Cover SP cropLast time we looked at how to choose your self-publishing route. This time it’s all about the money, as we look at the costs of going indie, as well as some likely sales figures in the early weeks.

Budgeting. Now why does that word strike fear into the hearts of many potential indie authors? It shouldn’t, because there really is nothing to be scared of. We’ve redefined self-publishing, and moved away from the stigma of ‘vanity’, by making publishing work as a financially viable activity. So if you’re going to be indie and proud, you have to get a grip on the numbers.

The Costs of Going Indie – Totally DIY

How much you spend on publishing your book used to be a matter of ‘How much is your budget?’ But that was in the bad old days – now there’s no need to overspend, and there is no excuse for not making your initial investment back – if you plan and forecast carefully, of course. Let’s look at ebooks first, and take as an example my own first novel, Can’t Live Without. Here are my costs for this book:

  • Cover (front cover image only) £50
  • Cover image licence £9
  • Proofreading £325


Total: £384. If you set your price around the £2.00 mark (£1.99 is a popular price in the UK), you’ll make around £1.30 per copy downloaded, depending on the size of the file (this is a 70% royalty from Amazon’s KDP programme). This means the number of ebooks you would have to sell to break even is 295.

Not many, right? Well, do you know 295 people who will definitely buy your first book? Here are my weekly sales figures for Can’t Live Without for the 10 weeks following publication:

19-May-12 17
26-May-12 4
02-Jun-12 54
09-Jun-12 16
16-Jun-12 19
23-Jun-12 17
30-Jun-12 10
07-Jul-12 4
14-Jul-12 9
21-Jul-12 1707

Notice the big jump there? That was following my free promotion, when the book went back to paid. Forgetting that for a moment (more about free promos later in the series), up until that point I had sold 150 copies in 9 weeks. And this was with the help and support of my family and friends, with articles in the local press, a Facebook and blog launch party, and all the associated marketing activities I could think of at the time. At that rate I would have broken even after 18 weeks, or about four and a half months. But at least I definitely would have broken even – if my costs for the ebook had been far higher, it could have taken years.

What about the cost of producing the same title as a paperback? Obviously the proofreading has already been paid for, so the additional costs were:

  • Cover (addition of back and spine): £75
  • File upload to Lightning Source: £50.40
  • Proof copy: £21
  • ISBN: £18
  • Distribution (information sent to Amazon etc): £8.40

Total: £173. The economies are similar for a physical book – Amazon take 40% discount on cover price, and a single copy of a 260 page book priced at £7.99 and sold via Amazon (or any book shop offering the same terms) nets a profit of £1.49. So for the paperback set up to be cost effective with these figures, you would need to sell at least 116 copies. And they don’t fly off the shelves without a lot of pushing – at the time of writing I have sold 100 paperback copies of Can’t Live Without via Lightning Source’s distribution to Amazon and other retailers, although I have broken even on costs by hand-selling quite a few and supplying two local bookshops.


So, for a total outlay of under £600 you can have an ebook with a fantastic cover for sale on Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle, and be looking to break into profit after a few months with a good, concerted effort at gaining sales. Before we look at the other option – using a self-publishing solutions company – let’s just consider some of the costs that are missing from the lists above:

Formatting and typesetting: Formatting is what is done to your Word document to turn it into a mobi file (for Kindle) or an epub file (for Kobo etc). Formatting is not easy, and badly formatted books are anathema to readers. I formatted Can’t Live Without myself, using Jutoh software, but this a technically demanding job and no one would blame you for outsourcing this job as well. For this you’d need to set aside around £50. Typesetting is how you turn your Word document into the interior file for the paperback. Again, it’s a difficult job, and badly typeset books look horrible. I did it myself, but I do have a background in text-setting, and I spent literally weeks researching fonts and styles and getting to grips with the software. Costs for typesetting are high – I had quotes which ranged from £80 to £380. A self-publishing solutions company will supply this service, or you can outsource it.

pen and ink

Editing: Another necessary job, as your first (or even your second and third) draft is unlikely to be perfect. I’m lucky that the proofreader I use offers a service that includes a line-by-line edit, so for the earlier stages I use beta-readers. Beta-readers are wonderful people who offer to read your book pre-publication and give advice and criticism. They are worth their weight in gold. For a thorough edit by a professional editor, expect to pay upwards of £400.

Self-publishing Solutions companies – DIY with a lot of help

If the above fills you with fear, if you’re not technically minded or you just plain wouldn’t enjoy managing the whole publishing process yourself, you should think about partnering with a self-publishing solutions company, such as SilverWood Books or Matador. There are others, of course, but these two seem to offer the best value for money – and added value – at the time of writing. Putting together all the direct and associated costs we’ve talked about above, the whole package of publishing, with someone else doing everything for you, will probably cost upwards of £1150. (If it costs a lot more, ask what exactly you’re getting for your money above and beyond what you could source yourself.) This should include formatting an ebook, typesetting the paperback, editing and proofreading, a cover (front, back and spine), ISBN and standard distribution, which just means sending details of the book via Print on Demand to Amazon etc. This won’t include marketing or any actual copies of books, and if you choose to forgo Print on Demand and print your book in large quantities for distribution via bookshops, the upfront costs will of course be a lot higher.

Tomorrow on the blog we have Helen Hart from SilverWood Books talking about her top tips for self-publishing – a chance to hear more about this option directly. In the meantime, feel free to ask questions about any aspect of the costs of DIY self-publishing. And if you still can’t decide which route to take you might want to revisit Step 2: Choose your self-publishing route.

Coming next month – Step 4: Your timetable for success.