Indie Author Tips: don’t be taken in

Update 2021: I used to have a bunch of recommended freelancers in here, but 99% of them have closed so I’ve stripped those out. The only recommendations I have now are the ones I’ve used personally. These price points might not be accurate anymore, either. I updated some of the ballparks but apologies if some of these figures are no longer accurate.

I have seen a few posts on Twitter from new-to-indie authors about their estimated or actual expenditures, and they’ve made me somewhat alarmed. Publishing an indie book does have some up-front expenses, but by no means should they break your bank. The quote I’ve seen most frequently tossed around is that an average indie book will cost you $1000, including editing, cover design, and formatting. Editing is the biggest expense of publishing, so if your book is costing more than $1000 with editing costs factored out, you are likely being swindled.

There are some amazing freelancers out there, but there are also a lot that charge an unfair rate. As someone who has been working various freelance jobs for the last ten years, I absolutely believe that freelancers should get paid a decent amount for their work. But the trade-off is that freelancers should remember that indie authors have budget constraints of their own. Authors should not have to run a crowdfund campaign just to be able to afford to publish their books.

So, below I’m compiling a list of average expenses from my personal experience. I hope this will help new indie authors plan their budgets! (Bear in mind that these prices are based on current rates in July 2016—if you happen upon this post later, please note that these may have changed.)


This is by far the biggest of your expenditures, but it’s also the most important, so make sure you budget for it! The average cost for a freelance editor for line and copy edits is between half a cent and one cent per word. So if you have a 65,000 word manuscript, it will cost you between $325 and $650 to edit it. I have seen some places charge upwards of two cents per word—I would recommend against using these unless you know this editor really well and are set on using them, because you can get a fantastic editing job for a more reasonable price. One of the best editors I have worked with is Amy McNulty, who is also very reasonably priced.

If you are looking for a developmental edit—someone who will look at your story as well as your grammar—prices will vary. Some editors will charge a flat rate rather than per-word. And some editing services like Red Adept Editing will charge a larger per-word rate, but will give you a package with developmental + line/copy + proofreading. However, when it comes to developmental edits, often a group of critique partners or beta readers will serve just as well.

Cover Design

There are so many incredible cover designers out there that can get you an absolutely beautiful print + ebook cover for under $300. I saw a crowdfund campaign where the author had been quoted twice that per book and I nearly choked. My cover designer, Najla Qamber, has done amazing work for me with a very heavy amount of Photoshopping, for well under $300. I’m talking adding in sci-fi cityscapes, stars and planets, changing people’s clothes and eye color, the whole nine yards. She also is by far one of the best cover designers out there, period. Her prices are absolutely built for an author on a budget, so I can’t recommend her enough.

The cover design field is very competitive right now, with an endless amount of incredibly talented designers out there. There’s no reason you should have to pay more for your cover than you do for editing.

eBook and Paperback Formatting

This is something that is being ridiculously overcharged for. Flat-out. These formatters are ripping people off. As someone who has done this professionally, formatting a paperback is something that can be done in one afternoon. I cannot believe how much people charge for this. The average prices I’m seeing are upwards of $300—for just ebook OR paperback, not even both.

Guys, listen. Real talk. You can format your ebook yourself. You really can. If you use Scrivener, you can compile your ebook so easily. If you know basic HTML, you can edit the Scrivener book in Calibre and add in graphics. You can also use software like Vellum or Jutoh, and Kindle even has their own software (note that you can only use this for Kindle books, so if you’re publishing your book wide, don’t use their software). And Draft2Digital has some nice auto-formatting options if you’re uploading your book through them. (You can also download the ePub and use it to upload directly to retailers like Amazon and Google Play.)

Paperback formatting is more difficult, and I don’t recommend you do this unless you have experience with print media design or you don’t care what your paperback looks like. (Which is fine! Indie books tend to sell less copies in paperback than ebook, so some authors don’t mind just doing something basic.) I have been working in print media for over fifteen years, so I’m more particular about it and I want my paperbacks to look as good as what the Big Five put out. But I also have been doing this long enough that it’s not a humongous time suck for me. I would recommend looking for a professional to do this for you, but I wouldn’t pay more than $150 for it.

I hope this resource post is helpful to any indie authors who have been struggling to afford to get their books published. There is no reason you should have to break the bank in order to publish your books!


  • Travis Simmons

    July 24, 2016 at 8:05 PM

    Hey there, thanks so much for the shout out to Wyrding Ways Press 🙂 People should certainly not have to spend tons of money on production costs!

  • Amy McNulty

    August 1, 2016 at 4:56 PM

    Thanks for the link! 😀 I really appreciate it!

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