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.
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.