How much does it cost to self-publish a book? Our example: “In Tents” by Andy Kaiser

This post is about self-publishing costs, measured in US dollars and time spent. While I’ve self-published several books, In Tents was a little different, and justifies a writeup. Unlike my other books, In Tents was published using a version of specific steps that I intend to repeat.

For some earlier books, I made my own cover art. For all of them, I never hired an editor or a typesetter, and otherwise skimped on the process more than I should have. In Tents is the first book I’ve self-published where I didn’t cut any corners, and took reasonable time, energy and money to make the best book I could. I’ll refine this later, but so far I’m happy with what this effort got me. This will be my template for future books.

How much did it cost to self-publish In Tents? Here is a breakdown of dollars and hours. Direct links to all services are included in the “Money Spent” section below.

Time invested to create “In Tents”: 166 hours

  1. Book design, concept, world-building and high-level plotting: I spent my time on this one different than my usual method of solo coffee shop brainstorming. The weekly writing group I attend took a side project to run through exercises in John Truby’s “The Anatomy of Story”, and the skeleton of In Tents was born from those exercises. Approximately 8 sessions at 2 hours of effort each: 16 hours.
  2. First draft: I wrote 47,000 words in 17 chapters in 140 days. It takes me about five hours to complete a chapter. For each chapter, add another two hours for a review process with my awesome weekly writing group. So that’s 7 hours X 17 chapters = 119 hours.
  3. Second draft: This was a faster review to fix problems and add improvements based on my writing group feedback. Approximately 8 hours.
  4. Third draft: I took the book to the excellent editor-on-demand services of Bodie Dykstra. My work with him took about another 5 hours.
  5. Fourth draft: I ended up printing, reviewing, and revising three proof copies before I was satisfied. Another 5 hours.
  6. Paperback, ebook setup for publication and distribution: Creating the paper and ebook project on Amazon print services, submitting it for publication approval, tweaking, etc. This was about 3 hours.
  7. Audiobook setup for publication and distribution: ACX provides this service. My job is to audition readers and audio producers, pick what I like, and work with them as they generate audio files for the book. About 5 hours.
  8. Cover art: Time spent managing the book cover creation, rescaling the art for audiobook, and other small miscellaneous things. About 5 hours.

Money spent to create “In Tents”: $1470

  1. Cover art: I used CrowdSpring and paid an artist to create the artwork. CrowdSpring provides an auction-type of setup where many artists compete to provide art, and then a majority of my cost goes to the winning artist (who I pick, or in a worst case, I don’t pick anyone and I get most of my money back). In this case, the total cost for a Gold Package and a $500 reward for the winning artist was $890.
  2. Editing: I used the excellent editing services of Bodie Dykstra at BDEditing to get a “single-pass edit”. This price is based on book length. In my case, the total was $371.
  3. Publishing: For ebook and paperback formatting, Bodie Dykstra also runs a formatting service at BD Book Design. He cleaned up everything I wanted cleaned, created professional layout and formatting, then gave me the result: Files suitable for publishing (a PDF for paperback, a MOBI for Kindle/Amazon, and an EPUB for B&N and others). I got a discount because I used other services from BDEditing as well. Cost was $143.
  4. Amazon setup: Putting the book online for purchase via Kindle Direct Publishing takes a little time, but it’s cheap. Cost was $0.
  5. Proof copies: After setup on KDP, you need to approve your book – make sure it’s what you want to print before the world sees it. I bought and reviewed three proof copies before I was satisfied. Proof copies (including shipping) were $7.21 each, so three of those were about $22.
  6. Audiobook setup: Done with ACX and audio producer Ryan Francona, the cost is $0 (I chose this option – I share 50% profit with the producer, versus paying for their work up front).
  7. Research material: In Tents is about a supernatural circus. While researching, I ended up purchasing this CD and DVD set – the “Super Combo Offer”. This collection has ancient circus sights, sounds and re-creations that helped me get in the mood as I built the world and story. I also purchased “The Anatomy of Story”, by John Truby to work through book design exercises with my writing group. Cost was $30 for the CD/DVD set, and $14 for the book. $44 total.
  8. Other aspects: These are things I paid money for a long time ago. While I need them to write and publish, these costs are not included in this project – given my lifestyle, job and hobbies, they’d be in my life anyway: There’s this website, of course, for which I pay for site hosting and a domain. I already have an LLC in place that handles any money I make from writing. I have a license of Microsoft Word for writing, and computers to write on. And I love my clacky, ugly, heavy, mechanical keyboard.

How much time and money was spent on self-publishing “In Tents”:

Hours: 166
Dollars: $1470
From conception to being for sale: 11 months


Yeah, I could cut costs. I can always cut costs. Do everything yourself, and your total cost would be very close to $0. I’ve done variations on that before. Looking back on those books, the results aren’t as good as I’d like.

I’m happy with this process, and I like what I’ve gotten for the money and time I’ve spent. I’m satisfied with the whole project. Since my nature is never to be satisfied, it surprised me enough that I wanted to detail what it took for me to get here, so I know to do it again.

The inevitable followups: How much did I make after publication? Is it enough to cover production costs? What about advertising? Answering these isn’t for this analysis. I only want to get numbers out in my case for how much it costs to self-publish a book.

Besides, my next goal is more important than any of the above: I’ll keep writing.

In Tents is available in paperback and ebook. Audiobook is currently in production.

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