When you search Google for the cost of self-publishing on Amazon, there’s a tendency to focus on paying the least amount of money possible (self-edit, get a cover done on Fiverr, use Amazon’s free ISBN, etc.).
While this might be a workable solution if you’re publishing your first novel and just want to test the market, it’s the wrong approach for nonfiction authors.
Nonfiction books are expected to deliver on the expertise of the author. As a result, the production quality of your book will define how your professionalism and your reputation will be perceived by the world at large.
Now, Amazon has made it possible for self-published titles to achieve instant world distribution at the push of a button. But this tremendous power comes with a downside.
While this giant market megaphone will amplify the image of a quality product, it’ll also amplify the image of a poor product, and since the image a nonfiction book presents is subconsciously extended to its author, you can imagine the consequences.
Producing a poor product is a professional risk that you simply cannot afford to take. After all, you want to publish your nonfiction book to enhance your business or your career, not to hinder them.
With that in mind, let’s now look at the true cost of self-publishing nonfiction on Amazon.
These are the costs that you need to incur in order to first create a polished final manuscript and then turn it into professionally produced print-ready files that comply with Amazon’s specifications for their on-demand digital printing presses.
Pre-publication costs include editing, book layout and cover design.
As a self-published nonfiction author, you’ll have to compete with traditionally published books on par with their quality. In order to get your manuscript up there you’ll need to consider a number of editing rounds.
Here are the different types of editing passes that professionally edited nonfiction books need, along with their approximate cost:
This is the first editing pass. It’ll take care of the overall structure of your book, making sure that it best supports your main thesis. This pass establishes the optimal flow of ideas for your manuscript.
A developmental editor focuses on your audience, identifying the areas in your manuscript that don’t work for them so that you can take the necessary corrective action.
Typical developmental editing rates are 8 cents per word for standard manuscripts and up to 12 cents per word for highly specialized or highly technical manuscripts.
This editing pass shifts the focus to the text in your manuscript by ensuring that your writing is always clear.
It’ll take care of your book’s chapter flow, paragraph and sentence construction and the correct placement of your visual elements to make sure that they fully support your text.
Typical content editing rates are 4-5 cents per word for standard text and 5-7 cents per word for highly technical or scientific text.
This editing pass looks at the accuracy of the language in your manuscript at the word level, taking care of errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, syntax, capitalization and hyphenation, among others.
It’ll also take care of inaccurate facts such as incorrect dates, wrong proper names of places and people, any potential legal issues with infringement or defamation, formatting inconsistencies and any other type of textual anomaly.
Typical copyediting rates are 3-4 cents per word for standard text and 4-6 cents per word for highly technical or scientific text.
This last editing pass will go through your laid-out book and book cover with a fine-tooth comb checking for typos, incorrect references, caption errors and general fact-checking to ensure no embarrassing mistakes are found after your book comes back from the printer.
After the proofreading pass, your book’s print-ready files get locked in, ready for uploading to your printer’s servers.
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.
Book Design Cost
Book design takes care of the internal layout of your book. This is another area where professional help is a requirement for self-published nonfiction books in order to complete with traditional publishers.
A book layout designer will take care of properly formatting and laying out your text, images and graphics. They’ll also design your chapter sections and your book headings and sub-headings.
They’ll take care of the page headers and footers including your page numbering and the navigational clues left for readers, and finally, they’ll format and place your book’s front and back matter.
The cost for a quality book designer with experience in nonfiction will range between $350 and $500. You may be able to find a lower cost on the Internet, but be mindful that you’ll likely get what you pay for.
Cover Design Cost
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.
When shown on search results, your nonfiction book may appear side by side with traditionally published books. So, in order to compete for the attention of readers, you’ll need to meet a high cover-design bar.
A professional cover designer is not just a visual expert who’ll know the best placement of your cover elements to appeal to an audience, but is also a “visual marketer,” who knows how different color palettes influence people’s purchasing decisions.
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.
Even if it looks decent or much better than you expected in relation to what you would’ve been able to create on your own, when compared to traditionally-published books, you’ll find yourself at a significant disadvantage. Again, this is not a place where you want to cut corners.
Great! Your professionally edited and produced book is ready to be published. Now, in order to achieve worldwide reach both online and offline with your channels of distribution, you’ll need to self-publish your book on two different platforms.
Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)
The first one is Amazon-owned Kindle Direct Publishing. This platform allows you to cost-effectively make your book available for sale on all Amazon websites around the world.
In addition to listing your book on the Amazon book database, KDP will also make your book available for purchase in paperback format in all major English-language markets, including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
As a matter of fact, your book will be printed locally in those markets by taking advantage of a network of printing facilities built by KDP that make use of state-of-the-art high-speed digital print-on-demand technology.
This equipment is designed to receive all book orders from Amazon for a given market and print them locally in near-real time, allowing for shipping to the end customer at domestic rates.
This technology affords your book the Amazon status of “Immediately Available” in local markets where printing facilities exist, even though there’s no physical inventory sitting in a warehouse. KDP does not charge any fees to self-publishers.
The second self-publishing platform is IngramSpark, a subsidiary of Ingram, the largest book distributor in the world. Although IngramSpark can deliver books to online bookstores, their forte is brick-and-mortar bookstores and libraries.
And like KDP, they’ve also deployed a large network of advanced high-speed digital presses that print books on demand. In fact, they operate an even larger network than Amazon’s KDP, with more printing facilities supporting more book formats.
Unlike KDP’s paperback-only format, IngramSpark can print both paperback books as well as hardcovers, giving you more retail flexibility by allowing you to have different price-points for your book.
Also, IngramSpark has near-exclusivity in the distribution of books to bookstores and libraries because they offer them a much higher wholesale discount than KDP. In fact, the low discount offered to bookstores by KDP is a huge disincentive for ordering.
Ingram charges $49 per book format, so budget for $49 x 2 so that you can publish your nonfiction book in both paperback and hardcover formats.
Book Marketing Professional
Amazon is not only the largest online bookstore in the world, but also the largest dedicated book search engine in the world.
This search engine is frequented by over 330 million Amazon customers, plus millions more than don’t have accounts on Amazon, to discover new titles every day.
In order for your book to be discovered through user searches, you’ll need to set up special “keywords” used by the Amazon search algorithm to match your book to the most common user searches in your niche.
You’ll also need to create a book description that’s compelling for readers browsing search results.
Finally, you’ll have to select the right category/sub-category combinations in which to list your book among the more than 3,000 available ones in the nonfiction genre.
Now, all this information is critical for your book’s success on the platform, and it’s not something that you should try to tackle on your own. To maximize your chances for a successful outcome, you’ll need to enlist outside help.
This is where an experienced book-marketing professional comes into the picture.
These experts will help you uncover the most common user searches in your book’s niche and then they’ll help you find the best keywords to match.
Next, they’ll help you identify the best category/sub-category combinations to list your book under in order to increase your chances of landing on one of the over 3,000 Amazon nonfiction bestseller lists.
Finally, they’ll help you write compelling marketing copy for your book description on your Amazon book detail page.
Given the custom nature of this work, book marketing professionals usually charge by the hour with an hourly rate ranging from $80 to $150, depending on their level of experience and their track record in the industry.
Cost of ISBN
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.
To get this number 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 in (e.g. paperback or hardcover) requires a different ISBN.
Amazon’s KDP offers a free ISBN service, but you’ll have to pass on it because if you publish your book with their ISBN they won’t allow you to distribute your title anywhere else (for example, you’ll be blocked from co-publishing on IngramSpark).
Cost of Author Copies
The final cost to take into account when you self-publish is the print cost.
Here you have two options:
You can either buy author copies from KDP or you can buy them from IngramSpark. They’ll both sell you copies of your book at cost. However, only IngramSpark offers a volume discount to authors.
With IngramSpark, the more books you buy, the lower your cost per unit. With KDP you’ll always be charged the same unit price no matter how many copies you buy.
For example, if your print cost is $3.69 for a single copy of a 200-page black and white paperback book on both platforms, you’ll pay $3,690 at KDP for 1,000 copies but only $2,214 at IngramSpark. That’s a savings of $1,476.
When it comes to the cost of self-publishing on Amazon (with IngramSpark as a co-publisher) the publishing cost itself is very low, but this can be very misleading.
Nonfiction books have a very high bar that they need to meet to be accepted by the market, and publishing a sub-standard product for a low publishing cost is just never a good idea.
Self-publishing on Amazon may have a low cost (if you include the cost of purchasing an ISBN) and a very powerful reach into the global marketplace. But being able to access this many people with a single click of a button is actually quite dangerous.
Unless the product you’re putting out is of high quality, you risk hurting your professional reputation in a very global way – this is just not worth cutting corners for.
The true cost of self-publishing on Amazon must always include the cost of hiring a professional editor, a professional book, cover designer and a book marketing expert to form a team to bring the best expression of your capabilities and your professionalism to market.
The upside of this investment, however, can be quite exceptional once you begin to leverage your book to land new business, open new markets, and of course, sell lots of books in the process!
Good luck on your self-publishing endeavors!
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 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.