How Much Does It Cost to Publish a Book?

Last week I told you how book royalties work, and your comments brought up some important issues. One of them was the idea that the publisher makes a significant financial investment in each writer, with no guarantee that the book will sell. This is important to recognize and understand, because it’s one of the reasons publishers have to make such careful decisions. There’s so much competition out there, and each book they contract costs a substantial amount of cash before your book ever hits the shelves and makes a dime.

But what does that mean? How much will a typical publisher spend on your book before they’ve sold a single copy?

Here’s a hypothetical overview. Keep in mind this is simply an example and the numbers vary WIDELY from book to book, and from publisher to publisher. This is to illustrate that even if a publisher doesn’t offer you a large advance (or any advance at all), they’re still spending a lot of money on your book, with no guarantee of ever recouping it.

Trade Paper:

Editorial: $5,000
Packaging (cover design & production): $3,500
Typeset & Interior layouts: $500
Printing & binding: $12,000
Marketing: $6,000
Warehousing: $3,000
Sales: $5,000

TOTAL: $40,000 not including your advance.

If the cover price is $13.99, and the net price (the amount the publisher actually receives for each book) is $6.30, then the breakeven point is 6,349 copies sold. (Again, highly simplified for illustration purposes.)


Editorial: $8,000
Packaging (cover design & production): $5,000
Typeset & Interior layouts: $2,500
Printing & binding: $18,000
Marketing: $12,000
Warehousing: $4,500
Sales: $8,000

TOTAL: $58,000 not including your advance.

If the cover price is $19.99, the net price is $9, and the breakeven point is 6,444 copies.

Keep in mind that publishers could not stay in business if all they ever did was break even. As you can see, the publisher needs to sell a few books to recoup the cost of publishing. Can you guarantee your book will sell that many copies? Are you committed to participating in marketing so that your book has a better chance of selling? Maybe this makes it easier to understand why it’s so crucial for publishers to choose the ones that consumers will actually buy, and choose authors who will help sell.

**Addendum: These numbers, though they are hypothetical, apply to “mid list” books or those that have not received ginormous advances nor are expected to hit #1 on the bestseller list. The finances are quite different for books that receive five- or six-figure advances. The marketing budget skyrockets, and more will be spent on all other aspects as well—editorial, design, printing, etc. So the breakeven point is a much higher number of copies.

**Another addendum! Renowned literary agent Steve Laube wrote to correct my calculations (thanks, Steve!). He says: One thing forgotten in the calculation…the author’s royalty. That is a cost as well when considering the “break even” point. The up front advance is considered a (sort of) production cost in the publisher’s model. This means that with the models presented the break even sales number are probably closer to 8,000 – 10,000 units.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Jack on February 11, 2013 at 5:34 AM

    Can you give more specific breakdowns for what the categories include? By editing, what precisely is meant — proofreading? I don’t remember proofreaders ever receiving such a high figure, certainly not more than a designer.

    And the figure you have for sales, what precisely does that refer to? If there is a fee for marketing, what is the sales figure?

  2. Amanda on January 21, 2013 at 10:23 AM

    Thank you for the the information. It is easy to forget everything that goes into the publishing of a book and that there are people behind those figures also trying to make a living.

  3. Innocent on January 3, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    am a South African Male about to finnish my first book and would like to get more information as to how to go about to publish my book for the international Market.

  4. temp on September 3, 2012 at 8:45 AM

    good commnet

  5. Jason on August 25, 2012 at 8:30 AM

    A dear friend asked me a question in an email I am viewing this morning after my work shift. Which Led me to your Post here.
    I bet you can guess what the question was (Tongue in cheek)
    While I have known that the expense of having a Book Published can be substantial and varied, I found that this gave me a better sense of what to expect.
    I have a gift for writing, though I am rough for having no proper schooling and come from a totally self-taught background for having graduated from High School without anything more than a basic, basic reading comprehension. Grammar is a new thing for me and so is so much else regarding the structures and mechanisms revolving around what goes into writing. In Spite of all the challenges I have faced, and in many cases still face, I cannot help but to write, words flow and from though to computer screen I have a top speed of 170 words per minute. (Editing excluded)
    I am bombarded by a great horde of people to go to school but that is another topic. As a writer I would like to grow, and while I have many people watching and noticing the things I write I have recently tuned out of the Public crowd for finding copy cat and cut and paste creepers consistently preying on my banter and expressions.
    I would very much like to Publish a Book, not so much for the sake of being Published, but to tell “my story” and challenge Society at Large in non fiction formats. I average 250 000 words a week when I move along with my ideas, but find for a lack of serious involvement from friends and family I run out of ambition and I never finish something.
    Recently I have made a Goal and have Decided to Complete a Written work and have it Published, while I have started it, I am limiting my Nano to 10 000 words per week so as not to loose sight of my goal for haste in finishing for the goal sense only.
    Do you have any Suggestions or points of interests for keeping the road mapped out in this journey?

    • Jason on August 25, 2012 at 8:38 AM

      …from thought to computer screen… (sorry)

  6. R. M. Evans on May 15, 2012 at 7:47 PM

    Hey wait a second,
    You look like… Iknow you from somewhere? What books have you written? If your a famous author, I worship the ground you walk on Rachelle! It’s my life long dream to be a famous, world known author! I love riting! It’s my life! I;m currently working on a novel about to genetically enhanced humans. (No, It’s NOT copying Maximum Ride…:-))
    Who escape from a prison . It’s called Maze and I think its coming along great. All the kids at school make fun of me because my free time is writing and reading only. Someday I’m going t be rich and show them who’s writing skills are awesome and comeing in handy no!
    Sorry for the errors, by the way I can’t see what I’m typing. 🙁 So yeah, I’m twelve and its a pain for me to come up with this money, and get over the fact that kids think I’m weird for havig a life filled with pencils, papers and keyboards.
    -R. M. Evans
    (It’s my pen name! R. M. Evans!)

  7. R. M. Evans on May 15, 2012 at 7:39 PM

    Wow, so I’m twelve and if I save up ALL my money for the next twenty five years… THEN I can go publish my dozens of novels I’ve written and only have a three percent chance of becoming someone great? Like Suzanne Collins and J.K.Rowling, and James Petterson, and stephn King? Wow, they all got that three percent down!
    Well this sucks, so if your not three percent there goes fifty eight THOUSAND dollars!?!?!?!?!?!?!?
    Wow, there go my hopes and dreams being crushed? ?Hear that sound? Its the sound of my Dad’s 4-wheeler smashing my swwet, glorious, future I’ve wanted as a famous author! I swear I’m gonna cry now!

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  12. mistergigan on May 24, 2009 at 8:49 AM

    >”TOTAL: $40,000 not including your advance.”

    Based on this figure, how many copies of a book are initially printed?

  13. Alykat on April 16, 2009 at 10:08 PM

    >I’m working on a project for a media studies class, and our assignment is to figure the budget for publishing a book. If I was to hypothetically publish a trade hardcover sci-fi aimed at young adults by a semi-famous author, do you know what a rough estimate for how many books should be in the first print run? Thanks!!

  14. Rina on July 2, 2008 at 12:10 PM

    >The breakdown is very interesting and clear. I wanted to ask about cookbook graphic design, illustration and printing costs. These books are usually more colorful, need more design. How does it change the cost?

  15. Ann V.@HolyExperience on February 7, 2008 at 7:32 PM

    >Makes every writer think: Are my words worth a tree? Many trees? Worth that kind of financial investment? Worth hours out of many people’s lives to read those words?

    Need fresh words. Necessary words. Rich, life-giving words. Father, give grace…

    Thank you for this, Rachelle…

  16. Steve Laube on February 7, 2008 at 12:14 PM

    >Great help for every writer to see this. Well done. One thing forgotten in the calculation…the author’s royalty. That is a cost as well when considering the “break even” point. The up front advance is considered a (sort of) production cost in the publisher’s model. This means that with the models presented the break even sales number are probably closer to 8,000 – 10,000 units.

    Hope that helps,

  17. Mary DeMuth on February 5, 2008 at 4:00 PM


    I feel humbled at this. It blesses me and surprises me that publishers would take such a chance!

    Mary DeMuth

  18. Rachelle on February 5, 2008 at 10:47 AM

    >Like I said, the figures are hypothetical. But the assumed hypothetical FIRST printing in this example is around 5,000.

  19. Nicole on February 5, 2008 at 10:44 AM

    >Just wondering what the print run is on these figures . . .

  20. Christa on February 5, 2008 at 10:08 AM

    >Hmmm…..Let’s see, I need at least 6,022 more friends, relatives, and acquaintances. With money.

    Seriously, though, thanks for sharing even these ballpark figures. Amazing when you consider this is an investment for ONE book. Multiply that times the number of books a house publishes in one year…

    Maybe I’m lost in Toyland, but why wouldn’t an author want to help sell ?

  21. Mike Dellosso on February 5, 2008 at 8:09 AM

    >Thanks for breaking down the numbers, Rachelle. With my suspense novel coming out in June I now know what my publisher is spending on me (ballparkin’ it, anyway) and it–Gulp!–makes me nervous as heck! I better get out there and sell some books 🙂

  22. Cindy Thomson on February 5, 2008 at 7:43 AM

    >I have never seen it broken down that way. It’s very interesting, thanks. The cost of printing! Wow!

  23. Tiffany Stuart on February 5, 2008 at 7:31 AM

    >Excellent! Makes perfect sense.