On the true cost of self-publishing

Dec 30

Hi dee ho everybody! I hope you are all enjoying your final days of 2012. As a sobering New Year’s treat (pun totally intended), and inspired by Lena’s guest post which detailed all the work that goes into self-publishing, I’ve decided to get down to the facts with you kind people. Terra has almost broken even in terms of the monetary investment that I’ve put into the book so far, so I felt it was an apt time to discuss exactly what that monetary investment was. After all, I’m nothing if not honest with my blog readers (as those who read my personal healthy living blog can attest). And I did a lot of research into what self-pubbing would actually cost me prior to taking on the task, so I feel it’s only fair that I pass on my own experiences as well.

Right from the get-go, I will tell you that the total amount of money that I have spent (thus far) on Terra comes to a grand total of $1,064.97. Not a fortune, by any means, but for a decidedly UNrich 20-something, it was still definitely an investment. It helped that the costs accumulated over time, rather than being a sum I had to pay at once, and that a lot of the things I paid for were one-time items that I won’t need to pay again for book 2. However, I also have to acknowledge how very, very lucky I am to have a lot of VERY talented and generous friends, who helped me keep costs drastically down, too.

For the sake of ease and understanding, I’ve broken up that cost into five distinct categories, and I will explain what all was involved that added up to that final sum.


For any of you future self-pubbers who may be experiencing heart palpitations at the thought of forking over a grand or more to get your book into the hands of the public, fear not! I spent a grand total of $0 on the actual writing. Crafting my book was, for all intents and purposes, free! Of course, if we were to assign a monetary value to my TIME, then of course it wasn’t free-free. But we’re talking strict dollars and cents here, so we won’t worry about that. I”m also very fortunate that I do have a separate day job that allows me to pay the bills, and thus do not count any potential lost income by having only writing as my job. All you really need to start writing your great American novel is to actually sit your butt down in front of a keyboard and start typing. No down-payment needed.

Total cost of writing: $0

Possible cost of writing: $0 – however much you might be losing out on if you prematurely quit your job to become a writer, hahaha.


This is one of those categories where I must (I must, I MUST!) acknowledge how very fortunate I am. See, I am lucky enough to have a very close friend who is ALSO an absolutely fantastical editor. And no, that’s not a mistyping of the word “fantastic” because I literally meant fantastical. As in, I’m not sure how she exists in reality, because she is surely some sort of magical editing creature sent from the heavens. Aileen Brenner put so much loving and tender care into Terra, and infused her literary prowess and wordsmithing into every page of the book, and she did it for the cost of a couple of dinners and a very fun, Hannukah-themed thank you basket that I gifted her at our celebratory dinner. So yes, she basically did it for free.

The kind of editing that Aileen provided for me would easily cost many, many hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of dollars if you were to source someone on eLance, or a similar website. I say this based only on the amount of time she dedicated to the book, since many freelance editors charge by the hour. So my experience was absolutely blessed by the frugality gods, and I fully appreciate how lucky I am for that.

I did hire a copyeditor to give the book a final read-through and catch any strictly grammatical/typographic errors that were present. Again, however, I recognize that I am very fortunate, because I also was able to use a friend for this. A blog reader from my other blog reached out to me, working as a technical editor for her dayjob, and offered to edit Terra for me. She edited the first-draft for free, and then we agreed on a (exteremely reasonable, I’m-taking-total-advantage-of-you) price for the final draft read-through. She only charged me $75, but I paid her $100 because she’s awesome and I know how easy she was letting me off.

Depending on whether you hire an editor, get a friend to edit, or choose not to have an outside editor at all, the cost for editing will vary a LOT.

Total cost of editing: $100 (Plus additional $$$ in dinners/thank you presents as Aileen’s “payment,” but for our purposes here, we won’t count those.)

Possible cost of editing: $0 – $2500


it’s cliche, but true. People judge books by their cover. Thus, there are few things more important to your book’s success than getting the cover, interior layout, and other aesthetics to be as attractive as possible. For some talented individuals who have sweet Photoshop skillz and are able to create these items themselves, then you are very lucky. While I was able to teach myself via the great tutor that is Youtube to design the interior layout of the paperback book in Adobe InDesign, my Photoshop prowess is certainly not up to a professional standard. I had two pretty distinct ideas for the cover, and so went with a two-pronged approach by beseeching both the help of an incredibly talented (and, again, generous) friend, and by outsourcing on eLance.com.

This is where I ended up with an extraneous cost. If I had just stuck with what I knew, which was how incredibly talented my friend (and fellow blogger) Cassie is, I would’ve have even needed to bother trying out my other idea for a cover. As it was, however, I did end up paying $125 for a cover that I never ended up using. Oh well, you live, you learn. Cassie designed an incredible cover for me for free, other than the costs of the stock photos I had to purchase for her to manipulate, which were $59. I was able to have my brother (who is a photographer) take the photo of the main model on the cover, so that saved me some money there. And as mentioned, I did the interior layout myself. Cassie also graciously designed all the blog batches and banners/headings for me, because she is a rockstar.

If you have the ability to everything yourself, including using your own photos and whatnot, you can spend $0 on design. However, if you pay someone to do everything, you can easily work your way into the multiple hundreds.

Total cost of design: $184

Possible cost of design: $0 – $500


So the cool thing about self-publishing is that it’s pretty much free. Long gone are the days when you need to order 10,000 copies of your book and house them in your garage to mail off one by one. Print on demand services like CreateSpace (what I used) allow you to upload your book templates and have them printed as they are ordered. Technically, this can cost nothing at all. However, if you want to have a physical proof of your book to ensure that everything looks how you want to, then you will need to pony up the money to purchase those before you approve your book for publishing.

I ended up getting a little overzealous in the proofing process, and ordered tons of proofs before the final book was even ready. This is definitely a cost that I’ll save on in the future, but given that it was my first time, I just couldn’t resist ordering multiple copies of the book to get my hands on. In the end, I ended up ordering FIVE different rounds of proofs before the book was even fully ready. Each book costs a little over $4.00 to print, plus shipping, so I ended up spending $92.48 in total for 16 physical proof copies. I know, I’m a crazy person. Luckily, many of those ended up being sent out as ARCs, but again, this won’t be a duplicated cost next time (well, probably, hahaha). CreateSpace also offers a digital proofing process, so you don’t have to order ANY if you really don’t want to. But I would still always recommend ordering just one to make sure everything (colors, bleed, etc) came out perfectly.

Total cost of publishing: $92.48

Possible cost of publishing if you’re a normal personal: $0 – $10

Marketing & Miscellaneous

As you can see from above, pretty much all of the costs so far have been pretty minimal. I was pretty surprised by all the random, miscellaneous costs that cropped up throughout the process. There were a lot that were unrelated to each other, so let me go ahead and just list them out for you.

Website domain name (5 years): $40.85

LLC incorporation fee: $100

Bowker ISBNs (10): $250

Bowker barcodes: $50

Purchasing author copies (25): $122.50

Kindle paperback: $9.99

Kindle ebook: $4.99

Shipping materials: $21.50

Shipping: $88.66

So, here is the breakdown of where the rest of my money went. Firstly, I do have this website set up, and I purchased the domain name (the actual gretchenpowell.com part) for 5 years. Then there was the cost of incorporating Hopewell Media, LLC, my publishing shell, and the costs of ISBNs, which are actually cheaper when purchased in bulk. (1 ISBN is $125, 10 is $250, 1000 is $1000.) Then I also had to purchase the barcode to put on the back of the paperback book, which is $25, but I bought two so I already have the barcode for book 2. Then there’s the actual finished author copies, and the shipping costs that it took to send them out to readers, reviewers, and the people who helped me make this book a reality.

Luckily, this is where the majority of my one-time costs came in. I’ve already purchased my ISBNs for the entire series, I won’t need to pay another incorporation fee (just the annual renewal fee, which is less), and my website is totally set for the next 5 years. I’m also a dummy and it took me a long time to figure out the cheapest way to mail things (media mail, NEVER first class!), hahaha. I also purchased a copy of the book for full price through Amazon and on my Kindle to ensure the process didn’t have any hiccups, but I don’t think I’ll need to do that again.

If you were to only pay for the cost of ISBN and barcode for a single book, you’d be looking at $150 flat, but you really should get those things if you’re serious about publishing. Everything else is pretty much optional though, considering you can set up a blog/website for free, you don’t HAVE to create a publishing LLC (I did it for legitimacy and legal reasons), and you don’t HAVE to purchase copies for yourself/mail them out (but then again, why wouldn’t you?) Some other costs that might come into play are registering your copyright (you don’t HAVE to do this, as your work is automatically copyrighted when it is created, but you can register it for extra legal protection. I think it’s like $20 or $30 — I have not done this yet) and you might also end up purchasing more of your own author copies than I did (I probably will order more).

Total cost of marketing & miscellaneous: $688.49

Possible cost of marketing & miscellaneous: $150 – $750

So! There you have it. A thousand smackers invested, but a heckuva of a lot of things to write off on my taxes this year. 😉 Of course, your individual experience with how much self-publishing costs could be very, very different. But at least you have this one author’s glimpse into the reality, thus far, eh? Haaaaappy new year!


  1. Ellen M. Gregg /

    Excellent breakdown, Gretchen!

    I’ve yet to set up my LLC, but will be doing that next week. I self-published one book, with absolutely no fanfare whatsoever because I’m having a heck of a time with formatting for CreateSpace (I did it for another author, using her Word 2010, and had no problem; I’m running Word 2007 – massive problems). So the Kindle book is there, but only very close friends and family know it’s actually been published.

    The editing was done for free by a trusted friend (former librarian, edits for her day job), but I’m half-convinced it could have used another pass-over, and have an editor in mind for that. I also was fortunate to have four beta readers catch typos and missing small words (Where did “of” go? Was it ever really there?).

    I did the cover myself, and I like it, but I’m already sourcing a cover artist for future books (and there are many!).

    I am delighted for you for taking this extraordinarily awesome step, and for your success! TERRA is on my TBR list (which is also my TBP – to-be-purchased – list). I look forward to it.

    Happy New Year! 🙂

  2. This post contains many scary numbers and mathematical type things, but I love it (and you) anyway.

    On a non-personal note, I think it was great/brave of you to put all the numbers out there. It’s a helpful tool for those who have been following your blog to get an eye into the self-publishing world. …Perhaps there is a self-published book ABOUT self publishing in your future? Eh? Eh??

  3. I work in publishing (scholarly, not trade) so I found this really interesting to read! Thanks for giving a breakdown of the costs, I always wondered what the difference would be for someone to self-publish vs. publishing with a press. [love your blog too!!]

  4. Thank you for posting this! I found it really interesting and informative about a subject I know nothing about and need to educate myself over. You rock!!!

  5. I had actually thought about posting something similar… Nice to compare too :p

  6. Risa Scranton /

    HI Gretchen! I’m the wife of Laird Scranton, who is an old pal of your dad, which is how I heard about your book (which sounds wonderful, by the way! I just ordered a copy!). My question to you is, how are you marketing your book? and what are the costs of that?? Laird self-published his first book, and sent targeted emails to people he thought would be interested — one of them managed to find a publisher who actually PAID Laird to reprint an edited version of that book, plus for three follow-up books! Are you looking into finding a paying publisher for the follow-up volumes? I wish you all the best – can’t wait to read “Terra”! ~ Risa Scranton

    • Hi Risa, thanks so much! So I haven’t really been spending any money on marketing, which is why I didn’t go into it in this post, but I am planning on going into detail with it later. I’m very fortunate, because I have a really supportive group of readers from my personal healthy living blog. I have some other blog friends who will be posting reviews, and sent some emails to book bloggers and whatnot as well. But so far all my marketing efforts have been zero-cost (we’ll see if I end up trying out buying ads or anything though!) I’m not actively searching for a traditional publisher, but if I were to be of interest to a publisher for future novels, I would certainly be open to discussing it!

  7. This was really interesting to read through. My friend wants to publish his own book soon so I sent him to both this and to the guest post from Lena Horn 🙂

    Your insight will help many budding authors!

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