What Does Self-Publishing Cost: A Preview

One of the first questions people ask when they think they may want to self-publish is: What’s it going to cost? It doesn’t matter if the author is producing a cookbook for a fundraiser, or plans to end up on Oprah’s couch, we need to know how much we’ll have to spend to get our book into print.

I’ve found it difficult to answer this question without a fairly involved conversation with an author first. I need to find out the author’s goals for her book, get a sense of what kind of marketer she will be, judge as best I can whether her goals are realistic given the budget available. Then, and only then, can I put together an estimate.
But wouldn’t it be great to have a way to categorize the different costs involved in self-publishing? That’s what I’ve tried to do here. And by looking at three distinct paths authors can take to publication, I can create a set of cost factors you can use in planning for your own book’s publication.
Here’s how I’ve broken down the costs:
9 Cost Categories for Self-Publishing
  1. Company setup—Most self-publishers are doing this for the first time, and most don’t have a company structure in place. Although you can’t assign these costs directly to the individual book you’re starting with, you still have to pay or you won’t have a publishing company at all.
  2. ISBNs—Although years ago this was an insignificant cost, the new reality is that Bowker, who administers the ISBN program in the United States, has decided this will be a cost factor that penalizes one-book publishers. But hey, you can’t fight city hall, can you?
  3. Manuscript preparation—Are there costs to get the manuscript to the point where it can be handed over to an editor? Fact checking, adding a bibliography, rounding up artwork or illustrations are examples of the kinds of costs in this category. I don’t include here developmental editing, which is a manuscript development cost, not so much a publishing cost.
  4. Editing—The editing process on any book might be long and involved, or it may be a read-through for grammar and usage, for typographical errors. It’s a truism that every book needs editing, and editing can be a major cost in getting ready for print.
  5. Design—Someone will have to design the cover for your book, and someone will have to at least do a layout for the interior. There are many ways to go about this step, and most of them cost something.
  6. Review program—For authors who intend to sell into the retail book channel, book reviews are critical. They also come at a cost.
  7. Platform building—Most self-publishers are relying on the internet for both customers and sales. This effort needs to start with an author’s platform, and there are costs there too.
  8. Proofing and Reproduction—Whether using offset printing or digital printing with print on demand distribution, this may be the single largest cost in your plan. We have to nail it down.
  9. Fulfillment—In some of the models we’ll look at, storing, invoicing and shipping your books are costs that have to be taken into account.
Three Paths to Publication
In looking over the 9 Cost Categories above, I can see that different authors will approach these tasks differently depending on the path they’ve chosen. I’ve separated these into three approaches:
  1. The hobbyist, do-it-yourself, lowest-cost path to publication
  2. The online bookseller, seeking to maximize profits with minimal cost
  3. The fully competitive publisher, who intends to compete agressively in their niche in all parts of the distribution chain
Each of these publishers will approach the cost categories differently. That’s as it should be, because different goals animate their different strategies.
In the series of articles to follow, I’ll look at how each category impacts the cost of your publishing project in each of the three publishing scenarios. We’ll look at actual costs and attempt to come up with a bottom line number for a “typical” book going through each process.
I think this will be a useful exercise. Times change, options multiply, aims get more focused. With the information we’ll develop, any author ought to be able to calculate for themselves the costs for their book. They will be able to answer the question: What will it cost?
If I’ve left out any costs that should be included here, please let me know in the comments.
Takeaway: Although every book is different, costs for the three paths to publication can be calculated in advance.


This is a reprint from Joel Friedlander‘s The Book Designer.

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