The economics of self-publishing a book

In my last blog post I explored the myth that writing and publishing a book is guaranteed to make you rich. A couple of posts before that I wrote about how self-publishing a paper book is easier, and less expensive than ever.

This time I thought it might be worthwhile bringing these two posts together and doing some number crunching. What do the economics of self-publishing look like in Australia in 2017? A warning: what follows may be a bit dry (unless you're an accountant and into such things).

To make these numbers real, I'm going to focus on a typical example. We're going to publish a 200-page non-fiction paperback book of about 30,000 words. The inside of the book is mostly text, with perhaps half-a-dozen diagrams, and it will be printed in black-and-white on standard paper. The cover will be full colour, gloss or matte and perfect bound.

All the numbers I am quoting are based on actual services but they are also indicative in the sense that prices chance all the time. These numbers assume we are dealing directly with any service providers. If we were to hire someone to manage the publishing process for you, there would be some extra cost involved, though it shouldn't be too much. If you are ever quoted prices substantially above my indications you may want to shop around.

Book costs at each stage

1. Writing

The cost of writing our book is the hardest part of this equation to quantify. How much time will it take, and what is our time worth?

In terms of the former, it will vary widely. An average rate of 500 words per hour is certainly doable for non-fiction, which would equate to 60 hours. However we need to add planning and research time to that, plus rewriting and proofreading, so to be conservative you would probably want to at least double that to 120 hours and probably more. This is time dedicated and focused to the task too – it doesn't count time spent staring out the window wondering what to do next. In your case the total time could be substantially more depending on your comfort with the process.

Only you can answer the latter question when it comes to the value of your time. In purely economic terms you might work it out by calculating how much you could earn if you spent that 120+ hours doing your 'real' job. If you can afford it, it could be that hiring someone to do the bulk of the writing for you, or some rewriting, would be more cost effective. (Yes, that was a blatant plug!)

2. Editing

Copyediting of our 30,000 word manuscript will cost in the range $150 to $1000.

Why such a wide range? Like anything, it boils down to guaranteed quality and how much peace of mind we want. At the higher end we would be paying to work with a local professional editor with many years of experience. Prices at the lower end are available on freelancer websites like and These can be reliable but they do vary as we would never be entirely sure who's at the other end of the line.

3. Layout/Typesetting

Typesetting of our text-heavy book will cost in the range $250 to $1500.

Again, the price range demonstrates the variation between more-or-less anonymous online services such as ebook launch through to local book designers who we can deal with face-to-face, and everything in between. We'll pay more for more experience, peace of mind and a lower risk of hassles.

4. Cover Design

A similar story to typesetting, with prices ranging from around $400 to $1500 or more, with online suppliers who we'll never meet at the lower end and local professionals at the higher end.

5. Administration

We need an ISBN for our paper book, plus another for the ebook version that we will inevitably want to publish. These can be organised quickly and easily through Thorpe Bowker ( in Australia at a cost of $44 for one or $88 for a block of ten – the best option as we need two anyway. (Visit this page for ISBN agencies outside Australia).

Thorpe Bowker and others offer to produce an ISBN barcode for your cover at a cost of $45, but this can be created at no cost on numerous barcode generation websites, and some printers will do it for you anyway.

6. Printing

This is where things are really changing quickly. It used to be that printing required the biggest cash outlay in this process, and a minimum order of at least 200 copies, and preferably 500 or 1000, in order to keep the unit price down at a reasonable level, i.e. something less than $7.

However, as I discussed in my recent blog post on the topic, print-on-demand (POD) printing, which enables us to order books economically one at a time, is now the real deal. To print our example book with IngramSpark, with the printing being done in Melbourne, will cost us $5.20 for one copy, plus a handling fee of $2.20 and shipping of $4.38. The total cost with tax for that one copy is $12.44.

Now, that is more than we want to pay for multiple copies of the books to sell, but it's fine for printing one test copy for ourselves to check out. That price drops to just $5.90 each (delivered and tax inclusive) if we order 10, $5.44 if we order 50 and $5.08 if we order 100 copies at once.

If we really wanted to print a larger quantity of books because our customers are lining up ready to buy, we could get the unit price down closer to $4 if we ordered 1000 copies. We might get a better price still by using an offset printer, though these days we would probably be wanting over 2000 copies for these guys to be substantially more competitive. And if that would mean the risk of boxes of books being stacked up in the garage or pushed under the bed, is the lower price really worth it?


So what's was the damage? Leaving the writing aside for simplicity, the cost of producing the first copy of our 200-page book ranges from close to $900 at the low end to over $4000 at the upper end. Add another $100 to $200 for creation of an ebook version of your title.

You may still think that sounds like a lot, especially the upper figure, but consider that just a few years ago I was advising my clients to budget closer to $10,000 including an initial print run, and it should be clear that the 'price of entry' has dropped substantially in recent times.

As I say, these figures are only indicative, but they would be close if your book matches my specifications. For more or less pages the layout and printing costs will increase or decrease a little, while if you want a full colour interior for your book your printing price will jump to $12 or more each. More complex layouts due to multiple photos or diagrams will also increase costs.

As usual, if you have any questions or comments, please add a comment below or contact me.

Post image courtesy of Gianni Crestani

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