four options available for recording audio books: DIY, Royalty Share, Per Finished Hour (PFH), and Per Recording Hour (PRH).
In the absence of owing professional grade recording equipment, royalty share is the cheapest option for audio books. A royalty share agreement requires $0 upfront, but requires an exclusive 7-year contract and a 50/50 royalty split. However, it is difficult to find a quality voice actor willing to take a chance on a new author.
With a PFH agreement, indie publishers pay according to the length of the finished product. These are seen as somewhat safer contracts than PRH, in which the publisher may be required to pay for hours of recording and re-recording to correct errors. Rates range from $50/pfh to $400/pfh, with more experienced voice actors charging more for their services. The industry average is about 9,300 spoken words hour, so a 100,000 word book should come out to 10.75 recorded hours. With a middle grade actor, that’s approx. $2,150 to produce an audio book.
Every author needs a professional headshot for their author page, press kits, and for use on their website. Depending on style and studio, a headshot will cost $150 to $500
Since our imaginary book is a 100,000 word novel, there is no cost for illustrations. Those writing graphic novels and children’s books, including family trees in memoirs, or providing maps for sci-fi and fantasy worlds must consider these costs when creating a project budget.
A professional book cover is an absolute must for indie publishers. On average, professional covers get 35% more clicks than DIY covers and more clicks means more sales.
Premade covers can be found for about $100. These are often rejected designs made for other projects and are typically only the front cover. Because every book needs three separate files: print, ebook, and a square for audio books and to use as a thumbnail on websites, expect to pay an additional $250 for someone to adjust that cover to your trim size. For just a little more money, it’s possible to get a cover designed specifically for your book.
99 Designs offers an ebook only options from $199 and both a print and ebook cover from $399.
Damonza offers package deals starting at $1070, which include: print cover (front, back, and spine), ebook cover, interior formatting for both print and ebook, barcode generation from your ISBN, and an image for marketing and promotion purposes.
Before committing to a cover, run a few preliminary designs through focus groups comprised of the book’s target audience. This will generate ideas of what is most likely to sell when the book is eventually published.
Learn more about book covers here: Book Cover 101
Those wishing to compete with traditional publishing houses must present themselves as a rival house (albeit a small one.) Think like a marketer and begin branding your business from the very first moment it’s created.
Branding starts with choosing a name. The name should define the company’s identity and resonate with the target audience. Search the Secretary of State’s database and the US Trademark Office to make sure the name isn’t already in use and make sure the url is available. In Idaho, registering with the SOS cost $101.
Once registered, obtain an EIN from the IRS. Good news: it’s free.
The same companies that create book covers can create publishing house logos for an additional fee. Logo creation will cost about $250 and is a necessary step before registering a trademark since all graphics associated with the business been to be included at the time of filing. It cost $350 to register a trademark.
Metadata enables indie publishers and authors to sell their books online by making them searchable. Basic metadata categories include:
- Story Information
- Author/Contributor Information
- Publisher Information
- Compound objects such as star ratings, etc
- Cataloguing Information
- Book Specifications
Of this list, cataloguing is the most important. Few authors know where or how to acquire LCCN/CIP Data, BISACs Codes, Primary Subject/Genre Categories, and lists of Keywords. The importance of this information cannot be overstated. Effective cataloguing metadata actually attracts readers by placing the book in competitive clusters of similar books, ensuring the book gets in front of the readers most likely to buy it. Expect to pay about $100 for good metadata.
Registering with Bowker
Registering with Bowker will ensure your book is listed in Books in Print. Every edition of a book needs its own barcode, so even if you only plan to publish one book, you will still need more than one ISBN. A block of 10 ISBNs costs $295, 100 costs $575, and 1000 costs $1500.
In addition to ISBNs, indie publishers can purchase barcodes directly from Bowker as well. Barcodes cost $25 each and are only needed for print copies. Those looking for a marketing tie-in can add a QR Code to their cover. This marketing tool directs readers to the book’s website for more information about the book, author, or publishing house. QR codes cost $25 each.
Protect your intellectual property by registering the copyright. Registering a claim of an original work of authorship with electronic filing for a single author, same claimant, one work, not for hire, cost $45. Paper filings cost $125.
See this post for more information: ISBNs, Copyrights, and Barcodes, Oh my!
Self-distribution and direct-to-consumer fulfillment allows indie authors to sell books directly to consumers through their author website. This maximizes royalties by cutting out the distribution chain and its associated fees. However, it has limited reach and requires indie publishers to handle all consignment agreements on their own and pay for a print run.
Print on Demand (POD) services, like Amazon and Lulu, offer books for sale on their platforms, increasing the author’s reach while still enabling them to purchase copies for their own self-distribution. However, book stores, libraries, schools, and other retail outlets will not purchase books for resale from these services.
Wholesalers sell to bookstores, libraries, schools, big box stores, grocery stores, gift shops, museums, and wholesale clubs. They make their money on volume, so they won’t stock a book unless it’s in high demand. Because wholesalers are unwilling to stock titles that may never sell, some wholesalers now offer POD services. This enables indie authors and publishers access to wholesalers by guarantying physical copies will be available without having to pay for an entire print run.
With over 25,000 US based bookseller accounts, Ingram is the largest book wholesaler in the United States, supplying books for Amazon, Barns & Noble, Indie Bound, Powell’s, libraries, schools, and other outlets. Books available through Ingram’s book printing division are automatically listed in their wholesale catalogue. They do not work with publishers who have fewer than 10 titles in print, unless you publish through IngramSpark.
It cost $25 to publish an ebook with Ingram or $49 to publish both print and ebooks. There is an additional $25 charged for each file change (to upload corrections, etc) and they require books be offered at a wholesaler discount, which is typically 55%. Also, printing costs are subtracted from net sales before distributing royalties. Printing costs vary by book length, number of special pages, type of binding, etc., but runs around $5 per book for a typical novel.
Find more information on book distribution here: Book Distribution: What are your options?
Every business needs a CPA. Familiarize yourself with the IRS Schedule C. Know what’s tax deductible, what counts a business expense and what doesn’t, and what items can be depreciated. Expect to pay $325 to $500, annually for accounting services.
Marketing is any action taken in order to sell books. Marketing starts with product development when using focus groups to decide on cover and layout designs. It continues in business development when choosing a logo and branding the business. In order to turn marketing into sales, indie publishers and authors need to engage in four things: developing their readership, acquire reviews, advertising, and hosting events.
Developing an active and engaged readership should begin three years prior to publication. This starts with website development, contest submissions, publishing other works, membership in professional organizations, and effective use of social media.
Website hosting and domain purchase will cost between $75 and $150, depending on whether the indie author and publisher wants to maintain one website or two. (One specific to the author and one specific to the publishing house.)
See this great post for more information: Building an Author Website
Contest entry fees, membership in professional organizations, conference attendance, travel and meals for speaking engagements can cost as much as another $2,000 depending on the level of resources an author wants to dedicate to these activities.
Those with cash to burn can easily spend $1,000 to have a book reviewed. Sites like Kirkus ($425), IndieReader ($275), and Reedsy Discovery ($50) are invaluable to unknown publishers because they guarantee a review. However, they do not guarantee the review will be favorable. In addition to these three popular organizations, look for another reputable review site specific to your genre.
It’s possible, albeit extremely difficult, for indie authors and publishers to acquire free reviews by mailing Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) to review sites. Printing 50 ARCs will cost about $337 including tax and shipping. These can be purchased directly from your printer for the cost of printing. The postage necessary to mail these to review sites will cost another $250.
Writing coach, Jane Friedman, says little known authors should forgo the temptation to mail out ARCs since the book is unlikely to be reviewed anyway. However, it is advisable to keep a few ARCs on hand for reviewers that specifically request them. Other ARCs can be sent to friends, fellow authors who you know well, local media outlets, and bookstores you wish to have carry your book.
Learn more about acquiring reviews here: Book Review 101
Advertising is an area where indie authors and self-publishers can find themselves in a spiral of increasing costs without seeing a similar increase in sales. Small publishers look for advertising methods that also come with small price tags and often foist promotion and marketing activities on to the authors themselves.
Those eager to stroke their egos might pay for a book trailer that can be uploaded to YouTube and shared across media platforms. However, if the author lacks an audience and dedicated readership, spending a lot of money on a professional book trailer that few people will see is an unwise investment.
Expect to spend $300 on printed media, such as business cards, bookmarks, posters, etc., to be handed out or used to attract attention at events.
Social Media Marketing (SMM) is a low-cost, low-risk way to reach a book’s target audience. The same company that created the book’s cover has the capabilities to create a targeted Facebook banner and additional images that can be used on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Common SMM costs includes:
- Facebook Banner, $75
- 1 or 2 Images for SMM posts, $30
- Facebook Ads, $20 and $50 each
The best way to get books in stores is to purchase advertising in the various trade catalogues that list books in print and are marketed directly to bookstores. Depending on publication and number of ads, expect to pay between $50 and $200 for print advertising.
Branded email announcements to use in direct marketing to bookstores, schools, and libraries cost about $75. Other forms of direct marketing include postcard mailers and book fact sheets. The graphic design, printing, and postage for these items can cost around $500 depending on how many are created and mailed.
Hosting a launch party is a great way to generate buzz. The size of the author’s following and amount of promotion leading up to the event are factors that will determine how many people will attend. Launch parties for to 20 to 50 guests will cost between $600 and $1,500 depending on venue, food & beverages, promotion, raffle items and/or author swag, and decorations. Of these costs, food & beverages will be the most expensive, especially if serving alcohol. The next most expensive item is venue. It’s possible to save money by partnering with a library or bookstore which might let you use their event space for free.
Even self-publishers should plan a book tour. Choose 2 or 3 bookstores that have some connection to the author or the book. (ex. Author’s home town or the town where the book was set.) If these locations are within comfortable driving distance, travel and meals should cost no more than $300.
In addition to the standard book signing events, plan on participate in an online book tour. Dedicated tour companies connect authors with blogs whose interest aligns with the book. Depending on the number of blog stops, this will cost anywhere from $20 to $400.
Putting It All Together
A small to mid-sized publishing house might spend over $50,000 to publish a book. Big houses can easily spend hundreds of thousands. This makes it very difficult for self-published authors to compete in the book market.
Summary of Product Development Cost:
Editing, $2,000 to $27,240
Formatting, $325 to $9,300
Graphics, $500 to $1,500
Summary of Business Development Cost:
Registering with the Secretary of State, $101 (Idaho)
Logo Creation $250
Trademark Registration, $350
ISBNs, Barcodes, and QR Codes, $320 to $1,550
Copyright Registration, $45
Warehouse/Distributor Fees (up-front cost only) $25 to $74
Accountant, $325 to $500
Summary of Marketing Costs:
Developing Readership, $175 to $2,200
Acquiring Reviews, $170 to $1,300
Advertising (Print & SMM), $520 to $4,220
Events, $1,000 to $2,200
Publishing a book is a business decision. The least an indie-publisher can expect to spend and still release a decent product is about $6,000. With the median book-related income for self-publishers being just $1,951 annually, this is money that many will never recoup. Given the expenses involved, it’s important to set a budget that’s right for you and to stick to it. Treat publishing like any other expensive hobby. The greatest rewards are unlikely to be monetary, but seeing your book in print will bring joy and a sense of accomplishment nonetheless.
*This information was presented in a workshop at the 2021 Palouse Writers Festival on June 26, 2021.
About the Author:
Khaliela Wright earned her master’s degree in economics from Washington State University. Combining her love of books and business, she founded the Palouse Writers Guild with the goal of bringing professional development to authors, championing indie books sales, and helping self-publishers navigate the business side of writing. When not immersed in business and economic statistics for work, she writes feature articles and columns as a freelancer. Khaliela lives in rural Idaho and delights in being anything but the quintessential small-town girl.