• Martin Svolgart

What budget do I need to Self-Publish?

Ever hear that’s it’s free to self-publish? Yeah, me too. Have I ever managed that? Yeah. Guess the quality and sales. Both equal a big. Fat. Zero! It was my first, and I learned something. I’ll share that with you in this post.

There is truth to it, though, yet it, like many writing rules, has been shortened to fit on a meme, losing the message along the way. Never pay for publishing! That’s what it should state instead. Not indie publishing but publishing via others. If you’re charged, you’ve run into a scammer. That’s not to say it can’t be a hybrid publisher, which sells services, and then the difference is a contract. I’ve writen an article about that, and you should most definitely go check that out here.

To keep my expenses as low as possible, I used beta readers (5!) hoping that I could then cut the corner of buying the services of an editor and a proofer. Yeah, I regretted that and pulled the publication (this was in 2007 and in Danish).

I also tried to make my own cover, but I luckily got smarter and bought one for…I think it was a premade for $50 by a cover designer, and it actually did okay.

Since I learned from those mistakes, I decided that having learned to write a decent story wasn’t enough, so I dug deep for some patience and decided to learn some more and stop publishing for a while. I still wrote a lot and worked with my mentors and a growing number of beta readers to continue to improve, while I studied the work of making the entire project as best I could.

This is what I learned to focus on

1. Editor

2. Proofreader

3. Cover art

4. Formatting

Editor and proofreader

The industry standards for fiction vary a bit from genre to genre, but these rough averages serve as a good guideline when calculating your budget.

Line/copyediting: $0.02 per word

Proofreading: $0.15 per word

Cover: $200-2000 per cover

Formatting: $100 - $1000 per book

If you need a different kind of editor, they run higher because they do way more time-consuming work. You can read more about the different kinds of editors here.

You can get lucky and find a team of editors who work together, and they sometimes offer a “package deal”. This is a plus because they’ve perfected their work method, which saves you time from having to look for them individually. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and they can schedule a project to take over when one is done, leaving you a fixed schedule to plan your launch.

My editor Laura McNellis works in a team like that, and I’ve had her as my contact for the +5 years we’ve worked together now. This team’s core competence is beta, line/copy, and proofreading of general fiction, action-adventure, and romance and erotica with all their subgenres, be they het or LGBT. They do not work with religious fiction.

If you want a quote, email Laura McNellis and tell her where you found her.

Cover art

Well, it’s visual, so, I’ll get a…what are they called? Graphic designer? Sure. Google. There’s a moderately priced one. Hired.

Bad idea.

Like with editors, they’re specialized to cater to a specific market. Getting a line editor who specializes in doctorates within science or children’s books to edit a shifter erotica? Yeah, no!

Someone who’s awesome at catering to B2B presentations don’t know lick about the fiction book cover market, and even within cover designers, they don’t all know what sells in the different genres. It’s paramount to stand out, but not so much that the reader doesn’t know what to expect from looking at the cover. This is the secret to selling. Readers see the cover, and they’re either confused or they know exactly what genre your book is. In a world with so many books, you have less than two seconds attention when they scroll their favorite bookstore. Make sure they get the right impression, and the harsh truth is that a pretty cover isn’t enough.

Looking at my own covers, I like them. Then again, I know what the book’s about. Some are…not fit for the genre. I know that from later feedback, meaning I’m back to budgeting redoing and relaunching them. That’ll take a while, though, and I’m writing books in the meantime, so I need to focus on those and find cover artists specifically for that genre.

Relaunching is a marketing strategy in itself, which we sometimes have to do to awaken a dusty backlist, so I’ll hold out until then. I’m not a cover designer, so I’ve trusted those who are, and maybe I picked one who’d have been better focused on a niche instead.

Another problem with making covers yourself is that licenses can be a headache to figure out, and Amazon has lately cracked down on covers and yanked the books to further investigate property rights of images used on covers.

What to be mindful off will be a topic I cover in the very near future.


Once the content is polished and the outside is pretty, it’s time to wrap up the product by making the entire reading of your wonderful story aesthetically pleasing, too.

Whether you format for an e-book or a paperback, there are industry standards and a good portion of leeway where artistic elements get room to roam. If you go to your bookshelf and pull out any ten fiction books, you’ll see that they often have a lot in common. It’ll be the same if you open ten e-books on your phone or tablet or whatever.

Many don’t look that closely. This is what Formatters have done. Spacing, indent, margins, headers, footers, bleed, page numbers (where they start etc. because that’s not the same even from country to country), needed front and back matter, links, and all that jazz.

Most formatters have studied a plethora of books and have nifty programs that can do all kinds of awesome things, and they can work in different genres. They’re the expensive ones. They’re usually worth it!

If you stick to e-book, it’s possible to save a buck or two (hundred).

When I started out in Denmark, e-books were not even a thought yet. To this day, e-books cost the same as a paperback, and our paperbacks easily average $20-30.

It took me a very long time to learn to format in Word because after budgeting for a professional editor, proofreader, and cover designer, I was broke. Getting someone to format it for me would cost the same as one of those fancy programs, and then I’d have to spend time learning that. Back then, the most popular ones weren’t even invented! But I needed to format a paperback for print.

YouTube to the rescue. To this day, I format my own books in Word—both for e-book and paperback—and I format for others, too. Or save projects from bad attempts at self-formatting. I even enjoy it. It’s a great little puzzle.

Word works well enough for KDP because their process screws up pretty formatting anyway to fit the generic yet uniform standard of theirs. If a book has a good pre-format in Word, the best trick is to make a Draft2Digital account and run it through there, then upload that pretty e-pub file directly to Amazon. I also use them to go wide (publish everywhere and not exclusively on Amazon).

There’s a lot to learn when formatting in Word, though, and I’ll gladly make a course on it if you’re interested. If you are, comment below or toss me an email on contact AT martinsvolgart.com

I’ve made a basic Word fiction manuscript template that you can download. Upon finishing your story, you can upload that directly to KDP. It has a bunch of guidelines in it, too.

Basic fiction formatting template by Martin Svolgart
Download DOTX • 24KB

It’s free, but if you find value in it and want to buy me a cup of coffee for it, I’d very much appreciate it.

That’s all very fantastic, Martin, but I need the green first!

Finding that amount of money is of course not something most people do overnight. Most don’t write, edit, and publish a book overnight, either.

When I pulled back from publishing, it was because I decided to start at the level I wanted to finish at. Professionally.

I knew I had a lot to learn, and the eagerness to hold my book became less important than to hold a copy of a product that was of a way higher standard than my eagerness at that point allowed for.

To save up for what that level of quality would cost me, I devised a plan: When I went shopping, I used my debit card and rounded up to the nearest 100, which often gave me a 50 bill. That’s the smallest bill in Denmark, and it’s the equivalence of $7. I put it aside every time. I did that while I learned and found the right people with the right qualifications. And when I’d learned what I had to and felt confident I’d found the right partners, I went to the bank with that envelope and deposited $2000 that I never knew I missed even though I was a single unemployed dad to a toddler. Yes, it took years. So did learning what was needed in order to put out a quality product.

And I never stopped writing, either, which is part of how I’ve made it to 48 books in 6 years. That and a traditional publishing contract because I didn’t pay for the publishing of those 15 books.

What’s your level? You need to be clear on that. This article may help you find the questions you need to ask to be able to answer that question.

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