How much it costs to self publish a book

Costs?  Don’t you make a lot of money publishing books?


Authorship is not your ticket to the goldmine, unless you have a really well thought out and implemented back-end plan for how you’re going to monetize the expertise and status you gain from being an author. Meaning, the real money is in speaking, courses, coaching, and consulting (and not always in that order). Don’t expect to earn a lot from book sales, or even earn your money back in some cases.  Therefore, budgeting for the costs as expenses is a very worthwhile business exercise.

What’s up with the money funnel images?  I’d like this post to be a FRIENDLY rebuttal of Self Publishing School’s post which breaks down the costs of publishing (How Much Does it Cost to Publish a Book) and, in my opinion and experience, underestimates how much it costs to produce a professional- looking book.  When I say professional, the goal is to compare a self-published book to a traditionally published book and not be able to tell the difference.  See below for the six common giveaways that shout out “I’m self-published” below*.  (There is still snobbery in the industry against self-publishing, which may affect your ability to implement the money-making back end strategies. Just sayin’)…

I’ve actually heard a fair amount of “horror stories” about how authors have spent their life savings on getting a book out into the world, so I was really excited to know that advice such as Self Publishing School’s guidelines on book development costs staying under $1,000 might just steer people toward more frugal decision-making.  If you want your book to look highly professional, however, my data shows that you will spend more. Data?

I decided to do a Author Outreach survey to get some real numbers around what people have spent to achieve their goal of becoming an author.  Since the self-published survey results just came in, I’d love to share with you the real, and often hilarious and heartbreaking, feedback from a set of really brave authors that bared their financial souls and truths in the survey. I don’t consider these results to be “scientifically blessed” (a la enormous sample size, double blind, placebo, whatever). I didn’t spam thousands of people and author groups all over the web to find participants but instead hand selected and invited a pretty cozy group of folks (several dozen) that I knew would be honest and would take the time to fill out what ended up being a pretty hearty, deep dive set of questions designed to uncover some key messages.

I have done lots of surveys as part of my work and management consulting (for names such as IBM, GE, and many others) and still do surveys for clients today. I know the power of a well-designed survey and a network of people who care enough to fill it out in the most robust way.  In other words, I believe in the survey method and results.

And I also believe that I know what these authors did WRONG on their publishing journey.  If you’d like to hear more about what I’d suggest differently, please join me on an upcoming FREE and LIVE Master Class about efficient and effective publishing.

Check out the registration page for what I’ll be teaching, and remember that this is LIVE— so be ready for some laser coaching if you are struggling with some of the data that you’re about to see below.

Ok, I’ll get to the point.  Here are book development costs per the Self-Publishing School post (I took the max, and I only took the costs to get your book done/developed)**:
Cover- $100
Editing- $400
Formatting- $120
Total:  $620

(My) Survey says: Over 20x that amount.  If you’d like the entire ~40 page report with all of the numbers and comments, you can download it here.  Below is a brief summary:

Book Coach


Logistics (ISBN, bar code, meta data)


Ghost Writer


Development & Copy Editor


Proof Reader


Cover Designer


Interior Designer



Even if you took the book coach out, you are still looking at just over $5,000 to get your book done.

Self-Published Survey Highlights

First, let me tell you a little bit about this group. The majority of the authors were first time authors (62%), with 38% having multiple books. One of the authors already had 12 books (with a reported stack of manuscripts), so don’t get the impression that this group was not experienced in the writing world. 75% of the authors looked into other methods of getting published (either traditional, hybrid, or both). Some of the reasons mentioned for those that bee-lined right to self-publishing include:

  • Desire for fast speed to market given time-sensitive subject matter.
  • Lack of contacts in the publishing industry
  • Hearsay from traditionally published authors that the bulk of the work still rests on the authors (platform building, marketing, promotion); so why give away most of the revenue on book sales?
  • Desire to maintain control over message, product and brand

As far as meeting goals related to their books, this group is an overall pretty happy bunch. 56% of the authors “exceeded” their goals, 38% met their goals, while only 6% felt they underachieved. The disappointed minority had goals along the lines of big reach and impact. The desire for getting out a message came out in nearly every survey response; perhaps expectations of how far the message would carry is correlated to ultimate satisfaction.

Examples of goals that echoed throughout the group include:

  • Achieving expert status
  • Sharing a story that others can benefit from/change their life
  • Enjoyment of writing/the creative process.

Winner for hilarious comment:

  • “There are more people who would like to write a book, than read a book”

Winner for heartbreaking comment:

  • “It’s like a jungle.”

Top advice for aspiring authors:

  • Only write what you love otherwise you are wasting your time.
  • There are countless paths to success, take each piece of advice with a grain of salt.
  • Be patient. Create a good quality book. Have fun but also treat your business seriously.
  • Go for it!!!!! You are enough! You know enough! People need what you know and can help them with. Here’s a wonderful story that I’ll never forget: After I had published my book and been out there promoting it, I started getting calls with people saying, “We’re looking for someone to come speak to our organization. We’re looking for the expert. We see you’ve authored a book. We want you.” They weren’t looking for anyone else, not tire-kicking. I was the expert because I’d published the book. The best way to catapult your expert status and business growth is to write your book. DO it!!!

*The biggest giveaways that scream “self published” about your book include 1) typos, 2) formatting mistakes, 3) unappealing cover,  4) CreateSpace ISBN, 5) no logo on the spine, and 6) bar code does not show price.  Unless you are worried about self-published snobbery, maybe you don’t care about the last three points.  But by all means take care of the first three!

**Marketing and Publicity are a whole different ball of wax that I will address in a near future post.  The survey included eight sections, so I am really just talking about getting your book ready to market.  The survey included eight sections as follows:

Section 1: Goals and background

Section 2: Book development

Section 3: Book printing

Section 4: Book distribution

Section 5: Book marketing

Section 6: Book publicity

Section 7: Time

Section 8: Short stories

Want to learn how to publish a book profitably? Get the important facts about the publishing industry today (traditional, self, and hybrid publishing) and how you can plan a fun and profitable book publishing process. Guide your spending and maximize fun while gaining invaluable resources for your publishing journey. Enroll in this course on Teachable now and save 50% by using the code SAVE50

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    • says

      E. Cell thanks so much for your input. I am excited to share more findings from the survey (time spent etc.) and also the other surveys (hybrid and traditional).


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