There are many posts that answer the question: how much does it cost to self-publish a book? but they’re usually written as one-size-fits-all solutions ranging anywhere from free self-publishing platforms passing through low-cost services all the way to the really expensive.
Yet, I’m of the thinking that in order to provide a true costing guideline for authors we first need to establish some context, otherwise the process can become quite confusing – especially for first-time authors.
With this in mind, I’ll focus this article on a single category of writers: nonfiction authors. More specifically, I’ll be focusing on two kinds of nonfiction authors:
1- Authors who run their own businesses and want to publish a book to take their revenues to a new level: e.g. entrepreneurs, small business owners, consultants, coaches, therapists, nutritionists, etc.
2- Authors who are professionals and want to publish a nonfiction book to become recognized as experts in their field: e.g. HR specialists, money managers, medical and health practitioners, lawyers, etc.
If you’re one of the type of authors listed above then your book will not only be a vehicle to grow your business or career but it’ll also carry the weight of your professional reputation.
With the advent of low-cost, on-demand printing and global online bookstores like Amazon, books now enjoy near-immediate worldwide reach and this requires that your book be produced in the most professional way and with the highest quality possible.
You simply can’t afford to cut corners and do all the work yourself (the “free” approach) because putting out a product that may look or feel amateurish will not only result in bad online reviews leading to poor sales, it’ll also have a serious reputational impact.
On the other hand, a good, professionally written and produced product will open new doors and new markets in way that you never imagined possible before. This is the true power of easy-to-access book distribution gone global.
With this in mind, let’s break down the cost to self-publish a nonfiction book that can compete with professional products put out by established authors.
Book Editing Costs
All professional authors, no matter how famous they are, have their manuscripts edited before publication. Even those who’ve been writing consistently for decades would never dare publish an unedited book.
As a first-time nonfiction author choosing the self-publishing route, it’s imperative that you shop around for and hire a professional editor for your manuscript. Now, book editing has many different layers and each comes at a different price point.
Below you’ll find the costs of the most common editing passes that your manuscript will require:
Manuscript Editorial Evaluation (optional)
If you’ve never hired an editor before, you need to know that they’re not inexpensive and as such you have to be able to pass along to them the best possible manuscript that you can to minimize your editing costs.
This poses a problem: if this is your first manuscript, how do you know what “best possible” means in the eyes of a professional editor? This is a bit of the chicken and the egg story.
The solution is to have a manuscript editorial evaluation done first, where for a flat fee the editor will read your manuscript and produce a detailed report showing you its strengths and weaknesses with some examples so that you can take corrective action.
The editor will make general as well as specific recommendations on how to improve your manuscript in structural, stylistic and grammatical ways.
Armed with this report you can go back to the drawing board and make the suggested improvements, which will lower your overall editing cost.
Typically, manuscript editorial evaluations by an experienced nonfiction professional editor will cost you between $400 and $600 depending on your word count.
Once your manuscript is in its final stage and ready to be submitted to your editor, the first editing pass will consist of content editing, which can also be called structural editing.
This pass will focus on the structure and style of your manuscript. It will examine how the ideas in your book are presented, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of your presentation.
Now, content editing doesn’t focus on the ideas themselves as they’re your purview as the author. Instead, the content editor will focus on the logical flow of ideas, the relevance of secondary ideas and the overall integration of your manuscript as a consistent, unified work.
Professional nonfiction editors with 5-10 years of experience will charge anywhere between $40 and $50 per 1,000 words, provided your manuscript is “clean” – that is, you’ve done the best you can to remove obvious spelling, punctuation and grammar errors.
The next pass in the editing of your manuscript is copyediting. This pass is intended to polish a version of your manuscript that’s already structurally sound.
Things your copyeditor will be looking for are: awkward phrasing, incorrect word usage, nonessential words, incorrect spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors.
Copyediting is less expensive than content editing, and a professional editor will charge between $30 and $40 per 1,000 words.
Proofreading is the last pass in the editing process and it consists of the final quality check before your manuscript is sent to your book designer for typesetting.
The proofreader will basically go through your edited manuscript line-by-line with a fine-tooth comb, looking for any of the following:
- Spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors.
- Formatting inconsistencies (e.g. say most numeric lists in your manuscript are numbered except for two that use letters instead).
- Incorrect internal and external referencing (e.g. if you say “as seen on chapter 5” in a sentence in your manuscript but the original chapter 5 was later rearranged and became chapter 7, then this reference will need to be corrected. The same goes for external references).
- General fact checking (e.g. if you quote the year of an important event in your manuscript, this fact needs to be corroborated before your book goes to print).
Experienced proofreaders will charge anywhere between $25 and $35 per 1,000 words.
Once all the manuscript-editing passes are completed, it’s time to engage the services of your book layout designer. This task entails the creation of the interior of your book, including:
- Text layout
- Layout of images and graphics
- Creation of chapter sections with headings and subheadings
- Creation of page headers and footers including navigation and page numbering
- Placement of all required front matter sections (e.g. title page, copyright page, dedication, table of contents, foreword, introduction, )
- Placement of all required back matter sections (e.g. afterword, index, references, glossaries, author marketing page, )
The work of your book layout designer will also include the creation of print-ready files to be submitted to your printer, and possibly also the upload of those files into the various distribution channels that you’ll be using for your work.
Book layout designers will cost anywhere between $350 and $500 depending on the amount of graphic elements to be placed and the number of special sections in your book (e.g. number of front and back matter sections).
The next step in the self-publishing process is book-cover design. This is the most critical task in book design since all books are judged by their covers. Typically, designers will meet with you to discuss your thoughts and ideas for your book and take notes.
Then they’ll research your specific nonfiction niche to add any necessary nuance to the general nonfiction best practices, and finally they’ll produce a number of covers for your consideration, typically 2-4 to choose from.
Once you decide on your book cover, most designers will allow for two or three passes to further refine it by adding small fine-tuning changes, and when no more changes are necessary, they’ll produce print-ready cover files to be uploaded to the printer.
Experienced nonfiction book cover designers will charge between $400 and $600.
The next set of charges is related to the distribution of your book in the trade. The main platforms that self-publishers use are:
- Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP): This platform will distribute your book in paperback format throughout the Amazon online bookstore universe – more specifically, your book will be available for purchase in the U.S, Canada, Europe and Japan.
- IngramSpark: This platform will load your book into the Ingram distribution network (the largest non-online bookstore and library distributor in the world). Your book will be available for ordering in both paperback and hardcover formats from bookstores and libraries in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia & New Zealand and Japan.
Many author services firms offer an assisted distribution package where they take care of setting up your KDP and IngramSpark accounts. They typically charge between $100 and $200 for this work.
In order to publish your book through the above distributors, you’ll have to purchase your own ISBN for a cost of $125 or $295 for a block of ten. KDP offers a free ISBN option, but if you use their ISBN you’ll be blocked from distributing your book anywhere else, including IngramSpark. So don’t take them up on this free offer.
There’s no cost for uploading your book files into the KDP platform, but IngramSpark charges $49 per book format (e.g. paperback and hardcover)
Book Printing Cost
Book printing costs will vary depending on your trim size (typically, 5” x 8”, 5.5” x 8.5” and 6” x 9”) and on the number of pages in your book, so it’s not possible to quote a range here.
However, as an example, KDP quotes that a 300-page black and white book distributed in the U.S. costs $4.45 per copy. IngramSpark’s pricing is similar.
Both distribution platforms will require you to enter a suggested retail price or list price for your book in multiple currencies.
Typically, you’ll have to set up your list price so that it’s greater than the print cost and counting for the royalty rate offered by the distribution service.
For example, KDP offers authors a royalty rate of 60% of the list price minus the print cost of your book, so using the above print cost example, if your title is a 300-page black and white book distributed with a $4.45 cost per copy, your minimum list price will be:
$4.45 / (0.60) = $7.42. This book price will result in a royalty payment of zero.
If you increase your book list price to, say, $12.95, your royalty payment will then be:
(0.60 x $12.95) – $4.45 = $3.32
The math is the same for IngramSpark.
KDP offers a royalty rate of 60% for all books sold through Amazon and 40% for books sold outside Amazon, in both cases minus the print cost of your book.
IngramSpark offers a royalty rate ranging from 45% to 70% minus the print cost of your book, but the high royalty rate comes with a caveat: most bookstores will not order at this level.
Let’s crunch some numbers: out of the 100% of your list price, IngramSpark will take a 15% commission for each sale and bookstores expect a 40 % discount.
Then: 15% + 40% = 55%, so the remaining 45% will be your royalty (you’ll need to deduct the print cost from this amount).
But, if you choose the 70 % royalty rate, out of the remaining 30% IngramSpark will take their 15% commission leaving bookstores with only a 15% discount (remember they expect a 40% discount).
This means that at this high royalty rate no bookstore will ever order your book because there will be no money in it for them.
Still IngramSpark’s more traditional royalty rate of 45% for bookstores is better then KDP’s 40%, and KDP’s royalty of 60% for Amazon bookstores is better than IngramSpark’s 45%, so my advice is to use KDP strictly for Amazon sales and IngramSpark for all other bookstores.
Marketing & Promotion
OK, no more math! When it comes to marketing and promotion, at a minimum you’ll need an author website, but in addition you’ll need a proper marketing and promotion plan. Let’s look at the cost for these services.
A professionally designed website will become the nerve center of your book marketing campaign. At the most basic you’ll need an attractive home page, your about the author page, a page or several pages for your book, a contact page and a blog.
You could also add more sophistication and include eCommerce functionality to sell your book direct at a much higher profit (since you’re acting as your own bookstore).
And if you’re not technically inclined, many services will even create all the website content for you and do the necessary search engine optimization so that your pages are ranked high by search engines.
The setup of a professional author website will cost anywhere between $500 and $3,000 depending on how much functionality you want to add and how hands off you want to be in your website’s content creation.
Finally, let’s address the important topic of book marketing and promotion. This is an area in which there’s no magic bullet, no one-size-fits-all approach (beware of any services that pitch you a set “marketing package.” They never work well because each book has unique marketing needs).
The best author services companies offer instead the services of a marketing consultant that can help you develop a plan suited to your needs and the needs of your book.
This could include teaching you the basics of book promotion, setting up the required social media accounts to promote your book organically, helping you create a media outreach campaign, setting up speaking engagements and other events, etc.
Typically, book-marketing consultants will charge an hourly rate ranging from $80 to $150 per hour, depending on their level of experience and track record.
So, let’s now summarize all your expected costs:
- Editorial Evaluation (optional): between $400-$600
- Content Editing: between $30-$50 per 1,000 words
- Copy Editing: between $20-$30 per 1,000 words
- Proofreading: between $10-$20 per 1,000 words
- Book Layout: between $350-$500
- Cover Design: between $400-$600
- Distribution: $125 (ISBN) + $49 (paperback) + $49 (hardcover)
- Author website: between $500-$3,000
- Marketing Consulting: between $80-$150/hr
The total cost range for a 50,000-word book with 10 hours of marketing consulting is:
Now, this may appear to be a lot of money on first inspection, but as an entrepreneurial author you need to factor into the equation the increase in revenue that your book will generate.
For example, as an expert in your professional field with a published book you can expect to earn anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000 per speaking engagement. With multiple books and a track record, your fee will climb to between $10,000 and $20,000 per speech, depending on your industry.
And if one of your books becomes a bestseller in your niche, you’ll be able to command between $20,000 and $35,000 per talk.
These figures don’t even include back of the room book sales or the ability of your book to help you close lucrative government and private deals when your competition doesn’t have a published book as a calling card.
The above is just a general guideline so that you know what self-publishing costs to expect and how much to budget for your book project.
Keep in mind that as you hire professionals, you’ll have to do your due diligence to ensure you only hire people with real experience and not just a slick website. Check my recommended reading list below for articles that’ll teach you how to vet the right self-publishing professionals.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.
Here are some related articles I highly recommend:
Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of 6 books published through Harper Collins (NY) and Titan Publishing Group (UK). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press and the founder/CEO of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, printing, distribution and marketing.