If you publish your book the traditional way, it shouldn’t cost you anything. But if you want to self-publish, chances are you’ll need a little cash to do it. I can only speak as to my experience, but if you want to know what it takes to self-publish, read on!
The first potential cost of publishing a book - other than the opportunity cost of time it takes to write it - is in hiring an editor. Now I don’t do that. I edit my own books, both to reduce costs and because I actually enjoy it. But hiring an editor is another option…and it can be an expensive one.
Having someone proofread your manuscript - offering spelling and grammar suggestions, as well as word usage suggestions - might cost around 0.5 cents per page, or $500 for a 100,000-page manuscript. Having someone do copyediting - which includes the above, plus suggestions on writing style - might cost several times that. One company I know of charges $1500 per 100,000 pages.
The second potential cost is in designing a book cover. Sure, you can do it yourself - and if you’re an experienced graphic designer, give it a go - but otherwise I’d recommend spending money on this. The price range varies, but I spend about $600 to $800 per cover. That includes the ebook and paperback covers, and some promotional images.
The third cost is for your website. Personally, I use Squarespace. The domains cost around $20 each a year to maintain, and the web design tools are a couple hundred bucks a year.
The fourth cost is in buying proofs and paperbacks for yourself and any conventions you might want to go to, as well as for giving local libraries and bookstores a few copies. For me - for books in the 150,000 to 200,000 word range - it costs about $6-$7 a book.
The fifth potential cost is advertising. Sure, you don’t have to advertise, but it can help. It’s certainly helped me get the word out on my books, and makes a demonstrable difference in book sales. I advertise through Amazon, Google, Goodreads, and Facebook. It costs about 20-40 cents per link click, and for me it’s only worthwhile for book series. Getting people to buy the first book means they might buy the second and third. But if there’s only one book in the series, it’ll be hard to make a profit through Google and Facebook ads, at least in my experience.
The sixth potential cost is conventions. I go to Readercon and the World Fantasy Convention every year, and with flights and hotel costs, it can run up a tab of thousands of dollars a year.
The seventh potential cost is doing the audiobook. If you go through ACX, this can be free if you share profits with your narrator, or cost thousands of dollars if you don’t. It cost roughly $16,000 to do the first three books of the Runic series. I could have gone through a traditional audiobook publisher like Tantor, and I would’ve gotten a few hundred dollars per book and had the audiobooks made at no cost to me.
As you can see, it can be really cheap or really expensive to self-publish, depending on how much you choose to do yourself. As a sole proprietor in the U.S., these are tax-deductible, which helps.
Of course, the question you might be asking yourself is whether or not your book sales will ever make enough money to net a profit. I can’t answer this for you - it depends on your book, after all - but in my case I’ve been lucky enough to more than break even with my self-published books. Ultimately, you have to write a book that lots of other people want to read, then find a way to get the word out.
I hope this helps with those of you that are thinking of going down the self-published road in the future!