Self-Publishing A Book: Compare & Contrast The Costs

Jul 5, 2024 | Ghostwriting

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With publishing a book, getting the story right is just the beginning. While a gargantuan task, one worthy of reward, there is still a lot of work to do. You need to make the choice on how you’ll bring your story to market, self-publishing a book or traditional, and one of those factors is cost.

If you have not yet looked at the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing, you can read all about it here, in this blog. Something I merely touched on in that article, however, was the cost associated. We live in a pay to play world and publishing is no different.

In this blog, I’ll go into detail about what you can expect to pay in the terms of money (and time, sometimes) to get your book to market. In other blogs, I’ve looked at the basic differences between these two routes. If you’re even considering self-publishing a book, check out this blog.

Self-Publishing A Book Costs

In self-publishing a book, cost is one of the fundamental barriers to entry. In this model, authors are acting like their own publishing house. This means they incur all the financial burden of actual publication.

What does that look like? Well, broken down a self-publishing author might expect to pay the following to get their book out.

*Book cover: $200-500

*Editing: $1,000+

*Proofreading: $500

*Book layout and design: $400

These numbers are rough estimates (although these are estimates within the range of what I paid for my last book releases). On the lower end, a self-publishing author could expect to pay close to $2,100 to get their book out. 

Where can you find these services? I recommend new authors look at Reedsy.

self-publishing a book costs money

How To Save On Self-Publishing A Book

One thing I like to preach to new authors is how to be resourceful. If $2,100 is a financial strain, diving in for all the most expensive, professional resources might not be right.

There are ways to be a resourceful writer even when self-publishing a book.

I think start with the most expensive item: editing. The resourceful writer respectfully bypasses professional editing, shifting their attention to other means of receiving feedback. I’m talking about writer’s groups, critique circles, beta readers and swaps. In these scenarios, you’re receiving feedback on your manuscript, but you’re paying with time instead of hard earned money.

Another way to save money, I’m looking at the cover costs now, is shopping for pre-made covers. Custom designed covers get you precisely what you want down to the details, they can cost in the upper reaches of the quoted price range. Instead, every cover designer that I know offers a gallery of pre-made covers on their site. Yes, you lose the custom aspect, but the savings of 50 and up to 75% off of that top shelf cost might be too much to handle.

You need book layout, but should you really pay a designer to do it? If you’re the least bit tech savvy, purchase a book design program and create the books yourself. The savings? Well, at $400 a pop for design, you can own the lifetime license to a user-friendly program for $200.

Traditional Publishing Costs

The idea that traditional book publishing doesn’t cost an author anything is just a myth. Publishing is an uber-competitive marketplace, meaning, any path to the top of the best seller list is costly.

But traditional publishing is, when compared to self-publishing, less about an outlay of money. Instead, authors seeking traditional publishing spend their resources in terms of time and learning. 

Traditional publishing requires a great deal of knowledge. You need to know how to write a killer query letter to hook an agent. You need to know the market, at least well-enough to discern which of those agents are buying books. Nobody sends out blanket letters.

Well, let me rephrase that. No one who publishes a book.

The next time cost is around waiting on responses. You generate a list of ideal agents, send out ten well-written letters and await responses. Maybe you tweak your query letter, generate a new list of agents (still ideal, I hope) and see what happens. Then, if you’re lucky, you move into the waiting game that comes from meetings and offers. 

Financial costs for traditionally published authors are more a matter of choice. A great way to get an agent interested in you and your book is by attending conferences. Conference admissions, travel, agent pitches, hotels and potential bar tabs can add up.

searching for the right self-publishing provider

How To Save On Traditional Publishing Costs

In my experience, I don’t know how the author seeking traditional publishing cuts up-front costs. Avoiding conferences is a strategy, however, it extends the cost in terms of time. It also takes away one of the most effective methods for reaching your ideal audience. 

If anything, I think savings here come by being efficient. Take the time to really understand the market you seek to enter. Only send your query to the right editors and agents. The scattershot approach, which a lot of new authors take on their way up, may seem more effective because it covers more ground, but it’s rife with problems because it is imprecise. 

The Cost Bottom Line To Self Publishing A book

Self-publishing versus traditional.

Time versus money.

When it comes down to matters of upfront costs like money and time, you may need to choose which one of those you’re willing to spend. If you have some money to invest up-front, then maybe self-publishing will work for you. If you have time, the wherewithal and patience to learn then by all means, go after the traditional market.

Here is an X-Factor though (I love those odd little intangible areas authors don’t think about).

Royalties. Maybe the factor you need to think about is royalties.

Let me explain.

I believe it’s wise to make business financial decisions based on two factors: money going out (which we’ve described) as well as the money coming in. Without getting too deep into the weeds, while self-publishing authors do not receive an advance for their work (and fewer first time, traditionally published authors do now) they recoup a larger percentage of their royalties per unit.

Here is a basic illustration:

A traditionally published fiction eBook at $4.99 might earn the author 15%; or what amounts to $.75 per unit song. This varies based on the agreed upon royalty schedule, but the percentage is typical. The self-published eBook at the same price would earn the author the Amazon standard of 70% minus fees. Call that royalty $3.00 per unit.

The difference here is profound and one that you need to consider. There are a lot of other moving pieces (too many to name) but the wisdom is to look at the distribution of money on both sides.