[Updated 26/8/23 with final costs]
When I decided to self publish my first book I quickly discovered a lot of companies that will proofread your manuscript, design your cover, sort out your ISBN, print and deliver your books, and whatever else.
I also discovered that these services are very expensive. One of them charges £4,500+ for a run of 200, meaning you pay over £20 per book.
In the end I decided to do it myself, and landed on a much more sensible figure of £5.26 per book for a run of 488.
Here’s how 👇
Printing costs – £1,814.72
Cost per book for my run of 488 = £3.72
Total cost per book = £3.72
Printing is the biggest and most obvious cost, but it actually ended up being lower than I expected.
To find a printer I gathered up a few books I like the look and feel of, looked for printer info on the publication info page, and got in touch to talk through the options. Then I went with the one I liked most.
Variables that might affect printing costs:
- Page count, page size, and the resulting spine width
- The type of cover you go for (print method, number of sheets, etc)
- Whether or not you include photo inserts
- The variance: printers are legally allowed to deliver 5% +/- the requested number of copies, and you’ll either pay for or be refunded the difference
- The run on price: printing gets cheaper at scale, and printers offer something called a run on which reduces the cost per unit past certain points
Professional editing – £643
Cost per book = £1.32
Total cost per book = £5.04
I commissioned an edit from adventurer, author, and editor Alastair Humphreys. He offers three levels of edit and each has a different rate per word. My manuscript clocked in at just over 64,300 words.
Variables that might affect editing costs:
- Whether you get an edit at all
- Who you go with if you do
- What level of edit you go for
- The word count of your manuscript
- Whether you get repeat edits
ISBN – £91
Cost per book = 19p
Total cost per book = £5.23
An ISBN is a unique number to identify your book, centralise information about it, and make it possible for shops to order it. In the UK you can only buy ISBNs from Nielsen, and each edition and format requires its own ISBN. If you’re putting out a paperback, a hardback, an audiobook and an ebook for example, you’ll need four.
There are discounts available on bulk purchases. I only bought one despite planning to put out an ebook later because I didn’t read the options properly beforehand, which was a very cost ineffective mistake. Make sure to read in more detail than I did.
Variables that might affect ISBN costs:
- Whether you want an ISBN at all: they aren’t compulsory
- How many formats you’re planning to put out
- Whether you read the information properly before buying
ISBN barcode – £15
Cost per book = 3p
Total cost per book = £5.26
If you want to use your ISBN for a barcode, you have to buy this separately. I think this is a bit cheeky, but hey ho.
A bulk discount is also available for ISBN barcodes.
Variables that might affect ISBN barcode costs:
- Whether you buy ISBN(s) in the first place
- How many you need
A month of Adobe Creative Cloud – £0
Cost per book = 0p
Total cost per book = £5.26
I originally planned to get a professional to design the cover on Fiverr, but I had an idea and managed to make it work, which let me save a bit of money.
Variables that might affect cover costs:
- Whether you commision a designer
- Whether you can get what you need done within a free trial
Artwork – £0
Cost per book = £0
Total cost per book = £5.26
I fully believe in paying artists for their work, but a good artist friend of mine happens to accept barter rather than cash payment in certain cases. Years ago I commissioned him to draw the bike artwork that eventually ended up on the cover, and he also designed the three maps inside the book.
He requested my Legend of Zelda Collector’s Edition for Gamecube in exchange for the bike picture, and kindly offered to do the maps for free.
Variables that might affect artwork costs:
- Whether you commision an artist
- Whether your artist is a friend who graciously accepts barter rather than cash
Bonus consideration: Pro rata hourly rate – £5,000+
Cost per book = £10+
Total cost per book = at least £15.26
The costs above only cover what’s required to turn your manuscript into a book. They don’t take into account the countless hours you pour into writing, editing, proofreading, and so on.
I started writing this book in 2018 and I long since lost track of the hours I’ve spent on it. I do know that in 2023 alone the hours I’ve allocated to the book would be worth over £5,000 if they were billed instead to client work.
When you factor these numbers in, it’s no surprise that barely any writers make a living from writing. But none of the authors I know (myself included) do it for the money.
Other things to think about
Though it may not seem like it, this post is supposed to be encouraging. There are few things more exciting than finishing a book, sending it to press, and holding a hard copy in your hands.
If you’re considering self publishing, I hope this post gives you some clarity on your options, and maybe even saves you some time and money.
Here are a few closing thoughts:
- You have to pay all of these costs before you get a single copy of your book, meaning you’re a long way out of pocket before you can start selling anything.
- It’s far from guaranteed that you’ll break even, let alone make a profit on a self publishing run. If you’re in it for the money, maybe reconsider ♥
- There is a lot of hustle required before, during, and after printing.
- There are a lot of other options in addition to the ones above (Amazon Kindle Direct, for example).
Hit me up if you have any questions, I’d love to hear from you.