Welcome to the world of indie publishing! Whether you’ve finished a book or you’re considering getting your ideas into the world, there are so many exciting opportunities. There are now many, many paths for getting your ideas into the hands of your readers. Indie publishing differs from traditional publishing in that the gateway to getting your book out is much wider, but the costs are higher. With indie publishing, you retain the rights to all your content, but you have to pay to get that content produced. Traditional publishing will produce the content for free, but you have to get picked by a publisher, which can be a long, arduous journey that costs you your creative control, and the publisher owns your content at the end.
If you’re going down the independent route, you’ll want to be able to prepare for the costs of self-publishing a book. There are 4 phases of the process where costs incur: Book Development, Book Production, Book Distribution, and Book Marketing. Let’s take a look at each one.
Book Development Costs
Creating your book in a professional way incurs a cost. There is, unfortunately, no cheap shortcut for preparing a book for print, especially because only the best books sell. Most people who choose independent publishing are not from a background that has the skillset to successfully get a book off the ground. Even if you’re a practiced author or designer, you’re still competing in a market where books are professionally produced. Selling widely has everything to do with quality. People won’t choose your book without a standout cover, and they won’t keep reading it or buy your next one if your plot or structure gets lost and your copy is riddled with errors. So how much is it going to cost to self-publish a book? Blurb’s partner Reedsy has done some estimates by genre for a combined average cost of developmental editing, copy editing, proofreading, cover design and typesetting for an 80,000-word book:
Average Costs to Self-Publish a Book by Genre:
Thriller, Mystery, and Crime $4,184
Science Fiction and Fantasy $4,300
Young Adult $4,132
Literary Fiction $4,300
Business, Self-Help & Health $6,172
These are average costs of self-publishing a book, and with services like Reedsy, you can add these services a la carte in varying degrees, depending on your budget. Once your final project is finished, you’ll have a file ready for print, and there are options there, too.
Book Production Costs
To get printed copies of your books, there are two paths you can take. Print-on-demand, where books are printed only as ordered and can be ordered one at a time, and Volume printed or Offset. If you plan to work with more than 100 copies, Blurb’s Large Order Services can walk you through the best process and the cost for your project. Here are the costs of both processes, and the pros and cons of each.
The last ten years—even the last five—have seen game-changing developments in printing technology. Even if print-on-demand has been around longer than that, we’re now seeing exquisite quality coming from these digital machines. Advanced inkjet technology now creates pages and covers that are nearly identical to those created with traditional offset printing, offering incredible advantages to self-publishers.
How it Works for Self-Publishers
- You choose your format: From coffee table books to magazines to trade paperbacks, print-on-demand is compatible with any format you’d find in a bookstore. The more copies you order, the more cost-effective customization becomes—a higher volume order makes it possible to try different end sheets, ribbon markers, or cover styles—but standard commercial sizes and papers are readily available across printers.
- You create a properly formatted book file: Your PDF or other print-ready file will stay on hand with the printer, and can be called up any time an order is placed for your book.
- Digital printers print and assemble your book: The newest machine innovations have put printing and binding all in one place, so your book comes off the line ready to ship.
Print on Demand Advantages
- It’s less expensive to self-publish a book up front
For self-publishers, getting your work into the world used to mean printing 1,000 copies and an expensive proofing copy. If there were errors, you’d pay again to have another proofing copy sent. The book proofs alone could cost anywhere between $100-$500, and then there’s the cost of printing thousands of copies of your self-published book, which can outpace a down payment on a Ford Focus. For print-on-demand, your only upfront cost is the price of one copy of your book, which could be as low as $10. You’ll see the book in full, and you can do several rounds of proofing for a big order for the same price as one round offset.
- It’s fast
Digitally printed books are created in the same facility, without having to ship blocks and covers to different sites for assembly. Not to mention, commercial digital printing machines in themselves are incredibly fast and getting faster. This means even larger orders could be done and in-hand in as fast as a few weeks, not a few months.
- Storage and fulfillment handled by someone else
Print-on-demand eliminates that problem of thousands of books in the basement that you’ll need to address and ship yourself. Books are shipped by the printer or the retailer directly to your customer, without effort form you.
- Niche books stay in print longer
Digital printing allows for smaller runs, which means books that don’t sell to a wide audience can still come into being, without printers suffering major losses. Small-run titles can stick around more.
- No pulping waste books
This is better for the self-publisher, the printer, and the environment. Books are printed as they’re ordered, so there is no waste.
Print on Demand Versus Offset
So many variables affect the cost of an offset order, (such as customizations and overseas printing) it’s difficult to compare POD and offset costs for the same book. However, it’s possible to reduce your per-copy cost by as much as 40% by printing offset. There are also more opportunities to design and shape the book in special ways.
Offset printing is older technology that uses plates which transfer an image onto a rubber “blanket”. Afterward, that image is transferred onto a sheet of paper. It’s called “offset” because the ink is not transferred directly onto the paper, but the plates first. This older printing method has its own advantages, especially for larger orders.
- Lower cost per copy, higher cost at the outset
Printing offset means ordering at least 1,000 copies of your self-published book. But this way of printing, especially with an overseas printer, is hands-down the lowest possible cost-per-copy. You just have to finance a large order. Without negotiating warehousing and fulfillment with your distributor, these tasks are also up to you. Printing offset means the highest possible margin, but you also bear the largest burdens for up-front cost and distribution.
- Setup fees
Printing offset follows the older printing methods of page creation, cover creation, and assembly. Your printing plates will need to be custom created, so the creation and setup of plates gets factored into your book proof copy.
- More customization
Because the plates, trimming, covers, and even materials are individually set up, these large orders make it more cost-effective to make your self-published book look and feel exactly as you like, since the setup fees have already been costed out. This means more possibilities for specialty trim sizes, paper types, and cover types. Cost-effectiveness (and therefore feasibility) for customizations increases as orders exceed 1,000 copies.
- Brick-and-mortar consignment retail possibility
Self-published books come with their own challenges when contending for shelf space, but an offset order creates enough inventory for stocking local establishments. You might not be able to get on the shelves of national chain brick-and-mortar stores, but you can approach local bookshops or other relevant stores to carry your book on consignment (for a portion of your sales).
- Possibility for in-person and event sales
Offset orders yield the inventory to follow up speaking engagements or events with a printed-take home piece for your audience, and a built-in bookselling opportunity for you.
- Control over distribution
If you’d like more options to manage your own distribution of your book, or if you would like to offer signed copies and do your own fulfillment, on offset order puts you in charge and stocks you up.
The Offset Price Difference
People enjoy the customization possible with offset printing, but what really compels an offset order is the effect it has on the cost per copy. You can estimate the single copy price through Blurb with your paper type, page count, and cover type with the pricing calculator. Any actual order would require a talk with Large Order Services about the specifics of a project.
Take a look at the effect of ordering offset on the two different book projects:
Children’s Book Details and Cost
Standard Landscape 10×8 Photo Book
Standard Mid-Grey End Sheets
Standard Paper – 80# coated semi-matte
Digital Printing Single Copy – $39.99
Digital Printing 25% off for 50+ on the pricing page – $29.99
(This is going to get raised to 40% for 50-100 books soon – $23.99)
100+ Large Order Services Pricing – $19.50/copy (NOT INCLUDING TAX OR SHIPPING)
1000 Copies Offset Printing – $10.00/copy (Includes Approximate Shipping to US)*
*digital printing – 4 weeks with proofing; offset printing 12-13 weeks to delivery
Novel or Non-Fiction Trade Book Details and Cost
6×9 Trade Book
Standard White End Sheets
Color Standard – 70# Uncoated Paper
Digital Printing Single Copy – $28.83/copy
Digital Printing 25% off for 50+ on the pricing page – $21.62
100+ Large Order Services Pricing – $16.00/copy (NOT INCLUDING TAX OR SHIPPING)
1000 Copies Offset Printing – $7.50 /copy (Includes Approximate Shipping to US)
Print-on-demand has done so many exciting things for book-makers, creating more options for finding the best fit for your project. Don’t overlook self-publishing because of the large upfront costs for offset printing, and don’t overlook print-on-demand, which offers greater speed, quality, and innovation than what has been available at any other time in print history.
Book Distribution Cost
Your distribution path will differ in cost depending on how you print and sell. For the sake of comparison, we’ll work with the printing case studies above. But first, some terms you need to know:
- Base Price: This is the non-negotiable cost of producing copies of your self-published book. The first step when pricing your book is balancing cost and quality. What choices can you make to get the lowest possible base price and still maintain integrity to your vision? This may mean choosing cheaper paper, cover, or format types to keep your work market-ready.
- Wholesale Discount: This is the cost of distribution—how the distributors make their money in distributing the book. The Blurb Bookstore doesn’t charge a distribution markup, but if you sell your books online via Amazon or sell a consignment in a local shop, you will need to have the cost of business factored into the price.
- Your Profit: The Blurb system is special in that you mostly control the price of your book with how much profit you make on it. The lower your base price, the more room you have to put your book at a competitive price and keep more of that book price for yourself.
Distribution with Print on Demand
Printers like Ingram have relationships with Amazon and Bn.com. (Blurb’s Trade Books are printed and distributed with the help of Ingram.) Amazon commands almost a third of book sales, so listing your self-published book there comes with its own advantages and even credibility. You don’t have to convince customers to go to these sites, and once they do, getting your book into their hands is pretty simple:
- Your book is listed on major bookselling sites
- Someone orders your book
- The book is shipped to the retailer, who forwards it to your client
- Your client pays the retailer, who sends net revenue to you
Distribution through these sites doesn’t come free, however. Both Amazon (and localized Amazon sites) and Ingram (for trade books, which also reach Amazon and Bn.com) charge distribution fees and do their own markup, referred to as a “Wholesale Discount”. The “discount” is the markup amount distributors add to your book. It’s usually a percentage of your retail price and any fee.
Example 1: Children’s Book
Photo books have the richest color printing, so they are often used for Children’s Books. not just photography. A Standard Landscape Photo Book through Blurb, with a hardcover ImageWrap and 30 pages will cost $41.99 to print. Amazon’s fees for that book are $1.35 + 15% of the retail price. If your markup is $5.00, that photo book would be $55.38 on Amazon.
$41.99 print cost + $5.00 profit +$1.35 distribution fee +15% Wholesale Markup = $55.38 Retail Price
Example 2: Hardcover Novel
A 6×9 in. Trade Book with a hardcover ImageWrap and 350 pages will cost $16.25 to print through Blurb. Ingram’s fees for that book are about 36% of the retail price. If your markup is $5.00, that photo book would be $28.90 per copy in the Ingram Catalog for book retailers.
$16.25 print cost + $5.00 profit +36% Wholesale Markup = $28.90 Retail Price
Distribution with Offset
Distributing an offset run is unique as the books it prints. Most of the time, authors who opt of a large print run do so with an estimate of the copies they believe they can realistically sell. The distribution costs here, are harder to determine, but for large runs, unless you want to do all the storing and packaging yourself, part of the cost becomes warehousing and fulfillment.
Consider doing a smaller POD print run to test your market and get feedback. You have to know your market well and how to reach them to effectively estimate distribution costs with an offset run.
Book Marketing Costs
The final step in the process also incurs self-publishing costs, but this is possibly the most variable. When it comes to marketing your book, you’ll want to factor in the costs for three things:
- Your author website—development, maintenance, and hosting. You can teach some of this to yourself without a web background, but as with a book cover, some professional help is recommended here, too. This can be upwards of $1,000.
- Your Launch plan. There are various services authored through Reedsy, but you can connect with a media plan and do a paid launch with a book launching service. This can range from $50-$1,000. This will depend on how well you work your social media and your local opportunities. It will involve Amazon paid ads, paid ads on social media, paid search ads with Google. It might also involve paying for advertisement design.
- Events: Sometimes, cultivating a good relationship with an independent bookstore can help give you a space for a launch event, but if you do book promotion and launch events, speaking engagements, etc., without a publisher, the costs for these fall on you. They are great opportunities to distribute large offset orders, so be ready!
The Bottom Line
Independent publishing means that you get to call the shots, and set your own budget. There is so much freedom in self-publishing your own book, if you don’t have the resources to purchase top-of-the-line help or promotion right now, you can get started and grow your following and sales organically. You can learn along the way what works and what doesn’t for you, work through some trial and error, and recycle earnings from your first round into your next attempts at indie publishing. You will find your own way to streamline self-publishing costs and maximize profits. Know that most authors find their success after a few self-publishing tries, so whatever it costs today, will be different next time around. It’s a journey, so enjoy all the learning as you go!