The Cost of Indie Publishing

I was asked this question privately: How much does it cost to publish a book?

The honest answer here is from zero to several thousand dollars. I'm going to break down this answer though and tell you why that $0 option is a pipe dream for 99.9% of people (especially if you ever want to sell a book). Let's start with a list of fees, some of which you may not have considered as a cost of publishing! A list of costs/fees you may incur: 1) Manuscript (software usage/time)

  • MS Word

  • Libre Office

  • Google Drive (free)

  • Apache Open Office (freeware)

  • Scrivener

  • Jutoh

  • Pages (Mac - free with Mac)

  • Vellum (Mac)

  • There are many more possibilities (including freeware versions - I'll get to those too).

2) Book Covers (cost variants listed below)

  • Cover Artist fees (ebook, full paperback wrap, and audibook)

  • software usage - Photoshop (or other program)

  • stock images

  • professional photo shoot

  • professional photo from model/photgrapher (without shoot)

3) Editing/Proofing software/services

  • Pro Writing Aid (software)

  • Writerly (software)

  • MS Word Read Aloud (software)

  • Proofreading

  • Content editing

  • Copy editing

  • Developmental editing

  • Structural editing

  • Line editing

  • Fact checking

  • Beta Readers

4) Formatting Services/Software

  • Professional formatting service

  • Programs to help you format yourself (see manuscript software in #1 above)

  • Free formatting guides available from Smashwords (that give great tips, no matter where you plan to publish your books.

5) Publishing (ebook and print)

  • Print poof copies

  • Ebook - you should never be charged to upload/publish your ebook

6) Marketing/Advertising

  • Professional Marketing Services

  • Professional Ads made

  • Video trailers for books

  • BookBrush App

  • Advertising on sites like Amazon

  • Advertising on social media

  • Advertising on book deal sites/newsletters/etc.

  • Social Media time commitment

  • Website, newsletter, etc.

  • Book Signings

7) Audiobook Production/Publication

  • Professional production/narration fees

  • professional equipment to make studio space at home

  • programs needed for audio production

  • training needed to properly narrate a book (some people are naturals, you probably aren't).

  • You cannot use the aforementioned MS Word Read Aloud voice to narrate your books! You also wouldn't want to. It is a tool, not a professional quality reading.

  • Audiobook Merchants (never pay to upload, but do pay attention to those contracts, your rights, terms of service, and pricing scenarios for YOUR audiobook)

8) Language Traslation Services

  • Professional manuscript translators


While there are some freeware software options out there, you have to weigh what will work for you! Here are the things I use, and their cost. I'll format each as such: product, cost, and reason(s) why.

  • MS Word - $99 (annually) - I have a family Office 365 Subscription since my daughter also writes and edits for/with me. Obviously, we both use this program to write our manuscripts in. The process I use to write/format is in two previous blogs I did, so I will spare you all that detail. We also use Google Drive (for edits and collabs). Why not just Google Drive (since it's free)? It's also buggy and doesn't have a lot of the features that make MS Word worth paying for. That Read Aloud feature is a huge help when editing a first draft. Also, MS Word/Office works BETTER in conjunction with editing tools like Writerly and Pro Writing Aid (my preferred app).

  • Jutoh - $90 (one time for Jutoh plus) - I use Jutoh to convert my manuscripts into ebook format. It makes the process far easier since there are various file types that need to be made. You can just upload a PDF pretty much everywhere you publish ebooks, and they will convert it for you. I find some of the extra things I do get messed up if I don't do the conversions myself and upload the proper files. If you're not worried about the extras - you probably won't need a program like Jutoh.

  • Scrivener - $80 (for Mac and PC Bundle - one time) If you only need for Mac OR PC (not both) then it's only $49 - This program allows you produce a manuscript, organize notes, format for publication, and create the file types necessary. I downloaded it to try it out (purchased to) and while I liked the "idea" of it, especially organizing notes right in a document, I didn't enjoy using it. That was mostly because I didn't have time to deal with the learning curve, as it is different from other programs.

  • Pro Writing Aid - $299 (lifetime license to use - there are cheaper options. The 2-year use fee is around $90) - I highly recommend this program! It is an app that will work within your MS Word document. It does work with Google Docs too, but in a limited capacity as opposed to the features available in use with Word. If you are running on a MAC - you may see some some limited capabilities as well (run a windows mirroring program to avoid this). You will run into the same issues if you decide to use writerly instead. Both Writerly and Pro Writing Aid have a trial version you can test run.

So, up front costs for creating my manuscript, self-editing, and formats = $469. $170 of that are for programs you may not need, and you definitely won't need both of them. So, for the sake of the average author (who doesn't experiment - or can't afford to) $299 static (one time payment) and $99 annually. So for the year of 2019, my out of pocket cost for manuscript production were: $398 (I already owned the other one-time cost software). I created 14 manuscripts in 2019. That means my base manuscript cost was: $28.43 per book (so far).

Writing time cost: If I'm writing a 70,000 word novel, and I write 5,000 words per day on it, it would take 14 days to finish. Writing those 5,000 words can take anywhere from three to eight hours. Why the difference in time? Factor in research times, fact checking (yes even in fiction), immediate rewrites, plotting times, character, scenery, plot change info that needs to be logged in notes, and times when notes need to be referenced because you forgot what color eyes a character has. If all I had to do was write - it would be three hours. In order to have a solid number for this, we'll go with a solid five hours. That's 1,000 words written per hour. Seems simple. Sometimes, it's not! ;)

If we take five hours per day times 14 days, that becomes 70 hours of writing time. If we simply use the US Federal Min. Wage for 2020 - $7.25 per hour. I should have earned $507.50 for my "time" spent writing that first draft. Hold on to that for later though, because I know some of you are thinking - that's not even a full-time job. Writing is actually a small part of my job though. You'll see. So, we established that I wrote 14 books in 2019. Lets break that down into words. I published 1,002,100 words for 2019. Divide that by the 5,000 words per day on average and we are using to figure cost of time. That is 200.42 days of work. We'll round to 200. We said an average of 5 hours per day spent writing. That's 1,000 hours. That's $7,250. Plus the cost of the programs for that year of $398. We're up to $7,604 as my cost of writing those books at the FIRST DRAFT stage (again, factoring only minimum wage for time spent). You have to factor in time spent, because that is also time lost working another job that could bring income in.

Moving on to Book Cover Cost.

This section starts with a warning! If you do not have a solid background in art/design/photo manipulation/etc. then you should not even consider making your own book covers. Just because you are an artsy person with words, does not mean you are with images. It also does not mean you can use the software required. You must also be able to understand different concepts, have an eye for marketing, trends, and other things.


You can get gorgeous premade covers for under $200 per book. You can get fantastic custom covers for anywhere from $150-3,500. It really will depend on how original you want the artwork to be, whether the artist is using stock images, they come from a photo shoot and you will have exclusive use of them, etc. This is one of the few places you will be able to play around with cost to suit your needs. But go into this process knowing this is also the part of the process where YOU WILL HAVE TO SPEND MONEY!

Since we are using my 2019 books as an overall example for this blog. I do not hire cover designers. I do the work myself, but I've been trained in photography (old school even with darkrooms and all), design, layout for books and print media since the early to mid 1990s. I've been using Photoshop (many variations of it, along with its freeware counterpart GIMP) for an embarrassing number of years that we won't talk about. ;) My point is this: My early book covers were still shit! I also still have people edit/critique my covers now just to be sure they're not complete shit when I finish them.

That said, let's examine the cost for an author who does their own covers. For the sake of this post, I am going with individualized pricing on images per book. Some of my images, I get through a bundle which makes them a little cheaper on the back end per piece, but if you're just starting out the bundle won't be a prudent option (they're only feasible if you're downloading tons of images and using them).

I use Photoshop and Lightroom for book covers (and other programs that are used for different books stuff). I have a Creative Cloud (Adobe Suite) subscription with all the pertinent apps in it that costs me $59.98 per month or $719.76 per year.

Now, out of the 14 books I created last year, plus the two ebook series bundles (16 book covers for the purposes of 2019 numbers). I spent $908 on stock images. What? Why so much for stock? Well, some of the stock images I purchased to use for the books have extended licensing which allows me to use them longer and gives me the option to merchandise the image for book merch. Also, some of those books have chapter head images inside of them that also must be paid for (that comes into formatting later). One more thing that most people don't realize when they license stock images for use in the book world. That license is only good for ONE ENTITY. That means when I added 5 of my book covers to the Aces High MC Charleston Book Bundle, that I had to go in and purchase a secondary license of each for their use in another cover because that is now being sold as a separate book (or a separate entity).


Fonts - I know that some sources say fonts are FREE! You should be reading the fine print. Most fonts you find online are free for personal use. Anything that you use a font on that you will be selling, or used in advertising something you have for sale, is considered COMMERCIAL USE! In 2019, I spent $426.00 on font licensing. Some of them didn't make it to books yet, some did, and some of that cost was because I was licensing for a major series/world of books which required more than a one-time usage deal with the creator.

So, now, I've spent a total of $2,053.76 on book covers for 2019 (so far). As we did with the first draft writing, we factor in time. Some covers take a grand total of an hour to make. Others take days and loads of Ibuprofen for those headaches. ;)

Why would it vary? Each cover uses 1-3 images, specific fonts, placements, etc. Sometimes, the original image(s) you make end up not working for you (for that project). I did not factor in the cost for fail images. SIGH. It would honestly probably double my cost above. I do reuse them on other projects sometimes though, so it all works out, eventually. On average, I would guestimate it took about 6 hours of my time for each book, mostly because of image and font searches. Six hours each times 16 books (2 bundles get included here because the cover work took extra time) equals 96 hours.

Finding the right image can happen right away, or it can take hours and days of searching. For an average per book cover for the purposes of this blog, I'm going to say 6 hours each (for ebook, paperback, and audio covers). Then, I also make the chapter head images, we'll say about 3 hours for that process because each chapter head in each book gets a custom image (in my books) Almost all of the books from 2019 had them so we'll say: three hours each times 14 books equals 42 hours.

We also have to factor in Marketing and advertising images created here (for time purposes). Book ads take time too. I probably spent about 24 hours on book ads and another 72 or so hours on marketing materials (bookmarks, magnets, etc.) By the way, these are extremely low estimates. I spend hours per day on these sometimes throughout the year. ;)

I also spend about two hours per week on training and learning new things, which is essential. That is about 104 hours of training/research time.

We are now at 338 hours of my time in photo editing and manipulation for covers, formatting, and marketing. Again, this is probably a wild underestimate. When we take 338 hours times minimum wage, that works out to: $2,450.5. That means These books have cost me: $4,504.26 for the visual stuff. And $12,108.26 so far in total. For those of you looking for a single book average, I'll give that to you at the end, but just take whatever my latest total is and divide by 14 (the extra two books in the image portion of this blog can just become dust. ;) For those of you wondering why I am still factoring my time as a "COST" to me. That number, the $12,108.26 is how much I need to earn in book royalties (at this point) to BREAK EVEN on time and money spent. And again, we're only using federal minimum wage as the standard for my time, and we're also not done yet.

And now we move on to EDITING. SIGH!


I repeat, in different words, in case they sink in better:


I mean, technically you can, and you should - to start! Wait? What? Don't worry, you didn't read that wrong. It's not a contradiction either. You should always edit your own work. Use that Read Aloud function of MS Word. Read aloud will help you catch those little missed word mistakes and the accidental word (example: "a the" - from when you change something and don't erase all the stuff you should have). It will also help you find those really awkwardly worded sentences that need to be fixed. This is one of the reasons I recommend MS Word or a program that has the same functionality. It doesn't work as well for you to read your own work aloud, because your brain will fill in blanks that it shouldn't. ;)

This is also the point where you should be using either Writerly or Pro Writing Aid (or other editing tool that you can work well with). THEY ARE SO WORTH THE MONEY. Pro Writing Aid is especially good for catching redundancies overused words, homophone abuse, etc.

Once you get your initial rough draft edited, you're ready to move on to the professionals. So, how much should this cost?

There are so many answers to this question, because there are also so many variables. There are different levels/types of editing. But let's play around with the basics here.

First, you have to know what you need. I listed the types of editing above in section 3) from proofreading to beat readers and everything in between. You can look up each of those, learn more, and decide what is important to you. In an ideal world, you would want all of them. In a broke-ass world, you might struggle to just get in one or two. No matter what you decide, get another pair of experienced and unbiased eyes on your work.

For the sake of argument though, here are some rates to play around with:

I found an editorial service who charges: $0.0235 per word for fiction for copyedits, proofing, and light structural editing (that's a good rate for all that). For a 70,000 word book that would come out to: $1,645.

Some authors will do work swaps with you. You edit for them, they'll do so for you. That's great, as long as you both know what you're doing. If you can work something like this out, then you just factor your time spent editing as part of your cost (even though it came out in time rather than out of pocket).

I pay anywhere from $1,250 to 1,600 for edits (depending on what I need done and who is helping out) per book. For the sake of this blog and our final total, I'm going to say I paid $1,250 for each of my 14 books in 2019. That is a total of $17,500.

Now, before a book goes to an editor I'm paying, it usually goes though a round of Read Aloud, and a round of Pro Writing Aid assisted edits by me. It takes about 1 hour per nearly 10,000 words read. So, for a 70k book it would be 7 hours of Read Aloud time, if we were just reading. But there are pauses to fix things along the way. It generally takes me about 10-13 hours to get through a book that size. Then another 8-10 to get through all the possible editing issues that can be investigated using Pro Writing Aid. So, we are at 18 hours there on the low side, but we'll use that as our hourly calculation. It usually takes another 5-8 to get through the edits sent back by my editor (this is why you cannot self edit)! You will miss a lot. It might take about 2-4 hours to get through another round. On the low end, that makes 25 hours to get through the editing process, on my end. That equals out to $181.25 for my time during edits. That means edits for the 2019 books cost around: $17,681.25.

And that brings our current total cost for 14 publications in a year up to: $29,789.51 (consequently, this cost so far is almost double what I would make if I had a real 40 hour per week minimum wage job - perspective for you). I've already counted my cost of formatting (minus my time spent doing it). I have formatting down to a science (you can read about it in previous blogs) so unless we have a special issue that pops up, formatting usually only takes me about 2 hours per book. That would add $203 to our total for 14 books at minimum wage rates. Our total is now, $29,992.51. Remember, this is how much money I need to make back in royalties just to BREAK EVEN at this point.

Formating - if you hire a professional it can cost you anywhere from $100 to $1,500. HOWEVER, this is the one area I will tell you to skimp and save on if you're short on funds and have the time to do it yourself. Go to Smashwords, download Mark Coker's Smashwords Formatting Guide, and read it! Or find a good Youtube video or blog post about formatting books. Learn something, and put it to use for you. Factor your time spent learning into your cost to publish rather than spending out of pocket up front. If you don't want the headache down the road, you can always hire someone else to do it for you when you have the money to hire people.

Everything else in the numbered lists below is "OPTIONAL". Will it benefit your book sales to do those things? ABSOLUTELY! Are we going to talk about them here, not really. They are for a secondary blog post because this one is already too long. I will go ahead and enter in the expenses I incurred for all that stuff though in the breakdown below.

We are at: $29,992.51.

Advertising: $3,000.00 (Amazon, social media, and book deal ads/newsletters)

Marketing/Merch/Swag/Book Proofs: $2,500

Book Giveaways & shipping costs (I count giveaways in my advertising expense normally, but I separated it from traditional advertising on websites and whatnot for this blog & I'm including shipping costs for both giveaways and sales here): $13,720 (THIS WAS A LOT - YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO THIS)

Book Signing Table Fees: $550

Book Signing Travel Expense: $5,500 + time

Book Signing Prep Cost (Banners, etc): $350 + time

Audiobook Production: $4,000 (for 3 audiobooks) + 28 hours of contract negotiations, editing, etc hours of my time. $203 + 4,000 = $4203.

Website/Newsletter/New release text line: $580 (annual)

Translations: $0 (because I haven't found translators I trust enough to do this yet).

My 2019 cost of producing 14 titles, 2 bundles, and 3 audiobooks was: $34,195.51.

Advertising, marketing, fan giveaways, and book signings cost: $25,620 in 2019 (minus time spent on all of that).

That means in 2019 I needed to make a little more than $60,395.51 before I started earning a profit! And we won't even talk about the taxes! ;) Don't forget, we have to pay our own, it doesn't automatically get deducted. We also pay a higher rate of taxes than the average working person.

SINGLE BOOK COST (leaving out audiobooks and all the extras like - advertising, merchandising, giveaways, book signings, etc)... PRODUCTION COST OF ONE EBOOK AND PAPERBACK: $2,142.00. Again, this is a low end estimate because of all the work I do on my own. Professionals want to earn more than minimum wage for their time! ;)

Time spent on social media promoting, hanging with readers, and hosting special events also was not factored into this. I don't factor it because while it is a part of the job, I enjoy doing it too (not that I don't enjoy the rest of my work), but work/fun lines get blurred so I don't count it.

*Reminder - for those of you just starting out: this was an exceptionally productive year with a great return, which made those numbers possible. HOWEVER... a word of warning. I've been in this business for a decade and I've had years where I only made around $12,000 off of my books (not counting my expenses). Some Indie authors never make their production cost back. My worst year - I put out 2 books with production cost of around $4,284 and I made around $12,000. That means I really only earned $7,716 or so and was obviously working a day job. This is a tough business and you have to be prepared to fight for it or forget it! Fighting doesn't mean you get vicious with "competition" either. It means you hustle, you work your ass off, and you work with your fellow authors to cross-promote. It's the only way you'll make it and stick.

I'll cover all the rest of the "optional publication cost stuff" in a later post! Hope this helps someone.

PS - sorry for any typos, I totally didn't edit this post! :D

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