How much does it cost to self-publish a novel?

The cost of self-publishing a novel

Introduction

When a new writer sets out on their first project, sooner or later, they will probably google “how much does it cost to self-publish a novel?” And the answer will largely depend on their writing and editing skills, and their financial position.

You don’t need to be wealthy to produce a good book.

Going from conception to publishing can be done without spending a penny. But investing in professional help will almost always improve the final product.

To avoid giving a vague answer to the question in the title, I’ve looked at dozens of costs from around the UK, compared them for like-for-like services, and arranged them in the table below.

 Cost-SavingMid-RangeExtravagant
Writing AidsX£79£79
Development Edit£688.00£1032.00£1376.00
Copy Edit£448.50£598.00£897.00
FormattingXX£281.00
Book DesignXX£400.00
ProofreadingX£514.00£1028.00
ISBNX£80.00£80.00
MarketingXX£250.00
ARCsX£200.00£880.00
Total£792.50£2503.00£5271.00
The Green table

Each range considers all elements that could attract a cost, and an average has been made for a novel of 80,000 words.

Cost-saving range

This range considers the financial positions of those with limited disposable income.

Writing is a hobby that can be as free as we like. But if we are aiming to publish our work, and ask readers to pay for the pleasure of our words, we will need to invest in some areas. Especially if we are new to writing.

This cost-saving range should give you a good idea of how much you can expect to spend, and where savings can be made.

Self-publishing costs
Self-publishing costs

Writing Aids

If you’re looking at making a saving from the start, writing aids can be the first thing you cross off of your list.

Writing a book is something we can do for free. Writing aids are optional expenses that we can choose to use or not.

They are not mandatory.

However, if this is your first time writing a story arc, or it’s been a long time since you last put pen to paper, you might need the help.

But if you feel that your writing is good enough, or looking to keep costs down, then this expense can be avoided.

Writing aid = £0

Developmental Editing

Developmental editing is not a luxury for the wealthy. It’s an essential part to editing and regardless of your budget, you will probably need to hire a professional editor.

Even if you are trained in this area, I still recommend outsourcing this role. We can often struggle to see our own mistakes and a fresh set of eyes will help beyond measure.

HERE you will find the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP).

Each year, they offer recommended price guides for writers, editors, and proofreaders.

Remember, these are “suggested minimum rates,” so some professionals may charge less, and some will charge more. Below is a chart of how this price has grown over the last four years.

Year/Hourly rate

YearDevelopmental edit/substantial edits
2021£34.40
2020£34.00
2019£33.50
2018£32.60

If you send an editor a tangled mess of a narrative, they could spend dozens of hours trying to untangle it. And that will impact the price.

To keep the cost down, you should do as much self-editing as you can. The more you do, the less time the book will sit on your editor’s desk.

This is where beta readers really come into their own. Get as many people on board as you can and listen to their feedback.

Then, when you’re sick and tired of this phase, send a sample of your work to an editor. They have years of experience in this field and will offer you a quote based on your sample.

For a cost-saving range, we want to be aiming for twenty hours. This number is based on a developmental editor working through around 4,000 words per hour. And the only way they can reach this figure is if your draft is of a good standard.

The sad truth of the matter is this: you either spend your time or you buy someone else’s. And time is the secret sauce to writing.

20 hours at £34.40 = £688.00

Copy Editing

The cost of a copy editor is another expense I strongly encourage you to invest in.

This is where the book is refined and all (or 99.8%) of the errors are caught. THIS LINK talks about the importance of copy editors and what they do. But to sum it up, they make your words shine.

Year/hourly rate

YearCopy editing
2021£29.90
2020£29.60
2019£29.10
2018£28.30

Again, this cost can be brought down by doing lots of self-editing and research. The more effort you put in, the lower the cost.

But even the most self-polished manuscript will need to be read by a copy editor. And depending on the size of the book, will take hours.

A copy editor can work through more words per hour than a developmental editor, but copy editing is a big job.

If this is your first novel, you are likely to need the editor to put in some work.

At a minimum, I recommend budgeting for around fifteen hours.

15 x £29.90 = £448.50

Formatting

Formatting your novel can be done yourself with a little bit of research and a cup of coffee.

There are professionals out there to do this, but all they are doing is making sure your words are formatted to industry standards.

In this article I talk about the main aspects of formatting. But if you need a visual tutorial, go on YouTube and search for videos on formatting a novel. Bethany Atazadeh has a brilliant video on the subject.

It does take a few hours but you can do this part yourself.

Formatting = £0

Book Cover Design

Designing your cover is an absolute pleasure. I thoroughly enjoyed doing my own.

Again, you can do this yourself to keep the costs down. All it takes is a good imagination and some online research.

Don’t rush this part. Look at other books in your genre and see what works for other authors. Then, design something that compliments the genre and the narrative inside.

Book design = £0

Proofreading

A professional proofreader will read and digest every single word in your book. They are trained to look out for spelling, grammar, and formatting issues, as well as monitoring the message you are trying to convey and the delivery.

To achieve this, they read your book from front to back like any reader would do, but they note any errors and provide feedback. They do not make changes.

However, much like beta reading, proofreading can be done without a professional eye. But the key is to get as many eyes on your book as possible from friends, family, reading groups, etc.

Proofreading = £0

ISBN

An International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is required for all books on sale around the world. To find out the ins and outs of the UK’s ISBN, take a look at their website.

On average in the UK, they cost around £80. But if you publish through Amazon, you can get it for free. However, that ISBN can only be used on Amazon and you cannot sell anywhere else.

ISBN = £0

Marketing

Marketing can be a like throwing money into a bottomless pit.

I have read of writers spending tens of thousands of pounds on marketing, and making it all back with some profit. Speculating to accumulate.

However, you don’t have to spend money to market your book.

Taking to social media can help with getting your work in front of an audience, and engaging with internet influencers will also help.

There are many things to consider when marketing this way, and in THIS ARTICLE I share some thoughts on how to cultivate a good relationship with influencers and followers.

For the cost-saving range, you can get by without spending on marketing.

Marketing = £0

Advanced Reader Copies

ARCs are instant expenses that will see you buying copies of your books and incurring delivery costs to get them to your reviewers.

Reaching out to reviewers and furnishing them with copies of your book can quickly add up to a fair amount of money.

In this range, you are trying to keep costs down. Therefore, you may want to avoid using ARCs. But be warned, not issuing ARCs and securing early reviews could have a negative impact on your release day sales.

ARCs = £0

Mid-range

The mid-range is suitable for those who can spend a modest amount on professional services, but may still be conscious of the amount.

I don’t expect writers in this range to pay for everything listed in the green table. Instead, I would expect them to divert savings towards editing services.

This is because one simple fact: the more we edit, the better the product.

“To write is human, to edit is divine,” Stephen King.  

Investing in your novel
Investing in your novel

Writing Aids

Writing aids can be bought at different rates: monthly, quarterly, annually, or with a one-off lifetime purchase.

For a mid-range cost, going for an annual plan is more cost-effective than paying for a monthly subscription. And considering it can take much longer than a few months to draft and edit a novel; it’s worth the upfront annual payment.

Paying for a lifetime subscription could be a waste in the long run.

There are two front-runners in this market: ProWriting Aid at £79, or Grammarly at £107

Both are excellent at what they do, but I go with ProWriting Aid due to the cost.

It’s cheaper than Grammarly by a good margin, and does pretty much the same thing. And if you’ve been searching the internet for writing advice, you’ve probably already come across several blogs or YouTube channels that offer discounts through affiliate links.

I’m sorry, but I don’t have an affiliate link to offer discount codes for writing aids yet. Maybe one day soon (fingers crossed). Make sure to share this post if it helps you, and maybe I’ll be able to get some discounted products for you all.

Writing aids = £79

Developmental Editing

The prices mentioned in the previous table are the same for this range. But writers in this category might be able to afford more time on the editor’s table.

That’s not to say that they shouldn’t do as much as possible in the self-editing phase. They should edit as much as they can, but they also have a bit more flexibility to pay for a few more hours with a professional.

Someone in this range can consider up to thirty hours of developmental editing assistance.

This might seem a bit steep, but if you can afford for an editor to spend more time on your manuscript, they can dig in deep and give your work all the attention it needs.

30 x £34.40 = £1032.00.

Copy Editing

Copy editing in this range should also benefit from some extra attention from a professional.

Allowing a copy editor to spend a few more hours on your novel can have a huge impact on the finished product.

Every extra hour will add up, but in the mid-range, you could be looking at twenty hours.

I have read books that were fantastic. However, there were elements that could’ve been better if only the copy editor had more time.

How do I know this? Well, a copy editor will investigate accuracy of statements.

An example could be, traffic driving on the right hand side of the road in the UK. Or, as written in the book I referred to, “the Irish flag was flying high above the building; proudly displaying its red, white, and green colours to the advancing army.” Quite an error that would annoy any Irish reader.

I’ve even read of copy editors investigating obscure foods found in Africa because the author described it as spicey, when in truth, the meal is sweet.

 20 x £29.90 = £598.00

Formatting

Even in the mid-range, formatting your book is a place where you could save a bit of money.

You don’t have to spend on formatting just because you have the money to do so. Instead, divert that cash to another area, because formatting can be DIY’d with research and patience.

Formatting = £0

Book Cover Design

Book design is another area that can help you save a bit in this range.

Although I fully agree that the design of a book is extremely important, it’s also something that can be done yourself.

Amazon design tool will help with some fairly easy book designs. And there are loads of videos online to help you.

Book design = £0

Proofreading

If you’ve saved a few quid on formatting and book design, you should now consider putting that money into a professional proofread.

Although I’ve previously said this can be done by enlisting the help of several friends or family members, nothing will make up for the eye of a professional.

Year/hourly rate

YearProofreading
2021£25.70
2020£25.40
2019£25.00
2018£24.30

Reach out to some proofreaders and send them a sample of your book. They will give you an idea of how long it will take them, and offer you a quote.

Bear in mind, a professional in this field doesn’t just read your book. They digest every mark on the page and give you quality feedback.

A good proofreader will consume words and give feedback at a rate of around 4,000 words per hour. And for an 80,000-word novel, we can expect around twenty hours.

20 x £25.70 = £514

ISBN

 As with the cost-saving range, the cost of an ISBN can be avoided if you choose to publish exclusively through Amazon.

However, it makes sense to make your book available to as many outlets as possible. Therefore, I recommend paying for an ISBN and registering your book through their website.

With your own ISBN, you can approach a multitude of digital sellers, and even make your book available to independent bookstores.

ISBN = £80.00

Marketing

If you do decide to dip your toe into the water, you should set yourself a budget. A £200 limit for your first journey into the marketing world will be enough. And as you become familiar with this, you might decide to invest more.

In the mid-range, you won’t be putting up billboards in central London or on the side of buses, but you can get your book in front of customers in other ways.

Facebook, Google and Amazon all offer advertising services. These ads target people who read your genre and similar books. You can create ads for your chosen platform.

However, even at this range, paying for marketing can be considered an avoidable expense. Divert the money into ARC reviews.

With that being said, I will exclude this from the total cost.

Marketing = £0

Advanced Reader Copies

To encourage early sales, ARC reviews are considered essential.

At the mid-range, you should be aiming to recruit between twenty-five and fifty ARC reviews.

At the lower end of this scale with figures of £5.00 per copy and £3.00 for postage, we can estimate this will cost £200.00.

This seems like a lot, but this is an investment.

Prior to buying and sending out these books, you will have to research and engage with each reviewer. Choose more than you need because some might not be available.

Give yourself a buffer.

Create a spreadsheet with their details. and draft a letter with your requirements. In that letter, explain your timetable. Remind them of the dates of when you plan to release your work and when you’ll need the review.

Another thing to be mindful of is this: some might agree to providing a review but could end up letting you down when it counts. This is why you need that buffer zone.

25 x £8.00 = £200.00

Extravagant expenses

For some, expense is of no concern. Or maybe it is, but they target a price and save to achieve it.

I was quoted a price for the editing of an 84,000 novel, and spent a months saving for it.

However, spending more doesn’t always make a better product. But I will confidently say that spending more on book design and marketing does help get your book in front of readers.

Costs of self-publishing
Costs of self-publishing

Writing Aids

Despite this being the top range, there is still no need to splash out with no concern for money.

Stick to what you need. I recommend paying for a year of ProWriting Aid or Grammarly with an annual payment.

Writing aid = £79.00

Developmental Editing

At this range, a writer might want to invest heavily in editing. And rightly so. But it would be best to hire more than one editor.

The first editor does the heavy lifting and sends you their observations. Then, you make the required changes and send it to a second editor.

If you did a good job when working on the feedback from the first editor, your second edit should be quite quick. After all, the biggest issues should now be resolved.

Although this isn’t a hard and fast rule, it’s a great way to get plenty of professional feedback on your novel.

To calculate an estimated cost, you don’t just double the price of one because the second editor will not have as many issues to work through.

First edit – 30 x £34.40 = £1032.00.

Second edit – 10 x £34.40 = £344.00

Total = £1376.00

Copy Editing

Copy editors are worth their weight in gold.

Again, it’s worth sending your novel to more than one copy editor. And again, it’s not as simple as doubling the cost.

First editor – 20 x £29.90 = £598.00.

Second editor – 10 x £29.90 = £299.00.

Total = £897.00

Formatting

This service is normally included with bundles such as copy edit and formatting, or formatting and proofreading.

When bundled in with another service, it can be tricky to isolate the exact cost of the formatting alone.

Also, most firms out there would prefer you to contact them for a quote so they have your contact details. Quite annoying really.

But after a long trawl of the internet, I’ve managed to make an average cost for this service.

For a novel at around 80,000 words in hardcopy and ebook, you should expect to pay around £1.00 per page.

For an 80k word novel with around 300 words per page, we can estimate around 266 pages of narrative. Then, you add on you pre and post narrative pages. An average is around fifteen extra pages.

281 x £1.00 = £281.00

Book Cover Design

Despite the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover,” many people do.

A good cover can be the difference between a reader spotting your book, or their eyes passing over it and resting on something else.

But book design can be very expensive.

A low-end quote could be as little as £150 for a cover design. This price is normally quoted by people or companies that are quite new to this area, and are trying to build a client base.

Then, there are the more established designers who will charge a lot more.

You will be paying for the images and copyright to your design, along with the work that went into its creation. This can see quotes climb to £1,000 quite easily.

An average figure is difficult to pin down but if you’re able to invest in a good cover, you’ll be targeting established designers who have a history of success.

Book cover design = £400.00

Proofreading

At this range, you’ll be expecting to produce a novel with no errors; almost to the standard of a traditionally published novel (although, I’ve seen plenty of errors in trad published books).

To ensure you catch every error possible, you will want it proofread at least twice by at least two different professionals.

Year/hourly rate

YearProofreading
2021£25.70
2020£25.40
2019£25.00
2018£24.30

If we expect a proofreader to spend twenty hours on your book, then it’s easily doubled when you hire two.

This does not guarantee your work will be flawless on release, but it will be as close to perfect as humanly possible.

20 x £25.70 = £514.00 x 2 = £1028.00

ISBN

Even as a big spender, you’ll only need one ISBN for your novel.

Use this to make your book available in as many retailers as possible.

ISBN = £80.00

Marketing

Marketing is a bottomless pit if you’re not careful.

Investing in ads on social media platforms, radio or T.V spots, are excellent ways to make a reader look your way.

And it does work. The marketing industry is worth billions simply because it generates billions.

However, as a new self-published author, you’re not trying to corner the market with your debut novel. So, there’s no need to throw thousands of pounds into a marketing strategy.

Instead, consider these three things:

  1. What is the size of your following on social media?
  2. Who is your competition?
  3. What comes next?

The first question directly relates to your expected sales. If only a few people know you, it’s unlikely you’ll break out as a bestseller with your debut self-published novel. Instead, look to building that following with your debut, and when your next book is due out, then begin ramping up your marketing.

The second point is a David and Goliath issue. Can your debut really compete with Dan Brown if you write in the same genre? Give it time and maybe you will. But don’t throw money at a marketing plan to try and stand next to giants.

Third, what comes next means, how far away is your next book? If this is your one and only, then it makes no sense to pour thousands into marketing because you’ll only have one book to sell. Instead, save your money while you build your empire. When you have a few books, and an audience waiting to read them, then you can consider a bigger marketing scheme.

To begin with, stick to a monthly budget of £250 pounds.

As sales grow, you can review your ads and invest more if the numbers tell you to do so.

Marketing = £250.00

Advanced Reader Copies

It is here that some people become annoyed with other people.

Those who can afford to spend on ARCs are likely to see lots of reviews on their release date. This helps with pre-sale figures and gives them some powerful quotes to use on their cover.

An investment in this range can be in the thousands. But for the sake of normality, we will look at one-hundred ARCs.

Again, let’s use the £5.00 per book and £3.00 shipping model.

100 x £8.00 is £800

However, we must allow for a percentage who will not leave a review for one reason or another. Even if you selected each ARC carefully, engaged with them and followed up on their progress, you should still factor in the possibility of a no-show.

To mitigate against this, send out an additional ten percent of your target. I.e., if you’re going for 100 then send out 110.

It will add £80 to your total ARC expenditure, but will give you a margin for error.

And if you’re lucky and everyone returns a review, then you have ten more than you initially planned for. Which is a win.

110 x £8.00 = £880.00

The cost of self-publishing a novel
The cost of self-publishing a novel

Forecasting a profit

If your goal is to make an income from your books, it’s worth drafting a spread sheet to track income and outgoings.

The tables above are just rough guides of the most common expenses a writer can expect when publishing a book. But if you want to keep an eye on the profit line, shop around for the best prices.

If your overall total expense is £792.50, and your paperback sells on Amazon for £8.99, you’ll make around £0.30 in royalties. This means you’ll need to sell 2642 number of copies to break even.

However, if you sell your ebook version for £2.99, you’ll make a 70% in royalties which is £2.09. This means you need to sell 380 copies to earn your investment back.

Finally

The numbers I have used are averages of multiple quotes and prices. Some professionals charge much more, and some are much cheaper. But on average, this is what you can expect.

Also, we can now see the reason why agents and traditional publishers are so selective when they take on new writers. It’s because of the costs associated with producing a book.

The numbers in the green table don’t consider the multiple editorial runs that are done on a trad book, or dozens of proofreaders who read and re-read the proof copy. Or even the dozens of book cover designs they commission. And that’s before they spend thousands on physical copies to stock the shelves.

Publishing a book is an expensive thing to do. But it can also be as free as the air you breathe.

Good luck

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