The following piece is a guest post and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of this publication. Read more about MediaShift guest posts here.
With the growing popularity of self-publishing, there is one recurring question I get from almost every aspiring author: “How much should I budget?” This is a really hard question to answer because the term “self-publishing” encompasses a wide range of very different possibilities.
For example, let’s say you’ve written a first draft of your novel and just uploaded it to Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing. Technically, you’re “self-publishing.” And your only monetary cost is the formatting to get the required .mobi file, which can be done for free via several online tools.
Now, if you want to have a chance of selling that book, you need to replicate at least some of the steps of traditional publishing and ensure a certain level of quality and professionalism. This means having your book properly edited, typeset and proofread, and hiring a designer to create an eye-catching cover. Depending on your genre and your writing ability, these can cost more or less.
It’s impossible to say, “Self-publishing your book with cost you $X.” However, it is possible to find average costs for the different steps that go into producing a book: editing, design and typesetting. And this is what the data and infographic below focus on.
Before unveiling and analyzing the data, let’s explain where it comes from and how it was collected. First, it comes from quotes exchanged on the Reedsy marketplace. The particularity of Reedsy is that we curate our list of professional editors, designer and typesetters. The 400 professionals currently displayed on the marketplace have been hand-picked out of over 10,000 applicants. Most have extensive traditional publishing experience and all have worked on best-selling books. Their quotes obviously reflect their level of professionalism, an important point to keep in mind when reading the data below.
The average prices and ballpark ranges displayed in the infographic have been calculated using raw, unmodified data from over 2,000 quotes exchanged on the Reedsy platform. Not all of these quotes have been accepted, obviously.
Editing quotes have been broken down by type of editing (editorial assessment, developmental editing, copy-editing, proofreading) and by word count. We then applied a linear regression on the thousands of data points to determine a “price per word count” for these different services.
For cover design, we considered both quotes for a simple ebook cover (front only) and for a paperback cover (front, spine and back). The way most of our book cover designers work is that they charge a mark-up to do the paperback cover, but some do both for the same price. We therefore didn’t make the distinction in this infographic.
For interior design, all quotes have been considered, from simple ebook formatting on a straightforward novel, to the complex design and typesetting of cookbooks and coffee table books. This explains the strong variation in pricing.
The Costs of Editing, Cover Design and Typesetting
Key learning points
Developmental editing vs Editorial assessment
As you can see, an editorial assessment is, on average, half as expensive as a developmental edit on the manuscript. And I think this is really important to keep in mind for authors. But before I go in more detail, here’s how we define both on Reedsy:
- “An editorial assessment evaluates big-picture issues like characterization, plot, structure and style by way of a separate document — like a professional, super-in-depth book report.” More about it here.
- For a developmental edit, the editor is working in your document with you, so in addition to the big-picture items addressed, he or she can also point out line-level issues. More about it here.
In a nutshell, the main difference is that, in a developmental edit, the editor is doing (or suggesting) the big-picture changes directly in your manuscript, paragraph by paragraph, instead of compiling an “edit letter.” This is much more time-consuming, and therefore more expensive.
Now, a lot of authors ask me: Why should I seek an editorial assessment first? Part of the answer is in the numbers above: It can actually save you money. If you get an edit letter, and redraft your manuscript based on your editor’s comments, you will weed out most of the big picture issues in your writing. This is not to say you won’t need a proper developmental edit afterwards, but because your manuscript will be in such better shape, that subsequent edit will be much less expensive.
Bundling copy-editing and proofreading
One of the things that can be surprising in the numbers is that copy-editing and proofreading, bundled together, are only slightly more expensive than copy-editing alone. The reason for this is actually pretty simple: if the same person does the copy-editing and the proofreading, they’re probably going to try to do everything in one pass. The editor will read through your manuscript and pick up every inconsistency in style, grammar, punctuation, and spelling. They will mark their changes and then proofread only those.
In other words, hiring the same editor to both copy-edit and proofread your manuscript can save you a lot of money, but it also defeats the very purpose of proofreading. Proofreading is supposed to be a final check of your manuscript, by a different pair of trained eyes, to pick up any mistakes that might have slipped through — or been introduced in the previous rounds of editing.
You are free to decide whether you want to pay for that last check or not, but know that if you do, you should hire someone else for it.
The different types of cover design
$700 might seem high to some authors as an average price for book cover design, so I’ll try to explain why it’s not. The quotes actually went from $200 to $2,000. The strong variation means that only a few quotes on the higher end can strongly impact the average price. This is why we’ve also added a breakdown by ballpark range —which is what you should really be looking at.
Now, why would some designers charge $200 and others $2,000? First, because the market is quite non-transparent (until now). Then, because there are several ways to create a cover. Custom, hand-drawn illustrations or digital paintings will obviously be much more expensive than stock photo manipulation. Even with stock photography, some is royalty-free, while some requires the designer to purchase the rights to use it. Then comes the question of how many different photos you want combined, and how hard it is to combine them.
The process can be quite different as well. Usually, designers start by realizing a few different cover concepts so you can pick a “direction” for them to go into. You pick the concept you like most and they then do several rounds of iterations on it, based on your comments. The more concepts and the more rounds of iterations, the more expensive it will be.
Bringing transparency to the market
The reasons for Reedsy releasing this data are two-fold: first, to help aspiring authors understand what it costs to “replicate” the traditional publishing process; and second, to bring some transparency to the author services market.
The democratization of self-publishing is, after all, a relatively new thing. There aren’t any rules or standards out there for editors, designers and typesetters when it comes to pricing their services to authors. The industry standards —for working with publishers— sometimes apply, but not always. Most editors and designers out there simply charge what they believe is fair, and what works for them. With this, we’re hoping to give them a sense of the market.
The Real Costs of Self-Publishing a Book, by Miral Sattar
Four Places to Order a Short-Run Printing of Your Book, by Carla King
Ricardo Fayet is one of the founders of Reedsy, an online marketplace connecting authors with top editors, designers, ghostwriters and publicists. An avid reader and technology enthusiast, he likes to imagine how startups will build the future of publishing.