What does it cost to self-publish your book?

Here’s the thing: I don’t know. I have yet to actually publish my first novel, Tilted, but I suspect that by the time I finally press ‘publish’ on Amazon, I’ll have spent close to £2000.

And that’s without any actual marketing.

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Yikes! I mean, the dream is obviously that your book instantly sells 500,000 copies, makes you a millionaire and that initial outlay is as insignificant a memory as the steam that wafted up from yesterday’s morning coffee. But I’m only a part-time fantasist, and I think it’s probably sensible to hold off from putting an offer in on the country mansion and assume I’ll make diddly-squat from my (wonderful, marvellous, you-should-definitely-buy-it-when-it’s-released) novel.

So, I guess the first question should be:

Can you self-publish without spending anything?

For sure. For sure. But you’d need one of two things:

  • A really good network of readers and fellow writers/editors/graphic designers who can make sure you’re putting out a solid, good quality product; or
  • The ability to be happy with turning out a potentially (and noticeably) sub-par product.

Believe me, I researched self-editing tools and techniques for hours. I attempted to design my own cover on Canva. I’ve sent my book to about 6 friends to beta-read for me, and received great feedback. I absolutely could have just considered that a job well done and published.

And maybe I would have, were it not for another two things.

Firstly, I’ve read a number of self-published books on my Kindle, and I can usually spot the ones that haven’t had a thorough edit a mile off. And it PISSES ME OFF. Even though I’m a writer, I’m actually not that inclined to cut my fellow writers much slack when it comes to sloppy mistakes like getting character’s names wrong halfway through the book, or poor formatting, or just bland characterisation and plodding plots. In a draft? No problem! But a book you’ve published for the world to read? Nah. I wouldn’t put up with them in a traditionally published book, so why should I have to with an indie book? In most cases, I’m paying exactly the same amount for them.

(Aside: I’m by no means suggesting my novel is perfect, or that readers might not find all of those flaws in it should they be so inclined. Also, I’m a really picky bitch when it comes to stuff like that, I can’t help it. It’s a curse.)

Secondly, I saw the impact that a professional eye could have. I paid for a professional editor to beta read Tilted for me when it was at the third or fourth draft stage. The advice she gave ran to 4 pages and covered marketability, characterisation, pacing and the kind of constructive feedback I’d been craving from my other readers who, understandably, didn’t know enough about the nuts and bolts of writing a good novel to identify the areas I was weakest on/nailing. Then I had a couple of sample copyedits done on my final draft and boy, is there room for improvement. I thought my manuscript was tighter than my toddlers fist when someone asks for one of her raisins, but there was so much scope to improve and tighten and refine. (For example, I used 3 words there that all meant the same thing – they would not have made the edit.)

How much does it all cost?

I guess it differs for everybody, depending on budget, time and whether you consider your novel to be a means to a financial end or not. I don’t. I’m lavishing treats upon my novel in the same way I throw gifts and food and clothes at my kids in the hope that they’ll thrive, without ever expecting to break even. (How do you break even on a kid? Hope they become Oprah, or something?) I love writing, and producing a novel is all I’ve ever really wanted to do. People spend a lot of money on their hobbies, right? This is my hobby.

Also, it’s a pretty public hobby – once my book’s out there, anyone can judge me on it. It’s like doing a dance competition in front of everyone you’ve ever known; you’re not going to want to do that without some lessons, spray-tan and a seriously distracting costume, ammiright?

So I’m anticipating that my costs will end up looking like this:

Beta read: 200USD (about £160)

Editing: c. £1450 (could defo get it cheaper if you shop around and aren’t fussy on the style of feedback you get (and write a shorter novel…!) but I found a great editor I connected with and went with my gut)

Cover design: I’ve budgeted £150, but you can get pre-made covers for a total bargain. I purchased one I plan to use for a future YA novel for £30 and it’s gorgeous.

I also purchased Scrivener a while ago which has made the writing process a lot easier, and might consider using Vellum to format the book, so that could run to another £200 or so.

Total – c. £2000

Is it worth the investment?

The answer to which has to be that you’ll never know unless you do it. Like I said, this book and any future books will be my creative babies, and even if they never earn me a penny back, I’ll consider them totally worth the cost.

Having said that, I’m hoping that by splashing out on my first novel, any future books will benefit from my increased understanding of the process, of what a strong edit involves, and hopefully a good stash of pre-made covers that I’ll snap up as I see them.

If you want to quickly start making out of writing, then maybe this feels like too big a hit. If I sell my book for £2.99 then I’ll have to sell 1000 copies to make back my money. I don’t know 1000 people, and don’t have any money for marketing, so let’s just say I’m not pinning all my hopes on it.

I’m still dreaming big, though. Miracles happen every damn day.

And it’s worth saying, too, that I saved up a pot of money for this exact purpose, which makes the decision to spend it a bit easier.

In conclusion

Unless you are an editor yourself (and I suspect they still need outside editing) I think that you have to spend at least a bit of money on your manuscript if you want it to be the best it can be. You don’t have to. But having read the ones that chose not to, I think I’ll always feel better having done so.

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