Cost of Self-Publishing a Book: 10 Tips for Planning and Budgeting

by | Jul 9, 2024 | Being in Business as an Author

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Authors are often terribly unprepared for the process and the cost of self-publishing a book. There is no single reason for why this happens, though a lot can be attributed to the fact that authors just don’t realize how many moving parts are involved until it’s too late and they’re already stressed about recouping their investment.

Sometimes I’ll hop on a call with an author who has sunk their entire budget into creating a website, and look, if you’ve followed me for a while or listened to our podcast, you know I’m a huge proponent of authors having a website.

But if you’ve invested every dime you have into a website and have nothing left to promote the book – you’ll have an awesome website that no one will ever see.

The idea is to know what the path to success looks like, and plan for it – wisely. And if that means delaying your book for a year in order to do it right, then that might be a better path for you. 

So let’s break down some ways to plan and strategize so you can budget smartly and have enough to keep the marketing of your book for the long haul – because it will take all that time, and more.

Set a Realistic Budget

The truth is, you aren’t going to be able to do much with a $500 marketing budget. Yes, there are a lot of cheap marketing options out there, but there’s a saying about attorneys that goes something like, “you can find a cheap attorney, and you can find a good attorney – but you aren’t likely to find a good & cheap attorney.” The same thing holds for book marketing.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to throw $20K at a book campaign, sure you could, but your genre and your goals should determine where your marketing spend should land.

For example, if you’re written genre fiction, you’ll probably spend less than you would if you wrote a non-fiction book and you’re banking on getting interviewed on podcasts. Why? Because often non-fiction authors want to do bigger media and that takes time, strategic brand building and…of course: money.

So generally, genre fiction tends to be a little bit lighter on the spend. You want to focus on building reader reviews and influencer recommendations. And yes, you’re also aspiring to this if you’ve written a non-fiction book, but you may add on a layer of media, maybe also speaking engagements which require time to find and pitch these. There’s also potentially travel involved which the event may or may not cover.

In other words, you need to understand the layers involved in building your brand based on your genre and plan accordingly.

So what’s realistic? We find that authors who work with us, tend to pay between $3,500 and $5,500 for a campaign if they’re a fiction author and slightly more for non-fiction.

A Smarter Way to Cut Corners

When authors cut corners, they sometimes do so by skipping a solid content or line edit. Or they’ll decide to use Facebook as their website, instead of building one.

Yes, there are ways to cut corners, but it’s really all about doing so smartly. Meaning: don’t cut the things that could potentially tank your book.

For example, you’d love to have a book trailer. Sure, good ones can be pretty stunning, but this is not a *must do* in terms of what the buyer market expects – so understanding what are musts vs. what may be able to wait for later is key.

Let’s dig into a list to get you started!

Website:

Authors need a website, but if you’re short on funds, maybe use free places like Squarespace to design one until you can afford to hire a designer.

Facebook ads:

I know a lot of authors who spend almost their entire budget on Facebook ads. Do they work? Not consistently. Instead, opt for Amazon ads and put a budget cap on them so you can control your spending.

Editing:

An absolute must. Don’t cut corners on this, don’t ask a neighbor to do this because they read a lot or have a teaching degree (I hear this a lot). Find someone who won’t be afraid to tell you what needs to be edited, rewritten, or cut in order to tighten up the book.

Cover design:

You don’t have to spend thousands on a designer, but you do need to find someone who knows your genre, has designed for your genre, and who already has a bank of designs that you like.

I always recommend checking the bestseller list you hope to see your book on – these are the kinds of covers shoppers are responding to, stay in this lane. Being entirely unique when it comes to covers typically works against you.

Book page layout:

A few weeks ago an author told me that in order to save money they were designing their own book in Word and I nearly dropped the phone. Yes, your book cover needs to make a statement but your book interior does this as well. You want an interior that is professional, inviting, and enticing to the reader.

Publicity and marketing:

If this is what you do for a living and you have contacts galore, then you’re one of the lucky ones. But most authors don’t have this and need to hire someone who can get their book out there. Even if you feel like you really want to keep your marketing and publicity budget south of $5,000, that’s fine. But be prepared to invest *something* to get your book launched.

Understanding the layers:

I mentioned this earlier but it’s worth its own bullet, because there are layers to marketing and publicity and the secret is knowing which ones you need vs. which ones can be added on later.

Media is great, but not everyone needs it – and not every author or book merits big media. Consider this: with a book published every 8 seconds in this country, and with the news cycle changing every 15 minutes – it’s HARD to be considered news these days. That’s not to say that media isn’t a good fit for you eventually, but maybe it’s not a good fit right now. It’s a layer that you add on later, as you build your message and your platform.

Another layer is local media, which is something authors often forget because it doesn’t seem quite as sexy as being on Today. And I get it. But here’s the thing: local media loves their local authors and it’s a great way to build your platform.

Layers like social media management is another one. Do you need to be on every social media site? No. Again, be selective. Do you need someone to manage your social media or do you just need coaching? For me, I absolutely need a team to manage my socials. But you may love noodling with images and video.

The layers add on costs – and you have to decide which ones you need and which you don’t – or can wait on. A good publicist should be able to guide you and make recommendations that fit your reader market, without breaking the bank.

DIY & outsourcing:

We love authors who are engaged in their own success, so yes you should be prepared to DIY some of the promotion. But what you’ll do will depend on what you have the time for and what you feel you’re good at.

And trust me when I say that this is a really important step.

When I was first in business, I didn’t have a bookkeeper to keep track of all the things, I decided to do it myself. I wasn’t good at it, and as much as it used to chagrin my math-whiz father, numbers aren’t my thing. But I felt like I didn’t want to spend the money on a bookkeeper. I was trying to grow my business and needed to hoard my pennies. But guess what? In the end this way of thinking only limits your growth because you’re not focused on growing, just on doing the things you hate, and for me that was math. Once I outsourced my bookkeeping, I doubled and then tripled my business size.

That’s what happens when you outsource smartly. You bring in folks to do the things you dislike, or don’t have time for, or simply aren’t well-educated on, and this opens up space for you to grow your message, build your readers, finally spend time creating and sending that newsletter – and the list goes on.

Printing Options:

Print-on-Demand is a big deal for a major reason: authors aren’t having to print (and store) thousands of copies of their book.

But this form of digital printing has limitations, especially if you’re doing a children’s or coffee table book. You may find that the color of the book doesn’t pop the way it would if you did offset printing and that’s fine – but it’s good to know this ahead of time.

So ask for print samples if color interiors are part of your book and get a sense of what they look like. Even better: order another author’s book who has done digital printing and see what they look and feel like. You can often tell if it’s a digital printed book if the “publisher” on the book detail page says Amazon digital.

If you do decide to offset print books, don’t get more than 2,000 copies. I know the discounts are crazy cheap to jump from 2,000 up to 10,000 (I had one author tell me the overseas printer was only going to charge them $1 more) – but you’ll have to find and pay for storage for 10,000 books – which isn’t cheap.

And what if you find an error in the book after it’s printed? It happens all the time. Now you have 10,000 copies of a book with errors in it. So just keep that in mind, there are a million print options out there to help make your book shine, but pick the one that’s right for your book and your budget.

Book Editions:

I love audio books, but you don’t need all of your editions to hit the market at once. In fact, I love it when authors spread things out over time. For example, let’s say you’re launching your paperback and Kindle formats in the summer – you could shoot for a winter release for your hardback and then next Spring you’ll do your audio book.

Each new addition is a fresh opportunity market your book – so don’t feel like you have to have them all hit at one time.

Be prepared for the long term

Authors often ask me how long it’ll be till they see some ROI on their investment, especially since they’re considering hiring us and they’re starting to figure out how much it really costs to self-publish a book.

But there’s absolutely no way for me to answer that.

Why?

Because there are a zillion variables to this, not the least of which is the genre, how well the book is written and what the competitive playing field I like. I often see author give up at the 90-day mark. They’re discouraged, broke, and unwilling to invest more time or money because they feel like they gave the book a good shot.

But I can tell you they didn’t.

The majority of authors don’t see a return on their investment in 90 days, so be prepared for the long-term nature of this business.

And yes, it is a business. If it was a hobby you wouldn’t care if you made money.

The first year in business you’re doing all the things to get noticed and to drive new business. If you’re lucky, you may start to see a return in year two. That was certainly the case for me and my business.

Be ready to hunker down and stick with it. The authors who do, and do the right things, are the ones who are successful.

There are no shortcuts to success

I am an author, so even I get offers like: “Market your book cheap!” or emails that seem to promise instant success or bestseller status.

Let me tell you, there are no shortcuts to success and the cost of self-publishing a book comes in layers.

I had an author once sign up to be an Amazon bestseller, thinking he could “skip the line” so to speak, only to find out he had to buy 8,000 copies of his own book in order to get that coveted flag. Ouch.

In the end, the authors who are successful don’t always have the biggest budgets, they are the ones who educate themselves and make smart choices, who understand the long-term nature of getting a book out there and who realize what needs to be handed off to be done correctly.

There’s a saying that there is no elevator to success. Instead, take the stairs, one by one you’ll be building a solid foundation – and in the end, you’ll be glad you did.

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