The first thing I’d like to say is that this article is not going to give you a set-in-stone budget. All books are different, so there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all for budgeting, but I hope that after you read this, you’ll have a better understanding of the book publishing world, how to decide where you need to put the most focus, and how to make informed decisions about spending your money.
Understanding the Importance of Having a Budget
When writing your book, the first thing on your mind probably won’t be ‘I need to make a budget for this.’ And while, yes, having a budget isn’t high on the list while actually writing the book, it’s still something you’ll need to think about down the line – and not just the money you’re going to spend.
Something else that authors may not think about is the money that they are not making while working on their book. You may be writing in your free time, or you may have taken time off work to write. Whatever your situation, the time you spend writing (whether you enjoy it or not) is time that you spend not doing something else, and it is something that you might need to factor into the project.
I suggest starting a budget as soon as you can, maybe even before deciding to get into the business of self-publishing your books, because the world of publishing may be very different from what you think.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, it is NOT a GET RICH QUICK scheme.
You may have seen other authors out there publishing books upon books on Amazon or other self-publishing sites, and you also may have noticed that some of them (not all!) aren’t very good. These are the people who don’t respect writers like you, who have put love and devotion into writing their books. These people write the first draft, throw together a cover, and post it at their earliest convenience. Or, they’ll go halfway, hire one professional or another, but not want to spend the money to make their book a good read.
Sorry to say, but publishing books is not a cheap hobby, it is an expensive small business.
If you already know this, great! We can move on.
Since every book is different, and I want this article to help as many people as possible, I will keep my advice mostly generic with some specific examples. I will also talk about the extra research you, as the author, may need to do for your book because knowing your target market is one of the most important things about increasing the profitability of your book.
If you have the idea for a book or have already finished writing your first draft, take a step back and think about who this book is for. Some pieces of that are easy. What’s the genre? Subgenre? What age group did you write the book for – children, teens, adults? Is it geared toward a specific minority group?
Once you’ve figured out these details, you can get to the harder part: where you will promote. You may look at that and say “Why talk about this now? That’s a future worry.” While you might not start actively promoting until you are certain of a release date, the target audience (to be used similarly as target market) also needs to be considered when editing. You need to use the right kind of language, reading level, and storyline for your readers.
Luckily, you won’t need to figure out most of these things until later (or your professional promotor will do it for you) but these are still things you should consider. Where do your potential readers normally hang out, both in person and online? Where do they shop? How do they find products that they want to buy? And what are the deciding factors of whether they make the purchase?
As you may know, millennials have different deciding factors than baby boomers, and parents have different deciding factors for their kids versus buying for themselves. A lot more can be said about this part of book promotion, but I’m going to end here, as it isn’t the focus of this article.
So, how does this all factor into having a budget? Simple. It all comes back around to investment and returns. How much money do you expect to put into this book, and how can you increase the possibility of sales so you can make a profit while doing something you love?
Why Get Professional Help?
You know the simplicity of self-publishing a book. Find a website, upload your book (maybe pay a small fee), and your book is out there. We touched upon this earlier because this simplicity is what hinders the reputation of self-published books. It is the people out there who only publish books to make money, but also the well-meaning people who think that they can do all the work themselves – writing, editing, designing, and so on – so they can save money.
This, while understandable, is wrong. No one can do everything themselves, especially if they don’t have the necessary skills or training to do so. Even professional editors should have a second set of eyes to review their work.
So, in reality? This is about quality of work.
Just like how the best book won’t sell if it’s not promoted correctly, you can also spend thousands upon thousands of dollars on a bad book, but if people don’t like it, they won’t buy it. Plus, like I said above, book publishing is not a get-rich-quick scheme.
Know Your Limits
You are a writer. Maybe you’re an editor, a designer, or a marketer too, but in this article, I will talk to you as a writer. Your job is to have a dream, write the book, and nurture your desire to send it out into the world.
However, you likely do not have all the skills to get it there on your own. While yes, there are ways to get help with your book for free (see beta reading for more details) these should not be replacements for hiring professionals to work on your book. Some of these professionals may include a Developmental Editor, Copyeditor, Line Editor, Designers (Cover and Interior), Proofreader, and a Marketer/Promotor. All these people are needed to take a book from Draft 1 to Done. When you make your budget, keep all of these in mind, and list the costs accordingly (average costs of these services below).
Make a Timeline
Impatience will be your enemy, but so will procrastination. The best way to counter both is to make a timeline and try your best to stick to it. Be reasonable and give yourself and others appropriate cushions of time. Some people work better having set deadlines, and it will keep up motivation and drive to get the work done.
Some factors to consider when making your timeline are:
- The length of the book
- How many revisions you need to do (estimate)
- The time it will take for professionals to do their own work
- ARC readers for your book launch
- Any events you would like to book for your launch or subsequent promotion tour (if any)
Know the Costs
*Prices may vary
All prices are according to Reedsy, the main freelancer website for freelance editors. Reedsy freelancers are highly vetted, and as such, their prices are higher, but the quality of work is guaranteed. Other editors can be found for cheaper rates elsewhere, such as on Fiverr, Facebook, or an editor’s business website.
Also note that when an editor does a second or subsequent run-through of the same document, the service price is usually half of the original.
This service entails having your book written by someone else entirely. You have the ideas, and you’re guiding them along, but overall, they are the ones putting the words on paper. A complete book could be anything from 30k to 100k words. This is one of—if not the MOST—expensive services.
It depends on the specific writer’s skill level and the length of the project. A 50k novel may cost $12,000 to $15,000. For a longer novel, a good ghostwriter costs between $40,000 to $70,000.
Top 8 Reedsy Ghostwriters for Hire in Canada
This comes in two forms: the initial editorial assessment (also called a manuscript evaluation), and the in-depth developmental editing. An assessment is surface level; the editor reads your work and tells you what works and what doesn’t. They might offer suggestions to improve the story or for rewriting certain parts, but it’s just an overview. On the other hand, developmental editing has your editor in the trenches with you, working on worldbuilding, character storylines and arcs, plot details, and the like. They help with every aspect of the story itself, and though they may point out consistency errors or the tone you want for certain scenes, those aspects are usually taken care of by a different kind of editor (see below)
Read more about Editorial Assessments here.
Read more about Developmental Editing here.
Editorial assessments are overview, and therefore cheaper. Typically, 2 cents per word on Reedsy. To put that in perspective, a 50k novel will cost $1000.
Since developmental editing is more in-depth, it’s more expensive. This costs 2.8 cents per word, meaning a 50k novel will cost $1400.
The first type of technical editing (which refers to the actual words rather than the story) is line editing. It is so named because the editor goes through the manuscript line by line, checking everything from grammar to tone, language, consistency, voice, and more.
Read more about Line Editing here.
Typically costs between 4 cents and 9 cents per word, meaning a 50k novel will cost $2000–$4500.
This is the other form of technical editing and deals entirely with spelling, punctuation, fact-checking, and grammar. It usually also includes a style sheet, which is a list of contextually spelled words (unique to the manuscript).
Read more about Copyediting here.
Typically costs 2.1 cents per word, meaning a 50k novel will cost $1050.
This refers to the design of the interior of your book. Some people think they can do this themselves, and while it is possible to put something together in Word (which isn’t a program built for that function), they usually miss the finer details of design or incorporate errors never seen in professional work.
Interior design usually consists of a flat design rate, in which the designer works with you to come up with the overall design of your book, and a variable per-page rate, which depends on the number of pages in your book.
Read more about Interior Book Design here.
$50 to $150 design fee plus $1.50 to $8.00 per-page rate (depending on the complexity of page layout). So, a 350-page novel would cost $50 + $525. $575 minimum. Of course, much cheaper rates can be found on unvetted websites like Fiverr, where the cost of a 350-page book can be around $200.
Proofreading is similar to copyediting, in that it takes care of spelling and punctuation errors, but the difference is that it comes after the design process. A proofreader goes through the printed or PDF proof of the book after it has been designed and catches any errors that might have been missed or might have been incorporated by the designer by mistake.
Read more about Proofreading here.
Typically costs 1.9 cents per word, meaning a 50k novel will cost $950.
On the plus side, you may find an editor who offers copyediting and proofreading in a package, which would cost 2.2 cents per word instead of 3 cents per word bought separately. That means it would cost $1100 instead of $1500 for a 50k novel.
Book Cover Design
I feel like book cover design has the most variable pricing (next to marketing & promotion) because the quality of work is so vast, as is the variance in style altogether. You could get a custom-drawn cover from an artist which is 100% unique, or you could get a cover from a photo editor who builds a cover from multiple licensed stock photos.
As such, a cover could cost as low as $15, though the quality will be absolutely terrible, or it could cost upwards of $2000.
A very good cover designer I’ve worked alongside in the past is Alex Perkins, who is based in the UK. He offers pre-made covers for £450, and custom covers for £650, which are approximately $675 and $1000 respectively. The custom-cover packages include paperback, eBook, and promotional artwork!
Click here to check out Perky Visuals’ Book Cover Design Services.
Now, of course, marketing. Even the best book won’t sell if it isn’t marketed correctly, and there are so many different services involved in marketing that this price is also quite variable. The important thing here, though, is to vet your marketer and make sure you know what you’re getting.
For more information about the costs of book marketing and promotion, click here.
I’m going to give an approximate range of prices, so take this with a grain of salt. A marketer may provide an entire book marketing and promotion plan. They may be coaching you to use social media for promotion, or they may build and/or manage your author website—which is a MUST HAVE. Each of these services costs around $500.
You could also pay for Amazon ads, Facebook ads, or a multitude of other companies to feature your book. Some cost money per click, others per day, and even others cost a flat rate.
Let’s say you’re working on a novel that is exactly 50,000 words and want to do this with no half measures. You’re using almost every service, and you’ve found some great deals by high-quality editors and designers.
Developmental Editing — 50,000 x 0.025 = $1250
Copyediting (x2) — 50,000 x 0.022 = $1100 + 50,000 x 0.010 = $500
Interior Design (250 pages) — $100 + 250 x 1.50 = $475
Proofreading — 50,000 x 0.00 (with copyediting) = $0
Book Cover Design — $500 (for print cover)
Marketing and Promotion — $1000
Total cost — $4825
Now let’s say that you list the paperback low* at $10.99 on Amazon.ca. You would make a royalty of $1.48 per sale. To earn back the money that you spent on the book, you would have to sell about 3300 paperbacks before you can make a profit.
If you set the price at $11.99, you would make $2.08 in royalties and have to sell about 2300 paperbacks.
*A low price is used because people are more likely to buy a lower-priced book. You wouldn’t be a 250-page novel for $15, would you? (For reference, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is 300+ pages.)
Big numbers, aren’t they? But with the right marketing, they can be accomplished!
If you’re now on the fence about how you can make money self-publishing a book, that’s where the money-saver tips come in. Keep in mind, that these tips are extras—things you can do to increase the quality of your book at a much cheaper cost. They are NOT to be used as replacements for professional help, simply as a supplemental aid.
Ways to enhance the plot and flesh out the characters, setting, and overall reader enjoyment of your book is through beta readers. While paid beta readers exist, you can enlist the help of unpaid beta readers, who take “free book!” as payment for their work. I do suggest getting one or two paid beta readers for a novel, but free feedback is free feedback, and if someone doesn’t like something about their book, they are usually motivated to help you fix it.
These people, if they enjoy your book, may actually become your biggest fans, and will support you going forward by being ARC readers for the finished product, or even just purchase the book to support you.
Having a larger group of beta readers is best because while having any is good, you don’t want to accidentally tailor your book too much to one person. If they don’t like how the romance, action, or adventure plays out in the book, that’s on them. If a large group of people all point out the same thing, then it may just be a mistake.
*Beta readers can also help with early copyediting! Not everyone does it, but some people will point out spelling mistakes that they’ve noticed as they read.
Self-Editing—for before you send it to the copyeditor!
People will always tell you that you can’t edit your own work, and they’re right, You shouldn’t. You can definitely edit as you write and take on the role of an editor separate from writing, but you shouldn’t skip the step of hiring a copyeditor to take a look at your manuscript. That being said you can definitely go through it once, twice, or even three times before sending it out, just to make sure that when they look through it, it has as few errors as possible.
“Why?” you may ask. “Isn’t it the copyeditor’s job to catch the errors?” Yes, it is. But even within editing, there are tiers of light, medium, and heavy editing. If you have the odd spelling mistake on every page, or you slip up with punctuation now and again, that’s nothing. The less work the editor has to do, the cheaper the editing is for you. (The level of editing needed is determined by a sample edit that the editor does before taking on the project, typically the first 1000 words.) Polishing up your work as much as possible before sending it to the copyeditor could make the difference between a $1000 edit and a $2000 edit spread over multiple rereads.
If you struggle with English grammar or spelling, fear not! There are guides out there to help you, and for the more advanced stuff, you can leave that to your editor. Self-editing is just for what you can do on your own.
Click here to read all about Self-Editing and download a free PDF list of the most common mistakes found by copyeditors that you can fix.
How to Put Your Existing Skills to Use—and When Not To
Sometimes, there are things you can do yourself. If you are already skilled in design and photoshop, you can definitely craft yourself a book cover. If you’ve been trained in interior design, you can do the interior of your book as well. If you’re an editor or are incredibly skilled in storytelling or English grammar, you can save money when paying for the professional opinion of other editors.
However, there are lines that you shouldn’t cross, and things that you shouldn’t do yourself. Here is an amazing article reviewing homemade book covers and discussing what is wrong with them. They are drastic examples, but remember that people out there published each one of them, meaning they thought it was good enough to sell. So, if you’re not specially trained in an area, DO NOT do it yourself. The learning curve is massive, so don’t let yourself fall prey to the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
So, with those money-saving tips, what are our new costs?
Developmental Editing — 50,000 x 0.025 = $1250
Copyediting — 50,000 x 0.022 = $1100 (beta readers and self-editing)
Interior Design (250 pages) — $100 + 250 x 1.50 = $475
Proofreading — 50,000 x 0.00 (with copyediting) = $0
Book Cover Design — $500 (for print cover)
Marketing and Promotion — $500 (already social media savvy)
Total cost — $3825
This means that if you were to price your paperback at $10.99, you’d have to sell 2600 books, and if you price it at $11.99, you’d have to sell 1800 books.
Getting Higher Returns
The numbers above still seem high, out of reach, but remember: once you publish the book, it is available for sale until you take it down. You will continue to make royalties from every sale that the book makes, so even if it takes years to start making a profit on the book, it is a possibility.
There are some self-published authors who go big—but they are only the ones who spend time and money on making their book great.
For example, Michael Webb [see his website here] is a self-published author with three books currently out. He has sold over 40,000 books (combined the numbers of all three) and made the Bestseller List on Amazon multiple times. After a brief chat with him, I discovered that for his covers, he paid around $2000 each. That is a brief look into the type of money he invested in his books, and his return on investment speaks for itself.
With dedication, determination, devotion, and a little bit of social media savvy, he achieved what you want to achieve.
Other Articles Related to This One
Navigating the World of Self Publishing
Working With an Editor Part 1: Content
Working With an Editor Part 2: Technical
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