This is probably the question we get asked the most. Seems pretty straightforward at first glance, right? There’s a twist though. It can actually be pretty hard to answer because when people ask about publishing, they often mean different things (gasp!). The situation isn’t made any easier by the fact that there are many ways to publish a book and many companies and services that can help you do it, each with their own rules and procedures. This article is our attempt to sort all of these variables in the most comprehensive way possible. So, how much does it cost to publish a book?
The best place to start answering this very vague question is by looking at the main ways in which you can publish a book today.
Traditional publishing: how much does it cost?
This is the publishing method most people are aware of. It boils down to finding a publishing house that is willing to publish your book. Sounds easy enough right? All you need to do is write a really good book! Right?
Getting an agent
Well, yes, that’s definitely a good start, but the hard work doesn’t end there. If you’re a first-time author, getting your book onto a publisher’s desk is likely going to be as hard, if not more so, than writing the book in the first place. Most publishing houses will not consider manuscripts unless they come via approved channels. This means you can’t just send your book to Harper Collins and hope they like it. In order for a publishing house to consider your manuscript, you’ll need to hire an agent. This agent will then pitch your manuscript to publishers on your behalf.
Literary agents tend to work on commission, meaning that rather than you paying them upfront, they’ll take a cut of the profits should they manage to sell your book. For most agents, this cut will be around 15%. Keep in mind that this is 15% of what the publisher pays you, and not 15% of the profits that the sale of your book actually generates.
Publishers and retailers taking their cut
This brings us to another “cost” of sorts. You’ve probably heard of how in the music industry, the lion’s share of the profits go to the music label, and not the artist. It’s similar in the publishing industry. When your book is published, it’ll be sold for a certain retail price, set by the publisher. This is what people will pay when buying your book in stores, and this amount will be split between the publisher, the retailer, and yourself. So the next question, of course, is how much of this retail price actually goes to you?
In the UK, authors will typically earn between 7.5% (paperback) and 10% (hardback) of the retail price as royalties. The rest is split between the publisher and the retailers. Additionally, a publisher will generally not invest in any marketing for a first-time author. This means if you want to boost your book sales (and thereby your chances to get a second book published), you’ll probably need to invest in that yourself. Keep in mind that we’re talking broad strokes here; individual cases will undoubtedly vary.
If at this point you’re starting to think that there seem to be a lot of people profiting off of your hard work, well, you wouldn’t be wrong. While the cost of an agent is fairly easy to justify, the fact that publishers pay so little on average is, unfortunately, a massive hurdle to the financial independence of most authors. In fact, the Author’s Licensing and Collecting Society has found that the average professional author only makes £10.500 a year. Meanwhile, the UK creative industry as a whole is only growing in value.
Before it gets too doomy and gloomy
This is the true “cost” of publishing a book traditionally. It’s not that you need to hire an agent to gain access, but that so much of your potential profits are siphoned off once you’re in. The amount of time and money you invest in writing your book and getting it published is likely going to lead to relatively small returns, at least for the majority of authors.
Now don’t get us wrong. We don’t mean to say traditional publishing is where writers’ dreams go to die. We do want to help you get a clear picture of how the business works, however. Traditional publishing isn’t necessarily the most cost-efficient way to make a living as a writer, but it clearly works for some people. While you won’t be making much money per sold book, traditional publishing can lend you legitimacy, which can translate to more sales. It’s up to you to decide whether you’re getting enough in return for your work.
Tl;dr: how much does it cost?
Time and around 15% of your total earnings, give or take. For reference, these earnings tend to be around £10.500 a year on average, according to the ALCS.
Vanity publishing: how much does it cost?
Vanity publishing is often confused with self-publishing. While this is a misconception, it’s an understandable one, since vanity publishing was the only alternative to traditional publishing available to writers for a long time.
This method boils down to an author paying to have their book published. Unlike a “real” publisher, a vanity publisher will ask for money upfront. This sum will vary greatly depending on factors like book formatting, the volume of an order, and the fee that the publisher charges for their services. As a result, this method can set you back hundreds or even thousands of pounds.
Whatever the amount, however, it’s fairly safe to say that it’s not worth it. While you may get some quality books out of it, you will not be getting any of the legitimacy or support that you would from a traditional publisher. Neither will you be getting the flexibility and high-profit margins that self-publishing you provide. If, on the other hand, you’re not interested in sales and only want a few copies of your book, then you might as well just use a printing service.
Simply put, vanity publishing is the worst of both worlds. While vanity publishing has helped authors break into the mainstream historically, the chances of this happening today are slim. There are simply far too many books being published these days.
Finally, there’s the opportunity cost to discuss. If you decide to make use of a vanity publisher, you’re going to be spending large sums of money just to get your book published. This is money that could have been invested in promotional activities, had you opted for one of the other two publishing options.
Tl;dr: how much does it cost?
Anywhere between £100 and £1000, depending on the quality of the service, the size and length of your book, and a bunch of other factors.
Self-publishing: how much does it cost?
It’s only fair to start this off with a warning. There’s some shameless self-promotion incoming. This isn’t a transparent attempt to hustle you or anything, don’t get us wrong. It’s just that self-publishing is our area of expertise, and for us, discussing it within the context of our platform makes sense. Nevertheless, most of the features we talk about in this section are generally true for self-publishing as a whole, so if you really don’t feel like self-publishing with us, don’t worry. Honestly though, if you do decide to try self-publishing, you should totally do it with us. We’re pretty damn good at what we do.
But let’s get on with it. What does it cost to self-publish a book?
Well, at Mybestseller, the publication itself is free. We do not charge for the use of our platform. We do not charge you for publishing your book. You can create an account, publish a book, and sell it without spending any money at all. So what do we charge for? Well, ISBNs and printing.
Cost of ISBNs
Let’s start with ISBNs: we charge £10.55 for those. ISBNs are optional, but they can come in handy if you want to sell your book via major third parties like Amazon. You can read more about ISBNs and what they actually do in another great article we wrote.
Printing costs, on the other hand, vary. Now, we know that’s not something you want to hear. But it’s time to face the cold, harsh truth. Depending on the size, materials, and colour used in your book, it will cost different amounts of money to print. Luckily, we have a near-perfect solution for this uncertainty. All you have to do is head over to our price calculator and fill in the specifications of your book. This marvel of software engineering will not only give you not only a suggested sales price, but it’ll show you how much your book will cost to print. It’ll even show you how much money you’ll make per sold copy!
We should also note that printing costs only apply if you’re ordering books for yourself. While we always strongly recommend buying a proof copy before publishing, you don’t need to.
If a customer buys your book in our webshop, however, printing costs are covered by the retail price (which you get to set yourself). That’s why it’s important that you price your book high enough to make a profit, but low enough to attract customers.
Speaking of customers buying your book; it should also be noted that much like traditional publishers, most self-publishing services will take a cut of the retail price (us included). As mentioned though, you get to set your own retail price with us.
When doing so, you also get to see a detailed breakdown of how that price is split between us, yourself, and any sales channels you’ve selected. This gives you far more control over your earnings than you would have at a traditional publisher. Of course, selling the book via our webshop (or the free author webshop we provide you with) means there’ll be zero retail costs. This allows you to maximise your earnings by cutting out the middlemen.
For the sake of argument, let’s say your book is a medium-sized paperback with 150 cream paper pages. That’ll cost £6.95 to print. Let’s also say that you’re ambitious and going for an ISBN as well. Combined with a proof copy, this would set you back £17.50.
Now let’s say you’re going to sell this book for £8.99. That’ll net you £2.61 per sold copy. If you sell 7 copies, you’ve made back the money you spent on an ISBN and a proof copy. This is where the potential of self-publishing really shines. Since you can set your own retail price, you can move far beyond the 10% royalty payments offered by traditional publishers without needing to make your book more expensive.
We realise that we’re talking about selling your super-profitable books like there’s nothing to it. Obviously, that’s not necessarily the case. There’s some elbow grease required, and this potentially comes with its own set of costs. What do we mean by this?
Well, in order to sell your book, people have to be made aware of it. In other words, you’re likely going to need to do some marketing. Like traditional publishers, we (and most self-publishing services) will not do any marketing for you. Nevertheless, we do provide you with a bunch of free tools that make it easier to get started with book marketing.
Book marketing, like most other things, can be made much easier by throwing money at it. There are many forms of marketing that you can boost with a modest investment, which you can read about in our introduction to promoting your book. How much money you feel like investing in marketing is entirely up to you of course. It really does make a difference in sales though, so just keep that in mind.
Cover design, editing, etc.
Furthermore, there are things like editing and cover design you might want to keep in mind. A well-designed cover, for instance, will make a world of difference for your sales. If you feel confident in your own ability to design a cover like this, then you can simply use our cover designer and make it for free. If, however, you aren’t happy with what you manage to create yourself, you might want to consider hiring a professional to do this for you. Depending on the designer, this can either be a modest investment or a very juicy one. It’s up to you whether the potential sales boost is worth it. All of this applies to other literary services like editing, proofreading, etc.
This is something that traditional publishers actually will do for you; it’s in their best interest to put out books that are as professional-looking as possible after all. This is also part of the reason why their royalty payments are so low.
Tl;dr: how much does it cost?
It really depends: which self-publishing service are you using and how much of the work do you want to do yourself?
At Mybestseller, you’re looking at something between £0 and £30, depending on what your plans are. Do you want an ISBN and a proof copy, or are you 100% confident that your book is ready from the get-go? If you’ve decided to invest in marketing or hire help, can you sell enough copies of your book to get a return on that investment?
Check out our price calculator to get more concrete numbers.