Cost To Publish A Book

Yesterday I rejected a blog comment by "Miriam" asking how much it costs to publish a book. I didn't reject the comment because of the question, but because of where it appeared, on a recent interview post that had nothing to do with the subject. My contact information is all over this website, if you want to ask me a question, please don't tag it onto a random blog post, just e-mail it to me. I've written more about the costs of publishing than anybody else I'm aware of, so I did a little Google experiment.

If you Google "Self Publishing Cost", the top two results are both from this website. The first discusses in depth the cost of publishing a print-on-demand book with Lightning Source. The second discusses the cost of publishing a book on an offset press. Here's an old blog post that contrasts POD with offset, and here's one that looked at color on-demand economics. Another post goes beyond printing, to the cost of editing and book design, and here's a rather long post that got into the risks and profits in publishing.

But there are two costs that I don't often write about directly, because they involve putting a price on my own time. As a self publisher, I don't purchase the rights to manuscripts, I write my own. Long time readers know that I considered publishing a book version of this blog a couple years ago, a fact I was reminded of that early this week when it showed up in the Amazon catalog:-) If I were to publish a book of blog posts today, maybe taking the top 100 of the nearly 350 posts I've written, we could estimate my time investment at over 800 hours. The vast majority of that time would be attributed to writing the posts, but there would also be time spent on selection, cover design and web management overhead. I'll leave out time spent in correspondence. If I lowball the cost of my time at $25/hour, that's a $20,000 investment. Do I believe a collection of my blog posts could earn $20,000 in gross sales (let alone net), not to mention the cost of editing and proofreading? Not a chance.

A second example would be the cost of writing the laptop repair book I'm waiting to get back from my editor. While I've been writing about the subject for years, the book was basically written from scratch, starting last summer, and involved a good deal of research into esoteric problems to distill what I thought was necessary for mainstream readers. I'd put my investment at roughly six months, and I'll let you assign my salary. Do I think I'll earn it back with the book, which I'll launch as an ebook and which may never make it to paper? No. While it's possible, it's really an example of a writing project that got under my skin until I had to finish it, but given the approach I took to the material, I think the market will be limited.

The obvious point I'm trying to hit poor Miriam over the head with here is that the cost to publish a book isn't some one line answer. I could say that none of the books that I published through Lightning Source cost me more than $100 to publish, but that would only include the setup fees. The setup fee to publish a book by any methodology is the most inconsequential cost involved. And none of the above discussion even touches on marketing, though in my case, the excerpts on my website do all the book marketing. But I hear again and again from potential self publishers who explain to me at great length that they only have a very limited budget publish their book. They also don't have any time to spend researching or promoting title, so could I just whisper the secret of success in their ears. All I can whisper is, "Good Luck".


George Alexander said...

I think you should view the $20,000 of work that went into your blog as marketing for your existing book, not as fodder for a new one. (It is certainly true in my case that reading your blog led me to buy your existing book.) If you view it from that perspective, was the $20,000 a good investment? Do you know whether you got a good return?

Morris Rosenthal said...


Lordy, I hope the $20K didn't go to marketing the POD book, that would put me waaay under water:-)

I would estimate that the blog has added, at most, about 200 sales of the POD Publishing book. The thing that makes it hard to estimate is that the blog has cannibalized quite a bit of traffic from the book excerpts on my site, so some of the blog's marketing success is really just moving marbles from one pocket to another. But if we credit the blog all 200 of those sales, that means I was losing over $90 each. So, I prefer thinking that the book was a modest success, and the blog is an utter marketing failure.

Granted, most of that is my fault. If I'd been willing to sell my time as a publishing consultant, I've gotten plenty of requests that were due to the blog. It's also helped get me a couple of press passes to publishing events as a blogger. But my main complain about blogging is how inefficient it is if you don't join the blogosphere and treat it as a social networking tool.


ccsteve said...


While the setup fee may not be such a big deal in the overall cost of publishing, I contrast that with paying someone else to publish... (And your position against that was nice to see on your blog long ago)

It is a world of difference to pay to get your own book to the market (acting as your own publisher) versus paying your editor to do the same.

I was happy to pay for the ISBN for The LinkedIn Personal Trainer myself, and balked at paying thousands to get a publisher to do all of that and get me 50 copies...-)

Perhaps the part that sunk them further was when I said I needed to be able to see more success with them to cover the cost of publishing with them, and they indicated that I shouldn't expect to sell more than a hundred copies of the book - ever...

And on marketing and blog success - with what you're doing, I don't think you can tie one activity like blogging to "just" the stream of income from the blog itself.

If you didn't blog, you might not come up with some of your other ideas - or even more simply - you might not be as happy as you are living the life that you live;-)

In any case, thanks for your efforts.