Technically, it can be free to self-publish but it's important to consider why you're self-publishing when considering the potential costs.
If writing a book is a lifetime goal, then spending some money to make the book the best it can be is important to make that experience complete.
If writing is a hobby, then consider how much money people spend on hobbies in general. Any hobby has some expenses associated with it.
If you are considering writing as a career, then the costs associated with quality publishing are an investment in creating an intellectual property asset that can put money in your pocket for the rest of your life and 70 years after you die according to copyright law. That is truly exciting, and I go into more detail in my book, How to Make a Living with Your Writing.
What are the main costs of self-publishing?
If you're doing this yourself without an author services company, as I do, the main costs for self-publishing are:
Most authors recommend using a professional editor in order to make your book the best it can be, but the cost will depend on the level of your writing, how long the book is, how much editing it needs and the editor you choose. Range: $300 – $2000.
In my own experience, editing is most expensive at the beginning of your writing career as you learn the craft. But it's also one of the best investments you can make in order to become a better writer, and I continue to use editors for all of my books. Click here or the image below if you need a pro editor.
Professional cover design
Most authors would also recommend paying a professional cover designer for a book cover. DIY just won't cut it in this competitive online environment and your book cover is the most powerful marketing asset you have. Range: $50 – $300.
Lots more information and links to book cover designers here.
Many authors do their own formatting in order to retain control, so this is often free if you're willing to spend the time upfront learning how to do it. Range: $50 – $200. Links to formatters here.
These are the main outgoings in order to get your book published as an ebook and print book.
Remember, the actual publishing part is FREE on all the ebook retailers and also for print on Createspace. It's the preparation of the manuscript and files that costs.
There may be other costs associated with marketing, e.g. building an author website (here's my tutorial on how you can do this quickly and cheaply), email list management, advertising and other activities you choose to do.
If you choose to use an author services company to help you do these tasks, it's likely to cost a lot more, so weigh up what your goals are and what you're willing to learn to do yourself before you commit.
What if you want help to publish?
Some people find the publishing side too much of a hassle and would rather pay someone else to do it for them. That’s fine and of course, it’s up to you how much work you want to do yourself.
Publishing these days is not just a binary choice between traditional publishing with an advance vs. self-publishing and doing it all yourself. There are myriad options along the scale and lots of companies that can help you. Many of these companies are fantastic but many of them are sharks, so you need to be careful.
My recommendation is to spend a couple of dollars and save yourself thousands. Buy Choosing A Self-Publishing Service by the Alliance of Independent Authors, available on all the ebook stores. It’s a guide to self-publishing services written by authors, for authors, with no vested interest in the companies described.
You can also join the Alliance and take advantage of the collective knowledge, as well as becoming part of a growing community. I’m a Member and Advisor and I do monthly Q&A sessions with the founder, Orna Ross. You can find the archive here if you’re interested.
How do you get paid as a self-published author?
I've been self-publishing for years now, but it still gives me a real thrill to get my royalty payments every month!
It can be hard to imagine when you're just starting out, but many authors are now making decent money from their self-published books. Some make enough for a nice dinner every month, others are running six and seven-figure businesses based on book sales, with every variation in between. Check out AuthorEarnings.com for up-to-date reports on what authors are making with book sales.
So how does the money work as a self-published author?
Check the various platforms' Help pages for up-to-date terms and conditions but basically, they all work in a similar way.
It's free to put your book up for sale, and the retailer takes a percentage of the sale.
Amazon offers a 70% royalty to authors when pricing ebooks between $2.99 – $9.99 and 35% outside that range or for specific regions if the book isn't in KDP Select. Kobo and iBooks offer 70%, Nook 60%, Smashwords and Draft2Digital around 60% if you're using them to distribute to the other stores or 85% for direct sales.
You will need to add your bank details into the various platforms, although authors in some countries will need to be paid by cheque.
Amazon, Kobo, iBooks and Nook pay by direct bank deposit in the author's currency, if it's one of the common ones. So I get paid in GBP in the UK even for my global sales in other currencies. Smashwords and Draft2Digital pay by PayPal.
Most of the retailers pay monthly, 60 days after the end of the month of sales. So I'm paid at the end of October for sales in August. Smashwords pays quarterly.
You will need to fill in your tax information. For non-US citizens, you will need to complete a tax form in order to avoid a 30% withholding tax which will cut into your income severely. But this is not a big deal. Just follow this helpful advice page from indie author, Karen Inglis.
You can check and download reports to reconcile your payments to individual sales so the whole process is transparent.
OK, we’re done. Now you can go and self-publish!
You can get learn more in Successful Self-Publishing, which is free in ebook format.