Build Your Book Publishing Budget

When you’re an indie author, you’re not just a writer. You’re also a publisher, and have to facilitate editing, ebook conversion, formatting, cover design, distribution, printing and marketing for your book.

There’s no shortage of companies willing to do all this for you, but outsource everything, and it adds up fast. Think of how many $3.99[1] books you’re going to need to sell to make back your costs. Not to mention how slowly you’ll be able to publish if each book costs thousands of dollars  to produce.

But don’t worry–if you’re willing to invest some time and effort, you can reduce your publishing costs. This blog post will show you when you should hire a professional and where you can trim your budget with a DIY approach.

Hiring an Editor for Your Book – What Writers Need to Know

Editing is one area where, unless you have experience, you should absolutely hire a professional (or several). The quality of your first book will have a lot to do with its success in the ebookstores and in creating readers for your second book. But knowing which type of professionals to hire, when and for what purpose can save you big bucks. Different types of editors do different types of editing, all of which may be necessary for your book.

You’ll need a developmental editor to help you structure and shape the work before you start writing and a line editor for your early drafts. Line editing involves lots of rewriting for tone, voice and content. There’s also stylistic editing, in which copy editors address stylistic elements such as capitalization, preferred spellings, punctuation and references. Bring in the copy editor, style editor and proofreader at the very end or you’ll end up paying double–because they’ll edit passages that will only deleted or rewritten by a line editor anyway, and the line editor will add new copy that will need a future edit. 

Expect to pay several thousand dollars for editing. Recently released data from Reedsy shows how this breaks down.

Another way to reduce costs is to minimize the amount of editing you need. Here are a few ways to do that:  

  • Attend critique groups. Not all the feedback you receive will be constructive, but some of it will help you rewrite parts of your book that an editor would otherwise help you restructure.
  • Do you have editors in your network? And do you have a valuable skill they might need? Consider trading goods or services.
  • Before signing the contract, pay your editor to test-edit one chapter to make sure you and they are a good match. Switching editors midbook can be costly.
  • Enlist beta readers. Even once you have an edited version of your book, testing it out on real readers can help you find the last remaining flaws–for free–and put your most professional book forward.

Costs of Ebook Conversion & Book Formatting

It used to be that to get your book in the right format for ebookstores and print-on-demand and make it look good, you needed an ebook developer (different and potentially more expensive than a Web developer–here’s why) plus a graphic designer for your interior book file.

Research varies on the cost of these services when done manually by trained professionals. Bibliocrunch’s book publishing budget allows up to $2,500 for ebook conversion and book interior design, and more for books with images or that need to be converted from PDFs.

While admittedly we’re biased, we suggest writers cut these expenses out and use Pressbooks.com. All you need to do is “clean” your text, cut and paste it into Pressbooks, and apply one of our already professionally designed templates. For $99, the software magically formats your book to standards without you needing to know what they are. It saves you from needing a designer and developer, and from paying them again for revisions down the road.

Cover Design is Priceless 

Here’s another area where you’ll probably want to employ a professional. Your book cover is THE marketing tool for your book, and good design takes experience. You can get a professionally designed, original cover for your ebook for under $100, usually less. Print covers are more expensive to commission because they’re harder to make: The exact size is determined by the exact page count and trim size of your book, among other factors. And printers’ specifications for the file itself can be complex. Doing this yourself is almost guaranteed to end in tears. You can get a good cover for a few hundred dollars.

One other option: If you have a PDF + EBOOK Pro plan on your book at Pressbooks, you have access to a free cover generator that will automatically generate a print book cover formatted to complicated printers’ specifications. The cover generator works best if you have a high-res front cover image from a designer to start with, though you could also use a plain background and cut out these expenses entirely.

Distribution Depends on Your Goals 

Do you need a distributor? The answer is, it depends.

There are some times when it’s well worth the cost to get a distributor. For instance, 1) If it’s important to you that libraries and local bookstores be able to order your book, using IngramSpark ($49 setup plus a cut of sales) is the best option and well worth the cost. 2) If you are intent on getting your ebook in the Apple store (whose process is arduous), a distributor such as Ingram may save you hours of time and frustration.

That said, it’s not hard to upload your book to most ebookstores and print-on-demand venues yourself. It may take a few hours to figure out the first time, but you’ll save money and retain all your royalties. Plus, you won’t be dependent on an intermediary for your royalty payments or sales reports. 

ISBNs are Optional 

You may or may not need an ISBN. The Pressbooks Guide to Self-Publishing explains which bookstores require an ISBN. Even if you don’t need one, at $125 apiece they’re a comparatively minor expense to add a layer of professionalism.

Print Your Book on a Small Scale  

Gone are the days when you had to invest in hundreds of copies of your book that would ultimately collect dust in your garage. Now, thanks to print-on-demand services like IngramSpark and CreateSpace, your readers can order just one copy of your book, and it will be printed and sent to them. Uploading your book to these outlets is easy. Formatting it correctly (see above) is the hard part.

Marketing is Expensive…if You Don’t Do It

Marketing professionals are not cheap. And you’ll need several hours of marketing assistance each week for at least six months to launch your book. At those prices, you’ll want to become a marketing pro yourself! That doesn’t mean just throwing out a few posts on social when your book is ready either. You’ll need to learn to develop and execute on a strategic plan for you across platforms to build your brand as an author and sell your current and upcoming books (remember, you should have multiple books in process at all times!). Take classes in content marketing, social media and digital media to learn how to leverage these marketing tools–acquiring digital marketing skills is going to be a far better value in the long run than paying someone with deeper knowledge indefinitely to market all your books. Merrimack Media’s Bestseller Bootcamp offers training in messaging, social media and digital marketing, alongside Dublin tourism. Lynda.com and other online portals offer self-paced training on the cheap. 

What does this all add up to, and how should you budget? Check out our calculations on the costs of self-publishing for Pressbooks users.

Elizabeth Mays is the director of marketing and operations for Pressbooks.com.


  1. *the ideal price for an ebook according to a Smashwords study
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