How much does it cost to self-publish? That depends

I’ve had an interesting question from Tom. A lot of authors that are self-published avoid the question of cost. How much does it cost you to self publish? I would think that a lot of writers that aren’t financially well off want to know this info.

What a good question. To answer, I’d like to reframe it.

A lot of the basic aspects of self-publishing are low cost, or even free. Publishing on Amazon, Smashwords and Kobo, three of the major platforms, is free. Making Word documents and PDFs is free. Formatting ebooks and print books can be free if you’re careful and meticulous, and there are low-cost options to make it easier. Covers can be made free – or for very little money – in applications like Canva and Bookbrush.

So why do authors pay a lot more for publishing services?

The answer is: they’re paying for a professional edge. In editing, book production, cover design, copywriting. Marketing knowhow. Advertising. Access to curated audiences.

And how much does that cost? It’s honestly a difficult question to answer.

I realise this might sound evasive, but it’s like asking how much it costs to have a wedding.

It depends what kind of wedding you want. You can make your own dress from fabric bought for a tenner on eBay, you can pick a bouquet from your garden, you can use the local registry office and hold the reception in your house. Or not even bother with the reception. Or you can have a dress handmade by an amazing designer, invite hundreds of people, hire a manor house with caterers… you get the picture.

How much does it cost to self-publish? It depends on the result you want. You could do a lot yourself, for very little money, and it would still be a published book. Or you could involve professionals.  

A warning

Here’s an important caveat. There are good and bad operators. Bad operators are usually taking advantage of your inexperience by offering a service of little proven value, or charging a vastly inflated price. So if you’re considering paying for a publishing service, check these two sources: Victoria Strauss’s site Writer Beware, and the Alliance of Independent Authors’ watchdog desk.

Anyway, we were saying…

Why involve professionals?

They will add value. They will give you an advantage – help you catch the attention of customers or build a reputation with good reviews in the grown-up world of books.

What if that does not matter to you? That is fine. We all write and publish for different reasons. Here’s a parallel from my own life. I have a horse. Many horse owners I know are keen to compete in jumping or dressage or eventing. They want their horses to have careers. I couldn’t give two hoots about competing. I want to ride and train my horse for our own joy. Success, to me, is personal satisfaction.

If you have the ‘career’ approach, you have to think like a competitor. You can’t do it without professionals. You won’t be able to do a polished job – and you won’t even know what details will make the difference. A cover designer will do more than create a nice piece of art. They will create art that will shout ‘buy me!’ to the right people. An editor will know how to make your book work best for your ideal audience. Professionals will help you raise your game, fulfil your potential. Using them is an investment, which should lead to higher sales, a good reputation, maybe awards etc.

But that might not matter to you. And that’s fine. Do whatever gives you satisfaction.

How much does it cost to self-publish?

The question is slightly wrong, I feel. It shouldn’t be ‘what does it cost’, but ‘what value would you get from hiring a professional or using a service’? To compare it with weddings, you spend as much as you need to feel you’ve done it properly, for your own personal goals. But here’s a departure from the weddings comparison – if you spend your budget wisely, it should pay you back in more tangible ways too.

And not everything has to be expensive. Here’s a piece on how to get useful writing tuition if you can’t afford an editor.

PS I’m teaching a course in self-publishing at the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Book here

PPS If you’d like help with your writing, my Nail Your Novel books are here. If you’re curious about my own creative writing, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s been going on at my own writing desk (and with my little horse), here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.

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  1. #1 by Kathy Steinemann on August 8, 2021 - 4:42 pm

    Thanks, Roz. Your wedding analogy is priceless. Too many beginning writers need this.

    I’m sharing on Twitter and will be adding it to my Facebook page as well.

  2. #3 by Kathy Steinemann on August 8, 2021 - 4:44 pm

    Facebook won’t let me share this. 😦

  3. #7 by Mark Schultz on August 8, 2021 - 8:09 pm

    Reblogged this on wordrefiner.

  4. #9 by CARAMEL on August 9, 2021 - 6:40 pm

    This is such an excellent article Roz – I think you answered this question brilliantly.

    I self-published after I had lots of offers from publishing agencies to pay for their editing and marketing services but realized even the lowest priced contracts offered to me were well beyond my means. And to be honest….it will be the same with our wedding. Jack and I are both volunteers who give up a lot of time unpaid for charities. Our wedding will be a low-cost affair but will be very joyous with friends and family caring for the catering (everyone local will bring a dish to the buffet reception which will be in a venue the local council allow to be used without charge for weddings). But it will be very special all the same.

    When I self-published, at first I did so completely relying on my WordPress blog for advertising, but then Jack essentially became my publicist and I am sure 95% of my sales are due to him! Lesson learnt – if you want to self-publish for free, make sure your boyfriend is famous.

    • #10 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 9, 2021 - 8:09 pm

      Thank you, Caramel! And lots of congratulations on your forthcoming wedding. It sounds terrific. PS I am mad with curiosity to know who your famous boyfriend is…

  5. #11 by dgkaye on August 10, 2021 - 1:18 am

    Excellent post Roz. Your answers were bang on. It depends what one wants from the experience so the cost varies. And everyone pays their editors and cover artists different prices. The idea is to shop around like we would for car insurance rates, and when we find someone we click with, it’s worth what we want to pay. 🙂

  6. #14 by allan hudson on August 11, 2021 - 9:25 am

    An interesting article and good advice.. Self-publishing can be very rewarding but I agree with adding professional services. It doesn’t have to ‘look’ self-published with a creative cover from a designer. DGKaye made a good comment – what we want to pay – set a realistic budget of what you can afford and go shopping, get recommendations, etc. In my world, a finished book with pro editing, pro cover design & pro formatting runs about $1000.00 for a 170 page novel.

    • #15 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on August 11, 2021 - 3:55 pm

      Hi Allan! Useful to have your ballpark figure. Everyone’s mileage will vary. We each have an average cost for a book, and the factors that determine our costs are complicated.

  1. How much does it cost to self-publish? That depends – Written By Roz Morris – Writer's Treasure Chest
  2. Do I want to make a career writing fiction? A conversation | Nail Your Novel

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