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ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

Curious About the Cost of Self-Publishing? Here's the Latest Industry Data

One million books. That's the new record the self-publishing market in the U.S. has hit and surpassed, according to the most recent industry data. In fact, self-publishing is at an all-time high and shows no signs of slowing down, as more authors discover the many benefits this nontraditional publishing route can offer.

Obviously, the decision to independently publish is a big step to take for any writer. Cost, especially, is a factor, and the good news is that self-publishing can be done with little to no money up-front. However (and this is a BIG however), choosing to jump into the indie author game without spending considerable time and money on the front-end could end up being a wasted effort, especially if the book you end up publishing is incorrectly formatted and full of typos, with a poor cover design that doesn't attract the attention it needs to compete on the market.

We all know nothing is really free

So, how can you self-publish for free? Well, a lot of self-publishing platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing (formerly CreateSpace) and Lulu allow you to upload your book and start selling it for free, while they take a percentage of the profit from each sale for manufacturing costs. This is the method you can use to publish your book at absolutely no up-front cost to you. Sounds great, right?

Just because something is advertised as free doesn't mean it will cost you nothing
Just because something is advertised as "free" doesn't mean it will cost you nothing. Photo by Aneta Pawlik on Unsplash.

Not so fast. Let's first look at what goes into publishing a book on the more traditional route of established publishing houses. Along with these steps, we'll consider what you'd need to pay out-of-pocket to achieve the same level of professionalism and service offered by the larger publishers. We'll also discuss a way you can cut these costs by over half with a little in-depth research.

Developmental editing

In the publishing industry, a developmental editor assists authors in the early stages of the manuscript submission process. After a manuscript is accepted for publication, a developmental editor will discuss with the writer any issues that might be problematic and should be resolved before a final draft is submitted. In this process, the manuscript might go through multiple changes based on the developmental editor's inside knowledge of the genre and readers' expectations. Keep in mind that a developmental editor is someone with a birds-eye view of the publishing industry and understands things about it authors might not be aware of, and possible obstacles they might not see from a limited point of view.

For example, a developmental editor will work with you on things like:

  • The structure of your book
  • Whether your book will be marketable, and if not, how to make it more marketable
  • Any gaps in plot or characterization
  • An unclear audience or lack of engagement with audience
  • Major changes that need to be made regarding pacing, dialogue, or plot

Hiring a developmental editor

As you can see, in order to have the same insight about your manuscript, you'd need to hire the services of a freelance developmental editor.

The cost of hiring a freelance developmental editor can run anywhere from $8 to $12 per page. For a 200-page book, this would be approximately $1,600 to $2,400.


A copyeditor in the publishing industry is an editor who focuses on the technical issues of the copy. A professional copy editor would have excellent command of English language rules, including grammar, punctuation, capitalization, spelling, syntax, citation formats and more. After you've worked with a developmental editor, a copyeditor would go over your final draft carefully to make any necessary corrections to spelling, grammar, punctuation, and syntax.

The copyeditor would also note inconsistencies within your manuscript. For example, if you have a character named Sara and there are some instances where her name is spelled Sarah instead, the copy editor would note those. He or she would also note any false or questionable information such as incorrect quotes, dates, or claims if you are writing nonfiction. Going without this service could cause problems down the road when you're trying to market your book or face the potential of lawsuits because of infringement or defamation you were not made aware of before publishing.

Hiring a copyeditor

Freelance copy editors are more easily found than freelance developmental editors, and their prices range accordingly. However, you'd be lucky to find a copyeditor who offers copyediting services for less than $3 per page, and the best do charge upwards to $10+ per page. For a 200-page book, this would be approximately $600 to $2,000+.

Professional typesetting and formatting

After your manuscript has been thoroughly edited, a professional typesetter will lay out text in preparation for publishing and printing. Professional typesetters are usually graphic design specialists who have an eye for design and know how to make text easily read, including the amount of white space that is needed surrounding it. They will consider specific elements such as:

  • Printing specifications
  • Typefaces, fonts, text size and spacing
  • Page layout (including margins and spacing)
  • Paragraph settings—line spacing, justification, leading and paragraph spacing
  • The relation of left and right pages
  • Headings, table of contents, page numbers, headers and footers
  • Eliminating misplaced print and unattractive hyphenation
  • Graphic elements to tie in with the cover and chapter heads

Hiring a typesetter

You'll likely be hiring a freelance graphic designer who focuses on book design and formatting when you hire a typesetter for your self-published novel. In my research, I found several freelance typesetters who offer a set fee for typesetting on self-publishing platforms such as Kindle. These fees ranged from $150 to $300.


In the stages of editing a manuscript for publication, a proofreader would look at the proof that is an initial test run of what will be printed. He or she would compare this to the final draft of the manuscript to ensure that everything is the same. A proofreader would also look to ensure that the typesetter did his job and ensured the page numbers are correctly formatted and that each paragraph is correctly separated on the printed page.

Hiring a proofreader

Since proofreaders don't expect to make many corrections to the proof, they will typically charge less than copyeditors (who make extensive changes). With that in mind, a proofreader shouldn't charge more than $3 per page for a 200-page proof, making the cost around $600.

Cover design

Even though you can't judge a book by its cover, there's little doubt that a poorly designed book cover will stifle book sales. So, if there's one thing you shouldn't do haphazardly, it's choose your book's cover. The big publishing houses hire the best artists and graphic designers in the industry because they realize how important the book's cover will be for overall sales of the book.

Hiring a cover designer

With so many freelance marketplaces available, you can find both low-end freelancers and high-end freelancers with a simple Google search. However, keep in mind what I mentioned above: This will be a big part of selling your book, so if book sales are important to you, it isn't something you want to cut corners on.

Websites like ServiceScape offer profiles of graphic design professionals who specialize in cover design, and their prices can range from $50 to $200+. As with any industry, prices vary depending on the level of work involved, and you can end up paying $1,000 or more for custom, hand-drawn illustrated work.

Original artwork on a book cover could run $1,000 or more, unless you have a connection to the artist
Original artwork on a book cover could run $1,000 or more, unless you have a connection to the artist. Photo by Samuel Castro on Unsplash.

Copies for advance readers and reviewers

When a book is published through traditional channels, the publishing house sends out copies for advance readers and reviewers to help the book gain momentum when it's time to market it. As you probably already know, the reviews that a book gets—whether on Amazon or elsewhere—have a significant effect on its sales. That's why the advance readers and reviewers are so important to get the ball rolling once the need for marketing is there.

Buying copies for advance readers and reviewers

For the self-publishing platforms we've mentioned, if you're going the "free" route, books are printed when ordered. This means you'd need to order your own copies for advance readers and reviewers, which would cost around $3.50 for a 200-page book. (Keep in mind this price varies based on the dimensions of the book and the ink color used, so this is just a rough estimate.) So, if you're planning to send out 50 advance reading copies to bring in needed reviews, this would run $700 for you out-of-pocket.

Final cost

So, let's look at the final cost of self-publishing a book without sacrificing quality:

Developmental editing: $1,600-$2,400
Copyediting: $600-$2,000
Typesetting: $150-$300
Proofreading: $600
Cover design: $50-$200 (low end)
Advance copies: $700
Total cost: $3,700-$6,200

A few tips for cutting your cost (by 50% or more!)

These figures might be what you expected, or they might have taken you completely by surprise. However, if you're on a tight budget yet still want to self-publish a book that doesn't scream unprofessional vanity press, consider these tips for lowering your cost without sacrificing quality:

  • Find an editor who can serve as developmental editor, copy editor and proofreader. With the right freelancer, all three jobs can be done at different stages of the manuscript process for a reduced price. However (and this is a BIG however), be sure that the editor you hire has the experience needed to handle all three jobs, and don't expect that editor to do all three jobs for less than the typical price of one. That simply isn't fair to the editor, who typically spends anywhere from several days to several weeks to edit an entire manuscript correctly. (How would you like to be paid $50 for three days of work?) Simply put, you can cut costs but keep in mind you'll get what you pay for if you bargain too low.
  • Follow the detailed instructional videos offered by self-publishing services and do the typesetting yourself. With the right attention to detail, you should be able to make it look professional, as long as you follow the advice given.
  • If you have a friend or relative who is a great artist, ask for a cover design from them. You should still pay them, but you're likely to get artwork that is better (for the price) than what you'd get if you hired a freelance graphic designer. Also, keep in mind that you can still hire a freelancer if the artwork you're given doesn't meet your expectations.
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