Thursday, December 24, 2009

How much does it cost to self-publish a book?

Vanity presses usually charge from $199 to $10,000 or even more for their "publishing packages."

The chart below based on recent personal experience shows the estimated minimum costs to publish a 200-page "trade paperback" book (without buying any new software) as a "real" self-publisher, using Lightning Source to print on demand.

I recommend that you budget about $1,000 - $1,200 so you have some reserve to print several generations of corrected proofs if necessary, and can afford to send out news releases and review copies.

If you can't "format" the interior pages yourself, you can hire a designer to develop a style for you to follow, or to format the pages for you. This could cost hundreds or thousands. Many self-publishers format their own pages with Microsoft Word. Some of these books look fine, but many are terrible (mostly because of the limitations of the person, not the software).

If you must publish at the lowest-possible cost, you can skip the ISBN, the copyright registration, the editor and designer, the professional photograph, and the proof. This way you can publish a book for an initial cost of about $87 using Lightning Source or $0 with Lulu or CreateSpace -- but the book will probably be terrible and no one will read it.



  1. This is a big help. I could not get this information anywhere else. Thanks, Michael.

  2. Michael, you're unrealistically optimistic if you think a book that will mount successful sales can be produced for the amounts you mention.

    First of all, one needs to develop a marketing plan that allows for reaching an audience beyond the 100 or so family members, friends, and acquaintances that will make up the 100 or so sales one might best expect from a self-published book. But beyond that, one must have a grasp of hw tough the book market is under the most ideal of circumstances.

    Self-publishing has a tougher row to hoe than ideal circumstances.

    It is important to have a cover that attracts potential readers, one that makes a promise about what those readers will find inside, both as far as content and appearance go. After professional editing and copy editing ($200 is laughble for a professional copy editor) this is done via a complex melange of typefaces, page size, page proportions, and page makeup. It's not neurosurgery, but it IS a serious artform.

    A $6 photograph, certainly affordable, will get a self-publishing author a stock photo that anyone can purchase and that can show up in any number of other online or print publications (precisely because it is so affordable, essentially, "everyone's photo for a pittance").

    But while I really think you do an unintended injustice when you give people such barebones numbers--they might as well burn that amount of money for all the likely results they'll get--I think, by raising the issue, you begin a very worthwhile discussion. I commend you for that.

  3. To Stephen:

    (1) I'm not unrealistically optimistic. I've done it. I also said "minimum" and the word was in italics to emphasize it.

    (2) For marketing, I suggested up to $600 above production costs -- which could cover review copies and sending out PR releases. It would not cover a 40-city book tour.

    I spent $360 to send out a press release for my most recent book, and have also promoted it myself without laying out any money. As of today, there are nearly 16,000 Google links for the title, and my book has been holding steady with the number-three position for an appropriate keyword search in Google Shopping. It has also been on two Amazon bestseller lists for business books.

    (3) My $200 estimate for copyediting a 200-page book is not laughable. I've used two experienced professional copyeditors, and both were perfectly willing to accept one dollar per page.

    The artist who does my covers also works for a basic fee of $200. If I request big changes, I pay more. Cover design should probably not be a "complex melange of typefaces, page size, page proportions, and page makeup." I dictate the page size as 6 x 9 inches and suggest the layout, content elements and sometimes fonts and colors, and then the pro takes over. We typically go through four revisions per book cover. An artist or designer who is expected to come up with original concepts, rather than work with my concept, should charge more. I function as the basic cover designer, but I lack the talent to be the artist who produces the finished product.

    (4) While a stock photo does not provide exclusivity, it can provide quality and suitability; and with the millions of available photos, the chance of duplication on a similar book is low. The least I paid for a cover shot was $6, the highest was about $150. I'm very pleased with both.

    (5) I stand by the accuracy of my numbers. They are not nearly as "barebones" as the vanity presses that advertise $199 publishing packages or "free self-publishing."

  4. That proposed budget is ridiculous. $200 for copyediting "a book"? First, you're making the assumptions that the book does not need much more than proofreading (often not true, even with books accepted by larger publishers), that it's 200 printed pages long (not double-spaced manuscript pages), and that the copyeditor works for $1/page.

    I've been an editor for over 25 years. Even back in the 1980s $1/page for _double-spaced_ manuscript pages that needed only very light editing was payment for freelancers who were either really hungry, or so fast they could make that level of payment work for them. And, even back in the 1980s, I was earning more than that. You're budgeting the typical editor for about 5 hours of work on a typical book needing a medium level of edit. No one can edit (even badly) anywhere near that fast. Let alone a longer book . . . my longest book is over 750 printed pages.

    $200 for cover design? Not only is that rock bottom, is the book interior just designing itself? Does using Word somehow mean no one needs to choose margins or fonts or anything? Or to design a table of contents, a title page, and other front matter and back matter that differs from the body of the text?

    Illustrations--many books need illustrations specific to the book, and they have to be paid for.

    As for printing (and why, exactly, does it have to be by Lightning Source, even if POD?), the POD cost per unit is actually higher than for offset. Offset seems to cost more because the publisher may have to fork out $10,000 or $20,000 up front, but if the same number of books sell, POD costs more. And, if you're trying to sell a book, you want to sell as many copies as possible.

    Are self-published books somehow never translated, or indexed?

    What about marketing costs?

    I agree with you that the money paid to subsidy presses is a waste. They not only charge at a rock-bottom level for services such as cover design, they barely deliver even those services. But, it's just not true that a good, salable-quality book can be self-published at the same cost as a subsidy press book, let alone for less.

    I've cycled several hundred thousand dollars through my business over the course of almost 16 years. Even though I've done most of my work DIY and otherwise, spent conservatively. And I've made a profit. But, it is misleading to tell self-publishers who plan to sell their books outside their circle of family and friends, that it is either easy or cheap.

  5. To Frances:

    You are not reading carefully. I said the numbers were MINIMUMS, and for a 200-pg book.

    (1) The buck-per-page for copyediting was based on formatted pages with an average of 330 words per page and what turned out to be one correction every three or four pages. The editors examined my manuscript before agreeing to the price. My shortest book was 318 pages, and each book received multiple paid-for edits. Neither editor complained about the fee. Both editors said the work took less than one minute per page, which is pretty much the same as a $50-per-hour fee which they would have acepted.

    (2) My books did not require extensive editing. Some books do. I was writing about my experience.

    (3) $200 was the minimum fee I agreed to pay to my cover artist for each book. With my requested modifications, each book ended up costing over $300. I paid $50 per hour for extra work. That's certainly not slave labor.

    (4) I have some educational and employment background in graphic arts. I designed and formatted my own interiors. My interiors won't win any beauty contests, but they look a lot better -- and are more readable -- than many "professional" books I've bought.

    (5) Yes many books need interior illustrations. Many do not. I used either photos I took, charts I made, or photos I paid for or got permission to use or were in public domain.

    (6) About printing: I like POD because there is no inventory of obsolete books and no returns from bookstores.

    (7) T this stage I'm not interested in translation, and I can do my own indexing.

    (8) You said, "What about marketing costs?" I recommended a minimum of about $600 for review copies and press release distribution. Some marketing costs nothing but time.