The Cost to Publish a Book: By Stage + Real Author Spending

Posted on Jan 4, 2024

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Home > Blog > Business, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Publishing > The Cost to Publish a Book: By Stage + Real Author Spending

The cost to publish can vary widely depending on your goals, the type of book you write, and what you’re willing to spend for an end product. But I won’t lie: there are costs to publish a book and if you’re serious about making a career out of this, it’s wise to save up and pay for what’s necessary.

But what is necessary and how much does it cost?

Those details are hard to summarize quickly, because the process of publishing is quite complicated. What we do want you do know is that if you want to traditionally publish a book, there aren’t any costs other than time, because the publishing house you eventually sell your book to will cover that.

For self-publishers though, the price ranges significantly.

Let’s just cut to the chase, shall we? Below is a list of the different stages of publishing a book along with the prices for each. But you can click here for a condensed version of the average ranges, and then explore the details later.

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Here’s what it cost to publish a book:

  1. Book Production
  2. Publishing
  3. Marketing
  4. Real Author Costs + Outcomes

Crunching the Numbers: How Much Does it Cost to Publish a Book?

There’s a very wide range of publishing costs and these depend on several factors, including what you do and don’t want to pay for, in addition to what you can do yourself with your current level of knowledge and skill. That’s why it’s difficult to give a set range.

The fact is, you can publish a book for nothing, if that’s what you wanted. But if you want to actually sell copies of a book, the question of “how much does it cost to publish” will change.

But to give you an idea of the cost of publishing, here’s a sample of the ranges per stage of the publishing process, and you can go into more specifics in each of the sections below. Note: the below costs of publishing are without the “optional” services.

Book Production Cost: $260 – $4400

Book Publishing Cost: $150 – $1100

Book Marketing Cost: $200 – $3000


Total Range of the Cost to Publish: $610 – $8,500

Average Cost to Publish a Book: $4,550

All in all, authors spend an average of over $4,000 to publish a quality book including the book production, publishing, and marketing process. Many of these authors do not do any of the creation themselves, so this is an outsourced number. If you can do steps of the process on your own, this number would be less, and is typically less with each book published.

How to Publish a Book for Cheaper

It’s not cheap to get quality work done on your book. You don’t want to shortcut the editing portion or the book cover design, but how can you get quality work done on a tighter budget? After all, self-publishing can technically be done for very little money.

Here’s how you can publish a book for cheaper:

  • Hire from developing countries to reduce spend (places like Fiverr or Upwork often have them)
  • Learn to make quality covers yourself using Canva, Photoshop or the like
  • Work with a new or budding book editor
  • Learn to format a book yourself
  • Do any work you can yourself and learn how to do it for free online

Be resourceful! You can learn almost anything on the internet nowadays with a quick Google or Youtube search. Knowledge is ultimately what you end up paying for when it comes to publishing, so when you gain that yourself, you pay for it less.

Can You Publish a Book for Free?

The answer is yes. You do not need any of this in order to self-publish a book. You can edit yourself. Make your own cover, and even do the formatting without much software (though it may look wonky).

That said, the end product will be what you pay for. So if you pay nothing, the book itself may not be something that many people will want to pay for, and therefore it may not sell as well. But if you can write a book, access the internet, and learn the steps to upload and publish on Amazon, you can publish a book for free.

Cost of Book Production: Editing, Formatting, Cover, Audiobook

Cover Design Cost: $0 – $1200

The famous saying is “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, but we do it anyway. The design of your book can often determine whether or not people will actually pay for it and read it, and it can even speak to your target audience because of genre expectations. Your cover will make or break your book right off the bat. If there’s any one cost you don’t want to go cheap on, this would be it. While it’s true you can outsource to someone on Fiverr and get a decent cover for less than $20, it pays to do your research and find a good designer that’s going to deliver a cover that sells your book.

Check out this video Chandler Bolt recorded on how to use Fiverr.com to outsource your book cover design.

I would recommend setting aside a budget of at least $100. This isn’t to say that spending tons of money will get you an awesome cover, but going cheap on it may hurt your sales in the long run.

Book Editing Cost: $200 – $3,000

A book should always be edited…by a real editor. Don’t try to cut corners here, this is a very important step in your book writing journey.  Even if you’re a professional writer or editor yourself with thirty years of experience under your belt, you need to outsource it to someone else, and that means another professional editor.

Trust me: a book that contains typos will get bad reviews and sales will drop flat. Love your book. Spend the cash on editing. You can find quality editors at Upwork

As a standard, you can get book editing done for anywhere between $.01 – $.04 per word. The pricing will vary depending on the type of editing, with a basic proofreading edit being cheaper and a developmental editing costing more (but it’s worth it).

 

That means a 50,000 word manuscript can be editing for between $500 – $2,000.

You can get a very short book (15,000 words) edited for about $150-$250. This is for line editing. Ghost writing, developmental, or structural editing will run you much more than that, upwards of $2,000 or more depending on the length of your book (up to 100,000+ words) and the depth of edits you require.

When it comes to your book production costs, there can be no end to the costs you can rack up if you have the cash to invest.

Book Formatting Cost: $60-$200

When it’s time to format your book, if you’re publishing on Amazon, you might want to get it formatted both for print and for Kindle. You can outsource the formatting of both your ebook and print book for around $60-$200. Fiverr has some great formatters at reasonable prices.

You can also pay for a good formatting software like Atticus or Vellum, which range between $150-$200, and that will allow you to format every book you publish.

I’d also recommend asking fellow authors if they have any great recommendations for book formatters. Once you find a book formatter you really like, add them to your own rolodex for future reference.

ISBN Cost: $125

The ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and is the string of numbers near the barcode that identifies your book worldwide. Part of the cost to publish is getting this number, as it’s required to publish—unless you use the one Amazon gives you, but that only allows you to publish on Amazon alone.

These cost $125 for 1 but are significantly cheaper if you get 10, which costs $295.

Audiobook Creation Cost [optional]: $200-$6,000

Creating an audiobook can run you anywhere from $300 to $6,000 additional cost depending on the length of your book and who you hire to do it. Again, you’ll need to create a budget for this one to keep costs under control.

If you have a novel with multiple characters and want different people to read different roles, it can cost towards the high end of the budget (especially if you’re using high-end talent.)

If you have a good voice or acting experience and you want to give it a shot, you can purchase the basic equipment and record the audio book version yourself. Check out this blog post for setting up your recording studio and doing it yourself.

Book Translation Cost [optional]: $500-$5,000

Most people don’t get their book translated unless they’re trying to reach a new audience or a more sellable market. For example, if someone who’s a native German speaker write their book in German and gets it translated to English to sell to a wider audience.

Translation isn’t super cheap, but it can be really valuable if your language isn’t one that’s highly spoken across a large buying market. You can expect to spend anywhere from $500 – $5,000 depending on the language and available translators.

Cost of Book Publishing: Book Launch, Initial Promo, Education

Book Launch Cost: $0 – $600

Technically, it doesn’t cost anything to launch a book. It’s free. However, if you want to make the most of a launch and set your book up for success later on, there are some expenses that can do that.

Among them would be the following costs to launch a book:

Print copies – $3-$6 per book: Launch team members will almost always get a free PDF copy of the book to read before leaving a review, and we advise they “purchase” the book when it’s live on Kindle for free or for a dollar so their reviews show up as “verified purchase”. That said, you can also do a favor and give them a free print copy, in addition to having copies on hand for friends and even a book signing during your launch. Author copies are sold for cheaper than they’re sold to customers, so you won’t pay too much per copy of your book.

Launch team prizes – $20-$100: You can’t pay your launch team to leave reviews, but you can offer prizes for active members, those who have shared your book online, and other criteria that you privately create. These are incentives for other members to take part in your launch, and the prizes can range from free copies of your book to merchandise, and even general reader-type gifts.

Giveaway prizes – $100-$500 [optional]: If you wanted to go above and beyond, you could run a giveaway prior to your book’s launch, one that ensures you gain email list sign-ups. There are a ton of giveaway softwares you could use, including Goodreads Giveaway, and many of them have various costs. As for the prizes, you can giveaway many items, like books, a Kindle, merch, and more.

Initial Promo Cost: $150 – $500

As a part of the book launch and the book’s first month published, it’s wise to spend a bit more than you would on ongoing ads to get some initial interest in your book. This might look like spending a few hundred dollars on ads in order to gain a new audience of readers who consume books like yours.

While this cost of $150-$500 is completely optional, it may significantly boost your book’s initial sales, and therefore the book’s ranking on Amazon. From there, it will be more visible to other readers (without paying for ads) and can lead to more book sales for a longer period of time. All of this leads to more reviews, which will only add to the sticking power of your book, and a potential best seller ranking.

Education Cost [optional]: $0 – $10,000

While optional, it’s highly recommend to do some form of educating, like what you’re doing now in reading this post. Education can look like many things when it comes to publishing your book, but most often it will be in these forms:

Podcasts – Free: There are a lot of great podcasts about publishing you can learn from, and they’re completely free. We have a blog post covering the best publishing podcasts where you can subscribe and learn.

Social Media – Free: Many people give their advice for self-publishing online for free in the form of reels, TikToks, and even Youtube videos. If you find someone who’s writing and publishing the type of stuff you want and they’re sharing their process, follow along and gain info—including our social channels! You can also join Facebook groups like 20BooksTo50k and learn there as well.

Books – $4-$50: If you just look up “how to publish a book” on Amazon, there will be tons of books about the process. They break down details, give unique perspectives depending on the book type, and allow you to learn from many people. Plus, they’re not as expensive, though they do still cost something.

Courses – $50-1,000: In more recent years, publishing courses have become quite a popular method to learn the ropes. These often vary in price range because of the type of content covered and the company sharing it. You can find many courses within a reasonable price range.

Coaching – $1,000-$10,000: It’s expensive because it’s highly effective. When you’re new—or even if you’ve done this before and want more success—having someone who can show you the ropes, help you avoid mistakes, and take your book from initial conception to sellable product is insanely helpful. If you can put up the money, it’s worth it.

Here, we do the last two along with book production costs, where we take authors through the process by giving them a course, a personal coach, and do the editing, cover design, formatting, and uploading to publish, all while ensuring the author maintains 100% of their rights and royalties. If you’re curious about how you can sign up and work with us, check out our parent company selfpublishing.com and schedule a free consultation here.

But if that price point isn’t for you, don’t worry about it! There is plenty of help online nowadays, and you can save up for paying for what matters most for your book’s end product, like the editing and cover design.

Cost of Book Marketing: Ads, Promotional Sites, Virtual Assistant

Ads Cost: $150 – $1000

Book ads are notoriously difficult to put a set price to, because you get to dictate that yourself. Many people set a daily limit for spend, and let the platform run the ads based on criteria they set up for which audience, keywords, and other books to target.

A good range for book ad spend is around $30-$50 per day in order to see real returns, but you can get away with spending only $5 a day if that’s what you have.

While this can seem like a lot—adding up to around $1000 per month—it can also help you make a few thousand more than you would otherwise. You would just operate more like a business than taking complete profit. In order to keep things in good shape and make more than you spend, try shooting for a 30% ROAS (return on ad spend).

That would look like this:

Set your spend to $30 a day, $900 per month.

You end up making around $3,000 attributed to your ads.

To calculate your ROAS, you’ll use this: (ad spend / revenue) x 100 = ROAS

(900/3000) x 100 = 30%

This is a 30% ROAS and is a good target to shoot for when spending money on ads.

Of course, if you can’t spend that much on ads right away, it’s not a big deal. Once you start making money with your book, set up a budget for ads and begin calculating your spend and return in a spreadsheet. If you’re not hitting 30%, alter your ads until you see that number.

Promotional Sites Cost: $5 – $100

When it comes to spending cash on promo sites, you could empty your bank easily. It doesn’t have to come to this. Set a budget for yourself and go with the best of the best. I have recommendations below you can check out.

Budgets vary but I’ll spend $32 on the low end for Buckbooks and go as high as $1,000 if you add on a bundle of promo sites to launch your book.

Again, this is a major money suck if you’re not careful; you can throw thousands into it and get mediocre results. Choose your promo sites with caution and do your research.

For the best results on several paid launches I have used:

When it comes to paid promotions, you can spend as much as you want, but to get the best value for your dollar, do your research on the top sites that can generate a good return. Check out this detailed list of paid [and free] promo sites.

Content Creation Cost: $0 – $2500

This can be $0. You can do all of this yourself with your phone. There’s no need to truly invest in equipment unless you have the means and your platform is growing at a rate in which it makes sense. That being said, there are ways you can spend to cut down on the time of doing this work yourself or to uplevel the quality of your content.

Promotional images – $5 per image: Depending on where you hire, you can get promotional images for your book for as little as $5 per image. Places like Fiverr are great for this, but you can also use Canva for templates.

Camera – $300-$2500: There isn’t really a limit here when it comes to equipment for filming your own videos. Your phone works just find to make content for social media and other platforms, but you can get a camera upgrade for various prices that will improve the video quality.

Video Editing – $10-$150: Depending on the video’s length, you can spend anywhere from $10 for a 60-second clip for platforms like TikTok and Instagram, to more for a video that’s Youtube-length.

Posting / Scheduling – $15/hour: If you want to just hand over a finished video to someone who can schedule the content on your social platforms, there are many who will do the work for $15 an hour, and less if you hire from countries with a lower conversion rate for the dollar.

Virtual Assistant Cost [optional]: $5 – $25 / hour

Some authors, especially when their author career starts taking off, hire a virtual assistant to manage a lot of the admin aspects of their business, like setting ad spend, answering emails, scheduling with editors and cover designers, organizing book files, and the like. Much of this allows the author to streamline their book marketing tasks as well, so they can focus on writing more books to grow their author ecosystem.

This can cost you anywhere from $5-$25 an hour depending on where you hire from and the level of work this virtual assistant will do.

Author Website Cost [optional]: $10 – $200

Building an author platform is a serious consideration if you’re looking to expand your business, write blogs, and promote your work. Whether you’re looking to build your entire website as an author, or a landing page with a call-to-action to get users to opt-in, it’s a very important step for building your business. It’s also important to capture leads to build your mailing list. A lead capture form on your website serves the purpose of finding quality leads as well as help you determine your primary audience.

The costs to put a website together can be surprising, and it does add up. If you keep things basic, though, it’s not too bad.

Hosting Cost – $50-$150: You can sign up for hosting with servers such as bluehost or hostgator. The cost would be around $150 per year; very reasonable for website hosting. You will get a discount when you sign up for the first year, but pay full price when you renew.

Domain Name Cost – $12-$25: You can purchase a domain name to secure your brand and start driving traffic to your site. Check out Name.com. The cost will run you around $10-$15 a year.

Email Subscription Services Cost – $0-$40: If you want to collect email addresses, you’ll need to sign up with an email subscription service to manage your emails. There are several choices:

  • MailerLite: really beneficial software that’s free up to 1,000, and then it’s tiered between $9-$18 per month.
  • AWeber: regarded by most as the premium site for email subscriptions. Cost per month: $19 up to 500 subscribers.
  • Convertkit.com: This software has tons of value. Price is based on subscribers, but starts at $25 a month for your first 1,000 subscribers.
  • Flodesk: a newer email software that creates gorgeous emails at a great price. They charge $35 per month for unlimited subscribers, and that’s essentially unheard of in the email marketing software world, and is a no-brainer solution for those looking to grow your email list to large levels.

Real Author Cost to Publish: Ranging From Low to High Cost

All of these ranges can be annoying, right? I feel ya. It’s much easier to ask real people what they paid to publish and what that payment went toward. Let’s look at three ranges, so you can get an idea of which you want to do and which is more in line with your capabilities (and where you may need to educate yourself further).

Low Cost to Publish: The DIY-er

If you can do much of the process of publishing yourself, the cost will obviously be lower. Now, I still recommend everyone get their book edited, but if your writing chops are excellent and you have education or experience in editing or creative writing, it’s more acceptable to not get a developmental edit.

The low cost to publish can also come from bartering and trading your way to the services you want, which is also done by some authors. Let’s take a look at authors who have published their books for next to nothing:

Naomi Piper – $180

The only services this author paid for is $60 for the original cost of the writing software NovelPad, which sufficed to format ebooks, along with a premium subscription to Canva where she made her own covers, which cost $120 per year.

Notably, this author published multiple books for this price point annually, but it’s important to note that she has experience and education in creative writing, marketing, and some design skills. Her books are rated well, with an average of 4.5/5 stars, indicating that readers are happy!

Here are her books for reference of what this price to publish got her:

Cheap Low Cost To Publish Example $180

Kasey Riley – $150

This author uses barter and other trade and connections to keep her costs down. She said, “I try to keep publishing down to under $200.” That is a per-book price she gives, stating that her husband formats, she barters for editing, and uses SelfPubBookCovers for her covers.

Most of her books are highly rated, but with few reviews, average around 30 reviews and 4.5 stars. You can check out her books here to view what this cost to publish got her.

Medium Cost to Publish: Outsourcing the Unknown

Many people who are willing to pay a bit more have budget and less know-how for the steps of publishing. Meaning, they do less DIY and hire more of the services. Here are a couple examples of a medium price-point for publishing a book and what those books look like.

Bradform M. Smith – $1700

This author cowrote this book with his wife, and paid for a few services here and there, including $700 for an edit, $650 for a cover, another couple hundred for illustrations, and about $70 for beta reader groups. All in all, this is a very mid-level cost to publish that served this author well.

Here’s how this book has been performing since it’s launch in 2016:

Medium Cost To Publish Example Of $1700

Elle Beckenstoe – $1300

This author also sits in the middle with her cost to publish. She claims to pay between $150-$350 per book cover, and between $750-$1000 for a book edit, allowing her to publish each of her books for around $1300 depending on the totals.

In general, her books are rated well, though they tend to average under 50 reviews per book.

High Cost to Publish: All the Bells & Whistles

What you find most often with books where an author put up more money is that they tend to perform well. But let’s not confuse correlation with causation. The truth is that the more you pay for something, the more likely you are to be motivated and dedicated to a certain outcome. This means these authors likely put forth more effort in launching and marketing.

Jacqueline Fisch – $3800

This author spent a bit more than a medium amount, but still within the average cost to publish a book, especially considering she went about it on her own. She spent $500 on the cover, $2500 on developmental edits, and $800 on proofreading and formatting.

Her book is highly rated with 4.8/5 stars and has over 33 ratings.

Libby Wilson, MD – $9,000

This author went the coaching and courses option, using one that also included the cover design, formatting, and even uploading to publish on Amazon. Here, she had the process of the book writing, production, and even marketing done with her along with a personalized coach.

Check out her book’s page here. And here is more of how her book’s working for her since it published recently:

High Cost To Publish Example Of $9000

When it comes to the quality of your book, how much you spend also has to do with your goals for the book itself. Those like Libby Wilson, MD was willing to put forth more in order to not just publish a quality book, but to use it to grow her client business.

Whereas authors like Bradford M. Smith wanted to share fun tales, and the price he paid reflects that goal. And of course, you also have authors like Naomi Piper, writing to a niche audience and selling books well, but only willing to spend as much as she needed to because of her more advanced skillset.

Find The Best Publishing Path For Your Needs!  Take This 2-Minute Assessment To Learn Which Of Our Publishing Paths Will Be  The Best For You And Your Unique Needs As An Aspiring Author. Answers Delivered  Immediately!  Take The Assessment!

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