Quick quiz: What does it cost to self-publish a book?
d) None of the above
People will claim each of these numbers. (I’ve seen a proposal for north of $100,000.)
The answer is D, because the other responses are in the wrong currency. At the very least, they are incomplete.
Money is not the only cost of self-publishing.
The Three Buckets of Publishing Costs
When publishing a book independently, you pay for everything out of three buckets: money, skills, and time.
- Money is cash spent out-of-hand.
- Skills involved in self-publishing include writing, editing, graphic design, layout, marketing, publicity, and project management.
- Time refers to the hours, days or weeks you can dedicate to publishing the book.
Some parts of the publishing process obviously require money, such as purchasing an ISBN for the book. For most of the other activities involved in self-publishing, you can substitute skills (knowledge) and time. If you don’t have the skills, you will need to hire someone else (with money) or invest your time in learning.
For example, consider the various levels of editing: developmental edits, line edits, copy edits, and proofreading. How much editing your book needs depends on your writing. If you have the expertise, you can do some levels of edits; if you care about the quality of the result, you’ll hire editors (the money bucket), or ask skilled friends to invest their time.
If you are experienced with print layout, you can do the interior layout of a book yourself. With a lot of time, you can learn how. Or, you can hire someone to lay out your book.
Your decisions always involve trade-offs between these buckets. Whenever you spend cash out of hand, you’re buying access to someone else’s skills and time.
Investment decisions are also influenced by your goals and objectives for the end result. When publishing a volume of your eight-year-old’s verse to share with relatives, professional cover design may not be necessary.
Determining Your Investment
Instead of asking how much it will cost to publish a book, answer the following questions:
- What are my goals for the book?
- Given those goals, what skills do I already have, and which do I need to supplement?
- What is my available budget, and is it best spent on training or on professional services?
- How much time do I have to invest in learning the skills or doing the work, and how quickly do I need the published book?
Would you add any questions to that list? Let me know. And if you’d like to stay connected, subscribe to receive these writing-related posts by email.