Skip to content

The 10 Top Costs of Self-Publishing

August 22, 2014

By Michelle Weidenbenner

You’ve been writing for years. And waiting. You’ve gone to writer’s conferences and met agents and publishers. You’ve written at least fifty query letters and a few book proposals. Maybe you’ve landed an agent and waited another year and you still aren’t any closer to finding a publisher for your novels.

That was my scenario for almost ten years. In the meantime, I kept writing and doing all those important things the agents tell you to do—start a blog, build your email list, join all the social media sites, build a following. I joined LinkedIn, Pinterest, Goodreads, and FB. I found thousands of followers on Twitter and blogged at least three times a week. It was exhausting.

And still there were no bites on my manuscripts. After months of research, gallons of coffee, and a lot of  “selfie” lectures trying to build myself up, I decided to go it alone. After all, why should a publisher take a risk on a no-name author like me if I wouldn’t? And that’s what I was—a risk. There were no guarantees that readers would buy my books or like them.

It’s been thirteen months since I became an Indie Girl. I’ve published two novels and one children’s chapter book. In that time my books have won awards and been Amazon bestsellers—as high as #1 in their categories. #PinchMeMoments

But the truth is this:  Self-Publishing Costs Money. To be successful, authors have to be entrepreneurs who invest in their business. They need to invest their time, resources, and money.

Here are TEN of the larger costs:

  1. Editing – This was the greatest cost because I wanted a developmental edit and a line edit. When publishers and agents continually say NO we begin to doubt ourselves. Is our writing good enough? For that reason, I wanted to be sure I nailed the story and the writing. Also, the NUMBER ONE key to success is a good story and a well-edited book.Editing costs are between $1000 – $2500 depending on your word count and editing needs.
  2. Kindle and Create Space (CS) – KDP Publishing and Create Space are FREE. As long as your books are in the right format you can load your book today. For FREE. It’s that simple. The big catch: If you only sell your books at Amazon you will never make the NY Times or the USA Today Bestseller lists. This changes everything because hey, I have high hopes to some day make it to the top. You should too! So loading books to the other sites cost money. (See below.)
  3. Book Cover – Guess what? Readers judge books by their covers. How many times have you lifted a book off a bookstore shelf because you were intrigued by the cover? A good cover can make a difference between no sales and great sales.A professional cover will cost you around $300. Don’t think you can do this yourself. You’ll wish you hadn’t. I used Cathy Helms from Avalon Graphics. Cache a Predator’s book cover won the RONE Book Cover Award in the suspense category.
  4. Formatting – Before you can load your books to the multiple sites that sell them—Amazon, B & N, Apple, Smashwords—you will need to have them formatted. Almost every place has a different file requirement. Paperback formatting costs around $100, ebooks are approximately $85. Create Space can format your books at their Amazon site. Their Kindle fee is $79, and the paperback professional interior layout starts at $199 and go up to $579 a book.However, your books need to be formatted in different ways depending on where you’re submitting them. Unfortunately, not every company has the same requirements. This takes time to learn and money to hire someone to help. I use Allen at Here’s his site.
  5. ISBN – You can buy one number for $125 or ten for $275. Some Indie authors publish a new book every three months so they buy 100 ISBN’s at a time for $575. It’s the best savings. If you use Create Space to print your paperbacks they will GIVE you a FREE ISBN. Such a deal. But guess what? If you want to sell that paperback through Ingram-Sparks you’ll need your own ISBN, a different one that what CS uses. Each single book takes several different ISBN’s. For instance, for the same book you’ll need an ISBN for Create Space, a different one for your Kindle file, and still another one if you load the book at SMASHWORDS.
  6. Reviews – I’ve never paid for a review. However, there are blogs that do promotional blog tours. You hire them to feature you and your books to 20 – 30 sites over a few weeks or a month’s time. Those “mommy” blogs feature authors, read your book, and load their reviews at all the sites. You pay anywhere from $100 – $250 per tour depending on who you hire. Those wonderful people contact all the bloggers and build the calendar for you. It’s really worth the expense. I’ve used Promotional Book Tours and Beck Valley Tours to coordinate my blog tours.
  7. Promotions – Readers forget about your book if you don’t bring it back to life now and then. A great way to give it CPR is to have a promotional sale where you offer your book for less. When you decide to do this you notify advertisers. Here are a few I’ve used: BookBub, BookSend, BookBlast, BookGoodies, BookViral, Ebook Readers, PeopleReads, BookGorilla. Some of these are free and some cost money. BookBub can cost up to $460 for one ad depending on the genre you choose. Is it worth it? BookBub is! You make up for it in sales. Some of the other advertisers maybe not. This business is always changing so what works one day might not the next. The catch:  Not all advertisers will take your money. Isn’t that crazy? They decide who to advertise and who to skip. The trick is to never give up. I had to apply for my BookBub ads three times before I was accepted.
  8. Contests – Use must enter contests to win. Typically there’s an entry fee. Before I published Scattered Links I submitted the first 500 words to the Write On Contest sponsored by The Reading Room and won first place, $1000, and an appointment with Catherine Drayton, The Book Theif’s agent. It was amazing! I paid $6 for the entry fee. Some of the other Indie Contests are way pricier though. But it’s worth it because winning attracts readers!
  9. Launch Parties – Some authors choose to have giveaways or FB and Twitter parties. It sounds silly, but these events help get your books in front of readers. Goodreads giveaways cost as much as you choose. You decide how many signed paperbacks to give away and which countries to send them to. Goodreads handles all the other stuff. It’s convenient. I typically run an ad with Goodreads at the same time. I like to blast a new release. FB and Twitter parties cost around $100 if you have someone else manage them for you, and the cost depends on if you host one for an hour or four. And yes, some authors hold four hour FB parties. (Warning: you’ll get muscle cramps in your hands from typing so fast.)
  10. Writer’s Conferences – You’ll still want to attend these even though you might not want an agent or publisher. You’ll have more time to meet other authors, study the craft, and stay current with publishing news. Just think how much more relaxed you’ll be! I love the connections I’ve made at conferences. They can last a lifetime. Choose locations that are close to where you live so you don’t have the additional flying expense.

There are also other expenses like swag—rack cards and bookmarkers. Book trailers and audio books are another option.

What if you publish with a small press? You’ll still have many of these expenses. You’ll be expected to help promote your books too. However, you might not have the cover or formatting expenses, but the flip side is that you might not have much say in your book’s cover design. Keep in mind that if you go with a small press you won’t keep all the profits either.

If you have realistic expectations before you become an Indie author it helps. If you have money to invest in your career it helps even more. The most important thing is to keep writing because the more products you have to sell, the more money you’ll make.

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 4.17.01 PM

Michelle Weidenbenner is an award-winning author, blogger, speaker and encourager. She teaches “How to Get Published” at her blog, Random Writing Rants, and “How to Write a Novel in 30 Days,” and “The Secrets to Self-Publishing Success” at conferences. Her novels Cache a Predator, a Geocaching Mystery, Scattered Links, and Éclair Goes to Stella’s are available at Amazon.


  1. August 22, 2014 7:44 am

    Good Article! I must be the only writer who couldn’t care less about being on the NY Times or USA Today Bestseller lists. I’m just happy that perfect strangers would take a few hours out of there busy lives and spend them reading my books. That’s my bestseller list. 😉

  2. August 22, 2014 7:56 am

    Hi John. Great attitude! If you make the NYTs it means even more people will be enjoying your work. It also means that you might have more money to curtail expenses. However it’s probably authors like you who don’t care if they make the list that will. I hope so! I agree that it’s a wonderful feeling to know that strangers are reading my stories. Have a great weekend!

  3. August 22, 2014 8:57 am

    Thanks Michelle! You have a great weekend too. I wish more writers would participate in this forum. 😦

  4. August 22, 2014 9:27 am

    Many thanks for the feature. I’ve passed it on via FB to the moaners, groaners and wannabe’s who TALK writing but haven’t gotten around to actually DOING it. Aiming for the stars is terrific – but getting to the top of the stairs is a START ;^D

  5. August 23, 2014 12:17 pm

    Thank you for this great info, Michelle. I’m going to send this along to my writer’s group.

    • August 23, 2014 12:39 pm

      I just re-read it again, and I’m confused about a couple of them. I apologize for my ignorance.

      Numbers 5 & 6 gave me the most trouble. I self-published a book years ago before e-readers, and I only needed one ISBN number to sell everywhere, including Amazon. I’m confused why I need more than one ISBN number for one book. Is that only if you use Create Space that you need more than one? Or, will I need more than one for both an e-reader book, a print book, and each book seller even if I don’t use Create Space?

      On the reviews, you said you never paid for a review, and you mentioned blogs for hire for blog tours. Does that mean you replaced your reviews with blog tours? I don’t understand the difference between reviews and blog tours.

      Thank you for bearing with me.

  6. August 23, 2014 3:21 pm

    My two-pennyworth on the ISBN issue. I’d suspect a new ISBN number is needed for every new VENUE used to re-issue the Title and texts. i.e: hard-back, paperback,audio tape, cassette, CD, audio-visual. Just like the bar-code or SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) on a 12-oz or 15-oz bottle of fizzy drinks; plumbers wrench (assorted sizes) left or right-handed three-speed walking sticks. [ Sorry, but I was series MOST of the paragraph.]
    I’m also curious about the review/tour definitions, too. I ‘think” I know what it means, but…

    • August 23, 2014 5:35 pm

      Hi Lori and Owen.

      Let me clarify a few things. (Sorry it’s taken me a while. I was gone most of the day.)

      The blog tour consisted of bloggers who did one of three things. 1.) They read the book and reviewed it at their site, Amazon, Goodreads, and anywhere else the book was sold. 2.) Or they included an excerpt of the book at their site. 3.) Others sent me a list of interview questions to answer and featured me at their blog. Typically the author gets to decide how long her/his tour lasts and with that comes reviewers or interviews. Sometimes the author can specify which she’d like, because she’s paying the coordinator for the service of her choice. But keep in mind, if they don’t like your book they’ll be honest. Also, some services specify what they do. It’s important to talk to other authors to see what their results have been so your expectations are in line.

      ISBN questions – Some authors believe that you can use the same ebook ISBN for Amazon and SMASHWORDS, but if you do the research SMASHWORDS requires their own ISBN. They load it to Apple and a few other sites. You can go to their website to read their requirements, but when you’re buying ISBN’s it’s safe to assume you will need a new number for each book–sometimes several for the PB and several for the ebooks.

      Some may argue about this. I don’t pretend to know everything, but I can tell you that I’ll be using a different ISBN for every book.

      Please let me know if that helps or if I can help further! Happy writing!

  7. August 25, 2014 6:55 pm

    Great post – I’ve self-published four children’s books and can vouch for the time, cost and effort of getting them to market and the amount of work required for ongoing marketing (which in the case of children’s books is doubly difficult as you can’t market direct to your readers online…!). Happily (by children’s books sales standards), all of the hard work has paid off and I’m in bricks and mortar stores here in the UK and selling consistently on Amazon also… But none of the work and time/costs should be underestimated!

    However, I’m also a bit confused re ISBN info here – my understanding is that you don’t need one at all for your Kindle file because Amazon uses its own system. Neither of my Kindle books has an ISBNs…. That apart you need one for your print book and a separate one for your ePub version as far as I know…. and the ePub ISBN can be used for all eBook stores whether you upload to directly or use Smashwords I believe? I’m not sure that you need to use a Smashwords ISBN…? But I don’t use Smashwords so stand to be corrected… !

    • August 26, 2014 9:54 am

      Hi Karen! I need to look up your books as I just published my first children’s chapter book this week!

      I understand that the whole ISBN thing is confusing. I think you’re right about a lot of this, and I don’t know it all, for sure. What a do know is that it pays to stay informed. Here’s a link that might help answer all your questions:

      If you use Create Space or SMASHWORDS ISBN’s–the ones they assign to you, you have to buy a different one, and use a different one if you load the book to other sites. Having an ISBN gets you into libraries. I used a MOBI file for Amazon and an ePUB for SMASHWORDS, but SMASHWORDS requires that you format the first page of your book a little differently than with Amazon. (At least, that’s what happened to me.) It only takes a little tweak, but it has to be done.

      Selling only at Amazon will not get you on the NYTimes or the USA Today bestseller list.

      Keep writing! Thanks for stopping by!

      • August 26, 2014 4:51 pm

        Thanks for the link! In fact I’m familiar with that one…As I’m using my own ISBNs for everything it’s at least very straightforward for me….!

        Best of luck with your chapter book – if you want to take a peek you’ll find my books on Amazon or at http://www.

        Best wishes, Karen

  8. August 26, 2014 5:12 pm

    BTW Michelle – you are quite right that the MOBi file for Amazon is different from an ePub file – Amazon has its own formatting that differs from everyone else’s. The good news is that you don’t need to provide any ISBN for it as Amazon assigns each new Kindle title an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) which you cansee this listed in the book details on Amazon. Kindle version aside, one ePub file should be good for all of the non-Amazon sites and you can use one ISBN for the that file no matter where you upload it (or, I assume, a Smashwords one if you are using them to distribute to all of the other sites for you…)

    • August 27, 2014 11:57 am

      Karen – I LIKED your Amazon bio page. Wow, you have a lot of books for sale. Good for you. Keep in touch. I’d love to know how you market/promo for the children’s market. It’s a whole new genre for me.
      Thanks for the info on all this ISBN stuff too.

  9. September 29, 2014 9:22 am

    Lots of useful information in this piece. Thanks for writing it. After years of work on a memoir, and countless rejections from publishers, I have decided to self publish. The rejections were not because the manuscript was badly written, but because of the nature of the content. The world of self publishing seems to be a mine field of companies that promise much, but might deliver very little. I’m a known commodity with almost five million Google hits, so I think my finished product will sell, but taking that first step in selecting the self publisher that’s right for my project seems an enormously complicated task.

    • September 29, 2014 1:25 pm

      Shaun – I don’t understand why that part is complicated. Do NOT go with a small press to self-publish. Do it all yourself. You can load your books at Create Space for free and Amazon KDP as an ebook for Free. All you need is the proper formatting and a great cover artist who knows what she’s doing. You don’t need anyone to publish for you. Please feel free to email me if you have questions. With that many Google hits you might already have the street team you need to sell your books. (PS. I don’t get paid to talk to you. I just like to pay it forward since so many people helped me.) Email me at: mweidenbennerauthor(at)gmail(dot)com

      Best of luck to you.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: