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, but that includes editing and marketing expenses! Editing is the biggest expense of publishing, so if your book is costing $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 or from trusted sources (such as Susan Kaye Quinn’s Indie Author Survival Guide, a must-read for anyone planning to self-publish their books). I hope this will help new indie authors plan their budgets![1]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 $0.02 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.

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. One editor that I have heard good things about (I haven’t used them myself, but I have read some of their books, so I can attest that the editing is top notch) is Red Adept Editing, which charges $0.308 per word for a full developmental edit, line edit, and two rounds of final proofreading.

Here are some recommended editors that I’ve either worked with myself or have seen examples of their work to verify the quality:

You can also check out Susan Kaye Quinn’s service provider list, or this handy document on her For Love or Money group.

Cover Design

There are so many incredible cover designers out there that can get you an absolutely beautiful print + ebook cover for under $200. 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 $200. 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.

Here are some cover designers whose work I love that will be easy on your budget:

eBook and Paperback Formatting

This is something that is being ridiculously overcharged for. Flat-out. These formatters are ripping people off. Formatting a paperback is something that I can do in one afternoon (barring a disaster, which does occasionally happen but is not the author’s fault!). 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. If you are struggling and really want someone else to do it, I can do it for you for $20-$35. Seriously. You should not have to spend hundreds of dollars on this.

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, so I don’t mind doing it for a low rate to make it more affordable for authors. My average rate for a novel with custom graphics is $60, so definitely better than, you know, $300 per book. So if you’re looking for someone to do your paperback for you, there’s that.

Here are some paperback and eBook formatters that are about as reasonably priced as I’ve been able to manage to find:

Custom Photography

Sometimes stock photos just aren’t going to cut it for your book cover, especially if you’re looking for diverse cover models. Most stock photos out there are still pretty much white, thin and straight. For my Iamos Trilogy covers, it was really important for me to represent Isaak and Nadin on the covers, but looking for stock photos was like “lolllllll ;_;”. I was very lucky in my timing—just as I was reaching the cover phase of the project, my friend Elise Marion was opening her new business, Mosaic Stock Photography. They specialize in providing diverse stock photos specifically for use on book covers, and their prices for a custom shoot are very reasonable. They also offer frequent coupons and payment plans! So they are really able to fit into your budget.

Another photographer that does a great job on both photos and book trailers is K.M. Robinson Photography/Reading Transforms. She is a whiz at author marketing and branding, and uses all-original photography for everything she does. Some of her beautiful images have turned into inspirations for upcoming projects for me, so I really recommend you give her gallery a glance! She is also dedicated to helping authors with very reasonable pricing.

Other Graphic Work

If you need custom graphics, web design or other kinds of design, I recommend you check out [adj] Millennial. Her site isn’t quite up and running yet, but I have worked with her on an Iamos-related project and the only thing that blew me away more than her amazing graphics was the fact that her prices are ridiculously affordable. I’m not sure if she may expand into cover design work, but I am definitely keeping an eye on her site and will update if she does because this is some A+ work that is great for an author on a budget.


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!

I will be back with another post tomorrow about another possible budget issues for authors, ISBN numbers. It was originally going to be part of this post, but it got so long that it needs a post of its own. XD In the meantime, if you have any recommended service providers for authors on a budget, feel free to leave them in the comments!


1 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.


  • 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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