How Much Work And Money Is Self-Publishing?

I got an email recently from someone with a few self-publishing questions. I thought I would summarize my answers here.

The questions:

  • How much does it cost to self-publish?
  • How difficult is self-publishing vs traditional publishing?
  • How many pages do you need for self-publishing?
  • Can you add pictures to a self-published book?

How much does it cost to self-publish?

Costs for self-publishing can be as little or as much as you want. At Lightning Source it costs just under $100 to get a book listed and at CreateSpace, it’s free although you will probably want to use the ProPlan which costs $39. ISBN numbers are necessary for Lightning Source which can be expensive for Americans (they are free for Canadians).

See my self-publishing cost comparison here.

If you do the book cover, content formatting and editing yourself, those setup fees are the only costs you will incur. In theory, an author can create a book and have it available for purchase on Amazon for very little money.

A lot of authors will outsource one or more of the above tasks which costs money. In my case, I paid someone $175 to do the cover and interior formatting for my book. I wasn’t thrilled with their work, so I wouldn’t have any problem paying a bit more for better service. I also paid $200 for editing.

My costs were $100 (listing) + $175 (cover and format) + $200 (editing) = $475.

You can spend a lot more if you wish. There are different types of editors available and I’m sure you can spend thousands if you really want to. The problem of course is that spending too much on editing/research etc reduces the economic viability of your book.

I spent more money on promotion than creating the book. I was not shy about sending out review copies and I think I spent around $700 on review copies. It should be noted that I order review copies from Amazon and pay the full retail price, which means that some of that money comes back to me in the form of book profits. So the net cost of my review copies was probably $350.

How difficult is self-publishing vs traditional publishing?

There are a number of tasks necessary to get a book created and published. Essentially the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing is that the self-publisher is responsible for writing the book and getting all the various tasks completed (cover, formatting, editing) whereas the traditional published author mainly has to write the book. Things like editing/organization will be driven by the publisher.

It’s hard enough to write a book without worrying about how to create a cover and the million other details that go into the process. One solution is to do what I did and outsource some of the major jobs such as cover design, formatting, editing. This left me with tasks like – setting up the account at a self-publisher, organizing the project, hiring people to do the outsourced work.

I found it to be fairly manageable, but another option to consider is to buy a “publishing package” from a self-publisher. CreateSpace offers various levels of “help” click on their “services” tab.

These packages back up my assertion that you can spend as much as you want, creating the perfect book. In theory, if you spend enough money – you can literally recreate the traditional publishing experience, while staying self-published.

If you are not confident, my suggestion is to consider CreateSpace – they are far more user friendly than Lightning Source and offer a lot more service. Some free, others for money. The distribution fee is not as flexible as Lightning Source, but you can always switch at a later date if you want.

When self-publishing you have to consider your budget and how much you want to outsource. If you have enough money, you can outsource every single step of the self-publishing experience (including writing the book!) which makes things a lot easier. Or you can do everything yourself which will likely involve a big learning curve for most. Or you can do something in between which fits your budget and existing skills.

How many pages do you need for self-publishing?

Good question. POD publishers do have minimum page counts – if you can’t meet them, you are probably better off to just do an electronic version.

Keep in mind that variables like font size/line spacing/diagrams/pictures etc will affect your page count. Book size is another factor. 6″ x 9″ seems to be the standard for non-fiction books, but if you choose 5″ x 8″ (most paperback novels are this size), the page count will go up quite a bit.

This person mentioned her e-book is currently 60 pages and she will add to it. This doesn’t mean much, since she really needs to figure out how many pages the book will be in the proper format. In my case, the book is about 22,000 words, no pictures, 6×9 and the page count is about 115 pages which is plenty big enough.

Can you add pictures to a self-published book?

You can add whatever you like to self-published books, but photographs might not work that well. Personally, I would avoid them unless they are necessary. If you do an ebook (ie Kindle), then there will be no limitations on pictures etc.

5 Responses to “How Much Work And Money Is Self-Publishing?”

  1. Mike Piper says:

    My books are generally ~15,000 words. I use 5×8 format, and they do just fine.

    Also, it doesn’t appear that the person asked but: Just like publishing via CreateSpace, publishing via Kindle is free as well, aside from the various tasks you may want to outsource. And if you’ve already had a cover designed and had the book edited, the only thing you’ll need to outsource is the creation of the Kindle file itself, which should be quite affordable.

  2. Justin says:

    Hey Mike,
    I did all of the work on my first eBook myself. When I finish my second one I plan on outsourcing as much as I can afford.

    Keep us up to date on how many sales you have of your new eBook. Congrats man. 🙂

  3. Rachelle says:

    So how much do you make?

  4. Mike Piper says:


    I can’t speak to how much Mike makes in total. But here’s how it breaks down on a per unit basis:

    If publishing at Lightning Source:
    -Amazon pays you 80% of the list price that you set.
    -From that 80%, you pay the printing costs ($0.90 + $0.013 per page).
    -Amazon may offer a discount to customers (the most common is 10%), so your profit margin as a percentage of what customers pay could be slightly higher than the above would indicate.

    If publishing at CreateSpace:
    -Amazon pays you 60% of the list price that you set.
    -From that 60%, you pay the printing cost ($0.85 + $0.012 per page).
    -Amazon usually doesn’t offer a discount to customers.*

    If publishing Kindle books:
    -If the list price that you set is between $2.99 and $9.99, Amazon pays you 70% of the list price.
    -If the list price that you set is below $2.99 or above $9.99, Amazon pays you 35% of the list price.
    -From that, you pay “delivery costs,” which tend to be around $0.05 per book.

    *Unless you’ve also set up distribution via Lightning Source, in which case they may discount the sales price in order to match other online retailers’ prices.

  5. Mike Holman says:

    @Mike – Good point about the Kindle costs.

    @Rachelle – What Mike said.

    BTW – Mike P is my “self-publishing mentor”. A huge help.