How Much Does It Really Cost to Self-Publish?

One of the questions we are often asked at SilverWood Books is whether self publishing is worth the investment compared with mainstream publishing. In this article, we'll deconstruct the costs and explore how to make a return on your investment.
One of the questions we are often asked at SilverWood Books is whether self publishing is worth the investment compared with mainstream publishing.
In the traditional publishing model, money flows from the publisher to the author before the book is released, then royalties come in once sales have exceeded the amount advanced. With self publishing, the author has to pay upfront for the publishing package, including all the work to edit, design and prepare the book. This switch takes a significant difference in mindset for those who have previously been mainstream published, so in this blog, we'll deconstruct the costs and explore how to make a return on your investment.

There are practical and financial considerations, yet mindset is an important place to start: there may be some disappointment to overcome if your book has been rejected by traditional publishers. And you may have hesitations about the quality of the book you'll end up with if you self publish. If you're looking at how to make money from self publishing your book, you've got to approach the process with confidence that you're creating a high-quality product for your market. Having had the experience of being a published author, our director Helen can guarantee: the level of control is one of the additional benefits of self publishing and we'll share others which extend beyond the monetary rewards.


How much does it cost to self-publish?

Self publishing services vary considerably in cost, depending on what's included in the package. It's important to be clear about what you're paying for and what additional costs could crop up along the way. Self publishing packages usually include typesetting and book cover design; whereas proofreading and copy-editing are considered separately.
Taking SilverWood's Silver Service as an example, the upfront author investment is £2000 excluding VAT. This pays for a print on demand black and white book of up to 80,000 words, with a colour cover and an ISBN, and a correctly-formatted ebook edition.

For longer books, or more complex layouts that require features such as images, tables and footnotes, you can expect to pay more for the additional typesetting and design work; as an example, SilverWood's Gold Service costs £3400 exclusive of VAT.

You may have used a friend or freelance provider to edit and proofread your work. However, if you'd prefer to work with professionals to prepare your manuscript for publishing, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP, soon to be known as the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading or CIEP) is an invaluable resource. SilverWood also works regularly with a number of trusted SfEP-trained copy-editors and proofreaders.

Charges are calculated on a per 1000 word or hourly basis for these services, with SfEP/CIEP-recommended minimum rates quoting the equivalent of around £30 per hour for an editor and £25 per hour for a proofreader.
To put that in real cost terms, a reputable editor is likely to charge £900 to edit an 80,000 word book.

Typical costs of self publishing

If you're looking for a break down of the costs of DIY self publishing, here's what you'll need to consider. Please note these numbers are based on calculations for a standard text-only novel of between 80,000 and 100,000 words.

...Writing software to handle typesetting the pages - PLUS your time...Free-£500
...Copy editing...£700-£900
...Cover design - depending on illustrations or photo sources ...£300-£1200
...Registering your book with a professional ISBN...£90
...Distribution channels set up...Free on Amazon, but wider distribution beyond Amazon is usually subject to a fee
...Print edition costs...Approximately £4.30 per book depending on page count


Understanding print runs - print on demand vs bulk print

Print on demand involves printing a minimal number of copies upfront, with copies printed to order thereafter. Set up for this printing method is included in SilverWood's packages and is the route we encourage self-publishers to use because of many benefits including worldwide distribution.
Bulk printing can be more cost-effective on a per-unit basis but requires a considerable upfront investment. The author needs to pay in advance for a specified print run, which is an additional cost above the usual self-publishing package. Other downsides to bulk printing are that they may not sell, in which case the cost and resources are wasted. And while attempting to sell the books, they need to be stored and their distribution managed.


Getting the word out - who does the marketing?

A successful book is often the result of two factors: a great product and some consistent, impactful marketing. As a self published author, you're in charge of how your marketing happens. (In fact, this is usually the case even if you're mainstream-published, as we'll see below.) Authors should be fully prepared to delve into the world of social media and press coverage but we can also recommend various marketing specialists who you can pay to do some of the work for you.
Historically in traditional publishing, the publisher would do the marketing for their authors, with a launch, press activity and exposure on social media. However, in the current market, mainstream authors are finding they are expected to do much of the marketing legwork themselves, or paying independent specialists, just like self published authors.


Comparing the potential returns on investment

Even though the prospect of an advance sounds good, research has shown the median advance is now only £6600 from publishers.

And the harsh reality is that in most cases, a book will sell far fewer copies than an author expects. Mainstream published books can result in anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 sales on average, but the advance is the author's only income until the book hits the shelves, which could take 12-18 months.

Then first-time authors are often surprised to learn that once the royalties do come in from your publisher, they are only around 7% of the book's retail price, and often less than 50p per copy.
Self published books, on the other hand, offer a greater return from royalties much faster. At SilverWood, we aim to get around £2 per copy to the author for trade sales, more, if sold through our website. Importantly, those returns start coming in sooner because the speed to market averages around 3-4 months. If your book is topical, reflecting the zeitgeist of the moment, this is a critical benefit of self publishing.

Despite greater returns per book, some self published authors don't make their monetary investment back. So why invest?

The rewards of self publishing can be less tangible, but potentially more valuable. Some authors use self published books to underpin their expertise and bring credibility to their business. Others use them as a springboard for speaking engagements or to attract participants to workshops and courses.
At SilverWood, we advise our authors that they may not make the money back pound for pound. And that they should only spend what they can afford. In some cases, a self-published book has led to an author being noticed by a trade publisher, which has then led to mainstream publishing contracts or sales of foreign publishing rights to translate their works into other languages.
Many self-publishing authors simply want to see their book in print, with the fulfilling reward of sharing their story with friends, family and colleagues.
But it is possible to make money from self publishing your book, as shown by our author's royalty statements and this famous case study in the papers of an author making 6-figures from his books.
In future articles, we'll be looking at cases of some of SilverWood's financially-successful authors, so do sign up here for our eNewsletter to stay in touch.


Are ebooks a good alternative?

Ebooks can be a quick route to getting a book put together and out into the online space. At first glance, the return on ebooks can be attractive. But when you factor in the costs of copy-editing, proofreading, cover design and formatting, they're not always as profitable as they appear. The quality can also vary considerably, so it's worth researching ebook publishers thoroughly.
Many authors also want to have the physical paperback - it carries greater credibility and shows that someone has invested in the work, whether it's a mainstream publisher or the author themselves. They're also vital for engaging with audiences at book talks and other promotional events.


Raising the standard of self-publishing

At SilverWood, we produce high quality, retail-ready books that look as professionally polished as those from mainstream publishers. With continual advances in quality, self publishing has become a respected and viable means to getting your work in front of readers, with many authors discovering the deeper value of investing in themselves.
If you've got more questions about self publishing, please get in touch with us. SilverWood Books is a friendly, expert team, and we can support you every step of the way.

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Author Success Stories: Ann Turnbull

“If youíre thinking of self-publishing, I hope you don't go at it alone. With a team like SilverWood behind you, you have the support you need to publish the best work you believe in.”

J A Higgins