Mar 12 2009

Estimating self-publishing costs: cover design and editing

Published by at 7:27 am under Self-Publishing

If you’re thinking about self-publishing, particularly print-on-demand, please check out this estimate of some of your startup costs.

Cover Design

If you want to sell a book, you will need a strong cover.  Customers judge books by their covers.  Let me share my own artistic horror story.  About a year ago, I tried experimenting with header-art at the top of this website.  Some of it was quite bad, but I’d like to mention the most amateurish one.

During the two weeks we had this header up, we bounced 90% of our viewers.  Within a few seconds of coming into our website, 90% of our prospective readers decided that our writing was not worth reading for free. They never even glanced at our writing:  the art was just that poor.  Self-publishers face an even greater obstacle.  Your book will not only have to look professional enough to make people want to read it, but it has look professional enough to make people want to pay to read it.   Your book has to look like it’s worth paying for.

Unless you are a professional artist or photographer, you will need to pay a professional to do your cover.  That will cost at least $250, and probably closer to $500.  Go Publish Yourself recommends allotting $500-$1500 for cover design.  That’s probably too high, but let’s be clear that this is a major investment.


Self-published authors generally lack credibility because many readers presume that they’re only self-publishing because they’re not good enough to get published professionally.  (Hopefully that’s not true for you; if it is, please do not try self-publishing because it will end disastrously for you).  Readers expect a level of professionalism that most self-published authors are not prepared to provide on their own.  For example, typos and other mechanical mistakes are like a flashing neon sign that says “this book is not worth your money.”  Unless you have a perfect grasp of spelling, grammar and punctuation, realistically you need to hire a freelance editor.

That typically costs between 1-5 cents per word, 1 cent per word for simple proofreading* and around 5 cents per word for book-doctoring.  For a 60,000 word novel, that’s $600-$3000*.  (I highly recommend against hiring a book-doctor, by the way.   I can explain this in more detail if you’d like, but the short version is that there’s just not enough money to go around).

*If you’re interested in proofreading, please let me know. I’m a freelance proofreader and I charge $.075 per word, which is 25% cheaper than Go Publish Yourself suggests. If you’d like to discuss particulars, please e-mail me at superheronation[at]gmail[dot]com or leave a comment somewhere on this site.

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Estimating self-publishing costs: cover design and editing”

  1. Nixon 12 Mar 2009 at 10:04 am

    Don’t forget the isbn number and bar code so your self-published book will be carried in stores. sells the combo for $55. You need one for different titles, but if you have multiple issues of the same comic coming out then you only need the one.

  2. B. Macon 12 Mar 2009 at 11:35 am

    Also, a few self-publishing companies dish out startup fees of their own. For example, on BookSurge the startup fee for releasing a print-ready PDF is $299. These vary by publisher. For example, CreateSpace has fewer startup fees but it gives the author a much smaller share of the royalties. If you anticipate that you’ll be selling thousands of copies, BookSurge will give you more net revenue. (However, please keep in mind that it is extremely rare to sell thousands of copies of a self-published book. The main thing keeping BookSurge in business is wishful thinking).

  3. Dforceon 12 Mar 2009 at 11:59 am

    Would there be someone to talk to about, not necessarily sentence structure but cohesion and understanding of dialogue (and only dialogue)?

    How much would that alone cost for a ~22 page comic? (Funny story, I read an online preview for a pretty decent comic with strong story and OK art, but the one thing that stood out to me was the occasional [word only appeared thrice] mispelling of slang: thingy was thingee…).

  4. B. Macon 12 Mar 2009 at 11:24 pm

    Hmm. If you’re interested in just getting feedback about your dialogue, you should be able to get that free here or on another writing site like Critters. I looked through your review forum for dialogue to comment on but did not find much. Are there any scenes in particular you’d like me to look at?

    As a rule, I’d recommend against paying for commentary and feedback. In contrast, proofreading is both more involved and higher-stakes. An incompetent suggestion will probably not damage your story, but relying on incompetent proofreading will.

  5. B. Macon 17 Mar 2009 at 12:20 am

    I spoke to my brother, who is kind enough to do my website coding for free. He says that a WordPress theme as-is would be fairly cheap. For example, Palaam is available for free and can be hosted for around $10 a year. However, if you want to make any changes to the coding, that will cost a lot of money. Let’s see… over the past year, I’ve probably gotten at least five separate sets of coding tweaks. If I had to estimate, I’d say that these would collectively have run well into the hundreds of dollars.

    1. The default color for Paalam text is insufficiently dark. That makes it hard to read, particularly for long posts. Given that many of our readers spend 30-60 minutes at a time, using black text on a straight-white background is an act of mercy.

    2. The “What Would Seth Godin Do?” plug-in. When someone comes to the website for the first few times, they will get a helpful message at the top of the screen informing them what it is we provide here and how to navigate our site. It’s hugely helpful.

    3. We had to activate Google Analytics on our blog. Also extremely important.

    4. If you look in the upper-most part of our website, you’ll find a set of buttons that say things like “HOME” and “READ THE WEBCOMIC,” etc. That’s where WordPress places the links to our separate pages. If you look very carefully, though, “START READING!” takes you to a post, which is different than a page. My brother had to code that in.

    5. He’s also taken care of various situations, like installing WordPress updates and interesting plugins and handling the hosting arrangements and stuff. It’s not an exaggeration to say that SN definitely would not have happened without him.

  6. Ragged Boyon 17 Mar 2009 at 3:23 am

    Well, be sure to thank your brother. I’ve seen sibling rivalry pull many a’ brother apart. 🙂

  7. B. Macon 17 Mar 2009 at 5:28 am

    Well, he’s an expert in software and Japanese, so it’s not like I compete with him. (You can see his blog here). Now, if he wanted to branch out into superhero writing advice, he’d have a fight on his hands. 😉

  8. CarsonArtiston 04 Aug 2009 at 2:55 pm

    Nix said you can get an ISBN+barcode combo for $55. I would like to reveal something about that situation.

    $55 seems cheap but here is the breakdown. The ISBN they give you will be a generic independent publisher ID. Every book with one of these ISBN’s is listed the same, as a miscellaneous independent title. This isn’t the greatest for book buyers and media releases. Also the ISBN they are giving you costs $27.50 which is where they get the $55 (half of $55). The barcode can be generated for free.

    Here is another solution. If you go to the main agency for distribution of ISBN’s, you can buy ten ISBN’s for 275$ ( just like the 55$ places) BUT you get to register them under your own publishing house title. So now you have 10 ISBN’s ready to go under your very own publishing house!

    When a book buyer looks at your title , they can now find all the rest of our work under your publishing house rather than get the bazillions listed as Misc Independent title.

    Would you rather buy a “random misc title” or a comic/novel from “Bring the Pain Publishing” or “Dragonsbreath Books” or whatever name you choose to run your series under?

    The initial investment is greater but think of the future savings and the future of your upcoming unreleased titles which inevitably will need ISBN’s.

    Just a thought….

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