What does it cost to finish a written book, self-published?
Obvious caveat here: It varies. Your needs and goals can make the end stage estimates swing wildly from low end of a couple grand to to high end $20k. There’s kind of a quality/speed/money matrix you might envision, where you can toggle the dials and decide which are important to you, but each dial is connected.
You can also go to https://www.the-efa.org/rates/ and look at their ranges for what you need. A Reedsy/Fiverr type resource may get you folks who are comfortable dropping under those averages, and someone who has been around the block or offers something a bit more bespoke may stretch above the averages. And anyone working on a rush basis, unless you find them at a lucky moment, should be charging a bit more in order to create that space for you.
Here are the steps to plan for.
QA / Proofreading Estimates
There are three possible layers of editing for a manuscript that says what it wants to say: Line editing is very thorough, copy editing assumes the lines are set but considers words and phrases and clarity, proofreading just looks for objective errors.
You have to get at least a proofreading round, no matter how clean you or your writer tends to be. Rates can start at less than a penny a word (but shouldn’t. That’s a sign of a brand newbie in my experience) but tend to fall around .02/word for proofing. Costs can go up to .05-.10/word for line editing, or more. (I usually quote this based on an evaluation of the manuscript, which includes any last revisions recommendations I have for you.)
Bare bones for 50,000 words to just be proofed: $1,000.
Preferable editing budget for a couple rounds: $4,000.
Causes for increase might be line level quality, lots of citations, and of course higher word count.
Cover Design and Layout Estimates
You may already have a design done or in mind, but it’s good to at least give your layout person that design as they work, if not hire them to do both. The consistency from cover to cover is worth it.
And yes, you COULD just fix the PDF up for upload yourself, but please don’t. These folks are magic and can carry the aesthetic of a book into details you hadn't thought about. Plus, Amazon is finicky about uploads being formatted right. Just...Please outsource this step. It's worth it.
Cover design has a huge range in pricing too so make sure you’re getting a portfolio with your quote, and have a solid consult call before moving forward. Don't go with something cheap without knowing what you're getting into and don't go expensive without seeing proof of their work.
Designers can but don’t always do both the cover and interior, and the paperback/hard cover/eBook versions all have different layouts (so, multiple charges). My colleague Anton at bookcoversforall.com has really accessible options that range from $150 for a basic layout to about $950 for a single layout with lots of images. Cindy at mareaalta.co designed my book, and has a quote sheet for everything from various layouts to the publishing imprint logo. Happy to send that over to anyone who asks. She also does larger strategies so you may find marketing or business help here too.
Pro tip: Estimate your page count by assuming 250 words/page. Will vary based on book size and images and font size, but it’s a decent guess.
Rough estimate for two layout versions (paperback and eBook) is $1500-3000.
Causes for increase can include lots of images and odd book sizes.
Actual Book Publishing Estimate
This step is way easier than hybrids tell you. I think you can DIY it, but it may be worth outsourcing the stress.
You need to buy an ISBN, maybe at your cover design stage, and barcode, then get a copyright. Then upload to KDP or Ingram Spark and choose your royalty rates. I did this bit on my own for my workbook. I held my breath and Googled a lot all the way through, but I didn’t die (and the last button to publish came shockingly fast and unceremoniously. Heads up.)
If you do want help, especially to get your keyword/metadata strategies right, I’ve got loads of friends and colleagues who can pop in and help you manage. Expect $100/hr for a few hours of work at minimum.
Author Website / Book Landing Page Estimate
You probably already know how intense this kind of work can get. I don’t begrudge web designers for their rates, but I do want you to match your investment to ROI here. Templates these days are excellent and all you REALLY need is a place for your book cover image, newsletter sign up, and “preorder/order” to go. So DIY here can work, just don’t build beyond your capabilities.
The range is wide. I have a Jill-of-all-trades colleague who uses templates like a wizard and pulls gorgeous, simple landing pages together for $500, and an author working a landing page into a full site redesign for $5,000.
Causes for increase are all complexity and timeline related. The more building you want someone to do, the more it’ll cost.
Marketing Strategy / Support Estimate
Again, you’re likely familiar with these costs and how crazy it can get. This industry is bonkers though so make sure you understand what your marketer is offering/doing when they quote you. Maybe more importantly, understand what YOU are offering/doing.
Is your book part of a funnel to another product or service? Fold it into that marketing project. Is your book your first line of marketing for YOU (speaker, consultant, etc)? Fold it into marketing for that outcome. Because those are ongoing/forever kind of expenses or projects, I’m not even going to touch them here. Instead let’s just think about getting the book into the world.
Your basic book launch and early influencer strategy looks like getting a lead magnet up, reaching out to influencers who might review your book or bring you into their platform, having an official launch event/offering (webinar, etc), running promotions for the first week or so, and getting an ongoing lead magnet-to-book funnel in place. Again, totally DIYable if you have the time and want to save the money. Also totally reasonable to outsource it.
My friend Tim Grahl wrote Your First 1000 Copies just for this. My friend Sue serves authors at pagesandplatforms.com when they need deep support as they DIY. My same Jill-of-all-trades can rock influencer research and outreach for you. And I know folks who offer complete done-for-you launch packages.
Expect $50 an hour minimum for the leg work of researching and reaching out to influencers, $100 an hour minimum for consulting/coaching you, and $3-5000 for a more complete support package. Causes for increase would be duration of time and level of service.
Self-Publishing Costs Summary
That’s a ballpark of $10,000 for multiple proofing levels, multiple layouts, some uploading support, a basic landing page, and some marketing support for a 50k word book with images.
Do you have to spend that much? Nope. Could you spend a lot more? Yep.
My friend Alex, who has helped folks on that upload step but rocks as a ghostwriter, noted: “For a simple book with limited formatting, it’s very possible to stay in that $5-6k range…but it goes up from there based on marketing, formatting, etc.” Here's her breakdown:
I tell people to put aside 6 to 8 hours of competitor research and category, keyword, and pricing selection. If you do it well you can benefit from category push and ideally Amazon category bestseller strategy. You can learn a LOT about positioning from your competitor books in the space. That’ll cost you like $400 to 500 and patience if you get me to do it slowly around other work, time, or either more or less from other professionals depending on their tools and process. I’ve picked categories that helped books get category bestsellers several times. So $2500 editing plus $500 metadata plus $1500 to $2500 cover and formatting, plus $500 landing page, $500 listing, $1000 marketing strategy and ideas is $7k. Easily squeezed to $6k by watching pennies.
The fab Rose Friel, who can connect you to professionals in all of these categories, says that “I’d recommend comfortably putting aside $20k…for any hiccups that might happen.”
My recommendation: Don’t get caught in the trap of throwing money at the anxiety of “publishing.” Remember the point of writing in the first place and keep that front and center. If not, you could spend a ton on a gorgeous book that your audience doesn’t care a bit about…while someone else pieces together a good enough book that gets them into all the doors that their people are waiting behind.
And if you’re at Scribe and pissed at the number they just gave you, remember the failing is in their overpromising and under delivering, not in overcharging you (unless you're in the Elite package). They’ve been undercutting the market for a while and now we’re all paying the price for it. Do what you need to do regarding the promises they made to you—but don’t just believe them that going elsewhere will cost you less.
Figure out what’s left, weigh your existing investment and what you got for it, and decide from there. Whether you move forward on principle or practicality is entirely your call. Hopefully, this post will help you make that call with eyes wide open.