Ep 08: What Does It Cost to Self-Publish?

This episode discusses the most important investments to make in your book and shares where to find experts in the field to help you create a professional book.

When you ask yourself, "What does it cost to self-publish?" you should be thinking about book editing, book design, ISBNs, book distribution, and book marketing. We'll cover all of these critical pieces, explaining why they're necessary to your self-publishing success. We believe the reward far outweighs the investment, but we'll let you decide for yourself after listening!


Robin Cutler [00:00:08] Hi everyone. Welcome to Go Publish Yourself, an IngramSpark podcast. This episode is sponsored by The Hot Sheet, a publishing industry e-newsletter, delivering context and analysis on issues affecting authors today. Hi, I'm Robin Cutler, the Director of IngramSpark.

Justine Bylo [00:00:29] And I'm Justine Bylo, and I manage the Author Acquisitions Program at IngramSpark. Hi, Robin!

Robin Cutler [00:00:35] Hey, Justine! Today, we're going to be talking about what the heck and how much does it cost to self-publish. This is one of our most highly searched topics that people are wanting to know the answer to. It's a really good time to talk today about this topic.

Justine Bylo [00:00:55] Yeah, it's so simple, yet also at the same time, such a good question because, you know, how much does it cost? This is a crazy one.

Robin Cutler [00:01:05] Especially, a new author who's never published before, this is really critical for them to really understand all the different layers that go into making a professional book. What does it take and what should you expect to spend? Let's get going here. In terms of time and money, what is it that you need to make sure you understand about what goes into making a professional book? Do you want to kick us off here, Justine?

Justine Bylo [00:01:43] Yeah. I'm a writer myself and there's kind of two different categories that costs fall into. And one of those is before your book is published and then actually publishing your book. When I'm out on the road talking to authors, I often pull out my soap box about editing and how much it costs to edit your book. And like I said, I'm a writer and I totally believe in a good editor. You need a good editor, right, Robin?

Robin Cutler [00:02:21] Yeah, it can't be anybody in your family, unless they actually make their living in editing. It can't be anybody that lives down the street or across from you. It has to be someone that knows how to edit, especially the kind of book that you're writing.

Justine Bylo [00:02:40] Yes, your mom cannot edit your book. It just can't happen. And it's really worth it to spend money on a good editor. And that can cost you a little bit of money.

Robin Cutler [00:02:55] And I do believe in re-writes and editing yourself as you go along. Certainly, that's something that all professional authors and writers do. That's not what we're talking about. We're talking about once your book is finished, how do you elevate that book to a professional level? Let's talk a little bit, Justine, about the types of editing that you're talking about.

Justine Bylo [00:03:26] It falls into two different categories there. You have developmental editing, which is someone who's going to go through your book and really pick it apart. Say, this storyline doesn't make sense. This character needs more development. I really think that the ending needs to be beefed up more. They're really going to go through it with a fine-tooth comb. And then you're going to have your regular copy editing, which is just, they're going to go through it and look for mistakes. And both are super important because, let me just tell you, I have seen a ton of Amazon reviews where people notice every single little mistake in a book. And you do not want to be one of those people. It's worth the money.

Robin Cutler [00:04:17] Yes, editing is not spell check. Just FYI, it is a more in-depth, as Justine is talking about, a more in-depth overview of the actual storytelling. And even if it's a non-fiction book, what's the thread that a reader travels to get the key points that you're trying to make in your book? Where would someone go to find a really good editor for their book, Justine? And then talk a little bit about how much they would expect to pay for that.

Justine Bylo [00:04:57] I usually send people to the Editorial Freelancer's Association for this stuff. They tend to post listings for freelance editors on there. And they can match people up. It's a really great resource. There's even one for the Christian authors out there that is really great. I believe it's the Christian Freelancer's Network. There are a few ones out there that you can connect with editors. On the Editorial Freelancers Association's website, they actually have a price sheet that is really quite accurate. You should go on the website and check it out, so that you can see how much this is going to cost you. But I would say to all of our listeners that before you embark on a journey with an editor that you should be ready to put in the work, first and foremost, and secondly, that you should get the agreement in writing. How many edits you're going to do with your editor? What you're expecting of them? And then how much this is all going to cost you? So that you can expect everything up front. That would be my suggestions, but I've heard that this can cost people probably about $1,000, roughly, right, Robin?

Robin Cutler [00:06:40] Yeah, I would say, most editing will cost anywhere between, I would say, $500... It depends on the size of the book. A lot of editors charge by the word. A really large manuscript is going to cost more. That's one thing to think about as you're editing yourself is, the longer your book is, the more it's going to cost you on the editing side.

Justine Bylo [00:07:06] And developmental editing usually costs a little bit more money than copy editing, so also keep that in mind.

Robin Cutler [00:07:17] And I also mentioned here, we also have a list of editing experts on the IngramSpark site that you can go to ingramspark.com/experts, and we have, not only editors, but also a host of other professionals that can help you with your book. And these are companies and professionals that we've vetted ourselves.

Justine Bylo [00:07:43] Yeah, they're really great.

Robin Cutler [00:07:46] Do you have more to say about editing or should we move on to design?

Justine Bylo [00:07:52] Yeah, let's move on to design.

Robin Cutler [00:07:55] Because this is the other area that particularly you should spend money on. And there's interior design of your book and also the cover design. Let's talk a little bit about those differences, Justine, what you see there.

Justine Bylo [00:08:14] The interior design is how your book is laid out in the interior. And this is pretty self-explanatory and straightforward. But the place where you really should think about spending money is on your cover, because nothing kills me more when I hear that, well, that cover looked self-published. No, no, that's the worst! You can make a really, really amazing cover that looks professional and people will not be able to tell the difference because you're an indie publisher, you’re not a self-published author. You should think of yourself that way. It's definitely worth it to spend money on cover design.

Robin Cutler [00:09:03] Yeah, and look, do some research. Look at other books, especially some of your favorite authors. Look at their covers. What is it that you like about them? I mean, really think about it, what your book would look like on a shelf in a bookstore. And when you start talking to designers, give them an idea of what you're looking for, what your vision is of that cover. But make sure that it's a vision that also looks like other best-selling books. It really does matter. We go through different styles at different times. And it could be that something that really focuses on large type design on your cover, works better five years ago. And today, maybe an image works better. Stay with the current styles.

Justine Bylo [00:10:05] And when working with a cover designer, always ask to see their portfolio. And also, if they have reviews from past clients, see those. And also, it never hurts to have multiple versions of the cover and then pick your favorite because it's nice to have variety. Also, again, get the agreement in writing before you embark on an adventure with a designer, just so that you know exactly what you're getting into and know exactly what you're paying.

Robin Cutler [00:10:42] I was going to ask you about the cost.

Justine Bylo [00:10:44] Again, it can cost you anywhere from $500 to a couple thousand dollars if you are doing the hardcover, paperback, and eBook cover all at the same time.

Robin Cutler [00:10:59] That's a good point, Justine, that you just mentioned. When you are working with a designer, make sure that you're having them do all the different versions and formats that you want to offer. Make sure that you're having that designer create those for you. In IngramSpark, we have a resource, a file creation document that you should make sure your designer has. It will give the designer all the details about the specifications that they need on how to create your cover to fit your actual book. What are the other costs, besides editing and design, do you see authors spending and investing in their book? I like to say investment because that's really the way you should think of it as the owner of your own content. What other investments should authors be making in their book?

Justine Bylo [00:12:00] After the book is created, there's the publishing phase. There are two major costs I see with that and that's actually setting the book up with IngramSpark. And it's free to setup an account with Spark but then, we've talked about before in past podcasts that it's $49 to set up a book with IngramSpark, $25 if you're just doing the eBook. But we suggest doing the print version, as well. And we will refund your setup fee if you buy 50 copies of the book. But that's another fee that you should anticipate. And the other large fee that you should think about, it's not huge, but every book needs an ISBN and that is the identifier number. Robin has spoken about this in past podcasts, as well. You would buy these through Bowker. Every format needs a different ISBN. If you're planning on publishing your book in both eBook, hardcover, paperback, you would need three different ISBNs. You would have to anticipate the costs for those three. Typically, I believe, an ISBN is $125, right, Robin?

Robin Cutler [00:13:28] Yeah, for one from Bowker. And let me just jump in here and just say, because we might have some listeners that are outside of the US. In other countries, you would go to another resource to purchase your ISBN. In some countries, like Canada, the ISBN is obtained through the government. In the UK, the ISBN is obtained through a company called Nielsen. But in the US, the company where you purchase ISBNs in bulk is from a company called Bowker, B-O-W-K-E-R.

Justine Bylo [00:14:10] And if you're thinking about doing a few books or purchasing more than one, they come in packages. For 10 ISBNs, it's $295, for 10 ISBNs, and I believe that is the cheapest per ISBN you can get. But if you're planning on just buying one, you can buy them through Spark and we have a really sweet deal with Bowker where they're $85 per ISBN. You're saving $40.

Robin Cutler [00:14:49] Yeah, and it's as if you bought it directly from Bowker where we register the ISBN directly with Bowker. You own it, it travels the life of the book, just as we recommend. But I will say, in Canada, I don't know if you knew this, Justine, in Canada, the Canadian government gives ISBNs out for free. If you're a lucky Canadian--

Justine Bylo [00:15:18] Those Canadians.

Robin Cutler [00:15:20] Yeah, they do everything kind of a little bit better than we do. That's something good to know.

Justine Bylo [00:15:29] But it is colder there.

Robin Cutler [00:15:31] It is colder, yes. What about again, after publication, what other kind of cost are you going to have to face as an author, Justine?

Justine Bylo [00:15:44] Marketing. Marketing is your other big one. It's really great to write the book, make it really beautiful, put it out into the world, but you have to let people know it's there. Think about things like advertising it with Ingram, and taking out ads in social media, and just trying to get the book out there and the costs associated with that. That's the other big one, post-publication.

Robin Cutler [00:16:17] And we have also marketing and publicity experts that are listed on the IngramSpark site. I believe it's the kind of thing you pay as you go. You can try this locally or within your social media. Get some traction and then think about spending a little bit more money to get your book a little more visible in the marketplace.

Justine Bylo [00:16:44] And again, you can set a budget for your marketing and stick to it. And figure out what combination of things works for you. So that kind of varies depending what you want to do.

Robin Cutler [00:16:56] And it's the kind of thing too that, marketing can be your own time invested in it. There could be a lot of money that a lot of authors will spend on marketing, but a lot of it can be your own effort. So just remember that. And lastly, the reason we're talking about this is just to stress the importance of a professional book, in the end, is what you want. And you've invested your time in writing that book, you should invest, not only your money, but again, the reputation that you have as an author by spending the money wisely. And we suggest editing and cover design, and especially, as you start marketing your book, not to invest in the inventory of the book until your book has really caught on and you’ve started selling it. And that's what's great about IngramSpark, is that you can just print and pay as you go.

Justine Bylo [00:18:08] Exactly. And we'll write you a check as you sell them.

Robin Cutler [00:18:11] Yes! This is the end of this episode and I thank you all for joining us today. Remember to check out our website at IngramSpark.com. Sign up for our fantastic blog. We do three blog posts a week, covering all sorts of different topics that I think are the best in the industry. Next week, I hope that you stay tuned and sign on to follow our discussion on how you sell your book to bookstores.

Justine Bylo [00:18:45] It's going to be a good discussion. And looking forward to talking to you next week, Robin.

Robin Cutler [00:18:49] Thank you, Justine. Bye, everyone.

Justine Bylo [00:18:53] Bye, everyone.


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