Saturday, May 26, 2007

How much does it cost to self-publish a book?

by: Ron Pramschufer

How much does it cost to self-publish a book? This seems like a simple enough question but there is no simple answer. There are three basic types of self-publishers. I’ll call them the casual hobbyist, the serious hobbyist and the professional. Before I can answer “How much?” you need to determine which type fits you best.

Today I am going concentrate on the casual hobbyist type of self-publisher. This category probably covers the majority of all the authors currently considering self-publishing their first book. This group covers a broad range of both subject matter and personal author profiles. As a member of this group you have written a story of some sort or the other, and a friend or family member, most likely, has talked you into considering turning this story into a book. Maybe your story is an autobiography. Maybe it’s a collection of poems or short stories or your political views. Maybe it’s the memoirs of your days in the War or in the Peace Corp or your days as a hippie, an Anarchist or … whatever. Maybe it’s even a children’s story. No matter what the subject matter is, the primary audience for this book is your immediate family and friends.

As a casual hobbyist, you probably do not have any formal writing experience. You are most likely over fifty with your kids pretty much off on their own. If you aren’t already retired, you are probably getting close, at least mentally if not physically. Chances are you have been telling your story, in parts, to your family or buddies at the bar over the course of years, embellishing it as time goes on. Maybe you even listened to President Bill Clinton when he said that anyone over fifty owed it to their family to write down their life experiences (and publish it as a book).

As a casual hobbyist you do not want to invest a lot of time or money in bringing this manuscript to publication. You may have a passing thought about getting a call from Oprah or Dr. Phil, to discuss your book, but know that your main motivation is much more personal. In the end, if see your name in print and receive a bit of praise from family and friends you have met your goal.

Chances are, if you are the casual hobbyist, you may not even be reading newsletters like the Publishing Basics Newsletter because you don’t really care about publishing as a business. You are happy to give your money to the first company that makes it look easy and doesn’t charge “too much”. It’s just a hobby, and a casual one at that. If you are not the one reading this, perhaps your son or daughter or friend, is in an effort to keep you from being taken advantage of, by any of the “too good to be true” advertising of companies who prey on the casual hobbyist. Unfortunately, the Internet is full of these places.

The one thing that the casual hobbyist rarely realizes is that they are only a phone call or experience away from becoming a serious hobbyist or even a professional. This is why it is important to follow a few basic tips no matter how serious you are about publishing when you initially enter the market.

The primary rule is to never grant a company exclusive rights to your book for any amount of time to unless that company is paying you an awful lot of money. One of the slimier publishers claim to be a traditional publisher because they pay the author a one dollar advance royalty. For this one dollar, the author signs over the rights to their book for seven years. This might be fine if your book never goes beyond the dozen copies you buy to hand out to your friends but there is no reason to do it. Remember, your self-publishing status can change at a moments notice.

The other basic rule, which runs along the same line as the first is, you want to make sure that you own everything used to produce your book. What I am talking about here is the ownership of the digital files used to print your book. Again, it doesn’t matter who owns your printing file if you are only printing a few books but things change and you want to be able to react to these changes.

Once you have established that you are not giving up any rights to your book and you own the digital files used to print the books (or at least know what owning the files will cost), you can start to shop and compare pricing for the actual production of your book.

The casual hobbyist self publisher does not really need an ISBN. At this stage, this book is going no where near a bookstore, where an ISBN is required. Your primary market is your family and friends. An ISBN is not necessary to hand out books to your buddies at the VFW or your friends in your sewing circle. Having an ISBN is only necessary if you plan to sell your book in bookstores, including Amazon. You can always buy ISBN’s later, should you become more serious about your publishing but, for now, save your money.

To the casual hobbyist, hiring an editor is a luxury. Your family and friends are going to love your book, just the way you’ve written it. Between the spell checker in MS Word, a few re-reads and possibly your 10th grade English teacher, you’ll be fine. This, of course, changes if you shift from casual hobbyist to serious hobbyist or professional but it’s something that is easy enough to go back and do later.

The casual hobbyist most likely has the ability to do an acceptable job laying out the text in MS Word. The trick is to set up the page size correctly. The easiest way to accomplish this is to download a free text template from Look at a few books in your library to get an idea of what your text should look like. The free template is already set up with page numbers and page headers. All you need to do is “select all”, “copy” and “paste” your word document into the template and move the type around until it looks right. Remember, the first page should be a title page and the second should be your copyright page. Copyright can be as simple as “copyright, your name, year or copyright © your name and year. You can find the symbol © by going to the Insert dropdown in word, select “symbol” and “insert” the correct symbol. If you want to get fancy, you can copy the whole paragraph of legalese printed on the copyright page of most books, but it’s not necessary. You’re covered. The rest of your text should pretty much flow. Try to stay away from using too many typefaces. Just because MS Word has 100 typefaces available, it doesn’t mean you have to use them all.

Up to this point, the casual hobbyist self-publisher hasn’t spent a nickel. The first money that will most likely need to be spent is in converting your MS word text into PDF format and designing and laying out a book cover. The converting to PDF is easy if you have the software. Laying out the cover in MS word and converting to PDF is much more difficult and probably not worth the time it would take the casual hobbyist to learn how to do it. Having a nice looking cover is important, even to the casual hobbyist. People do judge a book by its cover… even family and friends. There is no reason to spend a fortune on a high end graphic designer although you do need to spend a couple bucks to get this part done correctly. has a program they call their “Hybrid Design” program. This program takes the author’s supplied, laid out word document and converts it to a press ready PDF file. The author then has a choice of 30 or so basic cover designs as well as thousands of cover pictures and illustrations to choose from. The final cover will be assembled and converted to a print ready PDF by a qualified designer. The cost is only $149, as long as the author prints with or $199 if the author wants to print with someone else. Remember when I said you want to own the digital printing file? For $199 you own the file with no strings attached. Most of the POD publishers, like Iuniverse, Author House and Xlibris have starter programs which include basic layout but their prices are higher and you do not own the digital printing file when you are done.

Now that you have a digital file ready for printing, you need to find a printer. This again is pretty easy. There are only two choices that I will mention in this article because they are clearly the best two choices. If you are truly only going to print 5-10 copies, I would use There is no setup cost with Lulu. All you need to do is supply a print ready PDF file, which we just talked about above. The cost per copy is fairly high but the total number of dollars needed for a small quantity is quite low. If you think your circle of friends may extend beyond that and you think you might want to print 100 or 200 copies, would be a more cost effective alternative. With either of these services you are not tied down with any exclusives. You can always start with Lulu, buying a few copies, and do a larger press run with later on. Or, the other way around, you can print 100 or so with and order a couple at a time, as needed, after your original printing runs out from One way or the other, your total investment in prepress and printing is minimal… under $1000 for 100 copies.

The total number of dollars needed to be spent on sales and marketing for the casual hobbyist is the cost a few phone calls to friends and perhaps a little postage. These costs will be more than recovered with the free beers your friends buy you after seeing your book. When you are done, you will be the proud owner of a nice, professional looking book. Depending on whether you buy 10 or 100, you will have presents for at least the next holiday or two. Once you run out of friends, you will always have your book close by in case you run into a stranger who shows an interest. Who knows, maybe you’ll be stuck in an airport delay one day and be sitting next to Oprah and she will take an interest in you and your book. Stranger things have happened. Like I said earlier, if you set yourself up correctly in the beginning and you didn’t sign away any of your rights and own your printing file you can shift from Casual Hobbyist to Serious Hobbyist or even Self-Publishing Professional, in a hurry. Next month we’ll talk about the self-publishing costs involved for the serious hobbyist type of self-publisher.

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