The ‘Real’ Cost of Publishing: How to Publish on a Limited Budget

I’ve been rich (not really, but saying it sure makes me feel better and there’s always the lottery). I’ve been poor (stupid lottery). I’ve been traditionally published. I’ve been self-published.

Now for the big reveal…(drumroll, please).

Both options can be very expensive. No matter what my title implies.

If you indie publish, all the things a traditional publisher does are now on your head. That means you have to pay for cover art, editing, proofing, formatting, print copies, reviews from Kirkus and PW, on and on…

If you traditionally publish, marketing is on you. And often times review copies are too.

My next publishing adventure will be done all by myself (sort of). That being so, and me being a really BIG nerd with a love of spreadsheets, I created a budget for Cuffed: A Detective Goldie Locks’ Tale. Mind you, these are merely my own estimates. Some of it is on the cheap side, while other items are more expensive. Pick and choose the pieces that fit your project.

Here it is:

kazimer bannerBudget for Cuffed     Total  
Editing/Copy $25 per hour 18 hours $450
Cover design $200
Back Cover Copy $50 Since I suck at writing it myself
Formatting $150 0 Do it myself
ISBN $125 per 10 for $250 $250
Print Copies $4.75 per book 50 $237.50
Pre- Pub Reviews
- Kirkus $425 $425
- PW $149 $149
- BlueInk $396 $396
Publicist $2000
BookBub $365 free promo $365 If accepted
Swag $200
Professional Marketer $45 per hour 10 $450
Other promo sites $300 $300
TOTAL $5,473

Now I don’t have five grand lying around, unless this Powerball ticket is a winner. So I’ll have to improvise in a lot of ways. Maybe try a Kickstarter, though I don’t have many fans, family or friends. You’re feeling sorry for me. That means it’s the perfect time to ask you, dear reader, for $5k.

If you noticed, I saved about $150 for formatting since I’ll be doing the layout myself. I possibly will save another $400 by choosing not to advertise with BlueInk or if Bookbub doesn’t accept my FREE promo.

You get the idea. I’d love to hear from other indie authors about additional expenses I missed or tips on overall budgets. Also, traditional pubbed authors, weigh in on what you budget for.

Now about that check…

J.A. (Julie) Kazimer on Email
J.A. (Julie) Kazimer
J.A. (Julie) Kazimer is a writer living in Denver, CO. When she isn't looking for a place to hide the bodies, she spends her time with a pup named Killer. Other hobbies include murdering houseplants. She spent a few years as a bartender and then wasted another few years stalking people while working as a private investigator before transitioning to the moniker of WRITER and penning over 15 titles. Visit her website at

22 thoughts on “The ‘Real’ Cost of Publishing: How to Publish on a Limited Budget

  1. Well, after I run down and get some more lottery tickets (my last 4 $ purchase netted $2!), I’m coming home to cry. I guess I was lucky that I had the luxury of professional editing from Lyrical the first round before they sold and I got my rights back. It saved me a bunch of editing cost when I self-published it. I paid more for my front and back cover art, though. This is the reason I wrote the upcoming blog about making money while you write a novel – I can’t afford this “habit” without something to supplement my income. Thanks for giving us info from someone who knows a lot about it. Now at least I know what I’m shooting for. I look forward to any responses on traditional publishing costs. Thanks, Julie!

  2. Hi Terri, I agree. My first few self-pubbed books had little in the way of indie standards and zero marketing, which is what I plan to spill my dough into this time. Foolish me. Stupid habit. If you win the lottery, remember who made you play…

  3. Hmmm. Seeing it all written down on a spreadsheet like that is scary. I think I’ll stick to searching for a new traditional publisher (now that Five Star will no longer handle contemporary mysteries). With a traditional publishing contract, my cash expenses are those related to book promotion (conferences and conventions, bookmarks, the launch party refreshments, giveaways, etc. etc.).

  4. Some thoughts from a guy who makes his living at this.

    This is a wonderful budget but I think you’re spending money on things that your tradpub brain tell you are needed but which your selfpub brain hasn’t yet seen as only marginally useful.

    You’re pretty good up to the point where you buy 50 copies. What are these for?

    The ISBNs are questionable. You don’t need one for an ebook and more than half of all ebooks don’t use them. You will need one for a paperback, if you want your own branding on the book (but that limits some of your distribution choices when you get into CreateSpace – they want you to use theirs). And your math is off. At 20 for $250, they’re only $25 each. You’ll have some left for your next project. I bought a hundred a couple of years ago and I’m glad I did.

    Your pre-pub reviews are expensive and are unlikely to do anything for your sales to people who buy indie books. Kirkus, PW, and Blueink are trade pubs and while you can include their reviews in your product description, they are only marginally useful in the one thing you really need – readers to find your books.

    Publicist? No. As an indie, this is money you should be putting against a good editor. Likewise professional marketer. These people won’t necessarily hurt you (although I’ve seen them suggest really horrible advice), but they’re unlikely to help you to the degree that they’re going to earn back the amount you’re paying.

    Think of it in terms of how many books you need to sell in order to earn that money back.

    At 4.99, you’ll earn – roughly – $3.25 per sale.

    Publicist ($2000) – 616 sales.
    Professional Marketer ($450) – 139 sales.
    Kirkus ($425) – 130 sales
    PW ($149) – 46 sales

    That’s 931 additional sales you need to make before you begin to break even. At 10 books a day that’s three more months. Sure your release will probably generate more than that, but a $5000 budget means you need 1449 sales to break even and over half of those are to pay for things that you really don’t need.

    My budget:

    $1200 for editing. Every penny I spend here earns a dollar back.
    $250 for cover art. Every penny I spend here earns two dollars back.
    $10 for an ISBN for the paperback.
    $10 for proof copies of paper.

    I format and layout myself because I know how and it’s easy.

    Round it up to $1500.

    That’s 461 sales to break even. I’ll earn that back in the first 12 hours of a new release, but I’ve got an audience, a fanbase, and – most importantly – what Seth Godin calls “a tribe.”

    Tribes cost only time and membership. You’re already in one. Why not leverage it.

    JMO. YMMV.

    • Hi Nathan,

      All excellent points. Couple of things, and I don’t disagree that I’m coming from a traditional publication mindset for some. First, the ISBN math isn’t off, but a package deal, buy 10 for $250. I should’ve added that. My bad.

      Secondly, I think you do need proof copies. I sell books at conferences. I give signed copies away. I also consign to some indie stores. I’ve made the mistake of only viewing my self-publishing via ebook sales. In fact, I was adamant about not needing print books. But you do.

      Pre-pub reviews are also something I question. I’m not sure I’ll bother, but it’s in the budget in case. Same with publicist. I don’t know that they do any good, but I’m trying to branch out.

      Great breakdown of your budget. Cover and editing are tops for anyone thinking of self-publishing!



  5. Good advice and I appreciate Nathan’s comment too. I am self published. I have no money to do hardly anything. I do pay from a good editor. I’ve paid for a book cover that was no good and now I have a free one up. Right now, everything is an e-book. I’ll be putting up the sequel this year along with a short story with some of the same characters. I will buy ISBN this year. My biggest decision this year will be, go I get a new book cover so they all are similar in the series? I wish I had more money too.

  6. I lucked out with the book I self-published in 2014 because I used to design covers and format books, so that saved some money. I also have a great beta reader group who are editors AND writers, so I saved on editing because we trade edits. But I had to pay for the ISBN, the book tour, prizes, advertising, and the rest, which still added up to hundreds. I didn’t make back my investment, but I absolutely expected that. It’s all about the long-term, so I was okay with that.

    However, now that I’ve written the next book, I’m in a bit of a rut. I canceled my Adobe InDesign subscription because I decided to focus on my full-time job and writing, so I’ll have to pay for an interior designer now. For print and epub, that really adds up. I still have my excellent beta group, so I will save on editing. But the rest is money I probably won’t be able to save up for quite some time.

    Which leads to my issue: I have a second book in a series, with the first book self-pubbed. I know some traditional publishers might take a look, but since I didn’t have mega sales I’m much less likely to be picked up, even with a second book that’s not been published. Totally understandable on their part, so I’m not upset about that. That said, I’m going to have to start a new series/brand targeted to a traditional publisher, and maybe later I will be able to either afford to publish my self-pubbed series on my own, or hope that if I do find a trad pub later that they might consider my previous works.

    I’m considering this a hard lesson learned 🙂

    • Hi Violet,

      That’s all how I rolled in my first couple of self-pubbed books. Most are short story collections, so I don’t feel I lost out on anything a traditional publisher could offer.

      Can you query the second book as a stand alone for a traditional publisher? I wouldn’t mention the self-pubbed one until you have a hook in.

      Best of luck and thanks for the wise input!



  7. Thanks to Julie for mentioning a topic that probably should be discussed more often within RMFW. Lots of people are struggling with how to publish their stories, and as long as the traditional route remains so difficult, the only viable option a lot of people have is self-publishing. I have a novel that I will be querying soon, but other people’s experiences with agents and publishers don’t give me much hope that my book will sell.
    As I’ve looked into self-publishing as an alternative, I’ve been surprised at how different marketing ebooks is from marketing paper books. Marketing seems to be the majority of the costs in Julie’s spreadsheet, so it seems important to learn how to spend marketing money wisely.
    I particularly appreciate Nathan taking the time to describe his self-publishing experience and how he markets his books. Kindle Books a new world, and they do things differently there.

    • Hi Mike,

      Never give up hope that you’ll be the breakthrough novel. It does happen. To a few people in our group. Thanks for your insights too, from a fresh perspective. Yes, marketing tends to be the most expensive ad time consuming as you walk a very thin line between annoying and well done.

      Best of luck!


  8. The book I’m publishing dictates how much I spend. That can be anywhere from $100-$500. I rarely go over that. When I first started out and had no money to spend, I did my own covers (or enlisted eager friends), did my own formatting, used beta readers and friends for editing, and my only expense was in pizza, beer, my proofs, copies for friends and betas, and marketing efforts. I can still put out a book for around $150-$200 if I want to. But I do tend to pay for editing and cover art nowadays. I’ve recently redone some covers on old books and had some older stuff re-edited. But I can afford it now. And before anyone asks – my early self-pubbed stuff that I spent no more than $100 to produce did REALLY well (despite some flaws) and helped me build the audience I have today. So it goes to show you that readers can be forgiving of a few typos if you have a good story. Not that I’m advocating for typos, just saying that 3 typos in a 60K MS isn’t the deal breaker for the majority of readers if you have good content. Of course there will always be that one grammar-nazi who will correct your character’s misuse of the word “lay” in dialogue or flip out over a single typo. ::sigh:: There’s no getting around that. People, even editors, are human. We all miss things. Even editors I’ve paid for have missed the occasional typo.

    • Also – I only use my ISBNs on two of my pen names. The books that are more popular I usually do through CS, hardcovers through Lulu on non-fiction, and none on the ebooks unless I’m putting them in the iStore. I’ve learned that most of my readers don’t seem to care who my publisher is (or if I have one). They just want a good story and have learned they can trust me to give them one they’ll like. It’s other writers who care about who’s published by who.

      • Great points. My first few self-pubbed titles I put out for nothing, did the covers, did the editing via a friend who’s an editor, or used critique groups. Learned formatting. Yes, you can put out books that way.Nothing wrong with it at all. For me, I am look for more than I currently have for an audience so I’m trying something different. And I probably won’t use have the budget. I’m guessing I’ll come in under 2k. Which is crazy.

        Love your typo talk. I find, and I hope this is true of others, a typo or three is fine, it’s the story that matters. If I’m in it, I don’t care but if I’m already bored a typo makes for a good excuse to toss it.

        I’d love to hear more about how you gained your audience.

        Thanks for the insights!

        • I honestly wish I knew how I grew my audience. With my occult, paranormal, and horror titles, it was all about getting out there and talking to people. Hanging out in those communities and just chatting with them. With the erotic romance and paranormal romance, I threw it out there as an experiment, and next thing I knew – I was on top of the bestseller lists. Right place at the right time? Sheer luck? I’m not sure, but word of mouth spread like wildfire and my Anne O’Connell books sell steady and have ever since. They would probably do better if I was consistent and stuck to a formula. There was one point where I was selling over 6000 books in a month’s time. My problem is, as both a reader and a writer, I can’t write the same story (or type of story) over and over again. I get bored. In the romance realm, that’s kind of what readers want. So because I’ve veered off my initial path, I’ve gained some readers and lost others. Some readers loved the first book in my Gilded Lily series, but hated the other two. With the fourth book I’m going back to where I started to see if it does anything for my readers (and sales). But mostly – I just talk to people and make sure they know where my books are. I am probably selling about 1000 units a month (or thereabouts) these days, which is a huge drop from where I was. I know it isn’t a lot compared to some indies I know, but it’s not bad. ::shrug::

  9. I think, and this is with my experience as an indie just about one full year in, that you need to research before you start tossing out money. I do think that a cover is essential, and preferably someone who understands your genre, and can make it beautiful while staying within what draws readers to that genre. I also think editing is imperative. To me, that’s the best investment of money spent.

    The rest is negotiable. Right now, I’m working with authors doing cross promo that doesn’t cost anything. And a lot of the promo sites that are legit usually have a free version. It’s not a lot – but I know the first promo I did was after much reading and studying. I listed my book on seven sites – and spent $70. I chose carefully, for my genre, and ROI based on the experiences of other authors. I got over 4000 downloads and decent buy-through on that book.

    It can be done on a budget. What it takes, as Nathan said above, is time. I put time into reading author boards, and seeing what was working, and what wasn’t, for other authors. It took me some time to develop a marketing plan – and right now, I only have it in place for my pen name.

    Having just done my taxes, I didn’t spend as much as was listed. I don’t think you need to, outside of cover and editing. And if you get a Bookbub, DO IT! Spend the cash! That’s one of the few things I see nearly unanimous opinion on in regards to ROI and whether or not it’s worth it.

    I totally get behind paying someone to do what you cannot, or don’t want, to do. But I think if you’re going to be indie publishing, and you can do it, you should at least try. Then you have a better understanding of what is involved, and what it’s worth to pay someone to do it for you.

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