How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book?

I’ve both traditionally published and self-published books, and a lot of people ask me, “How much does it cost to self-publish a book?” I’m also asked questions like, “Do I have to hire a cover designer, or can I design it myself?” “Do I really need an editor?”

There are a lot of all-inclusive self-publishing packages and services out there for novels and nonfiction books. Some of them charge too much for services, taking advantage of less experienced authors. Other groups or individuals will try to lure you into paying high rates by claiming, often falsely, that they can give you an inside track to a big 5 publishing contract. One of the reasons I’m writing this post is to give people the information they need when evaluating companies, services, and self-publishing costs.

This is mostly geared toward traditional fiction and nonfiction books with no illustrations. Some other types of books might have different needs. There is no one way to get a book ready for self-publishing, and some people may recommend different things from what I’m suggesting here.

Producing a quality product can be expensive. If you want to or need to scrimp, that’s not really my business. There may be ways to barter for the help you need, too (for instance, your designer friend creates your book cover, and you write for his website.)

The market is flooded with badly edited, badly designed books. No matter how you achieve it, quality can make your book stand out and help you build the long-term audience you need to be successful as a writer.

(To my international readers: sorry this is all in U.S. dollars, but I hope it still gives you a good idea of the costs involved!)

"Real Talk: HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO SELF-PUBLISH A BOOK? Bryn breaks it down for you at" | cute piggy bank and books

Developmental Edits (or Story Edits) 

What it is:

A critique of your story. Plot holes, weak characterizations, pacing problems, point of view issues, dialogue, descriptions, and more get addressed here. For a nonfiction book, this can address matters such as structure, pacing, logic, and flow.

Should you hire a professional?


If it’s your first time publishing a work of fiction, and you don’t have a bunch of whip-smart beta readers that have given you thorough, specific, and perhaps agonizing feedback, I would say yes.

How much it costs:

I prefer to pay by the word rather than by the hour so that I know what my final bill will be.

.01 per word (75,000 words = $750) is a reasonable rate, depending on the level of experience. Some experienced editors, rightly, charge more. There are lots of terrible editors out there, and they should be free for all the good they will do you. Look for someone with industry experience or someone who at least has strong references, and don’t hesitate to ask for the latter.

Copy Edits (or Line Edits)

What it is:

This is your second editing pass, after you have all the kinks worked out of your story. It’s a line-by-line critique of your prose. Over-used words, incorrect usage, awkward and unclear sentences, and everything else that makes your work sound clunky or amateurish gets hashed out here.

A copy editor is so much more than a proofreader. To better understand what a copy editor does, with embarrassing examples from my own writing, check out my post: What Does a Copy Editor Do?”

Should you hire a professional?

Absolutely. No question.

How much it costs:

The same rate as above, .01 cent a word, is reasonable. My above warnings about editors apply here as well.


Should you hire a professional?


Most people aren’t good proofreaders of their own work. They don’t catch their own mistakes because they know what it’s supposed to say. Unless you’re married to or friends with someone with expertise, I’d hire someone familiar with the Chicago Manual of Style.

How much it costs:

Expect to pay .005 a word ($375 for a 75,000-word novel) or more.

Please note that you need to do a second proofreading pass once your book is formatted. One pass isn’t enough to catch everything, and it’s even easier to catch mistakes once it’s in book form. If the book has already been proofed by a professional once, the final pass can probably be done by an English major who will do it for free because they love you.


What it is:

Turning your book into a properly laid-out file for upload to Amazon and wherever else you like (Barnes and Noble, iBooks, and Kobo are likely choices). If you’re going to have a print edition of your book, that needs to be formatted, too. Kindle Direct Publishing, Barnes & Noble Press, IngramSpark, and Smashwords are some choices here (and they aren’t mutually exclusive.)

Should you hire a professional?

Eh, up to you.

Plenty of authors do this themselves. There can be a bit of a learning curve at the beginning. If you hire it out, an experienced formatter may make it look a bit nicer, with curly bits between section breaks, nicely designed chapter headings, and so on.

How much it costs:

You can expect to pay anywhere between $50 and $150 for an ebook without special formatting challenges. An additional print edition will cost more.

Book Cover Design

Should you hire a professional?

Unless you have strong design skills, yes.

How much it costs:

A good custom ebook cover costs $125 and up. I think anything between $125 and $500 for a cover created with stock images is reasonable. Of course, if there’s original photography or illustration involved, that’s much more expensive. If you need a print version as well, that will cost you more.

If you hire an artist to create original artwork or photography, that will probably (and rightfully) be much more expensive. Most cover designers work with stock photography, and you may see the same photo on other authors’ book covers, although it may be treated in a different way.

You might enjoy looking at premade ebook covers, which the designer just customizes with your book title and name. These usually run in the $40 to $60 range.

Even if you’re a rock star designer, you will have to purchase the rights to the photography and design assets you use, unless they are copyright-free or you created them yourself.

Many book cover designers offer deals on bookmarks and other swag, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Want some tips on how to avoid typical “indie cover” mistakes in your book cover design? Click here to read my post about that!


What it is:

A standard international identification number for books. Libraries and some retailers won’t order your book without an ISBN, and many marketing opportunities require one.

Some publishing partners like Amazon’s KDP offer free ISBNs, but if you use them, they are the publisher of your story. If you buy your own ISBN from Bowker, then you are the publisher. That’s the only way I would go. There are websites claiming to sell ISBNs for cheaper, and they are all scams as far as I know.

Please note that if you’re doing ebook and print, you’ll need one ISBN for your ebook (you can apply the same one to a mobi and an epub file), and a different one for your print version.

How much it costs:

One ISBN costs $125, and it costs $250 for ten.

U.S. Copyright

Your creative work is your intellectual property, but if it gets ripped off, having the registered copyright will help you fight for your rights.

How much it costs:

For self-published books by a single author, this costs $55.

I’m sorry that I don’t know about copyrights for other countries!

how much does it cost to self-publish a book #how to self-publish a book | books on a shelf plus an e-reader

These are just the expenses for actual book production. Your marketing budget could be nonexistent or astronomical, and there’s a lot of disagreement about the most cost-effective ways to market a book, so I’m not even going to delve into that here!

This has been a pretty quick overview, but I hope it’s helpful. If it is, please share it on your blog, Twitter, or wherever you connect with other writers…it’s much appreciated!

Whether you’re just starting to write a book or you’re in the “messy middle” of a draft, you might like to check out my book Blank Page to Final Draft. It’s a step-by-step guide to writing a novel that’s ready to publish, based on my experiences as an author and as an executive editor.

cover of the book BLANK PAGE TO FINAL DRAFT: How to Plot, Write, and Edit a Novel Step By Step, by by Bryn Donovan

And if you like free resources about writing, be sure to follow the blog — you can subscribe below. Thanks for reading, and good luck in all your ventures!

32 thoughts on “How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book?”

  1. Pingback: Self-Publishing? Here's What It Costs. | Stephanie Tillman

  2. Pingback: What Is Developmental Editing?

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