Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

Dumbest New Myth In Writing

I Heard This Two Days Ago…

And flat couldn’t believe that such silliness was out there, so I went and looked, and yup, it’s a real thing. And sadly, writers of all levels are believing it. And this myth is stopping them cold. Or worse yet, sending them toward traditional publishing.

I know if I believed it, I would be stopped.

So what is this new myth???

“It takes four to five thousand dollars to publish an indie book.”

Total and complete hogwash, and folks if you see this myth somewhere, do a tap-dance on the head of the idiot who is spreading it. This is a very, very dangerous myth to new writers.

Frighteningly dangerous.

What is the truth? (I know, in this age, truth is a tough thing, and facts are even worse, but going to use those terms anyway.)

Step one: Writer is done with novel. (50,000 words)

Step two: Writer finds a copyeditor to help with typos and such. Cost around $250. (If someone is charging you more than that, go to your local library or college and find someone who will help you with typos and such for $250 for a 50,000 word novel.)

Step three: Purchase Vellum. (One time purchase, get the $249 version for both ebooks and paperback formatting.) Learn how to use it (very simple) and format your book. Cost? If you are going to use it for say 10 books, your cost is about $25.00 per book.

Step four: Sign up for InDesign and learn how to do covers. Cost is $20.99 per month. If you are going to do four books per year, that is about $63.00 per book in costs to do your covers.

Step five: Go to a royalty free art sight and find a piece of art for your cover, get the license. From $1 to $20 per cover. So say $20.

Step six: Load the formatted version of the novel to Amazon, Kobo, D2D, and maybe one or two others. Cost: Free.

Load the formatted paperback to Kindle Print. Cost: Free.

Buy a copy of your paper book for your shelf. Cost $10 maybe.

So your book is now published around the world and in paperback.

The total cost is… About $360. For a novel. 

I figured since I am doing about 50 short story paperbacks per month, I have InDesign and Vellum, my total cost to put up a short story, including proofing, is about $30 per short story. (I only pay $1.00 for an art license.)

And $30 is high.

I sell them all over the world for $2.99 electronic and $4.99 paper. So I have to sell about 15 total to break even.

So kill this Four-to-Five Thousand Dollar a book myth. Too damn stupid for words.


  • Martin

    Very helpful information, Dean. Here in Germany this new myth is also coming strong. The other day a poor fellow writer complained on FB about the high costs of selfpublishing nowadays. He wrote four novels with the cost of 2000 Euro each, a total of 8000 Euros down the drain. And his books sell poorly … I will never spend so much money for publishing, but many, many new writers think its absolutely necessary. Just sad …

  • Gerald

    I can personally say that this myth really messed me up and caused me to quit.

    I read quite a few whiny, woe-is-me fantasy authors saying that it costs thousands just to put a book up and how hard it is to be a self-published writer and how terrible their lives are… even though they get to write for a living and earn a good, solid six figure income doing so…

    When I read that I just thought this whole writing business was impossible and quit for about two years to pursue a decent career. I’m only now just getting back to it.

  • Denton Salle

    The only part I’d quibble with is the InDesign. Get Affinity Designer or Photo instead. Heck, get both. It’s about 90 dollars USD and you own it forever. Bit of a learning curve but no more than Indesign.


  • Michael Kingswood

    Agree that’s hogwash, but not sure it’s a new one. Folks have been throwing around outrageous quotes for indie publishing pretty much since indie became a thing. It’s no different than fear mongering in the political arena: deceptive rhetoric designed to prevent the easily swayed from even considering a path the rhetorician doesn’t want them to take.

    Can’t agree with you about InDesign, though. I consider the eternal subscription model that’s taken software by storm to be a complete and utter scam. I can’t see supporting it when there are things like GIMP that offer pretty much the same functionality as Photoshop for free, or for some of the alternatives, a single relatively low fee.

    • Edward M. Grant

      I use Gimp for my home-made covers, but it’s got to be about the worst user interface ever designed. And there are pretty decent premade covers by a number of designers for $50 or less, so you can avoid that if you have a small amount of money to spend.

      I’m in two minds about subscriptions, though. I have some pro (aka $1,000+ purchase) software that I used to upgrade every few versions for a couple of hundred bucks, but now they all want an annual subscription of a similar amount, so I just dropped most of them and only pay for the one I use the most. On the other hand, if I needed to run one for a few weeks for some reason, I could rent it for that time and not have to pay again.

      Back on the myth, yeah, it’s been around for some time, but it does seem more popular lately. I just point out that my most profitable book so far cost me a total of $0.50 (for a stock image).

  • Lisa Nixon Richard

    Funny story. My husband met an artist and a writer at a con. He showed them my books on Amazon. They went on about all the things wrong with the cover alone and told him the reasons the books aren’t selling. Said husband was convinced we needed to invest $5,000 in the first and second novels. I was so frustrated. I need to be writing to increase my inventory, not doing what two strangers said. I told my husband he had permission to work at all of this with book 1 with my final say on any changes. The artist did not ever get back to his inquiry after she said she would help him with the cover. Her business is designing covers. Boy, did I dodge the time suck bullet.

  • Cynthia Gilbert

    I heard/read of this myth in 2010. I was so crestfallen by it that I almost cancelled plans to be an indie writer. I very nearly returned to looking for a literary agent/traditional publisher. I was seriously so bummed out that I moped around for like two weeks and it worried my family.

    To avoid depression, I looked into learning Photoshop, formatting my own books, doing it myself as much as possible and I was happy to discover that it didn’t cost anywhere near what this poor blogger was saying it cost.

    Also, as a side note, learning cover design and Photoshop taught me that I didn’t know what genre I was really writing in. I kept designing covers that featured a girl running from/standing in front of a spooky house and I FINALLY realized that I’d been writing gothics.

  • Alex Scott

    I published my novel, Thresholds of the Grand Dream, a couple years ago, and I mostly relied on open source options: Scribus for formatting (free), and Inkscape and GIMP for cover design (also free). I also have a little art training, and used Manga Studio for the cover art–at the time I was using the free version, but now it’s called Clip Studio Paint, which is $50 for the standard version, and so worth it.

  • Susan

    I have heard that one. Its been around for a while.
    The cost was always an underlying concern and made me slower at finishing things (to justify the cost omg lol!).
    Strangely I kept writing. I am glad I did.

  • Suzan Harden

    Dean, I can already hear the push back you’ll get on this myth because I’ve been hearing it for the last ten years. I spend roughly $250 per novel. I hire out the cover design and the interior formatting because I’ve found folks who can do it better and faster than me at a reasonable price and I apply the WIBBOW test. Invariably, I get asked by other writers how many thousands I pay for a professional quality paperback, and they don’t believe me when I tell them.

    Also, Ingramspark has codes to upload a paperback for distribution for free. SELFPUB is good until the end of this year.

  • T Thorn Coyle

    Sheesh! What the heck?

    Here are my numbers:

    One thing missing in your numbers are Bowker ISBNs. I bought a huge packet for I don’t recall how much a few years ago, when they were on sale. If folks can invest a small chunk of money upfront, ISBNs for print books are relatively cheap. It’s nice to not have to think about it for every print book.

    For short stories and essays, I use ProWritingAid to catch typos. It’s great for shorter pieces and I got it on sale for $80 lifetime. I make all of my own covers for those, too, using PicMonkey—similar to Canva—which I pay around $70 a year for. I also use PicMonkey to make art/memes, and to make ads and social media banners, etc, so the cost washes out quickly. (I used to use InDesign, but would have to relearn the whole system, and I’m not willing to do that right now, for various reasons. Maybe in future). I format with Vellum. So those monthly stories and essays cost me almost nothing.

    I also do all my own covers for short story collections and essay collections (both edited in ProWritingAid), as well as some novels. So those story collections cost me $50 tops, and most likely a lot less.

    *But even the novel covers I hire out for cost me around $250. So, paying for both covers and editing, that’s still only $500 (plus the pro-rated cost of Vellum and an ISBN).* Even covers for a forthcoming series, which I’m hiring original paintings for, will only cost $375 for original art that I own all rights to. I’ll make my own covers from that artwork. So, my most expensive books will cost around $650-700 each next year. Not cheap for me—I’m choosing this investment for licensing reasons, and hope to recoup some money that way— but still nowhere near 4k to 5k.

    And as you point out, these books could all be done much, much, more cheaply, the way I do for my collections etc.

    I think people must be paying for developmental edits to reach multiple thousands of dollars in cost. And I don’t want a developmental editor near my novels. My voice is my voice.

  • Eli

    Dean, I love when you break out the math for busting writing myths. I’ve been seeing this one a lot on social media, and it really stopped me cold for a while, honestly. I’ve got a bit of a head start on Step 4 (my wife is an InDesign master, and she’s taught me a lot about the program), but since I don’t use a Mac Vellum is right out. Is it worth it to get a used iMac on the cheap (ha) just for Vellum? I haven’t seen anything PC-wise that comes close to it.

  • Edmund de Wight

    You’re spot on. Heck, I use GIMP for my cover design and that’s free open source software so it can be even less expensive than you say.
    I have to check out Vellum though, it could save me headaches in formatting.

    I think that people who buy into this myth are probably looking for an excuse to embrace their fear of following through on publishing. It’s a good reason to say “See how expensive it is? I shouldn’t even try”
    Remember what Nike says – Just do it!

  • Scott William Carter

    Great post. Totally agree, though you and are both DIYers, Dean. Some people either won’t or don’t want to do the work themselves. (Where I quibble with them is when they say they “can’t” do it, and that’s where I think the even bigger myth lies.) Like anything else in life (plumbing, bookkeeping, ghost writing), there’s always someone willing to pay someone else to do work they don’t want to do or for expertise they don’t have.

    In that case, if the myth is amended to “It takes four to five thousand dollars to [have a publishing services company] publish an indie book,” then the question is whether $4000-$5000 is too high. And yeah, it still is. If you add up, say, Lucky Bat Books’ fees (, which is probably middle of the road from what I’ve seen, the maximum out of pocket is probably $1500 or so for everything you mentioned. We both know the folks at LB and I doubt they’re gouging people, so it’s probably a fair fee for the time involved.

    Now should writers hire someone to do this work? I agree with you. Most writers shouldn’t. But there is a learning curve (remember how you felt in those early days? ) and some folks just don’t want to or don’t feel they need to do the learning. Too bad for them. I actually love the publishing part of the process. Sometimes I even design the cover *before* I write the book, so it’s actually become woven into my creative process a bit.

  • Tony Decastro

    This myth is built on the edict that you “must” pay for a “professional” developmental editor, then maybe a line editor, then a copy editor, then a proofreader. Then you “need” a “professional” cover designer. And some argue to pay for formatting (though this is a tough sell). All those levels of editing you’re not getting “professional quality” unless your paying $1000+ at each stage (exception of proofreaders maybe $500). This myth is propagated by the freelancers who are making money off this like it’s the gold rush. The BS they sell is you have to “spend money to make money.” They feast on fear… like if a typo or two slips by blood will flow in the streets… so, better have a proofreader follow up behind the copyeditor! Ugh. I’ve published two books so far, and they both cost me less than $500 (and that includes purchasing ISBN from Bowker!)

  • Stephanie

    Curious as to why you choose InDesign over Photoshop? Figured it was because InDesign is better for text and thought maybe you formatted interiors with it, but that can’t be right since you mentioned Vellum.

    Love Vellum. Awesome program.

    Wondering if it’s worth it to switch from Photoshop to InDesign…

    No clue why people believe this particular myth, and hope it dies out soon. (Yeah, that’s probably a false hope… but still.)

    • dwsmith

      Photoshop is designed for doing photos and photo manipulation. InDesign is designed for laying out magazines and books and flyers and everything else that needs layout. So why use a program not designed for something when there is a program designed completely to do that, and has all the fonts as part of the license.

      Folks, on your free programs, how are you getting the font licenses?

      • Edward M. Grant

        In my case, I either use free-for-commercial-use fonts, or pay for them through a site like I think I’ve only had to pay for a couple so far, where there wasn’t a similar free font that would do the job.

        But I do keep all the fonts and licenses in a fonts directory on the disk so I can prove they’re legit if I ever have to do so.

        • dwsmith

          Yes, that is critical and so many people using these free programs or cheap programs never think of font licenses. Critical. And as far as I am concerned, one of the major benefits in InDesign, the font licenses already taken care of.

          I wonder how many writers even realize fonts are copyright protected, just as their work is and a cover painting is.

          Licenses are everywhere.

      • Stephanie

        Gotta look into InDesign. Hadn’t heard of it before you mentioned it. Been using Photoshop because its what I know.

        Been purchading fonts through various sites and making sure they license for commercial use. Not sure if you can import purchased fonts with the free tools.

      • Nathan Haines

        Scribus is the Free Software analogue to InDesign. (I’m not sure why people are identifying GIMP as equivalalent. You can GIMP or Inkscape (like Illustrator) for a cover, but not for interior print design. Personally, I’m still getting good mileage out of LibreOffice and very carefully designed styles, but Scribus is on the todo list!)

        There are tons of high-quality, free fonts with permissive licenses. Sites like are good for finding free fonts, and others like can help you find fonts that you can license separately. (And its WhatTheFont tool can help you identify a font from a sample image–very useful.) It can be a bit more time to find a few good fonts, but I suppose once you have a couple you can standardize on, this uniqueness improves your branding.

        • Lynn

          I keep trying InDesign and Scribus thinking they’re the more pro tools that I should be using, but I just don’t like them. I always end up back at Word and Writer for formatting my paperbacks. I can do one in about an hour from start to finish from my own templates based on styles and they look just the way I want them to look. (I converted from Word to Writer when I realized how useful Writer’s page styles were for paperback formatting.)

          I’d try Vellum, if it weren’t Mac only, but it is so I’ll just keep doing things my way.

          As for the ebook formatting, I find Jutoh is just fine for me. I like everything you can do with it and the fact that I can import my document and have it spit out an EPUB that works and looks exactly how I want it to in less than 5 minutes. Jutoh cost about $40 and I’ve been using it for 5 years now? So less than $10 a year investment for formatting. Jutoh is for a more technically minded user than Vellum but it’s super easy to learn and use if you just read the quick start manual that comes with it. Also, the support is superb, IMO.

      • Lynn

        I use GIMP for my covers (I do photo compositions and manipulations from stock photos instead of simply using a background image). I purchase font licenses at and other repositories or use free fonts that allow commercial use.

  • Kari Kilgore

    I was just thinking about this myth the other day, while I was following Kris’s (excellent) advice to make a spreadsheet of all my licenses for art and such. What hit me is as I get further into making not only ebooks and paperbacks, but also hardcovers, Large Print editions, and collections, that initial cost for the art and even my time designing the covers goes down. Those all have the proofreading costs of about $1/page included in the first paperback/ebook version, too.

    With a block of 100 ISBNs and just a few minutes of my time in InDesign and Vellum, I can create these new editions for $5.75. Someday when I run out and buy a bigger block of ISBNs, that cost will drop even more. My membership in IBPA not only gives me a 15% discount on that, it also drops the setup and change fees in IngramSpark down to zero.

    The best part as far as I’m concerned is it frees up my WRITING in ways I never expected. I don’t worry at all about the lengths or genre or anything else when I’m writing. Taking away the pressure of making sure every single project will have a chance of recouping some kind of mythological, huge up-front cost changes everything for the better.

  • C.D. Watson

    I don’t think I’d more than $500 total to publish a book, unless I had the covers rebranded. That’s the only exception.

    Of course, I trade out my editing work with another writer and do all my formatting myself, no software other than Word required. If I need to convert a file to another format, I use Calibre (still testing it) or PDFMerge, both of which are free and easy to use. I use for covers I do myself as well as for things like Facebook headers, book teasers, and ads. It was a steep learning curve, but with it and a few dollars in stock images, my stuff looks very professional. I don’t put out trash.

    I know some indies who pay more for covers, but they’re getting custom illustrations for genre specific books (like some subgenres of SciFi where those kinds of illustrations are the norm). But for most of us, $300-500 per book is very reasonable.

  • Samuel Morningstar

    It generally costs me about $50 to publish an ebook: $35 for copyright and around $15 for an artwork license. I have InDesign, but frankly, the covers I’ve created using Amazon’s Kindle Cover Creator look better. I suspect the people who claim exorbitant amounts for publishing are buying into the idea that books are supposed to be BIG EVENTS. I take the pulp route: by the time you see a new book of mine for sale, I’m already 10,000 words deep into the next book.

      • Samuel Morningsatr

        I do file an individual copyright on every book. I spent years in the music industry, so I’m more than a bit paranoid. In that field, money doesn’t go to who wrote the song, but whoever owns the copyright.

        I’m lucky enough not to incur any copyediting costs. I run my manuscripts through Grammerly, which picks up most of my goofs. I’m fortunate enough to have a relative who used to gig part-time as a proofreader at her local paper. She’s retired now and proofs my stuff just to have something to do. She likes my stuf and enjoys helping. I realize that’s not a situation most authors enjoy, but it’s often surprising what resources you might find once you start poking around in your local circle.

        • dwsmith

          Licensing money always goes to who owns the copyright, Samuel. Filing for it does not change the fact that you own the copyright. You do and are protected if you wrote it. Maybe the reason you had trouble in music was the contracts you signed giving away the copyright. But clear to me you need to go get the book Copyright Handbook done by Nolo Press and read it.

          Let me be clear here, folks. Filing a copyright with the government and spending that money DOES NOT give you copyright on something you wrote. You already own it and are protected because you wrote it. Period. That is the law and as a writer you need to understand that.

          All filing does is give you more remedies if someone does take your work. If you think you have to file to own a copyright, you really have a lot to learn.

          • Samuel Morningstar

            I do own the Copyright Handbook, and yes, I do understand that you technically own the copyright on a work simpy because you created it. I simply enjoy the added layer registering my claim gives.

            Let me explain what I meant by money going to the (registered) copyright holder. A few years back, a friend and I wrote a few songs together. That means technically, he and I share the copyright on those songs. I found out later, however, that he filed a claim on those songs as sole author. Now, those songs aren’t hits so it’s not worth my time to pursue. But, if they did become money makers, I’m facing an uphill battle to claim rights because I don’t have any real proof I co-wrote them. I have demo tapes with those songs, but a good attorney would argue that just because I can play those songs, doesn’t mean I had a hand in creating them.

            You and I appear to be looking at the same elephant from different sides. Your perspective seems to be very appropriate for the publishing industry. Talk to a few musicians, however, and you’ll find most of us are obsessed with registration. An IP attorney told me years ago that as far as a judge is concerned, the copyright owner is whoever registered and it can be a real nightmare proving otherwise.

            Perhaps I’m wrong to carry that attitude into publishing, that’s where I’m at. Thanks for the advice.

          • dwsmith

            Never wrong to do extra, and I tell anyone who will listen that if their story is headed within sniffing distance of gaming, music, and Hollywood, to register it.

            It was your phrase… “file an individual copyright” that made me think you didn’t know what you were doing. And I had to correct that here for all the writers who really haven’t bothered to learn because so many of them think they must file to get a copyright. Nope.

            So never wrong to file in a timely manner.

  • MrsSchuby

    Fabulous post and replies. Lots of very very good information and $ breakdown. I liked your post “Day Job Thinking”. It was the ‘aha’ post that got me thinking about writing from a completely different perspective. This morning I found this headline on my newsfeed:

    Not even a mention of indie publishing as an alternative to the traditional publishing insanity. First paragraph says it all. To me, this omission is indicative of a silent but strong push against self-publishing. If I knew Steve Hamilton, I’d direct him to your blog.

    • dwsmith

      Thanks, but don’t bother. Once the Kool-Aid of traditional publishing is swallowed, there is nothing else of value to those folks. They forget what writing is all about, and that is telling stories for readers. And what is really silly is that no reader cares what publisher publishes a book.

    • Susan

      Another sad thing is that the focus of the article isn’t about his writing, his characters or what they make you feel, etc.

      It names his agents and the imposition of spending his vacations on his interests, like it was a big deal. I don’t think that should be the focus of things.

      My reaction was – his family put up with this? My reaction WASNT – Oh boy he is cool his books must be fantastic. Let me get one right now. Get me my Amazon.

      If someone wants to write an article on a writer, please make sure they put a paragraph or two in there about something exciting about the writing.

    • Kristine Kathryn Rusch

      I do know Steve Hamilton and he’s aware of my blog and my work. He’s a big supporter of my Kris Nelscott novels. He’s in yet a different kind of publishing model. It’s more of a Hollywood management model. It saved his traditional publishing career. What they’re doing is interesting, and writers with an eye on licensing should probably follow him and the company that acquired him to see how this ends up working into the future. It’s a fascinatingly different way of doing things. I wouldn’t do it, but I might steal some of Shane’s methods for my own work. ?

      • Mike

        I’ve been following Steve, Don Winslow, and recently Adrian McKinty (I don’t know any of them). Mostly watching their Twitter feeds and seeing how they’ve been cross-promoting (when they start hyping a new author, it’s a good bet that author is coming into the Story Factory stable in the near future).

        I got interested in Steve a while back after reading The Lock Artist. Recently, I’ve read stuff by all three of them and a few other Story Factory authors, too.

        If I’m not mistaken, Steve had a day job at IBM for his entire writing career until the last year or two. As a person with a day job, I found it interesting how he was able to pull that off.

        But as far as I can tell, they have Shane as the agent who is actually pulling his weight and using his experience in TV and film to leverage these big blockbuster-type story properties.

        Would love to see how they are structuring deals but my inference (reading between the lines) is that they are now mostly demanding to get paid ‘correctly’ for their work, with a say in branding, marketing, etc. And having publishers buy into their work with true investment rather than steamroll the authors.

        I can’t tell for sure but this may legitimately be a force of nature thing where Shane, with business sense and going to bat for the authors, is acting as the ideal agent.

        My guess is they ultimately don’t own their work though, given the giant deals being announced.

        Though I would love to hear how any of those guesses are wrong, because it’s been something I’ve watched for a while (but without the business experience of KKR and DWS).

        • Kristine Kathryn Rusch

          Your assumptions seem correct to me. And I also agree that Shane is a force of nature, and is using Hollywood lawyer techniques for his authors. If they want to remain trad pubbed, then why not? I doubt anyone else can do what Shane is doing in trad pub, but I might be wrong.

          What I’m most worried about is whether or not he has a piece of each book. I would wager he does.

  • JB

    I have a question for you, Dean (or for anyone else who would know.) I bought 100 ISBNs from Bowker because I wanted it to say “Publisher: (name of my publishing company)” instead of “Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC” on the ebook edition as well as the paperback, which usually says “Createspace” or “Independently published” if the person got the free ISBNs through Amazon. I see on your recent books you have “Publisher: WMG Publishing, Inc.” for both ebook and paperback. Did you have to use two separate ISBNs (one ISBN for ebook edition, one for paperback edition) to get this? That is what I have been doing to ensure my publishing company appears as the publisher of both. I just think it would be nice if I did not have to “waste” an ISBN that I bought on the kindle edition (I am okay with it for paperback), but still have my company as the publisher. Is this not possible? Thanks again if you can answer this.

    • dwsmith

      Anyone know the answer to JBs question? I sure do not. I know we use purchased ISBNs on paperbacks. We might also use them on major books, but honestly too late at night to call Allyson to find out for sure. (grin)

      • E. R. Paskey

        It may say it’s sold by Amazon at the top, but under product features, your publishing company should be listed just like it’s listed for Tor or any of the big name publishers on their books.
        Given that Amazon uses their own ASIN, I’m not convinced it’s worth using an ISBN on an ebook there.

          • JB

            Thanks Dean and E.R.! I’ve looked at quite a lot of books on Amazon today that are small press (like WMG Publishing) or self-pubbed and … what I found is that even some others who do not use ISBNs at all on their paperback may still have a publisher name on the ebook version. So that supposed “advantage” is out, since I doubt they are wasting ISBNs on just the ebooks. And it sounds like you are not wasting them either, though WMG is listed as publisher on both ebooks and paperback.

            I checked, and E.R. is right: my own ebooks, even with an ISBN assigned to them (which appears nowhere on Amazon) still say “Sold By: Amazon Digital Services LLC.” I checked other books and I now know some of the big publishers still sometimes have the same thing with their ebooks, with the “Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC” on a few of their ebooks (a book by Bloomsbury YA, for example), though I did see “Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc” on at least one ebook.

            So thanks Dean and E.R.! Now my block of ISBNs will last a lot longer, even if I have wasted a few of them already on ebooks. No more.

    • Tony DeCastro

      When you complete the metadata for your ebook, fill out the name of your publishing company for publishing company or imprint (I can’t remember what they ask for). You do not need an ISBN for this.

    • Annemarie

      Don’t you publish wide?
      You need an extra ISBN for your EPUB e-book at various retailers, like Apple books, Gardner’s etc. But you get them for free, if you go with a distributor, at least with most of them.

  • James Palmer

    I have no idea where those numbers came from. Unless they’re talking about developmental editing, and if they need that much developmental help they’re not ready to publish in the first place. I’ve enjoyed everyone’s comments regarding cheaper alternatives though. I purchased the Udemy course on creating covers in Canva and GIMP someone mentioned. It was a great deal. I found an awesome cover artist who cut me a deal, three covers for $200, but I can’t do that all the time, especially for one-off short stories and collections. I’ve held off doing covers myself because the design software makes me crazy. Working with layers makes me want to climb a bell tower with a high-powered rifle. But Canva is pretty easy to use.

    I use Vellum on a Macincloud server with a pay as you go plan. I’ve never seen what I would consider a cheap Mac. If I could find one for what a Chromebook costs I would consider getting one to use just for formatting. I’ve created ebooks for even less than the range you suggested.

    Anyway, great post and wonderful comments.

    • dwsmith

      No writer needs the scam of a “developmental editor” period. Every writer needs to trust their own voice. So more than likely the numbers are all coming from a scam, but the point I am making is that this myth of publishing a book costing that much stops a ton of writers from even moving forward. And that’s what I hope that all of us here who know better will smash this myth when we hear it. Critical to helping the next generation come in.

      • Annemarie

        Right. I completely agree with you.

        In Germany meanwhile, the indies who dare – dared -to say that they publsih without an editor, are practically silenced. It was really bad with this myth at the beginning of the indie era. Now it’s worse.

        • dwsmith

          Then just publish your work, use a publishing imprint name that is yours, and don’t say anything. I constantly suggest that writers say nothing about their business, their income, their writing speed, and so on. You have to be bullet proof to do what I do. So just say nothing.

  • Brad D. Sibbersen

    I published my fifth book for $0.00. It was written as a lark/dare, so I didn’t really want to put any money into it. Edited with online software. Took a photo with my phone camera and used that for the cover. Dropped the title and author name in with PAINT, for Pete’s sake.

    I have appx. 30 titles available (under two different names) and it’s consistently been my second best selling book.

  • Martin

    I use Indesign to create my books, both paperback and Kindle.

    There’s one less piece of software needed.

    I would have thought Photoshop would be what to use for a cover.

  • Maree

    When I’ve seen people throwing around these sorts of numbers and I challenged them they have told me that yes ok, even with hiring out the cover, copy edit, and formatting you shouldn’t be spending more than $6-700. The rest of the money is to be spent on promotion/advertising.

    Which okay fine. If shelling out 4k or so for advertising is profitable then go for it. But the way people frame it it’s not??? It seems like a money pit, but you’re apparently ‘getting your work out there’. I didn’t want to bother with it until I had at least a full series. But now I do it still doesn’t seem like a good risk. Thoughts?

    • dwsmith

      Holy smokes! I think we have spent, on our budget, a total of maybe $300 on a high month (besides Bookbub fees) on ads, and that’s super high month, and we have a thousand titles, so we move things around, focusing on one series or another. If we spent even close to the money you are suggesting on each of our series, we would go broke almost instantly and my employees would be out of jobs.

      Anyone have any idea what someone could spend $4,000 in ads on a series on???

      • Mary McKenna

        I know of at least one writer who spends that much every month on Facebook and Amazon ads. She says that if she spends $4000, she’ll bring in $8000. If she doesn’t spend that way, she doesn’t earn hardly anything.

        There’s a whole swath of authors – the ones I know of are mostly romance – who firmly believe that lots and lots of ads are necessary or no one will find your books.

        • dwsmith

          And I rest my case about dumb. (And I still have no idea where a person would spend that kind of money.) But as you said, and she admits, this model is not sustainable and she had no real organic sales for her work. Wow, that’s sad when you think about it.

          So dumb because it is flat not sustainable.

          • Griffin

            Some keywords for ads cost a lot more than others. So, the cost per click can really add up.

            Spending this kind of money never made any sense to me, but blame the people who started it: the SEO folks who aren’t really writers, but are in this to make the huge bucks — and get all those KU author bonuses — as a selling business, not a telling good stories for readers business. More than a couple are no longer selling on Amazon, due to dirty tricks, too.

            But to the subject of the post, these myths have been around since day one. They get a new push every so often, but I see many hopeful self publishers discouraged or blind to it.

            My favorite myth is the one that says you can only succeed if you “write to market”, which when you winnow down into the “advice” is actually writing whatever is hot now, AKA “trend”.

  • Marion

    I wished I would have known this back in 2014 when I published my first novel, Diondray’s Discovery. I published the book with a publisher that charge me $800 dollars to put on all the online retailers and then I had to pay another $200 dollars for the cover design. The cover was wrong because the artist could not find an image of a black man’s hands. Oh boy…. Anyway I have learned after 5 years as an indie author is does not cost a lot to publish a novel. Lesson learned.

  • mm

    Thank you Dean for writing this blog post.

    I think it’s crazy how some authors are telling others that they need to save thousands to self publish their books. I see comments on forums, that authors should wait for a few more months even years or get a second job to pay to self-publish. I see authors saying you need facebook ads, you need Bookbub to get more sales. This all costs money.

    I see authortubers (new authors on youtube) running down a grocery length list of tools and services they use to prepare and pre-promote their book. Some of them are creating book merch like bags, bookmarks and mugs, ordering dozens of copies of their books to attend book cons. Plus the usual stuff like editing, book covers but then I see some talking about hiring PR teams and doing expensive book blog tours just to launch their books. Again they are spending hundreds.

    Then I see these authortubers rank and they are way down in the 6 figure or 7 figure rankings on Amazon. Then they have to make up their income with youtube money, patreon and creating courses.

    Some romance authors are spending thousands on ads each month just to get a few sales. It’s crazy. Then I see someone like Matt Rogers who spends hardly nothing on ads. He attracts loyal readers and he’s making 5 figures a month.

    The way things are going, the only people who will be making bank are the ones providing ads and promotional services. Plus the editors charging over $1000.

    • dwsmith

      Yup, scammers tend to win for a time when authors get in a hurry and think there are shortcuts. The authors who work on becoming better writers, writing consistently over time, get up beyond that magic 20-25 books under the same name, out wide, tend to slowly increase sales. Only secret is having fun and being patient.

  • Nike

    I am so happy I found your website and your book Writing Into the Dark. You’ve addressed a lot of the fears I had about whether or not I could actually write and publish a novel.

    When I started to take writing seriously about a year ago, I thought I was doing everything wrong and after reading several “expert” articles and books on the topic, decided I really needed to outline my novel. That was despite believing firmly, since I was first taught what outlining was in the third grade, that it was soul death. Flash forward, a year later I’ve thrown the small progress I made on that novel into the trash fire. I hated writing it and everything about it.

    I’ve also been furiously saving money dedicated to publishing my book because of all the advice out there about what it costs to self-publish. I’d been mentally marking most of that for developmental editing because so many people say you need one. I’m glad to find out this is total hogwash.

    In the week since I’ve unburdened myself of these misbeliefs, I’ve written more than I did in the last two months. And it’s fun again. Thank you.