Does Self-Publishing Cost Money?

I often get asked, "Does self-publishing cost money?"

Short answer: Yes.

But it's a bonafide question asked by aspiring authors, coaches, consultants, experts, bloggers, entrepreneurs, business owners, and yes, indie authors.

While we sit at our keyboards typing away, it's easy to "think" that we're not spending money, but as my dad always said,

"Time is money, so don't waste it."

If you have that penchant for a "do-it-yourself" project in an effort to save time and money, then I'm pretty darned sure that self-publishing a book is on your mind.

To understand the "Does self-publishing cost money" question, you need to know what the world of self-publishing is all about.

Taking Care of Business

When you do it yourself you have to take care of everything, from writing to editing, and cover design to marketing. In the traditional publishing arena, they take care of all of that - and of course, it's not free.

Editors at workEditors at work
Created with Midjourney

They have professional editors on staff who know your market. They know how to publish books. Indie authors don't have that insider knowledge.

But try as you might to go it alone, if you think you don't need an editor, think again. Look, at the very least, have someone other than yourself read your work when you're first starting out.

Try not to take their criticism personally (easier said than done, I know).

Just keep in mind that they're trying to help! It doesn't mean you have to go along with everything your editor says (casting a sideways glance to see if my hubby is watching me type this).

So does self-publishing cost money? Yes, but if you use Grammarly or ProWritingAid to check your work, you'll save money in the long run.

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover! Say what?

George Eliot in his book, "The Mill on the Floss" written back in 1860 said, "Don't judge a book by its cover." It's something I absolutely totally emphatically disagree with.

Of course, we ALL judge a book by its cover (and its tagline). If the cover passes our "eye scan test," we then move on to read its description... but back to the cover: Professionally designed covers range from $50 to $200, depending on your designer.

Visit Fiverr or 99 Designs. Also, check out Upwork and Freelancer. Other outfits like Reedsy, along with BookBaby, offer custom book cover design services.

KDP themselves have their own cover-creator tool if you feel like having a go.  It is, admittedly, a pretty basic tool.

Before you even attempt to get a cover created by you or someone else, you must have an idea in mind of what you want it to represent; the book's genre (thriller, mystery, crime, love, how-to) all needs to be expressed to your designer beforehand. They are not mind readers.

Give them a good starting point so you're not paying for unnecessary do-overs.

Regarding using stock images: Make sure you have the 'rights' to use them. The best way to ensure that is to buy the stock image yourself, and then allow your graphic artist to work with it.

With the advent of AI-Art generation, of course, you can do it yourself... and create outstanding covers. At this moment in time, there is no copyright claim to the goods to be made by the AI-output app, or by the end user.

What do I mean by that?

Let's say it another way; if you don't give these AI-Art apps a prompt (tell them what to do), then they can't produce anything. But without the AI-Art app, your prompt that's in your head is useless and remains in your head! Neither party can claim 'copyright.' Again, this is how it stands, right now in late 2023.

You'll notice that on my Midjourney images, I do give credit to Midjourney by adding "Created with Midjourney" beneath the image. "With" is the operative word. It's not created BY Midjourney but WITH Midjourney.

The Dreaded "F" Word...

Let's not forget the "F" word, "Formatting." It is often the hardest part of writing a book, IMHO. Paying for formatting is well worth the fee of $50 to $200 if you're always getting frustrated with formatting.

I love using Vellum, I write directly into it sometimes! Vellum = Pain-Free Formatting.

Formatting a book - open bookFormatting a book - open book
Created with Midjourney

If you're adept at using Microsoft Word, then you're lucky. If you hate using MS Word, you're not alone - so I really do think that forking out the bucks for your book's formatting is money well spent.

ISBN Numbers for Paperback Books

As mentioned in this post titled, "Self-Publishing on Amazon KDP," I mention ISBN numbers and how KDP gives you a free ISBN number, but it's an additional cost if you do not want to commit 100% to Amazon's KDP platform.

Some say you don't need an ISBN number for paperbacks but I disagree. ISBN numbers now use a 13-digit numbering system (used to be 10 digits) and must be printed on the back cover of the paperback plus on your copyright page.

The ISBN number is used for book ordering, inventory, and tracking.

Pumpkin Patch rear book cover showing ISBN imprint areaPumpkin Patch rear book cover showing ISBN imprint area
Pumpkin Patch interior showing ISBN on copyright pagePumpkin Patch interior showing ISBN on copyright page

There is a cost to purchase an ISBN number if you don't want the freebie one from Amazon KDP, meaning if you don't want to publish your book on Amazon's platform.

The average cost is $125 to get one ISBN number in the US.

Buying in bulk lowers the cost. Check out the "ISBN Services" home page (and the chart above by book images) where they offer a custom ISBN for $110. 

For a basic ISBN, for 25 or more, you can get them for as little as $12.99 each but take note of where you CANNOT use them, namely: KDP print editions, Lulu, Amazon Seller Central/FBA, IngramSpark/Lightening Source.

Also take note that with the "Basic ISBN," the Publisher name at "Books in Print" will have "Primedia eLaunch LLC" listed as "publisher."

How Much Does it Cost to Self-Publish?

So, how much does it cost to self-publish? A rough estimate might be between $1,000 to $3,000 for an eBook; creating a paperback version will add to your bottom line of course.

When formatting for an eBook, your content is like one single strip so it can resize/flow to any device's screen size. The chapter headings create the necessary formatting "breaks."

The fluidity of eBooks can be frustrating, but that's also the beauty of eBooks. eBook costs are calculated on their file size for electronic delivery to readers.

Paperbacks, on the other hand, are rigid in their layout and provide fussy folks like me the power to have a book laid out exactly as I want.

Printing costs obviously factor into the overall paperback costs and using a "Print on Demand" service will help keep your costs down because you've no inventory to worry about. The length and overall trim size of your paperback book determine everything.

I can't put a set price on marketing and promotion; it's totally up to you how much you want to invest/spend. Really, you could spend nothing and rely on social media and word-of-mouth, but to be honest, that will only get you so far.

You can spend hundreds, or thousands of dollars on professional marketing services, and book tours (if you're so inclined), and take advantage of good old advertising on the likes of Amazon's AmazonAds platform if your book is at KDP.

Does Self-Publishing Cost Money and is
Self-Publishing Worth It?

If you're wondering, "Is self-publishing worth it?" it all depends on what your end goal is. If you want to retain control of the whole process and reach your audience faster, then yes, it's worth it. Plus, you could potentially earn more per book sold!

Bear in mind when asking "Does self-publishing cost money?" that it's not just about "the cost," it's about the necessary time and effort needed to take your project from start to finish.

Do you have time to do the formatting, editing, proofreading, and design of your book? Not to mention the marketing time factor... be honest with yourself.

Most of us starting out don't have the backing of a big publishing house and I know the process of doing it (all) yourself can seem overwhelming at first. But you know you eat an elephant one bite at a time.

Get your book written, format it as best you can, have someone you know read it over, make necessary changes, and yes, that is simplifying the process. But, there's no need to over-complicate things, right?

If you love taking online courses, there are plenty of those on Udemy et al. The thing is, you are probably better off devouring all the "help pages" at KDP itself. Everything you need to know is "in there," like Ragu. Plus, their "help pages" are up-to-date on Amazon.

Control your Costs if You're Wondering:
"Does Self-Publishing Cost Money..."

When you self-publish you maintain control of your costs. Yes, you can do many tasks yourself to save money - or hire a professional to make sure your book is of the highest quality. You need to find and recognize a balance.

if you think you're a great writer, but aren't as adept at design, go on Fiverr et al and hire someone with the cover design and interior formatting experience.

Conversely, if you're a skilled designer but need help with the writing, then a skilled editor is the way forward. Either way, you'll still have the marketing aspect to wrangle with.

While self-publishing isn't free, it's pretty cheap, all things considered. Don't forget that you're making an investment in yourself. And you'll reap larger royalties by doing it yourself. You set your own book price and keep a much larger percentage of the profits.

What happens if you don't like marketing or haven't a clue? Use Amazon Ads, or take advantage of BookBub and buy an ad. They are not cheap at BookBub, and getting an ad on their platform is not guaranteed to bring back the big bucks either, as they are pretty picky as to who gets that prime advertising spot.

Note that there are two sides to the BookBub coin, the "reader" side, and the "author" side. The link for BookBub is for the author/partner side.

Other Business Avenues

There are indeed many successful self-published authors who have earned decent amounts of income. But success in self-publishing, like any other business, requires hard work, skill - and a bit of luck.

Consider the longevity of your book; a self-published book can be "on the shelf" forever whereas the large publishing houses might only have your book available for a limited time.

Don't forget that your self-published book can open doors to speaking opportunities, consulting services, or other business ventures. To me, it's a worthwhile investment if you're an aspiring author with a story to tell, or knowledge to impart.

Stop wondering about it. Just do it.

Thanks for stopping by to read 'Does self-publishing cost money.'

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Susan Gast created this website to showcase her puzzle books and other fiction and non-fiction books she's written and produced since 2012. Read Susan's story here.

Since 1980, Susan's involvement in publishing - in one form or another - led her to create "reviews" of products related to the publishing industry. She realized it was time to explain how she created all those books and got them to market.

Since 2010, Susan has also owned and operated Easy Food Dehydrating where she is featured on the Mother Earth News blog, and on Solo Build It (SBI). Read her first SBI interview and her second SBI interview.

The sites mentioned are hosted by the amazing team at Solo Build It!

Do you want to send Susan a quick message? Visit her contact page here.

She'd love to hear from you!

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