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The Cost of Self Publishing (Part Two) – What’s A Reasonable Figure?

And How Much Should I Spend When I'm Starting Out?

by Nick Stephenson in Books and Writing

In the last article, we talked about investing in yourself and your business. 

I shared with you some crazy numbers. Numbers that would have made my eyes bleed a few years ago. But, more importantly, I shared with you the idea that investing money in your business isn’t about COST – it’s about VALUE.

This is an important fact that many people forget – that investing in yourself and your business is the only way to grow profitably. But you don’t have to lay down $50k on logo design and a snazzy website. Far from it. More on that in a moment.

With that in mind, onto today’s post.

And I’m probably going to take some heat for this. 

But for all the wonderful branding, the top-notch systems, the editing, marketing and other things I choose to invest in now…

They would have been a COMPLETE waste of time when I was first getting started.

Case in point: when I first hit five figures a month, my logo was something I’d designed in MS Paint. My blog and website were just free themes on a cheap-and-cheerful hosting plan. And I didn’t spend thousands on book production, either.

My first novel’s costs broke down like this:

  • Editing: $600
  • Proof-reading: ZERO
  • Cover Design: $150
  • Formatting: ZERO
  • Interior Formatting (paperback): ZERO

Now, these costs are significantly lower than a lot of people pay.

I was able to trade some favours, make some introductions, and swap some work to get those prices (and still get professionals to work with me). The formatting and interior design I did myself. With considerable difficulty.

That first book has been downloaded by hundreds of thousands of readers and brought in a decent chunk of change over the last few years, all from a $750 outlay.

But it took a lot of work.

That’s how the world works. You can either trade time, or you can trade money.

Or occasionally, livestock. But that’s a whole other topic.

Today, I prefer to pay people who are better than me at what they do to provide these services for me. Because I’m no good at formatting, or cover design, or editing. I’d rather spend my time on fun things, rather than try and fix a broken website or marketing platform.

And when I first got started, I knew that growing a successful business wasn’t about having a fancy logo or a slick website. Sure, those things can help – LATER.

After I’d graduated University, I started up my first business. I spent the first six weeks coming up with a website design, branding, and even an automated telephone system that directed people to the right place. I didn’t even have any customers! Or staff!

Looking back, that was a crazy decision. And, you guessed it, the business failed. Miserably.

But I learned from my mistakes. 

Like anything, the real costs of self publishing a book can vary hugely. If you’re just starting out and you have a tight budget, invest in what matters most – cover design (this is what readers see first) and editing (your book needs to not suck). For all the other stuff, either learn to do it yourself or hustle your ass and shop around, trade in favours, or swap services if you can.

The objective is to release your Minimal Viable Product (MVP). Which, in this case, is a professional-looking book that can stand proudly next to anything else on the digital shelves.

And if you DO have the budget the sky really is the limit.

I remember asking myself when I published my first book: “I wonder how much I’d need to invest to work with the best people in the business without having to offer my first-born child as tribute?”

Recently, a company called Reedsy did a little study and answered that question for me…

Reedsy is an online marketplace that helps connect authors with some of the best publishing pros in the world.

They took a look at the work being done across their network and found that, on average, it would cost around $3,000 – including editing, proofing, cover design, and formatting.

You can check out their findings by clicking right here

Now, $3,000 is a hefty investment if you’re just getting started. But remember – Reedsy only offers the best of the best. Consider this something to aspire to if you’re just getting started (and in the meantime remember the approach I talk about above – what I did for my first few books).

And remember – don’t get hung up on business cards and fancy website design. Your cover, your editing, and your writing are what matters most in the beginning – and, of course, finding your audience (more on how to do that listed down the right-hand-side of this page).


So, what do I do next?

I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below this article and tell me: “What’s the number 1 thing you’d spend more money on in YOUR business if you could?”

I’d love to hear your answers – so leave a comment below

If you want a step-by-step guide to getting started on your email list, go download “Reader Magnets”. This free ebook will show you how to put this process in place and start building your email list – click below to grab your copy:



  1. Nick Stephenson says:

    Leave a comment right here!

    1. Chris Brooks says:

      If I could, proofing. Writing is easy. Proofing kills me….. 🙂

    2. Marketing. I’m terrible at jumping up and down and saying “look at me, I’m great!” It’s a flaw of the English… but then that’s why I joined your course!

      1. Nick Stephenson says:

        I wouldn’t say the English are bad at that, per se, but we are more polite about it 🙂

    3. Maaja Wentz says:

      I have already spent lots of money editing my supernatural thriller. My next move would be to spend money on excellent cover design. Feeding Frenzy has received over 90 000 reads on Wattpad so I know the right reader will enjoy it. The problem with self-publishing is making sure the right reader will find it. I’m betting a great cover will help.

    4. dianne says:

      Editing – That can make or break a book.

    5. Kim Muspratt says:

      Too hard to pick just one thing. I’m already getting great line editing and proofing but still making my own covers so I guess that would be number one. Number two would be a developmental edit and number three, marketing.

      1. Nick Stephenson says:

        Editing and proofing is a super popular choice! Thanks for your answer

        1. Cover design and internal design.

        2. A.K Lakelett says:

          Yup editing and the final proofreading would be my choice too. However, I’d want to add that I’d like to have editing done by someone who understands and likes the genre I’m writing in, not just any editor with a lot of letters after his/her name.

          When it comes to editing, it’s also a very tricky area, the writer and the editor have to understand and agree what kind of editing is going to get done. There are a number of types of edits, but it seems there’s very little agreement in definitions of them – is proof reading just checking for grammar and words, or is that copy editing, or is that nitpicking kind, and structural edit what is that, or do I need stylistic edit? So for my part, I’d like a company like Reedsy to make their definitions known and posted, and preferable with examples, giving a same text edited different ways, to ensure both the editor and the writer are on the same page. It’s all about managing expectations.

    6. Icy Sedgwick says:

      I’d divide it between marketing/ads; cover design; and a smaller amount on formatting for print (not everyone has an e-reader). I already have an amazing editor and we skills barter so I get edits and she gets what she needs from me. The others I’d definitely want to spend more on!

    7. Erin Maxwell says:

      Cover art that really goes with tbe story I’m telling 🙂

    8. Derek Ailes says:

      Marketing would be my first priority for my previous published work. Professional editing and proofreading for my future work.

    9. Sean Fesko says:

      Marketing, absolutely. So hard to get your work out to the masses when you’re first starting out!

    10. Definitely content/story editing with a close second being a dedicated cover illustrator.

    11. Helen Wilkie says:

      Nick, I’m working on the first book in a mystery series. My number one wish is a fabulous cover theme that can be adapted for each individual book — much as you do with your Leopold Blake series. I’d like to sell as many books as you do too!

    12. Nichole says:

      Hiring a social media / marketing person. I have a hard time keeping myself visible. I would love to just hire someone to handle my business social media presence.

    13. Mike Walters says:

      A deliberate and well documented Marketing plan that tracks what efforts provide what results.

    14. arin kambitsis says:

      I’d buy five minutes of time from someone who could help me.

    15. I would spend more money on advertising, probably at Facebook. Advertising is the most expensive part of book publishing.

    16. Tamar Sloan says:

      That’s a tough question, and I wonder if it will change as I get more experienced. I think editing, its the most expensive task that needs to be done, but hardest to find cheap (without cutting too many ‘quality’ corners). A cover you can find an affordable designer on Fiverr, as with formatting. Its the editing that breaks the bank that you haven’t actually made any deposit in!

    17. cl says:

      A final developmental edit

    18. Amber says:

      I would spend more money on covers if I could so that they all looked like they were part of the same series.

    19. H says:

      It’s a toss-up between editing and marketing. Both are commonly the most expensive aspects of publishing, and you often get what you pay for.

    20. Cheryl says:

      I’d spend more money on product creation.

    21. LeighWStuart says:

      A personal assistant to tell me what to do next….Feeling rather lost!

    22. L J Higgins says:

      I love my cover designer and am happy with my editor but always fall short of where to start and funds when it comes to marketing. To have an extra marketing budget would be amazing!

    23. Anna says:

      Marketing!! A marketing strategy whether for big business or a start up encompasses ALL these days, analytics, social media, mailing list, branding, advertising, liasing with the design and editing depts for example and also HR to ensure the work is in keeping with the marketing mix and the right people are making it all happen!
      So I would spend more money on marketing!

    24. Derek says:

      After the success of a well edited book with a beautiful cover design I would spend money to market it to reach the largest audience possible. I’d then write courses relates to the book’s topic to spread the word and build an even wider audience.

    25. Tom Buford says:

      The first thing I would spend more on is editing.

    26. Alice Hill says:

      Definitely editing. Also marketing.

    27. Kelby says:

      Book covers. I would love to drop the couple hundred on a 99 designs cover job or something, but that’s just not in the budget.

    28. What would I spend more money on? Simple. Marketing.

    29. Roberta says:

      I’d probably like to get help with marketing from a PR company, since I hate telling people they should read my books, so I don’t say it at all – resulting in basically no sales. Duh!
      And I like my editor dearly, but she only does copy edits for me. I’d love to try and hire a developmental editor once, see what service they provide – but all the ones I’ve noticed are super expensive!
      Thanks for the opportunity. 🙂

    30. Greg Vissing says:

      I would spend more money on branding.

    31. Zara Hoffman says:

      I’d pay for promotional images from my cover artist so that everything was branded and cohesive.

    32. Fiona Tarr says:

      I should spend money on my covers but so many people tell me mine are good, so I have been reserved to pay for new ones. My main concern is finding cost effective solutions.

    33. Judy Lawn says:

      I would spend more money on editing and advertising my books, and on people to help me decipher Mailchimp et al!

    34. website and marketing optimization

    35. Bob says:

      Hi Nick,
      Thank you for the great tools and publishing contest. Was your decision to focus less on self-publishing yourself and more on your other businesses due to the low profits in the publishing business such as low ebook prices, half a cent paid for each page on KDP, etc.? A recent article in the Independent, for example, showed that most authors make less than minimum wage. I am not trying to be snarky regarding self publishing but just wanting a realistic analysis of profts when prices are so low and the industry so competitive. Thank you

    36. Pete Oxley says:

      If I could buy more time – pay off the bills etc to let me focus on throwing words on the page, that would be great! But when it comes to specifically my business, it’d probably be a top-notch editor to work with me and really polish my books – get that bit right and it’s more than half the battle…

    37. Patricia says:

      Marketing. I just want to write & write. I don’t want to stop and figure out all the marketing angles 🙂 This is a great opportunity, thanks so much!

    38. Jeff Chapman says:

      I would spend more on cover design and hire someone to write my book descriptions.

    39. Clare Walker says:

      If I had the money, I’d spend it on cover design. I’d also be willing to hire someone to teach me how to create formatting templates for my books, in Scrivener for example, so that I can just plug the edited manuscript in and have it come out beautiful every time.

    40. George Burks says:

      Editing and proof reading.

    41. Duke Pennell says:

      Hi Nick,

      I can see the usefulness of your course for an author, but how about for a small publisher? We’ve got almost 100 titles, in many genres, from over 50 authors. What do you think your program could reasonably be expected to do for us?

      Check us out at:

      Duke Pennell

    42. Michelle says:

      I’ve actually avoided the editing, first up, though I’ve invested in professional covers for my trilogy. I think my own editing is adequate, at least for now…It’s an interesting one. But what I really need help with is marketing: with a marketer who can understand the principles you are sharing, and implement them well. Know anyone? 🙂

    43. Monroe Todd says:

      I would choose marketing. My writing is fairly solid, and my editor is a queen. My covers are professional and fit the genre.

    44. Jules says:

      I HATE doing my tax return. I would happily trade a leg for someone who could do it for me. Apparently, they don’t accept legs anymore.

  2. TC Carmel says:

    Advertising. All the advertising!

  3. Lisa W says:

    Since publishing in 2011, and getting all my ducks in a row like you for the book covers, editors and completely revamping my website to look more professional, the one thing I’m still struggling with is advertising. I know what to do now, however, it comes down to paying the bills or advertising in greater amounts to see if I can make that leap and really start to get noticed. While $5 a day is a start, I’d really like to go higher without breaking the bank. But then again I have to remind myself that without risk there is no reward. 🙂

    1. Nick Stephenson says:

      True story, and this is exactly what happened for me, is I saved up for a couple of months for my first Bookbub ad (back in 2013 I think) and from then took all profits and put it back into similar efforts – then, guess what, I figured “why not get a mailing list of my own?”.

      Start small, build it up… good things happen 🙂

  4. Virginia says:

    New covers and editing. Or maybe editing and new covers. How does one decide on just one thing? 🙂

    1. Nick Stephenson says:

      I know, I’m mean to make you decide!

  5. Erica K says:

    Probably advertising. I can figure out most things by myself. But, I can’t “hope” people know about me and my products. “If they don’t know, they don’t show”. Gotta get the word out however I can!

  6. I would spend on marketing the book: learning how to do it better, and putting the money where the word gets out. I still dream of making a living off my books, smile…

  7. Sunni Dawson says:

    I’d hire a book marketer for sure. And have an unlimited advertising budget. One can dream.

  8. Angela Ford says:

    Marketing….getting my name out there & hopefully more ‘one-click’ hits on my books.
    There are many places to market for free or cheap but to have expert Marketing without the cost…wow! What an awesome giveaway!

  9. Doug says:

    Definitely kick ass editing. It takes so long to do it myself.

  10. Julie says:

    What would I spend more money on, regarding my business? For my writing business, a proper marketing plan and publishing in all formats, and in various languages. For my language service business, membership and certification in various trade and government organizations.

  11. I’m happy to see this emphasis in these 1st 2 blog posts. If one is in business to produce more than one book, then I think it’s important to consider the #1 failure for most small businesses of any kind: under-capitalization for the long haul. I like your examples of plowing early earnings back into the next steps.

  12. Targeted marketing, for sure.

  13. Tim Mathias says:

    I’d spend more than the $0 I currently spend on developmental editing. I can’t recall in which podcast I heard it, but the host said it has the potential to advance your writing/storytelling skills by years.

  14. Lea says:

    Marketing and advertisement. Without it, you’re condemning yourself to the lower shelves, where they stack books in front of books. Your audience won’t have a hope of finding you.

  15. Marketing and ideally someone to do the work for me as I’m lousy at it.

  16. Pia says:

    I would definitely spend more money on marketing and branding. To be able to pay someone to do it, because I’m not the best at it. I’d like advice and coaching on it too.

  17. Penelope says:

    I spend the money on creating a series of best sellers that could in turn fund a successful business.

  18. Princila says:

    Editing, editing, and editing.

  19. Developmental editing. Cover art is a close second.

  20. As I read through everyone;s list I had to agree, yes, branding, advertising, social media, yes-yes to editing. I’d like to have someone staple my butt to the chair and make me write. I have the start of two criminal novels and another to lock the other two together with the third brewing in the back of my head. Someone to review what I’ve written and tell me if they love to hate my antagonist. (I love Dexter Morgan, but the things he does goes against what I would do but….) I want my characters to walk off the page and come to life like they do when I think about them. I want to be able to spend my days and nights focused on writing and NEVER have to go to my J-OB AGAIN! If money were not an issue, I’d move to some beautiful island that had it all, but only if I left internet behind. (Sorry guys but if I had to give up blogs and contests like this one to find that sort of piece I would!

  21. Miriam says:

    Formatting for my children’s book and cover design for non-fiction. Somehow I thought learning InDesign would fit in easily with the hundreds of other publishing tasks… Clearly not so. Time to hire professionals!

  22. I really would love to invest more into editing and marketing–especially marketing. I would also like to invest into more e-courses, conferences or memberships that could help me improve my skills as a business woman.

  23. A.K Lakelett says:

    1) Editing by someone who loves reading mysteries, and knows the genre.
    2) Marketing/sales

  24. Rose Evers says:

    I think it would be a great learning experience to work with an amazing developmental editor. Currently line editing and proof reading is all I can afford. I love the process of learning and improving, not just the writing.

  25. AC Dominguez says:

    Marketing and Promotions! I went to school for Integrated Marketing Communications and Product Planning and Promotions and I love it. If if had the funding I would be exploring every marketing and promotions opportunity available!

  26. Alan says:

    I’ve done everything for my first book on a shoestring. That means I did it all – editing, cover, etc. I spent a lot of time doing research for many of those areas (Shawn Coyne’s book was very helpful), and I think the result was pretty good. In the past year I’ve sold about a dozen copies, all to friends and family.

    I think this has less to do with the quality of the work and much more to do with marketing. My title (Country Hits) doesn’t work like I’d hoped. It’s a murder mystery, but doesn’t work at all when searching on Amazon. I’m buried in a pile of country music song books! Lesson learned there.

    I also haven’t done much to get the word out. Initially I was focused on writing the next book as I wanted to have a follow-up as quickly as possible. However, life got in the way and my timetable got delayed. I’m now on the 2nd draft of the new one and feel like I’m back on schedule.

    I bring this all up because I think I made a mistake common to first-time indie authors: I got lazy on the marketing. In a way I’m a bit surprised at my near-zero sales. I never expected stratosphere level, but even with the poor search factor of my book on Amazon, I thought someone might accidentally stumble upon it and give it a try. Not the case.

    So that said, if I win the big super jackpot, I’ll put half towards editing and cover design. The other half will go to marketing.

  27. I’ve already paid for an editorial critique, proofing, and cover design, but I’d buy a full copy edit and formatting. For sure. Maybe some PR or marketing help, too.

  28. Deb Kelly says:

    The mind boggles! Both with your generosity and what to spend the money on. I think a solid structural edit, followed by a tight line edit. My brain struggles with the logic and patterns of editing. With luck I would have enough left over for a terrific cover and some marketing. That way I can reinvest any income made from the book back into advertising. (Because after the editing and spiffy cover design I would be raking in the big bucks. Well, I can dream, can’t I!)

  29. TB Markinson says:

    Howdy. If I had to choose one thing, and I’m assuming you mean cover design, editing, proofing, ect, I would say more editing. However, if you mean anything to do with my writing career, I’d say growing my email list.

  30. Bujabs says:

    I just finished writing my first fantasy novel. And ow I have to revise the whole thing, If i had any money I would definitely pay someone to do that for me.

  31. Annemiek says:

    Launch coaching, I really want to get my next launch right, and sell beautifully!

  32. Lize Jacobs says:

    Marketing and buying time to manage the business myself or getting someone more qualified to manage my business.

  33. Abby-Lynn Knorr says:

    Structural Editing…making sure the story is as good as it can possibly be before moving on to any other phases of editing.

  34. Karo says:

    The first thing I’ll spend MORE money on is marketing/promotion. I will definitely spend something extra in proofreading and cover design, but more in marketing.

    Without marketing, no matter how good one’s book is, no one will know it exists, save for family and friends. Now how do people buy something they do not know exists?

  35. I would spend more money on book covers and interior design if I could. Right now, I either do it myself or ask my brother to do it for me. Although it still looks ok, I rather a professional do it for me. So I could save the time to write more.

  36. Bokerah says:

    I would spend more money on covers. They sell books. (:

  37. Marketing is killing me, too. I am signed up for your course, but some real life stuff happened, so I am still working on it. Oh and if you could give me more time in the day? That would help, too. 🙂

    1. Nick Stephenson says:

      I am working on a machine that will give us 28 hours in the day, but it keeps breaking. We may all have to move to another planet.

  38. It’s hard to choose just one area I’d like to spend more on … marketing for sure, more levels of editing, but I guess if JUST one then cover design is where I’d like to be able to invest more!

  39. Katie says:

    Marketing for sure! And a fab cover, editing…

  40. Editing. I can’t look over this proof again, cuz my eyes are bleeding…

  41. Facebook ads – lots of creative experimentation.

  42. If I could spend the money on one thing, I’d spend money on formatting. I’ve been doing that all myself, and while I’m reasonable accomplished at it, I’d much rather spend that time doing other things…like writing! 🙂

  43. Wesley Banks says:

    I’d probably hire an online marketing expert to launch/promote a book, so I could spend more time writing.

  44. In a flash I would spend on marketing. Good marketing is the hardest and expensive.

  45. Easy, Marketing Mastermind Program! Then I’d know exactly what I was doing so when I invested in aaaaalllllll the other things they’d be spot on and actually serving a purpose in the bigger plan. Love your work Nick!

  46. Cover, internal files design and marketing. I need those.

  47. Best quality cover design, internal files design and best advertising. I’ve got the editing covered.

  48. Zora says:

    I would 100% spend more money on the marketing aspect of the book. Thank you for this opportunity 🙂

  49. Lucy Appadoo says:

    Editing and marketing for sure as the book needs to be good and sell.

  50. Linda Caddick says:

    Simple. I would have healthy meals for two delivered to my door – no washing up, no shopping, no cooking, lots more time to go walking and receive inspiration, and then come home and write.

    1. Nick Stephenson says:

      I love that one – probably my favourite so far (and I totally want that too)

  51. I would hire a virtual assistant to do the piddly stuff, so my time would be free to write.

  52. i would want to pay someone to market/manage the book/me. I am clueless and with the old WIBBOW concept, what i know about promo means i spend way too much time flailing about when i should be writing.

  53. Rob says:

    It would have to be editing. Whilst I naturally assume I’m great at editing my own work, I realise that is perhaps a little arrogant.

  54. Shannon says:

    Editing and more editing

  55. Joelle St. Germaine says:

    Marketing would be the #1 area I would spend more money on, which includes the graphic design, photography, and advertising.

  56. Danie Botha says:

    Consistent support with web pages, integrations and auto responders – in other words streamlining my marketing efforts, to free up more time to do the most important thing: writing. We need quality and volume, and in that order.
    But, the bottom line as Nick pointed out – good old hard work and most important: perseverance. Giving up is never an option. Only learning a better way.
    Thanks, Nick!

  57. LizzieSmall says:

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    that’s why you don’t rank high in google, but
    there is a tool that can help you to create 100% unique content, search for:
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