Building an Independent Publishing Budget

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“The good news about self-publishing is you get to do everything yourself. The bad news about self-publishing is you get to do everything yourself.”

~Lori Lesko, Author

A budget for book publishing isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. There are so many different factors that influence the final cost, such as your subject, current platform size, your reasons for writing the book, and what you hope to gain from it. Building an independent publishing budget before you reach the end of the publishing process will help you plan accordingly and reduce costs.

To put it simply, publishing a book costs as much or as little as you’re willing to spend. That being said, there is a range of what’s reasonable. Some elements you may need to include in your budget are:

  • Editing/Proofreading
  • Cover Design
  • Interior Text Formatting
  • Marketing (like ad campaigns, giveaways, etc.)
  • ISBN Registration
  • Publicity Events (like buying physical copies for book signing events, going to related conventions, etc.)

This is where some consideration comes into play. If you’re low on funds, put the majority of your money into marketing and the cover design. People need to know about your book and it needs to look appealing to get sales. Yes, the other aspects are important to deliver high-quality results for, but from a sales perspective, marketing and design are the keys.

Marketing

If you already have a strong platform, you can consider reducing the amount you spend on marketing and instead rely on your established connections. But for most, especially for first-time authors, this initial platform will not be enough. Sure, you can reach out to your audience via social media, but unless you have a lot of time to devote to it, you should consider hiring a marketing expert or consultant to navigate your book’s promotion. A Facebook Ad can cost about $5/day, so even if this seems like the automatic best choice, you may want to reconsider. Start simple by creating your own website via a free platform such as WordPress or Wix. Marketing and promotion can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars if you don’t plan correctly. You also need to plan ahead. If you start working on your book launch prior to publication, you can use that time to build up the “hype” around your book. Use author resources like Goodreads to get people talking about your book. The more work you can do yourself, the less it will cost.

The Cover

The cover design is another main cost to consider. This is a step I would not recommend doing yourself unless you have a background in graphic design or digital art. Yes, there are free sites online where you can design your own cover, but many of them result in a DIY-looking product. Even by going the independent publishing route, your book should still be polished and professional. If the cover screams “amateur,” no one’s going to buy it to even see what you have to say. 

Luckily, there are other options. You can use a design service that gathers professionals, like JD&J Book Cover Design and Reedsy, or go to a freelance service like 99designs. No matter which option you choose, make sure you see a portfolio before you make any payments. Once you’ve established a contract, you also need to do the work necessary on your end to get the results that you want. Make sure you communicate what you want, have examples of what you don’t want, and offer constructive feedback throughout the process. A cover design will cost anywhere from $100 to $2,000, with the average being about $250. These costs are based on the experience of the designer, the complexity of the design, and the time frame given to develop the cover. The sticker price may shock you, but remember that the cover is quite often the first thing that a potential customer will see and what they will judge your book on. If the cover doesn’t capture their attention, you will lose sales.

Editing and Proofreading

Another big consideration for your publishing budget is editing and proofreading services. This is something that every author is going to need. Anyone who writes, either professionally or leisurely, can tell you how easy it is to miss mistakes within your own work. There’s something about staring at a document for too long that makes it impossible to catch these errors. Luckily, you can get other people to review it. Start with your friends and colleagues, then take your book to a professional. There are many sites that offer freelance editing services. If your budget is limited, even running your book through a site like Grammarly will improve its quality. Another option is to have your computer read the text aloud. Hearing it will help you catch mistakes. These two alternatives are much more time consuming than hiring a third party, but they can keep your costs low.

The Interior

Formatting the interior layout and typesetting are their own cost, though this is a task you can complete on your own through programs like Adobe InDesign (which is pricey and can take some time to learn), Reedsy Book Editor (a free online program but often doesn’t produce the best results), or Vellum (note that the license to this program is $250 and only works on Mac devices). It can be a time-consuming and somewhat frustrating process if you’re not tech-savvy. If you decide to hire a professional, the majority of authors pay less than $500 for this service. The cost is of course influenced by the experience level of the designer, the length of the book, and the book’s complexity. Graphic-heavy books, such as cookbooks, take more effort and time to format, so expect to pay more for them.

Your ISBN

Registering an ISBN is another important investment. An ISBN is used to identify one book at an international level. It’s essentially a social security number for books and it helps libraries, universities, booksellers, distributors, and your average customer locate and purchase your book. If you’re using a platform like KDP, it already will assign your book a company-specific number when it’s published, but buying an ISBN allows your book to be easily found across platforms. The average price of an ISBN is $125, but it’s well worth the cost.

The Publishing

Some publishing companies require you to either pay money upfront to publish with them or they take a cut of your royalties after the cost of production. Make sure you do your research here to determine if you’re being scammed or if they’re asking a reasonable amount. If a publishing company is only offering you their publishing imprint (i.e. to be able to say that your book was published by that “publisher”) and no other services to facilitate the actual production of the book (the cover design, editing, etc.), then it’s safe to say that they are really “vanity publishing” and not worth the money.

Our recommendation is to use a service that will help make your book into a professional product and then publish directly onto a platform. Some Print-on-Demand services like IngramSpark and KDP only charge for the price of printing and shipping the physical copies of your book, which greatly varies based on the size and production specifications of your book.

Final Thoughts

As you write out your estimated costs for each part of your book development, remember to do your research. For most of these tasks, you can find freelancers online who will do the work for less than a professional service. Some of these freelancers do these tasks in their spare time, while some may just be breaking into the field. It’s important to ask for a sample or portfolio before you sign a deal. Freelance work is not a guarantee of high-quality, though you can certainly get quality if you’re willing to take the time to look and properly vet. For a limited budget, keep costs low where you can. While you make your budget plan, just remember that cutting corners or opting for the low-cost option can limit your success later. As you trudge through the details, it’s important to keep your eye on your end goal: publishing a successful book.