One of my closest friends is embarking on writing her first book and she asked if I could help her estimate costs for her publishing journey. It occurred to me that we should have a costs calculator for publishing expenses, which I have compiled for you below. While there are exceptions to every rule, included here are typical price ranges for various book publishing services.
Keep in mind that there are inexpensive freelance directories like Fiverr which can be useful for simple projects like having social media headers designed. Just be careful when hiring freelancers for professional-level work like book covers and publishing services. You have little control over the unauthorized sharing of your work in other countries, potential copyright infringement, and other headaches that come from hiring inexpensive overseas labor. It is recommended to invest in experienced designers and publishing industry professionals when possible.
Writing and Editing Cost Calculator
A professional ghostwriter helps you tell your story. Prices tend to range based on experience. Some charge based on project, while others base pricing on word count.
Typical price range for ghostwriting: $60 to $100 per hour (one to three pages per hour) or up to $1 per word. Packages for complete manuscript range from $20,000 to $60,000+.
There are different levels of editing available and all manuscripts should go through a minimum of two rounds of editing. (Typically, one copyedit and one or two rounds of proofreading. Major publishing houses will often do three or more rounds of editing.) The Editorial Freelancers Association features a rate chart, which provided the basis for the prices detailed below for nonfiction book editing.
The most comprehensive level of editing, a developmental edit involves an intense review of entire manuscript including assessment of overall structure, clarifying key points, repairing flawed sentence structure, and other suggestions for improvement. A developmental editor will usually make many of the changes for you and provide feedback for areas that need work.
Typical price range for developmental editing: $50 to $60 per hour (four to six pages per hour) or $.04 to $.08 per word.
Most manuscripts can benefit from a copyedit which focuses on clarity and sentence structure plus grammar, spelling, and punctuation. A copy editor share notes to point out redundancies, areas that need clarification, and suggestions for improvement.
Typical price range for copyediting: $40 to $50 per hour (four to six pages per hour) or $.03 to $.05 per word.
A basic review of grammar, spelling, and punctuation, a proofread is typically done after a manuscript has been copyedited for clarity.
Typical price range for proofreading: $36 to $45 per hour (seven to ten pages per hour) or $.02 to $.05 per word.
Book Publishing Production Cost Calculator
Book Cover Design
A book cover is more than a front image; it is a full wrap of the jacket that includes a spine (its size is calculated based on the final page count of the book) and back cover. A hard cover dust jacket includes inside flaps. It is strongly recommended to hire a professional who designs book covers for a living since they understand the subtleties of creating an excellent cover.
Typical price range for professional book cover design: $500 to $1,500.
The interior of a book is created when a graphic designer imports the manuscript into graphic design software (often InDesign) that handles pagination and other formatting. Typesetting is a detail-oriented task that requires an eye for consistency.
Typical price range for typesetting: $500 to $2,500, depending on complexity.
There are different types of ebook files required by various ebook retailers. Most common are epub and Mobi. Ebook formatting takes your manuscript and converts it to a reflowable document—essentially like an extremely long web page. Most ebooks avoid excessive page breaks since these can make it frustrating to read on a digital device. Oftentimes an interior typesetter will also offer ebook formatting services.
Typical price range for ebook formatting: $250 to $750.
While not all books need an index, nonfiction books that are heavily referenced or include a lot of technical terms and details such as medical, health, and scientific works should have a professionally produced index. There are full-time freelance indexers who make a living producing indexes using a combination of software and human intervention.
Typical price range for indexing: $3 to $5 per index-able page (title page, copyright page, and other non-manuscript material is excluded).
You can register your manuscript with Copyright.gov, which gives you an added layer of protection if you ever need to pursue legal action against someone who uses your work unlawfully. It can all be done through the website, including uploading a digital version of your manuscript—which you should do when the manuscript is nearly complete and close to going to press.
Typical price for copyright registration: $30 to $60.
ISBNs and Barcodes
A unique International Standard Book Number (ISBN) must be assigned to each version of your book: paperback, hardcover, audiobook, ebook. ISBNs are assigned to the publisher and help retailers catalog your book. The ISBN is encoded into the barcode that appears on every book, along with the book’s retail price.
When self-publishing, it is recommended to acquire your own ISBNs through myidentifiers.com. Many publishing service providers offer free ISBNs, but those will link your book to the issuing publisher for all eternity, which is why you should purchase your own ISBNs. Most POD publishers offer a barcode generator that allows you to create a barcode for free, though you can purchase them if needed from My Identifiers (owned by Bowker).
Price for ISBNs: A single ISBN is $125, a block of ten is $295, and a block of 100 is $575. It’s best to purchase a block of ten at a minimum since you will need to assign one to each version of your book.
Stock Images and Photos
Most photos or images you see on book covers typically come from stock photos purchased through sites like iStockphoto.com, 123rf.com, and dreamstime.com. It is essential that whenever using images, whether on your book cover, inside your book, or on your website, you make sure you acquire the right to use the image. This means asking for permission from the image owner or purchasing the right to publish the image. When purchasing an image, be sure to check the terms and confirm you are allowed to use it for commercial purposes. Some images have a limit on them, meaning you might only be allowed to sell x number of books before needing to renew the image license.
Typical cost of stock images: $2 (for low resolution web-based images), $10 to $50 for book cover images, and $50+ for specialty images.
If you want to have custom art created for your book cover, illustrations created for the interior of your book, or you want to have an entire book illustrated, there are many talented freelance artists available to do this work. Be sure that whoever you hire provides you permission in writing to use the image(s) in your commercial work.
Typical cost for custom illustration: $50 to $300 per image.
Hybrid Book Publisher
If hiring and managing freelance contractors to produce your book sounds like more than you want to take on, you can hire a hybrid book publisher to handle the heavy lifting. Hybrid publishers offer pay-for-production services that typically include everything you need to get your book from manuscript to print.
Be sure to thoroughly investigate any service you consider using to ensure they have a solid reputation, several years of experience, and they aren’t going to disappear into the night. (Sadly, this happens too often.) Some larger firms have been riddled with lawsuits for a variety of reasons, so due diligence is key. Hybrid firms should assist or manage book distribution to online retailers. Some firms charge a premium for promised bookstore placement, but this isn’t always as glamorous as it sounds. When books don’t sell well within 60 to 90 days, bookstores will send them back and expect a full refund. Also keep in mind the costs outlined above. In some cases, it can be cost effective to hire a hybrid publishing service and save yourself the time and headaches of managing your own project.
Typical price range for hybrid publishing services: $5,000 to $25,000+.
One of the fastest growing sectors in publishing today is the audiobook market, although most audiobooks will only represent a fraction of your overall book sales as this market is still growing. To publish an audiobook, you have two choices: you can hire voice talent to do it for you or you can record it yourself. There are two primary service providers: Findaway Voices, which distributes to most major audiobook retailers, and ACX, which is owned by Amazon and therefore Amazon-centric with limited outside distribution.
If you want to record yourself, you will need professional audio equipment in a sound-proof room (like a closet) because audio file production quality standards are incredibly high. And you will also need to be able to edit your files or hire a pro editor to help. Another option is to contact a local recording studio and rent studio space along with their assistance in producing your finished files.
Typical fees for hired voice talent: $80 to $300 per finished hour (you can estimate 155 words per minute or 9,300 words per finished hour).
Fees for audiobook distribution: The retailer chooses the retail price for your audiobook and then pays between 25% to 40% royalties.
Book Printing and Distribution Services
Print on Demand (POD) Printing
In the early years of self-publishing, authors were forced to print 1,000+ copies and store pallets of books in their garages. Then POD came along, allowing users to print small quantities of books at a reasonable price—an industry game changer. Many POD services offer automatic book distribution to Amazon, BN.com, and other retailers making it easier than ever to distribute self-published books.
Some of the most popular POD providers today include KDP.com (owned by Amazon and therefore not friendly with non-Amazon retailers), IngramSpark.com (owned by Ingram, the world’s largest supplier of books to bookstores), and Lulu.com (an excellent choice for advanced reader copies, spiral binding, and other specialty print options via POD). POD books will cost a bit more than books printed in large quantities through specialty book printers, yet come with the advantage of having automated distribution and no minimum print run requirement.
Typical price range for POD printing: File setup is free with most services, and $49 for IngramSpark. Trade paperbacks with a black and white interior cost $3 to $6, depending on page count.
Standard and Specialty Book Printing
Before POD came along, authors went to local printers or specialty book printers and had to purchase at 1,000 to 5,000 copies of a book to keep the costs down. Custom book printers can offer features that POD printers cannot including custom-cut covers, specialty paper, premium options like leather binding, and a wider variety of book trim sizes.
Full-color printing can be expensive, whether on a POD basis or with a specialty printer, so coffee table books and other longer full-color works are often outsourced to printers in China and then shipped back to the U.S. because the cost savings can be dramatic. The downside of working with a specialty printer is that they don’t distribute books to Amazon, Ingram, or any other retailers, so you would be responsible for setting up distribution yourself.
Typical price range for specialty and non-POD book printing: Per-book costs can be as low as $1.00/copy when printing 1,000+ copies at a time.
Amazon Book Distribution
If you decide to use a specialty book printer instead of a POD service that automatically distributes books for you, you will need to set up your own book distribution to Amazon. This is usually accomplished using Amazon’s Seller Central program.
Price range for Amazon Seller Central: Individuals who sell 40 items or less per month pay $.99 per item sold plus referral fees of 15% AND $1.80 per unit for “closing fee.”
Professional sellers pay $39.99 per month plus referral fees, though also have access to marketing tools and Amazon’s pay-per-click advertising platform.
There is also a Fulfillment By Amazon program where Amazon will warehouse your books/products and charge a per-unit selling fee between $2.35 to $4.95, depending on the weight on the book.
Book distributors are service providers who sell and ship books to brick-and-mortar bookstores, some online stores, libraries, and specialty stores like gift shops. You must apply to have your book accepted into a distributor’s program. Ingram is the largest supplier of books to bookstores. Baker and Taylor is the largest supplier of books to libraries. There are hundreds of smaller distributors as well. You can view a list of book distributors here.
Typical pricing for book distributors: 60% to 75% of retail price. (Yes, really! They have to earn a profit too and bookstores take 40% to 55% of retail price.)
There are many services that will distribute your ebook files to major ebook retailers like Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, Apple iBookstore, and others. Top services include Draft2Digital and Smashwords.
Typical pricing for ebook distribution: Setup is free and you will receive a royalty of 60% to 80%, depending on where the ebook is sold.
Kindle Ebook Distribution
It’s best to publish Kindle ebooks directly through KDP.com, which is owned by Amazon. Publishing your ebook directly gives you access to Amazon’s pay-per-click advertising platform, plus other programs you may want to consider like KDP Select (a price promotion service). Amazon is doing its best to put limits on ebook pricing, which frustrates many publishers and indie authors.
Typical pricing for Kindle ebooks: No setup fee and standard royalty rate is 70%, though it is dropped to 35% in some circumstances. If you price your Kindle ebook over $9.99, you will be penalized with Amazon royalty dropping from 70% to 35%. Amazon also aims to push users into its KDP Select program and will pay lower royalties on international sales if you don’t enroll.
Publishing Business Services Cost Calculator
If you have concerns about sensitive subjects, fair use rights, potential defamation issues when writing about people (in your memoir, for example), or other tricky legal questions, you may want to consult with a publishing attorney. When in doubt, it’s always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to legal concerns in publishing. Experienced publishing attorneys can vet an entire manuscript for you or be hired by the hour to offer advice and consult.
Typical cost for publishing attorney: $200+ per hour, $5,000+ per manuscript review.
If you’re establishing your own publishing company, it is wise to apply for a business license in the county where you live, along with a Doing Business As (DBA), which allows you to choose a business name and then open a business banking account. Publishing a book makes you an entrepreneur, and the good news is you can potentially write off many of your business expenses at tax time. Be sure to talk to a qualified tax planner or accountant.
Typical cost for business license registration: $100 to $300, depending on the county where you live.
Bookkeeper, Tax Planner or Accountant
When you establish your business, it is a good idea to seek professional advice to ensure you comply with all IRS regulations. You will need a bookkeeping process, whether you do it yourself using software like QuickBooks or FreshBooks or hire it out. You will also need to keep your business and personal finances separate and file business taxes each year. When you hire contractors, you are required to file a 1099 form with the IRS each year for each contractor—a complex process that is best handled by a tax planner or accountant.
You may also need to acquire a resale license to collect and report sales tax when you sell books locally. And you may want to examine whether your business should be a sole proprietorship, LLC, or S-Corp. An experienced accountant can help answer many of these questions and more, so an initial consult can be a wise investment.
Typical costs for outsourced bookkeeping: $100+ per month.
Typical fee for accountant services: $100 to $200+ per hour.
Annual fee for LLC or Corporation filing: $800+.
Fee for business tax preparation and filing: $200 to $1,000+ per year, depending on business complexity.
Other Services You May Need
A book coach can help you get your book across the finish line by keeping you accountable. Many writers find it helpful to hire a coach to support them through the process.
Typical fee for book coaching: $2,000 to $5,000 per project
Publishing Assistant / Virtual Assistant
Virtual assistants are freelancer who work from home and offer a variety of administrative support functions to authors, publishers, and business owners. Some are trained in book publishing and marketing processes and can take some of the burden off of you. I firmly believe every author should retain the services of an experienced virtual assistant for at least five hours a month in order to keep your marketing wheels turning. By the way, we maintain a list of virtual assistants for authors here.
Typical fee for virtual assistant: $25 to $75 per hour and often done on a retainer basis of five+ hours per month.
Major media exposure is a goal for many authors, and an experienced book publicity firm can help reach those goals. These services do come with a hefty price tag and the cost isn’t typically earned back in book sales. But if building your media resume is important to you and you have the budget, hiring a publicity firm can be a rewarding experience.
Typical fee for publicity services: $2,500 to $4,000 per month retainer, often for a minimum of three to six months.
Where to Locate Publishing Industry Service Providers
The Nonfiction Authors Association lists editors, freelancers, ghostwriters, and other publishing professionals in our free directory of recommended resources.
If you like this Publishing Costs Calculator, you will LOVE the Nonfiction Authors Association!
The Nonfiction Authors Association is a vibrant and educational community for writers to connect, exchange ideas, and learn how to write, publish, promote, and profit with nonfiction books. We host twice-yearly Nonfiction Writers Conference events conducted entirely online, a year-round Nonfiction Book Awards program, and popular online courses. With a mission to help authors make a difference in the world, NFAA is the leading resource for nonfiction writers who want to learn how to navigate the publishing industry and sell more books.
- Exclusive Author Advisor email sent every Friday with cultivated media leads and educational podcast recordings, plus featured templates, checklists and reports from our members-only archives
- Popular members-only Facebook group
- Meet-the-Members program where you can share your book announcement with our email list, blog, and social media community
- Discounts off our year-round Nonfiction Book Awards program, author toolkits, and online courses
- Discounts off the twice-yearly Nonfiction Writers Conference events, held online since 2010
- Discounts with NFAA partners including Lulu, IngramSpark, Office Depot, PR Newswire, and more
Ready to write, publish, promote, and profit with nonfiction books?
Join the Nonfiction Authors Association.