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The price to publish a book can vary wildly, but I’ll try to narrow down the field so you can know what to expect. And I am addressing the self-publishing model rather than the traditional model of publishing (see this previous post for an overview of the differences). Authors who are traditionally published don’t pay anything to have their work appear in print. The publisher is paying the costs to create the book, so there is no upfront money required from the traditionally published author.

Publishing Package Costs

Now on to the costs involved for authors who self publish, whether they rely completely on an author services business or do a portion of the work themselves. Costs fall into several main categories: editing, design, printing and/or file conversion for ebooks, distribution, and marketing. Many author services businesses offer packages that bundle some or all of these services, such as these at Xulon or these at Dog Ear Publishing. From these two examples, you can see that it costs around $1,400 to get a print-on-demand book created and listed on Amazon (but with no editing or ebook version) from Xulon, and $3,700 from Dog Ear Publishing to have a book copyedited, uniquely designed, distributed through Amazon and other major online retailers along with the fully distributed ebook version of your book, and some website and marketing materials thrown in as well. You can find lower prices, but you need to be sure you are getting all of the services you need to produce a professional product and make it available for sale where your readers will find it.

An Indispensable Guide

I’ll break some of the costs down by category in case you’d like to do some of the work yourself (or subcontract it to someone you trust), but first I want to highlight what I consider an indispensable book for those going the self-publishing route: The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine. Levine has a background in law as well as publishing, and in this book he explains clearly what to look for in an author services business, specifically by examining their contracts and their pricing, and goes on to categorize a number of the bigger companies in this industry from “Outstanding Self-Publishers” on down to “Publishers to Avoid.” He updates the book from year to year, so be sure to get the newest edition.

Editorial Costs

There are different levels of editing, and perhaps in a future post we’ll take a closer look at them. For now, we’ll assume you need at least copyediting, which essentially makes sure the author’s writing follows a pre-determined set of rules; the book industry often uses the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) as the definitive “rule book.” The copyeditor makes sure spelling, grammar, punctuation, and other style issues are followed consistently throughout the book. I am a firm believer that you really shouldn’t skip a thorough edit by a trained editor. Prices from freelance editors are usually based on word count. Reasonable rates start at $0.02 – $0.03 per word. So for a 40,000-word manuscript, editing would start at $800. More details on editorial rates can be found at the Editorial Freelancers Association.

Design Costs

We all know that book covers are (or should be) designed to attract readers of a particular genre. What you may not realize is that the interior of a book is designed as well. So you are looking at both cover design cost, and interior design/layout cost. The cover is the first thing people see, and will be on all marketing materials, so it is worth taking care to get the best cover design that you can afford. If you are planning to try for mainstream sales through bookstores, you should expect to pay $800 to $1,200 to a proven professional book designer. If you will be selling primarily through in-person sales at speaking engagements and events, you can likely get by with a good cover design done for between $300 and $500. You may be able to source a less-expensive designer you like through sites like 99Designs and Fiverr, but be sure you check out the designer’s portfolio.

Interior design and layout is usually priced by the page, though some designers charge a base rate and then a per-page for layout, or what used to be known as typesetting. Expect to pay anywhere from $2 per page for a minimally designed fiction novel up to $10 or more per page for complex layouts with images and other graphics. An experienced designer of book interiors is familiar with the intricacies of drop caps, running heads, recto/verso pages, widows and orphans, and other specialized information.

Printing

Gone are the days when authors had to place orders of thousands of dollars for stacks of books to store in their garage. Print-on-demand (POD) is a technology that allows a printer to print books one at a time in response to actual orders. These days, for a POD book, when someone places an order with Amazon, Amazon relays that order to the POD printer and the book is printed and shipped directly to the consumer within a day or so. No inventory. No risk to the author. The trick is to get your files hosted with a POD printer, or with an author services business that uses a POD printer. The print cost for a POD book is understandably higher (around $1 plus $0.015 per page for a black & white interior paperback, so about $4 for a 200-page book) than the per-book cost from a short-run printer from whom you order a larger quantity at one time, but you aren’t stuck with hundreds of unsold copies. That being said, if you will be doing the bulk of sales yourself at events, it may be worth it to order a larger quantity from a short-run printer to get the cost per book down closer to $2 to $2.50 each to increase your profit.

Ebook Conversion and Distribution

The cost to create an ebook varies. If you aren’t picky about how your ebook looks, you can create an account with Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and upload your manuscript as a Microsoft Word document or PDF, and Amazon will create a Kindle book for you for free. However, it probably won’t look professional. To get an ebook that looks and performs better, you can work with services such as Bookbaby or eBookPartnership for around $300. Both of those vendors offer distribution to the major ebook retailers as well.

If you already have an ebook file, there are services that will distribute it for no money upfront, but rather take a fixed amount or a percentage per sale. StreetLib and Smashwords are two such services.

What Else Do You Need To Know?

We haven’t touched the cost of distribution of print books or marketing, but we’ll hit those another time. Meanwhile, check out some of the sources listed in this post. You’ll be further along in your publishing journey.

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