Show me the money (that you’ll spend on indie publishing)

Part 6: what are the potential costs involved with indie publishing?
The good news is that you can publish an Amazon ebook for no cost.* Nada. Zilcho. Except for the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hours that you will sink into your new hobby of publishing, and which must really be called a hobby until you can start to parse an hourly wage out of it. That’s also bad news, especially if your time is a more limited and therefore valuable resource. However, as you are a writer, you’ll already know that writing and editing is a black hole for time.
The asterisk on that opening sentence relates to the fact that, if you wish to compete with professional publishers, then you have to make your own indie publishing look professional, and that’s where both small but persistent costs and larger irregular expenditures come into play. Again, if you’re a writer, you’re used to the small costs at least, because you’re already shelling out on things like stationery and postage, memberships to writing organisations, and submission fees to competitions.

It’s almost like the Euro was designed by pirates     (source)

Let’s break down the some of the areas you may spending money in.

Ebook creation software

I used Notepad++ (freeware, open source), Kindle Previewer (free) and KindleGen (also free). You may wish to investigate commercial ebook creation software, but for the purposes of these articles, those are the three programs you will need.

Potential cost: $0 to $100

Manuscript assessment, structural editing, copy editing and proofreading

Even the best writers are assigned a team of editors and proofers to thrash out the flaws in their manuscripts, and, let’s be brutally honest, we are not the best writers. Not yet. Our manuscripts will have more flaws, and less resources available to eradicate them. If you are going to spend money in one place, please spend it here, and spend it wisely, with the best assistance you can get for your dollars. It is imperative to have fresh, impartial, professional eyes evaluate your work.
I called in favours from some editors for structural and copy work on Saving Davey Gravy (it did not hurt that, as a children’s chapter book, it was a much shorter read than most novels). I sent later drafts to be read cold by my target audience – that is, the children of acquaintances. I was also able to rope in two people as proofreaders, and despite the fifteen or so revision drafts I had made to the manuscript, they were able to find half a dozen typos. One, maddeningly, in the preface, which is only three paragraphs long – a transposition of two words which I just could not spot.
You need to be able to trade ‘solids’ with people like this if you wish to save money at this stage. Build your network and be prepared to pay those favours back when they are called in. Otherwise, you’ll have to employ professional editors and proofers. It is simply a stage which cannot be skipped if you wish to produce a result of commercial quality.
Potential cost: $35 to $70 per hour (depending on the experience of the editor and the size of the project)

Cover design and layout

Unwisely, I decided to design my own cover for Saving Davey Gravy. Had I the time over again, I would have outsourced the project and recouped the money in half of the three days I spent tooling around with various mockups of the cover. (Having said that, I feel that the hours researching cover design was time well invested.)
The cover design ranks among the most important marketing tools your ebook will have, and the money you spend here will help prevent online browsers from judging your ebook as the work of an amateur. I cover this (sorry) in more detail here.
Potential cost: $200 to $500 (depending on complexity and designer experience)


The cost of ISBNs varies from country to country and largely depends on how many you wish to purchase at one time, with a block of ten generally being the same price as two ISBNs purchased individually. In Australia, a block of 10 ISBNs runs at $80, plus a one time $55 publisher registration fee. Note that an ISBN is not mandatory for publishing via Amazon.
Potential cost: $5 to $95 (depending on registration costs and number of ISBNs bought)


You don’t need to spend money on coding, do you? That’s why you’re reading this.


This is still an area which which I am feeling out, but rest assured that an entire industry has sprung up around the promotion of indie ebooks, and authors can spend any amount of money on both more traditional marketing and some newer (and ethically greyer) channels such as paid online reviews.
At the very least, you will want to set up a website to showcase yourself and your writing, and which you can link to social media profiles. You may certainly decide to set up a showcase blog on a blog site such as Blogger. (That sentence feels exactly like walking through deep mud in rubber boots.) However, the idea of digital sharecropping, a concept coined by Nicholas Carr, then comes into play. In short, it deals with the distinct possibility that these sites may one day wish to monetise your content, and that by placing content there, you may be giving them the right to do so. The terms of service for these sites can and will change – look at the recent furore caused by ToS changes to Instagram. Instagram subsequently backed down from those changes, but other social sites may not.
The process of setting up a website is something I will deal with in future articles. The cheapest and easiest option is to purchase hosting (a server space to store your website) and a domain name (a unique identifier such as, and no, you can’t have it because I was here first). Prices will vary, but you should be able to secure both for under $50 a year. From there, you install a free or commercial platform such as WordPress or Joomla, install a free or commercial theme, and add your content. Sounds simple? It’s not, exactly, but after coding your ebook you will have a greater understanding of the steps involved.
Potential cost: $0 to ? (there are a myriad of options including large scale, professional marketing services … but how useful are these for a new author with a very limited back catalogue?)

Spending money to make money

The Taleist Self-Publishing Survey recently covered the sales and expenditures of over a thousand Amazon indie publishers and found this: those that spent money on the publishing process ended up selling more copies of their books.
Makes sense, doesn’t it? Readers are more likely to buy well-edited, well-designed books with attractive covers and decent marketing. If you have the money to spare for those areas, then it makes sense to use it. However, if you are a first time author, temper that desire with a healthy dose of reality. If you are going to drop a thousand dollars on various parts of your book to get it up to speed, do not be surprised if it takes a very long time to recoup that money.
Don’t be funneling your mortgage payments into your book on the proviso that you’ll double the money in a month. I’d suspect that a good number of the authors surveyed by the Taleist crew have multiple books out, and an established fan base.

Proceed to Part 7: ‘Ebook creation software’, or return to the article index.
Return to Re: writing
While I’ve endeavoured to provide you with accurate information, what is considered ‘accurate’ will change over time. If I’m wrong, or you’d like to ask a question or share your thoughts, I’d love to hear your take on things.

Rhys About Rhys

Teacher, writer, editor, cook: a bit like that nursery rhyme, really.
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  1. Awesome read so far. Just what I’ve been looking for. (Man, I sound like a bot.)

    Typo: furore, here: look at the recent furore caused by ToS

    Any estimate on the number of hours required for editors and proofreaders by word count? Just for the sake of estimating costs?

    • Erin, you can take my British spelling when you pry it from my cold dead fingers – we can’t even let go of the Royal Family here. Glad you’re finding some value in the articles.

      I’ve trained as an editor but not really worked in the field, but I know a few people who do. Estimates for proofing and editing will vary wildly, but will position via two axes: (1) how bad is the manuscript? and (2) how good is the editor (bearing in mind that the good ones tend to cost more)?

      Editing could vary from 2-20 pages an hour (250 words/page) and proofing perhaps double this, depending on how much fact/consistency checking etc. needs to be done. As an English teacher, I’d wager you’d be at the top end of that estimate, but that’s still going to run to several hundred dollars for the average 300-400 page novel. Note that my quoted price is for Australian editors, and the minimum wage here is nearly $15, which pushes up the price of specialists accordingly.

      It’s a big cost for an indie publisher. Mutual workshopping of manuscripts with a network of committed writers (committed as in intent, not incarceration, although this could be debated) is a good way to sidestep some of this. If the final manuscript is very clean, it can almost be proofed by pre-release reviewers, assuming you can rope some people into this.

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