How much does it cost to create a book that’s ready to self-publish? This question is nearly impossible to answer since it varies greatly from project to project and author to author. I’m happy to pull back the curtain on just how much it cost to publish my debut novel, The Dreadful Objects. You, dear reader have the benefit of learning from my mistakes. In this post series, I’ll share my experiences Kickstarting my first novel, from initial planning to order fulfillment and book launch. When I began this process, all I had was a finished unedited manuscript and a dream of one day seeing my book out in the wild.
Disclaimer: There is no “right” way to self-publish a book. These are merely my experiences. You’re mileage may vary, and we may have different publishing goals. Either way, I hope you find my experiences helpful in your self-publishing journey.
Cover Art and Formatting - $600
Recall your last trip to a bookstore or browsing session on the Kindle store. If you were browsing for a new book to read, how did you find it? Read the back matter of every book in the store? No—if you’re like me, you chose a genre, browsed for a book with a cool cover, then checked the summary to see if it interested you. The cover may not make your book, but it can certainly break it. It’s the first thing a potential buyer sees. This means an awesome cover is critical, especially if you’re self-publishing. Avoid the free cover creator tools on sites like Createspace and pay a pro to design one for you, if you can afford to. The same goes for typesetting. You can do it yourself, but things get tricky when formatting for the various online publishing platforms. You certainly don’t want the reader to have a poor experience because of technical glitches or poorly formatted prose. If you’d prefer to format yourself, check out a tool like Vellum.
Personally, I paid $600 for cover art and typesetting for both print and digital formats, but completely custom cover artwork can cost even more, depending on what you’re looking for. If I’d chosen digital only, the cost would have been $400 or so, but there are several big benefits to having physical copies of your books available. Book reviewers—especially those of the Instagram variety—are much more likely to review physical books. Physical books also give you something to show off at events, even if your primary sales come from ebooks.
Before you choose a designer, be sure to check out their portfolio, which should be available via their website or upon request. Here’s what my cover looks like, and I’m pretty pleased:
Before you come up with an initial cover concept, take a look at other books in your genre. What are the trends in their cover designs? If your cover doesn’t match your genre, your book sales may suffer. This goes without saying, but it’s also important your cover matches the story inside.
Professional Editing - $1000
Really—don’t publish your book without having it professionally edited. This means hiring a real honest-to-God editor, not passing your manuscript to a friend for a quick read through. Editing costs are typically charged by the word, and my first book was just over 60,000.
What are the types of editing?
Content Edit - This is a high level edit of the story that identifies plot holes, character issues, and addresses overall story quality and flow. This made up 1/3 of my editing costs, but I think it’s well worth the splurge. I’ve rewritten major portions of The Dreadful Objects and my unpublished manuscript based on feedback from content edits. Typically, I give myself several months to address comments from the content edit.
Line Edit - Line edits are just that. The editor will go through the story and makes comments line by line, addressing more granular issues like sentence structure and punctuation. These edits can also include story notes, continuity issues, and character issues, but your manuscript should be in pretty good shape before sending it off for line edits.
Proofread - Proofreads are designed to catch spelling and grammar errors as well as typos.
If you’re sending your manuscript to an editor, you should at least pay for detailed line edits and a proofread. The content edit is optional, but I learned so much from feedback, and my finished works are much better because of it.
ISBN Numbers - $300 - What is an ISBN? An ISBN is an International Standard Book Number. Who knew an ISBN costs money? I sure didn’t. If you’re publishing a paperback and ebook for wide release, you’ll want a number for each. You can purchase numbers for $150 each or a block of ten for $300. You can get free numbers from services like Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), but these come with limitations. If you want your book to be widely available, you’ll definitely want ISBN numbers. I ended up buying a block of 10 ISBN numbers, but this was a surprise cost for which I didn’t plan.
Note, if you only plan to publish an ebook via Amazon, you won’t need to buy an ISBN number at all.
So, there you have it. I was able to produce my book for approximately $1900, but I could have done so for as little as $1200, without ISBN numbers and the extra content edit. Great! I needed $1900. The problem—I didn’t even have the $1600 I planned for. The solution—Kickstarter. In the upcoming series of posts, I’ll discuss why I chose Kickstarter and how I used the platform to build an audience from scratch and raise the money needed to publish The Dreadful Objects. Your homework—take a look at my Kickstarter project page.