Don’t get Scammed on Self-publishing: What are Reasonable Costs?


There have been a lot of numbers thrown around lately about the cost of self-publishing. These range from zero to thousands of dollars. I was recently inspired to do a post on navigating though some of the costs of putting a book out, and what might be considered reasonable. A couple of months ago I was encouraging a new writer to self-publish a book he had just finished. I gave him a few websites to check out and left him to investigate. This almost cost him a bundle, for which I would have felt terrible. I had left out one piece of very important advice: be careful.

After running a small business for almost twenty years, the most important thing I’ve learned — and self-publishing is running your own business — is to keep your expenses low.

The massive shift in publishing we’ve seen in the past six years has opened the doors for many writers who may have thought it only a dream before. With the rise in self-publishing, there has also been a rise in services to help those who need it, and who can afford it. Unfortunately, if not careful, there are those who might also use this opportunity to take advantage of people looking for help.

Anyone has made it to “The End” of their book knows the feeling…especially their first. It is thrilling, exciting and you are full of both anticipation and questions of what to do next. This is where I could see writers being enticed by some groups offering to “take care of everything”…for a price. In my case, I figured out the writing part, and quite enjoy it. The rest was more like work, but I did my research. I read a lot and figured out a way to get my books out there that didn’t take much investment. It can be an overwhelming for writers at a time when they want most to have their book published. I personally was so overwhelmed with the process, I avoided it and just kept writing. In fact I wrote four books and roughed another before I said, “This is ridiculous…just figure it out and get it done!”

We are lucky to have a couple of watchdog resources Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors that keep an eye out and warn writers of scams.

It’s one thing to warn people about keeping costs low on not getting scammed, but I thought I’d take it a step further and share my experience and some of the research I’d found, in publishing my first three books. There are a number of potentially large costs when publishing which I’ll break down: your rights, editing and proofing, cover design and marketing.

Your Rights
This could be the greatest cost of all! Do not get talked into selling your rights. With the current copyright laws, you own your Intelectual Property (IP) rights for your lifetime plus seventy years. That’s a long time and potentially a lot of money. That means your kids, grandkids and maybe great grandkids can still benefit from your work when your gone! And, nobody knows which books will take off, or when. If you do choose to sell your rights to a publisher, make sure you understand what it means. Don’t get caught up in the excitement or in the praise or promises of a person or group offering to help. It is a contract and when the relationship goes sour or when checks are written, the contract is all that matters.

Editing and Proofing
1. Editing
I opted to do the editing myself to save some money. From what I’ve read, hiring a professional editor will run you between $800 to $2000 depending on how much work is involved. If you choose that route, find one familiar to your genre. I did a lot of reading on plot development, proper flow, how to edit and will be doing a future post on the process I’ve come up with for editing. If you are going to do it on your own, I advise you to check out these sites. There are lots out there, but I really enjoy these.
Alexandra Sokoloff’s Screenwriting Tricks
Beyond Paper Editing
Elizabeth Spann Craig
Helping Writers Become Authors
Writer’s Muse

A few more thoughts on editing.
A wonderful reader of this post, who has more editing experience than I, pointed out that my estimates could be considered low in the professional editing world. I in no way mean to imply that paying more for editing would be a rip off. Nor do I imply that a professional editor wouldn’t be worth their cost. Editing is hard to put an estimate on as it totally depends on what is needed, the skill of the writer, and how involved the editor has to be. Of course, there are other obvious variables like the length of the book and how complicated it is. I based these estimates on recent articles on what some other self-published authors pay, such as Joe Konrath, Joanna Penn, and Iain Rob Wright. These are all very talented and experienced writers, and I would expect that as the skill level of the writer increases, their cost should decrease as well. For new authors, watching their pennies, who want to involve a professional editor, I’d recommend sitting down with one (or what ever digital equivalent you choose) and ask how to get their help while keeping your costs low. Here’s a link to the recommended fee guide for the Editorial Freelancers Association for a reference on what you should expect paying.

2. Professional Proofreading
At a minimum, even if you do everything else yourself, I consider this a must. When working on Going Under: A Bill Roberts Thriller, I wanted it perfect. Even when I thought it was totally error free, I re-read it, slowly and carefully, looking for errors. The proofreader still found errors and recommendations. Some were typos, others were wording changed that made it flow better.

Our brains are wired to gloss over our own errors. In a
great article on why we miss our own typos, psychologist Tom Stafford states: “…we take in sensory information and combine it with what we expect, and we extract meaning.” When we’re reading other peoples’ work, this helps us arrive at meaning faster by using less brain power. When we’re proof reading our own work, we know the meaning we want to convey. Because we expect that meaning to be there, it’s easier for us to miss when parts (or all) of it are absent. The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our head.”

To find a proofreader, try asking friends who have used one, or send off an email to a self-published author who you like, and ask who they use. I used the professional proofreader that Joe Konrath recommends, Chereese at Grammarrulesatoz. She charges a flat rate of $1.50 a page and was great to work with. Well worth it in my opinion.

Cover Design
This is an area you can save some money if you are artistic and a little computer savvy. I am neither. I read a lot of background information on what goes into a good cover. You can read my post on working with a cover designer here. The same points apply to designing your own. There are many tutorials on how to design a cover. I tried many and eventually concluded that my time was better spent elsewhere.

There are a number of sites that have pre-made covers. Prices seem to range from $25 to $100 for pre-mades. There are many good sites out there…again, ask around. I’ve worked with Marianne at premadeebookcovershop and would recommend her services.
If you can’t find a pre-made cover that suits your book, you can have a custom cover designed.

When it comes to custom covers there seems to be two options, going with a design auction service, such as 99 Designs, Logo Design Guru, and Fiverr.

I’ve used Logodesignguru for a business project and was happy with the process and results. Here’s a post by Lindsay Buroker on how to get the best results working with Fiverr.

The second option, working with a designer on a custom cover was my choice and I wrote a post on it. I went with Marianne at premadeebookcovershop and was very happy with the process and final result. She charges $155 for a custom cover which is a great price. The ranges I’ve seen are between $155 and $600. I know you can pay more but I don’t see why you would, especially until you’re established.

I would advise new writers to start small and work up. Start with what you can afford. I went with Amazon KDP Select and opted to use every free promo site I could to run a giveaway. I was new to social media so sent out tweets about the promo and did a post on my blog. I was very happy with the results, and it didn’t cost me a cent. There are many options for marketing. There are a few big players like BookBub who will charge for a promo but you need a number of good reviews to be considered. If you think you could get them to run your book, it sounds like it could speed things up and is worth considering. I will definitely try them once I get the reviews behind my books. There are many sites on marketing your books.

In summary, my first book cost me $155 for the cover and $260 for proofreading (in USD).

Look for Other Creative Publishing Solutions
There are also creative ways to get a book out where you can save even more. My second book, White Lady, was part of the Jack Daniels & Associates Kindle World launch. Amazon through the negotiations of Joe Konrath agreed to pay us a bonus of 2 cents a word for our work, which I gather isn’t very common. As well, Joe agreed to pay for a custom cover, proofreading and formatting. Because a number of us had other works we wanted to put into KW, but didn’t have time to make the launch date, he has agreed to pay for the same production costs (without the Amazon bonus) if we get it in by a certain date. These are two books that will be promoted by Joe Konrath and Amazon, that didn’t cost me a thing.

Here’s a link to an interview of four other authors and their experience on the cost of self-publishing.

So please, take my advice…be careful. Think about your options and make sure the budget is right for you. You don’t need to spend a lot, and you sure don’t have to sign over the rights to your IP.

And the friend I mentioned in the beginning? He was offered a deal whereby for $3000, they would “take care of everything.” They may very well have done just that, but he’s since decided to figure out what he can on his own.

If you have any figures of your own, or words of wisdom you could share on the topic, please leave them in the comments.

Write on,

Silas Payton


22 thoughts on “Don’t get Scammed on Self-publishing: What are Reasonable Costs?

  1. Thank you so much for this post, Silas. It’s true about proofreading your own work, you remember what you have written, and therefore, that’s what you see. I print out what I want to proofread and use a program called “Natural Reader” to read the computer copy for me. Then I follow along with the printed copy with a highlighter in my hand. You can set the reading speed of the program to give you plenty of time to keep up. The voices are, as the program name suggests, natural sounding. You can have male or female voices and a choice of American, British, French and a couple of other accents/languages. LOL that sounds like a paid commercial, but it really is good. Thanks also for the information about book covers. I’m almost at that stage.


    • Thanks for commenting Lyn, and for the info on Natural Reader. I haven’t used it but it looks very good. I see they have it available for the iPad as well. I’m editing like crazy for a deadline so I’ll try it out. I appreciate your input.


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for including me! You wrote an awesome post. Writers should definitely be aware of the “Preditors and Editors” site. Also, I had no idea it was so affordable to self publish these days. Thanks for letting us all know. I’m sure I would’ve been scammed otherwise.


    • Thanks Erin. I have been inspired and helped by so many in the writing world and have found that anyone I’ve asked has been more than willing to help. I strive to do the same. There is so much on the internet…mainly good…but some bad, I wanted to help guide people through some of the tough decisions. Thanks for commenting.



  3. Amen! I have been diligently trying to reach out and let authors know that it’s easier and more affordable than they think. I feel like there are a lot of shady people out there ripping people off. The more you can do yourself, the more you profit from your writing.


  4. Hi Ava,
    Thanks for coming by and commenting. It looks like you have a lot of good pointers on your website. I agree. There is a lot people can do themselves. It all depends on their own financial situation. If someone can afford to drop some cash and speed up the process, it might be worth it to them, especially if they can spend more time writing. I’ve spent countless hours figuring all this out and wanted to save someone else the bother, while decreasing the likelihood of them making a decision they might regret.



    • I’ve spent a lot of time on your site and reading your book Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, and wanted others to hear about it. Thanks for coming by and commenting.



  5. Thanks for the informative article.
    After having no luck securing a literary agent for a novel I had written, I decided to self-publish. For practice, I used Amazon to publish two Kindle Shorts and a collection of short stories, joining the ranks of “indie authors” instead of using a vanity press–though I would love to leave all the business details to someone else and just write. I think the cost is too high for the returns, whereas Amazon charges nothing. For my novel that never found a home, I hired an editor (at a very affordable price) and will go the Amazon route again when I think it’s ready–probably near the end of the year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi W.K. Sorry it took so long to respond…my notification got lost in the shuffle. I agree, it would be nice to just write and leave the rest to others. However, like you say, the cost is too high. I put off the publishing/marketing aspect for too long and kept writing. I’m now getting my head around it. I’m trying to organize my blog and social media so it be efficient and effective without too much time commitment. I look forward to getting back to writing soon. Let me know if you have any self-publishing questions.

      Thanks for commenting,

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for your kind offer of help; I may take you up on it if I get in a bind. I am also a bit behind on responding to comments in a timely manner. I’m currently on a exhausting two-week road trip/vacation in the desert southwest. When I get home, I’ll have a lot of catching up to do–work wise and re writing and social media.
        By the way, my friends know me as Kathy. 🙂


    • Thank you Diana. I’m glad you liked it. In my opinion, we all do better when we help each other. I really don’t want to see anyone get burned or to spend so much it takes the fun out of self-publishing. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Silas


  6. Hi Silas,
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  7. Great and informative post, Silas. Like you, I’ve been reading lots of information and books on writing, and like you, I’ve been concentrating more on the writing and avoiding that last step. I’ve paid for a developmental edit and am in the final process of getting a great cover. Won’t be long now!


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