Before delving right into the question of “how” to afford certain expenses when self-publishing, it’s a good idea to lay out what those expenses actually are.


Aside from the requisite blood, sweat and tears of writing the manuscript, these include:

  • Editing
  • Book Cover
  • Formatting
  • ISBNs
  • Marketing

Let’s start at the top and work our way down:

1. Editing: $1000 – $2000+

Depending on the type of editor you’re contracting, the cost can vary but I’ve included the average cumulative cost of the two main types of editors I’ve seen used (Development and Copy Editor). The amount indicated assumes a manuscript of 100,000 words–the average length of a Sci-fi/Fantasy novel.

Keep in mind that, just like when buying electronics, cheaper does not necessarily mean better. References are important so you know you’re getting a quality edit. One suggestion is to research the editors used by other successful self-published authors whose work you admire.

2. Book Cover: Free – $700+

This is another one where the sky is the limit really, as it has to do with art. Some people like to make their own covers, in which case the cost is nothing. However, be careful with this option since readers definitely, as the cliche says, judge a book by its cover and an amateur book cover can prevent sales. Take a look at the covers of books that are selling well in your genre to get an idea of what’s popular as far as design.

3. Formatting: Free – $200

If you own Scrivener, this program will format your ebook for you (read Scrivener’s instructions to do this).

If not, there are many websites that walk you through the process if you want to DIY. Here’s one example:


If you’d rather skip this and have a professional do it for you, formatting services for a standard manuscript (of approx. 350 pages) to Mobi or Epub are available at the rate range above. I simply did a Google search to research the average cost through half a dozen or so businesses. As usual, complete due diligence before contracting with any of these services to ensure they are reputable and not out scam a quick buck.

4. ISBNs: Free – $300

ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers) identify a book with a unique 13-digit number that cannot be reused by other products. It also makes it possible to track the sales of your book/s as a whole, rather than by individual distributors.

A single ISBN costs $125, but buying 10 at once costs just under $300. If you can swing it, the better buy is clearly to purchase these in bulk. Keep in mind that if you change the title of your book, it would require a new ISBN as they are non-transferable. Edits to the book content, price changes and cover changes usually don’t require a new ISBN.

There is a debate on whether authors who are strictly publishing online even need an ISBN (hence the “Free” on the price range). Online retailers of ebooks like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. provide an identification number for your book specific to their site at no cost (see their sites for info and instructions). You can then track the sales and rankings on these individual sites.

It’s good to decide for yourself whether you’d like to buy ISBNs for your work, but to help out I’ve included a link to a pro and con argument here:





You can buy ISBNs for books in the United States at U.S. ISBN agency, R. R. Bowker: www.ISBN.org. There’s some good additional info if you’re just learning about ISBNs on their FAQ page: http://www.isbn.org/faqs_general_questions#isbn_faq9

5. Marketing: $35 – ?

The true cost of marketing a book is difficult to gauge because it can vary widely. There are online resources to try out who will advertise your book for free:


There are also some services that, if your book is free, will promote it for a nominal fee. Ebook Booster is one and charges $35 for one book:


Here is a review of Ebook booster from an author that used it, along with some handy tips and information:


Largely though, if you have just one book to sell, many authors say that the best thing you can do to promote it is ensure you have a great story, blurb and cover, advertise it on your online platform if you have one (such as your website/blog, Facebook page, Twitter account) and get on to writing the next book. Successful Indie author Lindsay Buroker had this to say about launching your first book:

“I usually tell people not to put a lot of time and effort into marketing the first book, especially if you’re a new author and this is your first series. Why? Because there’s nothing else for readers to go on to buy, so you’re spending all of this time trying to sell something where you can only get one sale maximum per buyer. When you have numerous other books out, you stand to make much more per customer.”

I tend to agree. I’ve heard it again and again: It’s about the long game. Celebrate the accomplishment, then put your head down and get going on the next book.

For Linday Buroker’s full article on Marketing Your Series: A Plan for a Solid Launch and Sales for Years to Come, check it out here:



The bottom line here? If cutting out the most non-essential items, the total hits around $2500, give or take. That is no small chunk of change for the debut author! Still, it’s important to have these numbers so there’s a clear picture of the investment needed.

If only this writing gig were just about writing! For most creative minds the prospect of venturing into the business side of writing summons images of scheming trolls and slavering ogres, but it’s still one we have to learn if success is the goal. So don your armor brave scribe and make ready your steel. It’s time to head into the fray.

Next up on Ways & Means: Affording a professional freelance editor