How Much Does Self-Publishing Cost?

For real-life stories from indie authors on how much they spent to self-publish their work, check out our discussion: How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book?

Stepping into Wal-Mart is kind of like falling into a black hole (only without the stretching/exploding).

Seriously, though, think about it. You walk in, ready to purchase your few needed items and walk out. Hours later, you emerge into the garish sunlight, staring at your recipt and thinking, “how did I spend $100 on socks and Pop-Tarts?!”

For first-time indie authors, the process is much the same. You start out intending only to purchase editing and a cover but end up spending WAY more than anticipated.

As any money-saving guru will tell you, the way to avoid this black hole syndrome is by going in with a plan, a specific list of items to purchase and blinders to costs not essential to your task.

While I can’t help you turn a blind eye to those tempting purchases, I can lay out the possible costs associated with self-publishing so you can create that all-important shopping list!

NOTE: The below is simply a list of *possible* costs. Don’t let your eyes glaze over as you try to figure out how to raid your child’s college fund to raise enough money! Every author’s needs and goals are different — what’s essential to you may not be essential to your fellow author. Self-Publishing can cost tens of thousands or nothing at all, depending on the route you take. 

The Costs of Writing

Organizational Materials: $25

You know, all those idea notebooks, sticky notes, calendars, and smartphone apps to capture your thoughts and keep you on track.

Coaching: $250+

If you need a bit of a kick in the butt to keep your fingers to the keys (or would benefit from a consistent sounding board as you write), professional writing coaches will do their best to help you finish your book — at a price. Writing coaching packages start at around $250, but I’ve seen them go for $1000+!

Books and Courses: $25+

Be your *own* writing coach! Books like Roz Morris’ Nail Your Novel and courses like Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone teach you the skills to finish your novel. PS: Shannon created a great ecourse, How NOT to Write a Novel, exclusively for our Indie Ninjas!

Software: FREE-$125

Follow the free route and choose something like OpenOffice or Storybook  to write your novel or go a bit fancier with Microsoft Office or Scrivener.

The Costs of Editing/Revision

Beta Readers: FREE+

The easiest way to recruit beta readers is from your already crazy-dedicated fanbase. Ask your tribe nicely and you’re bound to get a few volunteers! To show your gratitude, however, consider throwing in a $5-10 Amazon or iTunes gift card.

Proofreader: $250+

Proofreaders check for typos and are generally more thorough than beta readers, but much less so than professional editing service. Be sure to check out proofreaders in our Self-Publishing Resource Directory.

Professional Editor: $500+

Hiring a professional editor is one of the true *musts* for any indie author. Don’t skimp here! For a list of editors who work with indie authors, check out our Resource Directory.

The Costs of Professional Design/Layout

Cover Design: $250+

If you’re going to go pro in one design arena, your cover is the place to spend the bucks. Be sure to visit our Self-Publishing Resource Directory for designers who work with self-publishing authors.

Layout Design: FREE – $150+

Many indies stick to Word for the interior layout of their book, but (especially for your paperback) we highly recommend going pro. Again, check out the Self-Publishing Resource Directory for self-pub approved layout designers!

The Costs of DIY Design/Layout

Software: FREE-$1000+

Design your book cover for free using included templates with publishers like CreateSpace or go the true DIY route with something free like GIMP or (for the true pro) Adobe Photoshop. As for the layout, you can stick with your word processing program (covered in the Costs of Writing section above) or use Adobe InDesign like the pros.

Stock Images/Photography: FREE-$20+

Free stock images can be found on sites like, but Fotolia or iStock offer a bigger selection of quality high-resolution images, which will run you $20 or more.

Fonts: FREE-$200

You can choose to use free fonts (already hanging out on your computer) such as Times New Roman or Garamond for your interior layout. If you want your book to look like others in your local Barnes and Noble, however, use a true professional font such as Minion Pro (which comes with Adobe Creative Suite) or Caslon.

When it comes to your cover, you can get a bit more creative with fonts — check out the selection at DaFont or MyFont.

The Costs of Publishing

ISBN: $125+ (total control) or $10+ (certain restrictions)

Purchasing a single ISBN from Bowker will run you $125. If you’re planning to write more than one book or are publishing your book in multiple formats (print, eBook, etc), you’ll save a ton by purchasing a block of 10 for $250.

Some publishers (like CreateSpace or Smashwords) provide much cheaper ISBN options if you’re willing to meet certain requirements, such as listing them as your publisher.

Setup Fees: $75

Certain POD publishers, such as Lightning Source, charge you a certain amount to setup your files for printing. LSI charges $37.50 for cover setup and $37.50 for interior setup for a total of $75.

Distribution: $12+

Lightning Source charges $12 a year to be distributed through Ingram, the largest book wholesaler. The fee also includes distribution through Baker & Taylor (who you could register with separately for $300 — ouch).

Proof: $30

When printing through Lightning Source, a proof copy of your book costs $30, including expedited shipping. This is an essential step because there are many issues you don’t notice until you actually hold your printed book (side note: it also feels *really* awesome).

Review Copies: FREE-$5+

After approving your proof, consider personally ordering copies to give away for review. You’ll pay the wholesale price, usually around $5 for a 300-page book.

Alternately, you could provide electronic review copies of your book by converting your interior file into a PDF.

The Costs of Promotion/Marketing

Author Website

  • Design: FREE – $350+
    If you choose custom design for your website, make sure you will easily be able to make updates as your career progresses. Just getting started? Consider a free website hosted on to get your feet wet! Note: we offer quality custom WordPress designs for our indie friends :-)  
  • Domain Name: FREE – $15/yr
    This is sometimes included in your hosting package (see below), but if you want to register multiple domains through a provider such as GoDaddy, they generally run around $15 apiece.
  • Hosting: FREE-$5/mo+
    A place for your website to live. Personally, we use InMotion Hosting (awesome, so far)!
  • Theme: FREE-$20+
    If you can’t afford a custom design but want something a little more spiffy than the default WordPress theme, purchase a premium theme from WooThemes  or ElegantThemes.
  • Mailing List: FREE-$20+
    A mailing list is the best way for you to keep in touch with readers you know are crazy-dedicated to you and your work. We use MailChimp, but have heard amazing things about AWeber. Most are priced by the number of subscribers you have (and MailChimp also offers an awesome ‘Forever Free‘ plan, perfect for getting started).

Book Trailer: FREE-$799+

To DIY your book trailer, check out Shannon’s post ’4 Steps to Making Your Own Book Trailer.’ If you’d rather leave it to the pros, a 90-second trailer goes for $500+.

The Biggest Self-Publishing Cost

As any indie author will attest, the biggest cost of self-publishing is your own time. Unless you have a hefty sum saved up to outsource everything, you’ll spend at least 50-100 hours on this endeavor!

Put Away That Calculator!

Again, remember, the above are simply the possible self-publishing costs. Some authors have spent thousands and others invested nothing but time. The route you choose is up to you!

Did I leave any costs out? Let me know in the comments!


This is a reprint from the Duolit blog.