How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book in 2021?

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From ReedsyBlog:

Writing and publishing a book is one of the most rewarding things you can do in life. As an author, you create something beautiful and unique that readers will cherish forever. But once you finish writing, you might be curious how to get your book out into the world — and perhaps more importantly, how much will it cost to publish?

Luckily, this post is dedicated to answering that very query. Here we’ve broken down the cost of self-publishing by type and quality of service, so you can know exactly what you’re getting for your money.

. . . .

How much does it cost to publish a book?

The cost to publish a book depends on a) the length of the book and b) the level of quality you want. Most authors spend $2,000-$4,000 to self-publish their books — this includes editing, cover design, formatting, and marketing services.

Of course, if you just want to get your book out there, you can always format it for free and use Amazon’s self-publishing platform to make it available within 72 hours! For many people, writing the book is the greatest reward, and publishing is more of a formality.

But if you want to actually sell your book, you’ll need to invest in some high-quality services — otherwise, you have no chance of competing with traditionally published books. Yes, you can pick and choose which services to splurge on, but you can’t deny that certain things (like a strong cover design) are absolutely essential to book sales.

Link to the rest at ReedsyBlog

Based on a handful of reports, PG believes that Reedsy and the people who work there are straight-shooters and provide real value to many indie authors.

That said, one of Reedsy’s principle services is connecting professional editors, cover designers, etc., with authors who need their services.

Indie authors, just like any other group, vary in their levels of competence and talent. While there is definitely something to be said for getting third-party input when writing a book, at least some indie authors may be able to acquire the third-party help they require from friends and relatives without hiring a professional to assist.

As an additional point, regarding sow’s ears and silk purses, no amount of editorial work will save a manuscript if the author is unable to tell a compelling story in writing.

11 thoughts on “How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book in 2021?”

  1. The indies that I know eliminate the majority of those expenses. Top to bottom:

    $1,400 for developmental editing. Most of the writers I know have a network of trusted beta readers, who pick up just about everything that a developmental editor will. A few trade manuscripts with other experienced writers. (Developmental editing is one thing that very, very few people can manage solo – they have planted every tree, and thus have difficulty with seeing the forest that they have created.)

    $1,000 for copy editing. Much the same solution as the first, although it takes a rather more specialized mindset. However, some of us are perfectly capable of doing this task solo.

    $700 for proofreading. See prior.

    $300 – $1,500 for cover design. Many writers are also excellent cover artists; in fact, that is another income stream for them. Some of us can get by on our own talents, in a limited fashion (I can manage so long as there are no humans in the cover – which means that I’m going to pay one of those artists for novels.)

    $500 – $1,000 for formatting. Ebooks I do my own on, thank you very much. (As a former web developer, I simply convert to HTML, edit in that format, and then generate the final product.) There would be a learning curve for dead paper product – but just about everyone I know that offers that format also does their own. The software to aid in this (Vellum, etc.) is apparently quite powerful, and reasonably priced (also a capital purchase, which amortizes if you do more than one book).

    $50 – $1,000 for marketing. Now, here is one place that the majority of writers truly need help. Major help, in most cases (my own among them). So that is a reasonable cost to consider, whether through Reedsy or other vendors. (I have noticed, though, that there are a few writers who are also wizards at marketing. They also tend to increase their revenue streams by cooperative ventures with other writers – they take a piece of the much enlarged pie, rather than a fixed fee. I expect more of this to happen, as the wizard then has buy-in.)

    I do notice that there is no mention of audio books. This is a major revenue stream for many indies – and a process that I don’t know a single writer also able to do (well) – and also still a major cost. Does Reedsy offer this as one of their services?

  2. I think Dean Wesley Smith would have something pithy to say about this article, as no doubt his good wife/partner Kristine Kathryn Rusch would too.

    I point everybody at, “Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing.”

    So while I agree that there are some costs, and some writers will need more professional help than other, if you want to save money then check out Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing.

  3. Yep. I get cover image art from a professional (background and ornamental fonts/decorations if any), but I do all the cover layout work for all the formats including marketing. Everything else is either already in my wheelhouse (long-term computer professional) or I’ve learned how to do (like the various forms of editing, a la Dean Wesley Smith etc.).

    I’ve even produced an audiobook as a “Narrated by author” (using a professional recording studio). I have a reasonable voice for it (minor radio experience) — certainly a pro would be much better (and a lot more expensive) but this was an experiment to see if I thought the potential income was reasonable for my line of books (and I decided that, no, not yet if ever — audience for my work not large enough and percentage receipts too small). It was clear, however, that I could do the whole process myself, with my own equipment, at a reasonable one-time cost (unless I got a professional narrator involved). It costs money and time to make experiments, but you have to do that in business.

    Now I do feel for the people who can’t produce the ebook themselves (via HTML conversion and products like Sigil) — that is a technical specialty that can be difficult for the neophyte. But print layout according to the appropriate rules should be learnable by anyone who’s committed to using a word processor.

    Yes, there is a learning curve. But the job is “Indie Publisher”, not “Indie Writer”, and the more of the publishing skills you can add to your authorial ones, the better economic sense it makes.

    For business analysis, it’s important to track these costs, even if it’s just your own labor (at a putative hourly rate compared to a wage-earning job), so that you can see the “real” cost of writing and publishing a book, and how receipts over time compare to the (mostly one-time) cost of production. It helps you make economic decisions, such as “make as many bundles from existing work as possible, since they cost so little to produce compared to the original work creation and publication”.

    • “…But the job is “Indie Publisher”, not “Indie Writer”, and the more of the publishing skills you can add to your authorial ones, the better economic sense it makes.

      Yes indeed.

  4. There has always been a bit of virtue signalling among a subset of independent authors. They see their expressed willingness to mimic the cost centers of traditional publishing as evidence of their “real writer” status. It separates the “professional writer” from the despised amateurs who take a different path to the same or better results.

    Do it my way, or you won’t be like me.

  5. I live with people who NOTICE formatting in paper books. They have been known to open a self-pubbed book and identify the word processor used by the writer because the formatting is so distinctive. But it’s not always self-pubbed, sometimes it’s a supposed professional publisher. These observations are always accompanied by grumbles that the book is harder to read than one with normal layout.

    And then there are the fortunately few examples of professionally published books where something weird happened between the word processor and the printed paper where the text size varies depending on the page; or has variable spacing between the lines and margins… which induce migraines in some readers, one of whom I live with. We just identified that as a problem in one, in fact. British book, printed about 20 years ago, publisher MacDonald, which is not one I’m familiar with. I took a ruler and straightedge to the book just to confirm what the kid was telling me. Yep, the kid was right.
    I recall another we tossed because the text wasn’t straight on the page. Again, migraine inducing.

    Page layout matters and is worth doing right. But there are now programs that will do much of it for you, and there’s really no excuse. Some readers do notice and with some issues it can truly affect readability.

    I read mostly ebooks these days, and mostly formatting problems don’t come up. There’s the occasional book – IME always nonfiction – where the idiot publisher just made page images of the paper copy and called it an ebook. No, no, no. The problems start with the text being unreadably small and, of course, non-resizeable because it wasn’t made as a proper ebook. I report those to Amazon and get my money back.

  6. Interesting to see a breakout of actual numbers on the different aspects of self-publishing these days. Keep in mind, of course, that this is from an entity (Reedsy) whose goal is to “bridge uniting authors and publishing freelancers” to account for these costs (“$2k-$4k/book”). And take a 20% cut of those costs (10% from author, 10% from freelancer).

    Here’s what it costs me do this for my 50-60k books (ebook + ppbk)…
    * Dev Editing: I hire an experienced developmental editor in my genres. This is the one thing I want other pro eyes on. But I also use (free) Beta readers for extra input. Cost: $500.
    * Other Editing: I do it myself, changing my shirt color. On top of my years of editing experience, I also use the available software programs out there. If typos or problems crop up down the road, I just fix them and re-upload. Cost: $0.
    * Cover Design: Do it all myself. Years of design experience. Use Photoshop and InDesign, and buy stock art as needed. Total cost: ~$50.
    * Formatting: I code all ebooks in HTML, outputting to epub. Cost: $0.
    * Book Marketing: Do it all myself (spent years in marketing). All ads (Amazon, BookBub, Facebook) are either money makers or are loss-leaders for down-the-road sales. Cost: $0, but I’ll appy $50 to cover any failed experiments.
    So total cost per book: ~$600.
    Resulting total control: priceless.

    And I totally agree with Karen Myers above who says “…the job is ‘Indie Publisher’, not ‘Indie Writer’”. For me, I identify myself as an “Indie Author/Publisher.” The Publishing part is in the description and comes with the territory.

    NOTE: your mileage will certainly vary.

  7. Overbroad reccomendations are a staple of publishing “guides”.
    Totally neglecting that people in general and writers in particular are all very different from each other. Doesn’t matter if their prices are “fair” or not if they aren’t actually needed by the specific author.

    People who do their homework, as pointed out above, can reduce or elliminate most if not all those OP “needs”.

    As industries evolve they tend to transfer the received wisdom of an earlier phase to the new one, long past the point of its value. For decades auto manufacturers farmed out bodywork to established coach builders instead of designing their output as a single product done inhouse. Eventually they learned better. Likewise, early TV dramas were filmed theatrical productions: one set, one camera. Examples abound.

    The practices of tradpubs with their assembly line of specialists don’t necessarily apply to a cottage industry like Indie publishing. The biggest win of indiepub is control and the more you farm out the less control you have.

    Like so many things publishing related folks should consider their own specific needs, skills, and preferences. And beware generalizations.

  8. Also, you have the “business” mindset where every business “cost” is tax deductible. That requires the book actually make a “profit” in a three year period, otherwise it’s a “hobby” not a “business”.

    In that “business” mindset, all that money spent is paid for by the business and the tax deduction, so as long as the books are generating money, that “business cost” doesn’t cost them personally.

    People charge such high rates for their services because they expect you to deduct them off your business taxes. That’s their business, to make money for themselves.

    – You only get “sticker shock” when you think that the money is coming out of your own pocket.

    I’m of course painting with a broad brush here, since I look at DIY as the best way to go, because it’s fun, and can’t find anything I can deduct.

    BTW, It’s like my mom would sew and make what clothes that she couldn’t buy. She complained one day that she couldn’t find a decent coat at the store. Everything she found was junk. I pointed out to her that she was used to wearing thousand dollar bespoke coats, so of course something “off the rack” would be inferior.

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