The cost of self-publishing

Having published When Computing Got Personal: A history of the desktop computer in both Kindle and paperback editions, I thought it might be helpful to share the costs that I incurred in doing so. Much has been made of how cheap self-publishing can be, but there are some costs that you should not avoid if you want a professional product, even if you only intend to publish to Amazon’s Kindle platform.

Kindle only

Copy editing by LibroEditing cost £420. Liz Dexter’s standard charge is £8 per 1,000 words, but she offers a discount to self-publishers and quotes on the text as presented. Don’t even think about publishing without having your copy edited by someone who knows what they’re doing as readers are very unforgiving of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.

I spent £369 on the design for the cover. Here I used the 99designs crowd-sourcing site which takes you through the process of writing a brief, selecting from the multitude of designs submitted by artists from across the world, and working with your selected artist to get the cover just as you want it. I went for their Silver design package, and the paperback edition meant I needed a back cover and spine design as well as a front cover. The company’s Bronze design package starts at £189, but the higher reward of the Silver package attracts more professional designers and turned out to be well worth the extra.

You may be tempted to design your own cover, or get an artistic friend to do it for you. However cover design is a specialist art, and it is the cover of your book that will determine whether it gets a second glance. The money you spend on a good cover will get you more sales than you could gain from any other marketing exercise.

I also spent £17 registering the text with the UK Copyright Service, and $35 (£21) registering it with the Library of Congress. While not strictly necessary, it does simplify disputes over copyright, particularly in the United States which is my biggest potential market. So a total of £827 for the Kindle version.

Publishing in print

For the print version I used two print-on-demand suppliers: Amazon’s own CreateSpace for editions sold through Amazon, and Lighting Source to supply bookshops. CreateSpace does offer Extended Distribution to bookshops, and does ensure that your books are always displayed as ‘in stock’ on the Amazon website, but your books are then effectively published by CreateSpace which will put off many book buyers. By contrast, Lighting Source is part of the Ingram Group which has a long history of supplying bookshops across the world. Going through Lightning Source ensures your book comes up on the computer systems that most bookshops use to order titles they don’t have in stock.

Once your files are prepared and uploaded, printing through CreateSpace involves no additional cost, but you are advised to arrange proof copies for approval. Although copies ordered from Amazon’s UK website are printed in the UK, initial set up has to be done at the US facility, which means $4.47 plus $14.38 shipping for each proof. I needed two at a total cost of £23.53. I also ordered one copy of the finished product from the UK website and one from the US, spending £14.99 and $33.37 (£20.65) respectively, so as to ensure that everything worked properly.

Amazon uses its own identification codes for products sold through its sites, but these are not recognised by bookshops. Instead the book industry relies on ISBN codes, which in the UK have to be purchased from the Nielsen UK ISBN Agency. You only need one per edition but the smallest allocation is ten at a cost of £126 (including VAT). CreateSpace Extended Distribution does include one ISBN number, but this lists the publisher and distributor as CreateSpace. By contrast, ISBNs purchased from Nielsen are linked to your own publishing brand.

A proof copy from Lightning Source’s UK outlet cost £21, and there is an initial set-up fee of £50.40, plus an annual charge of £16.80. I also ordered one copy from the local branch of Waterstones at the cover price of £14.99 to ensure that the bookshop could deliver. Finally, there is a requirement that five copies of any book sold in the UK be lodged with various Legal Deposit Libraries, which cost a further £23.35.

So in summary, the additional cost involved in making the book available in  paperback on Amazon was £59, and the additional cost of making it available to bookshops through Lighting Source amounted to a little over £231, bringing the total to £1,117.

Marketing and advertising

Of course publishing the book is only the beginning: no-one is going to buy it if they don’t know it exists. Amazon does some of the marketing for you, although this doesn’t amount to much until you’ve already clocked up several hundred sales. You can augment this by taking out adverts through Amazon Marketing Services, which only charges you when someone actually clicks on the advert. I spent £35 ($50) on this, but stopped when I realised any additional sales weren’t covering the cost. There is of course much that you can do to increase awareness of your book on the Web, but that is beyond the scope of this article.

Reviews help, and if your book is available in paperback, then you will need to send review copies to potential reviewers. You also need to send samples to the buyers at bookshops that might be interested in stocking your book. The cost of printing a book depends on a number of factors, such as pagination, paper quality and size, and decreases depending on the number ordered. In my case, Lightning Source charges £4.99 to print a single copy, or £3.55 per copy if ordered in batches of ten. There is also the cost of packing and postage. Suffice to say that I have spent around £500 so far on such activities.


It is also important that you set the price of your book appropriately. Having checked out the cost of comparable books on the Amazon website, I decided on a recommended retail price (RRP) for the paperback edition of £14.99, or $21.99 in the US. Bookshops expect a substantial discount, particularly from a first-time author and an unknown publisher. 40% is common, but I offer 50% which brings in an income of £7.49 or $10.99 per copy sold. After printing and delivery, this leaves me a profit of £3.76 or $6.15 from Lightning Source (CreateSpace are more generous, paying £5.27 or $8.72 per copy sold).

Kindle pricing is the subject of much debate. I thought the fairest solution would be to set prices that resulted in a similar level of profit. Amazon pays a generous 70% royalty on e-books, although it does charge a small amount for delivery, so I settled on an RRP of £4.99 or $7.79 for the Kindle edition, which brings in £3.43 and $5.40 respectively.

So, on the basis of these figures, I broke even once I’d sold around 450 copies.

2 responses to “The cost of self-publishing

  1. Excellent, brilliantly helpful. Huge thanks.


  2. Pingback: Why am I writing a novel? | Another Roadside Attraction

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