Publishing a book on Kindle doesn’t technically have any upfront fees. But if you’re planning to publish a nonfiction book, doing so without incurring any costs will more than likely backfire on you.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a scare tactic. It’s just the reality of the high expectations that accompany a nonfiction title when published (via Amazon Kindle or on any other platform).
Here’s the thing. When you publish nonfiction, especially of the problem-solving kind, you’ll be automatically deemed to be an expert and as such you’ll be expected to put out a quality product. This includes the quality of your writing, the production quality of your book (the layout, the images, etc.) and the quality of your cover design.
So, while Amazon.com’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform itself is free to use, you’ll still have to incur some costs so that you don’t end up putting out an amateurish-looking book that may end up hurting your professional reputation.
As a matter of fact, a well-written, well-crafted book will have the opposite effect by opening doors to new opportunities, new business relationships, new clients and even paid speaking fees, in addition to much better book sales.
Let’s look at these costs so you can properly plan what to budget for.
No professional author who relies on book sales to make money would ever dare publish an unedited manuscript, even if they’ve been writing for decades. Authors are just too close to their work to have the judgement to be objective arbiters of their writing, so they’ll always want to rely on a fresh pair of eyes.
Plus, professional editors are not just excellent wordsmiths but they also know how to keep an audience engaged. They know what it is the readers are looking for and they know how to deliver your message in a way that truly connects with them, creating a bond that will take your readers on a ride from the first page to the last.
Now, professional editors are not monolithic – there are several kinds of editors who specialize in different phases of the editing process.
For nonfiction books, there are four recommended stages in the editing process:
- 1) Developmental Editing
- 2) Content Editing
- 3) Copy Editing
- 4) Proofreading
1) Developmental Book Editing
In this stage the editor takes a 30,000-foot view of your manuscript to assess whether it adequately supports your book’s thesis. They will then look at the flow of ideas to determine if your manuscript is crafted in the best possible way to address the needs of your readers.
Developmental editors are trained to:
- Know the expectations of nonfiction readers when they buy a book title in your niche
- Know how to keep readers excited with anticipation
- Know those words that make readers engage and the ones that make them disengage
- Know how to use the written word to establish a deep connection with readers
- Know how to get readers to take action on your solution, increasing the chances of follow-on business
Developmental editors will convey their suggestions to you using two mechanisms, as explained below:
The Developmental Editor’s Letter
The developmental editor will first read and analyze your manuscript from beginning to end and condense their initial thoughts in a letter, where they’ll suggest what changes you need to make at the macro level – these are the structural issues that need to be addressed first before going into the page-by-page, paragraph-by-paragraph level.
Examples of suggestions might include reshuffling some of your chapters, writing new ones and perhaps eliminating some sections that don’t really belong in overall flow of your manuscript. Their goal at this stage is to restructure your writing in a way that aligns with the needs of your target audience.
Once you’ve implemented these changes, you’ll be ready for the second phase of developmental editing.
After you hand the corrected manuscript back to the editor, they’ll go through it page by page and flag any issues in notes they’ll leave on the margins.
At this stage, the editor isn’t looking to highlight poor grammar, spelling or punctuation errors (this task will be performed later on by the copy editor) but will focus instead on structure at the paragraph level.
For instance, they may suggest that you break up a paragraph into two because there are two conflicting ideas in it and this will confuse the reader. Or they might highlight a sentence that goes against the flow and show you what to do with it.
Developmental Editing Rates
Rates will vary depending on the nature of your nonfiction title. For example, text-heavy manuscripts will likely be billed by the word, since this is where most of the work effort will be. Some editors may also charge you by the page instead.
Image, data or science-heavy manuscripts are more likely to attract a combination of rates both by the word and by the hour, to take into account the necessary research time spent by the editor to learn, interpret and craft specialized information.
By the Word Rates
This charge is based on total word-count of your unedited manuscript. Most editors will make use of a tier system such as the one below:
- Standard text: 8 cents per word (non-specialized)
- Difficult text: 12 cents per word (highly specialized)
Nonfiction topics that are more scientific or instructional in nature (e.g. a medical title) will demand the higher per-word fee.
Once your developmental editor’s job is done, it’s time to begin the next editorial stage for your manuscript.
2- Content Editing
While developmental editing is about structure, content editing is about mechanics.
Now that your flow of ideas is well-established, it’s time to move on to the execution of those ideas. Your content editor will switch the editorial focus to clarity and readability to make sure your message comes across to the reader in the best possible way.
Here’s a rundown of the main editing tasks that your content editor will perform:
- At the most basic, they’ll correct spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors in order to create a clean version of your manuscript.
- They’ll then highlight any run-on sentences, words that are misused, words that are overused, words that are repeated in close proximity, poor writing style, etc.
- Then, they’ll check your manuscript for readability and style, and make suggestions to improve clarity. They’ll do so by rewriting those phrases that are clunky and hard to read, adjust paragraphs that are unclear, shorten run-on sentences and so on.
- If they offer a proofreading feature as part of their services, they may also check any references you make to external sources for correctness and confirm the accuracy of any dates, places and facts quoted in your manuscript.
- Finally, they’ll suggest the right placement for any illustrations, images, tables, or any other type of graphical element in relation with the text and the flow of ideas.
Content Editing Rates
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.
Once the content editing stage is completed, it’s time to move on to copy editing.
3- Copy Editing
The copy editor won’t focus on book structure or mechanics, but instead will ensure that your nonfiction book is factually and linguistically accurate. They will do so by:
- Correcting spelling errors, punctuation and grammatical errors
- Correcting syntax errors
- Correcting capitalization errors and hyphenation errors
- Identifying factually inaccurate statements
- Checking for proper wording
- Suggesting additional headings
- Flagging potential legal issues
- Identifying anomalies and checking for inconsistencies
Copy Editing Rates
Typical copy editing rates are 3-4 cents per word for standard text and 4-6 cents per word for highly technical or scientific text.
Proofreading is the final book editing stage, which is executed when there are no more changes to be made to your manuscript. In other words, this stage can only be implemented when your book is ready to go to print.
Before committing your hard work to the permanence of printing, you want to make sure that all the t’s in your manuscript are crossed and all the i’s are dotted. Your proofreader will make your book as close to perfect as possible in relation to:
- Punctuation, spelling and grammatical errors
- Formatting inconsistencies
- Incorrect internal references
- Incorrect external references
- General fact-checking
- Caption errors
Typical proofreading rates are 2.5-3.5 cents per word for standard text and 3.5-4.5 cents per word for highly technical or scientific text.
As stated before, by the mere act of publishing a nonfiction book you’ll be assumed by your readers to be an expert in your field. As a result, your nonfiction book will act as a proxy for your reputation. Therefore, you want to ensure that your book layout is top-notch as this will reflect on your overall professionalism.
In addition, book layout design is a key element in the visual appeal of nonfiction books. Unlike works of fiction, where endless streams of similarly laid out text are used to “lull” you into the story, nonfiction layouts respond to a completely different set of needs.
Since the goal of most nonfiction books is to solve a problem for an individual or a business, they need to be laid out to facilitate the transfer of knowledge from author to reader. This requires your text to be laid out in a way that’s simple for your audience to digest – for example, you may want to use charts, tables and images to bolster your thesis.
The nonfiction genre is highly competitive. As a self-published author you need to be able to compete head-to-head with traditionally published books because they’ll appear side-by-side with your book on online searches. So in order to compete, you’ll need to hire a professional book designer to level the playing field.
Book Layout Rates
The cost for a quality nonfiction book designer will range between $350 and $500. You may be able to find a lower cost on gig websites on the Internet, but be mindful that you’ll likely get what you pay for (even if the design looks okay to you, it may look amateurish when compared to your traditionally published competitors).
Of all aspects of nonfiction book production, the most visible is the cover design. Therefore, it’s critical that you hire a professional artist with solid experience in nonfiction books in order to perform this important job.
A professional cover designer is not just a visual expert who knows the best placement of your cover elements to appeal to a nonfiction audience, but is also a “visual marketer,” who knows how different color palettes influence people’s purchasing decisions.
Now, it’s important that you don’t hire a fiction cover designer. A fiction cover’s goal is to capture the essence of the story in the cover imagery by creating a visually appealing representation of the book’s characters and their journey. In other words, fiction covers are about the book, not about the reader.
Nonfiction covers, on the other hand, must always be about the reader and not about the book. The key task of the cover is to show a visual representation of the life of the reader after they put into practice the solution conveyed throughout the pages of your book.
For this reason, you must find a book cover artist who understands how nonfiction works, the needs of your target audience and your reader’s aspirations.
Cover Design Rates
A nonfiction book cover designer with a solid track record will cost between $400 and $600. Once again, beware of the allure of designers on gig websites that will charge you $100 or $50 or even $30 for a book cover. This is another area where you really can’t afford to cut corners.
For your book to be distributed to the trade you’ll need to acquire an ISBN, or a unique book identifier number, which will be encoded inside a barcode on your back cover. This is the code that gets scanned at the checkout counter whenever you buy a book in a brick-and-mortar bookstore.
Amazon.com’s Kindle does offers a free ISBN service, but it’s highly detrimental to authors because they bind their titles strictly to Amazon Kindle book distribution at the exclusion of all other distributors.
As a nonfiction author, you want to maximize your distribution channels beyond Kindle so that, for example, you can sell to bookstores and libraries through printed-book distributors that work with self-published authors, such as IngramSpark, so I recommend that you obtain your own ISBN and pass on Amazon Kindle’s free offer.
Cost of ISBN
To get an ISBN that binds your title to you as the publisher instead of strictly listing your book on Amazon, you’ll have to visit https://www.isbn.org, where you’ll be able to purchase a single number for $125 or a block of ten for $295.
Keep in mind that each format that you want to publish on (e.g. paperback, hardcover and eBook) requires a different ISBN.
Now you know the hidden costs of publishing nonfiction via the Kindle book platform so you’ll be able to budget accordingly. Keep in mind that even though these costs can be substantial in some cases (depending on the complexity of your book and on your total page-count), you’ll be able to recoup these costs in a number of different ways.
While it’s true that initially printed or Kindle eBook sales won’t likely cover these costs given the newness of your book, as an expert author your nonfiction title will open many new potential streams of revenue.
For example, you’ll be able to fast-track the acquisition of new clients, you’ll be able generate back of the room sales during public-speaking events, and you’ll have an edge over your unpublished competitors when bidding on lucrative contracts.
All the best on your journey!
If you enjoyed this post and would like to learn more about how to excel in the writing craft be sure to check out my free nonfiction writing guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
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.
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Bennett R. Coles is an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder 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, marketing, printing and distribution.