May 27, 2015

The Real Cost of Self-Publishing: Dr. Nancy Saltzman

By Jordan Nieusma

nancy saltzman“The Real Cost of Self-Publishing” is an ongoing blog where we ask a self-publishing author to break down his or her expenses, in order to give others an idea of the costs involved in creating a successful book. Today, we talk to Dr. Nancy Saltzman, author of “Radical Survivor.”

Saltzman’s nonfiction memoir tells the incredible story of her survival in the face of recurrent tragedy. In 1995, with these dreaded words, “They found the plane. There were no survivors,” Saltzman entered a nightmare that would haunt her in the days, weeks, and years to come. Her husband Joel, the successful owner of a tennis shop, and her two sons Adam, almost 13, and Seth, 11, had been killed in a private plane accident, along with the pilot and his wife. The family had been attending a tennis tournament in Las Vegas and celebrating Seth’s birthday; Saltzman had flown on a commercial airplane because the private plane didn’t have enough seats.

It wasn’t the first time her life had been upended. Five years earlier, at age 38, she had undergone a mastectomy for breast cancer — and when the cancer returned a short time later, a hysterectomy and chemotherapy.

Saltzman now shares her insights on loss, resilience, and life through public speaking, including a talk for TEDx in Colorado Springs, CO.

The author holds a Ph.D. in Education from the University of Denver and a Master’s in Special Education from the University of Colorado. She retired in 2006, ending a 32-year career in public education.

Saltzman has sold approximately 3,801 copies of her book in paperback, ebook and audiobook formats. Below, she shares her production and marketing budget.

The Breakdown

Editor: $1,700

“I wrote the manuscript, and then in January of 2012 I got the name of an editor from a freelance writer who had interviewed me for an article. I just wrote to her and asked if she would be interested in editing my book for me, so I sent her the manuscript. It was $75 per hour for editing and $50 an hour to proofread. The total was $1,700.”

Book designer: $10,000

“I had a graphic artist who designed the cover and did all of the work on the inside. I also had pictures in the book. I picked the pictures and wrote the captions. She would ask what I thought of the print, the chapter headings (type style), etc. She cleared it with me, but she put it all in the software, and that was about $10,000. She charged me a set amount every month and said I would get a better deal that way. I think it was $1,500 a month.”

Printing: $18,000

“The first time I printed it, I printed 1,500 copies. I decided to use an offset press because I wanted photo paper in the book. I sold those, so I printed 1,500 more and have about 400 left right now. It costs about $6 to print them. This year, I worked with a different graphic artist; she charged me $100 (she charges $50 an hour) to convert the files so that I could use CreateSpace on Amazon. So, now my books will be printed through CreateSpace. If I need more books, they charge $3-4 to print.”

Ebook formatting: $400

“Once I had the book done and printed it in hard copy, I gave my designer the hard copy files of the book and she turned it into a Mobi file for Amazon and an epub file for Barnes & Noble. It cost $400 for her to do that.”

Audiobook: $1,500

“I worked with someone who owns a sound studio. That cost $1,500 flat-rate. I did the reading myself. When I was reading it out loud I found a couple of errors (in the text), so I wrote my designer and asked if we could fix them in the next print.”

Website: $500

“I’ve had the website for probably 10 years…But when the book came out, I worked with a [new] web designer to update it and include the information about the book. He charges $50 per hour, and he charged me $400 to update it and add the book in, add the links to Amazon, and a link to my PayPal account so people could buy the book. That’s what it cost to update my website because it was already established.

When I did a TED talk, I paid him to add in a link to my TED talk. He charges me $25 when he does that. So I probably paid him an additional $100 to do those kinds of updates.

I will say, though, that they really encourage you to make it accessible on handheld devices [although I haven’t done this]. [My webpage] looks better on a computer… It probably could be more phone-friendly. I’ve looked at other people’s book websites, and there are other things I could do.

It works fine for me and I haven’t wanted to spend a lot of money to update it. I think it works for what I want, which is if you want to contact me and learn a little more about me, it tells you that. And if you want to watch me speak, you can do that.”

Marketing: $950

“[Marketing] has actually been a lot of fun. I really knew nothing about marketing. I was an elementary school teacher and I had written newsletters. Certainly there is a lot of PR involved in being a principal and selling a school, but [for my book] I have read tons and tons of articles and blogs and tried to do some of the things that I’ve learned about in them…

“The marketing I did initially was I sent an email out to everyone I knew and said, “This book is out, if you want to get it this is how you do it.” And then I have Facebook pages: my own personal Facebook page, and I have a page for Radical Survivor. I’ve sold books through that. I have an account on Goodreads so I’ve advertised on there; I’ve done book giveaways. It’s pretty funny, I gave away 25 books because they encourage you to [do so], but I didn’t say “only in the U.S.” so I had to send about 10 book to Europe and Canada. I totally lost money on that giveaway because it cost so much to ship books.

I have the ebook on Amazon. You can [offer] free downloads [there], and every time I do a free download, it kicks off sales. The first time I had a free download, it was downloaded 11,150 times. I listed it on 10 different websites that advertise free downloads.

The total number of times it has been downloaded is over 20,000 times, since publication of the ebook in November of 2012. That helps because people who wouldn’t normally buy it download it and read it, like it and review it, which I think helps.

In Colorado Springs, I worked with the library, and they had a lot of people request the book, so they bought a lot of copies. They had book club copies, so you could pick up 12 at a time.

I’ve done some paid advertising in our local newspaper and neighborhood newspaper. I don’t think that’s been a big help. The newspaper [ad] cost $400. Then I advertised in the Story Circle network, which is a women writers group. That was about $450. They have a newsletter, and they do some giveaways; it’s all women’s literature. They reviewed my book, which was great. I advertised on Facebook; you can boost your posts—I don’t think it made a difference. I bet I’ve spent a total of $100 on Facebook.

The Bottom Line: $33,050

All in all, Ms. Saltzman spent roughly $33,050 on her print book, ebook, and audiobook. She has sold approximately 2,600 paperback copies on Amazon, through her website, local bookstores, at book clubs, and after speaking at conferences. In addition, she has sold 1,162 ebooks and 39 audiobooks. While she doesn’t plan on writing another book, Saltzman does continue to write blog posts on her site.

Her advice to self-publishers? “If you have a story to tell and want to publish a book I recommend self-publishing! Also:

  • “I think every self-published author should use an editor.”
  • Consider using CreateSpace: “For the first 3,000 copies of my book I used an offset press because CreateSpace (Amazon) did not yet exist (or I didn’t know about it)! Now I am using CreateSpace, and although my pictures are not on photo paper, they look fine. The cost is less per book, and I don’t have to ship my books to Amazon when they run low on inventory.”
  • “Offer your book as an ebook in addition to paperback. It increases your ability to reach more readers.”

BlueInk Review offers credible and unbiased reviews of self-published books exclusively. Visit us at If you’d like to receive more blogs like this, straight to your inbox, sign up here.

Jordan Nieusma is a graduate of Haverford College and holds a B.A. in English and a French minor. She was BlueInk’s fall intern.


28 thoughts on “The Real Cost of Self-Publishing: Dr. Nancy Saltzman

  1. Tori says:

    Ten grand for a layout and medicore cover? Seriously? Your ‘designer’ didn’t wear a mask and carry a flintlock pistol by any chance? They saw you coming, sorry.

  2. Sarina Rose says:

    I wonder who advised the PH.D. Beware. I bought my 3 book covers from for $69 for the ebook version and an additional $129 for the back and spine. I have to say every one loves them. My editors charge about 700 for about 70,000 words. Formatting was another $400. I did lots of research and read all I could on-line at Creatspace, and Smashwords.

    Unfortunately, for Nancy Saltzman, she was at a vulnerable time in her life and not fully recovered from the tragedies she suffered.

    Good Luck, Nancy Saltzman on your future endeavors.

  3. Jen Talty says:

    I have been doing self-publishing since 2009. I work with many authors at Cool Gus Publishing and do all the technical stuff, which includes eBook formatting, Print Design, Custom Cover design, to name a few. Self publishing is not FREE. There are costs associated because you are running a business. However, as stated in many comments, what was spent here is simply unnecessary for the book design and layout. I’ve done layouts for non-fiction books that are heavy on the images and I value my time, but that layout would not cost 10k in my world.

    Much of the other costs are about on point, even for the eBook formatting since the book was heavy on the images and the website stuff is about what I charge. I can’t speak to the off-set printing as we’ve always done print on demand.

  4. Sherry says:

    Been self-pubbed under a pen name, have long trad pub background/exp, and I do WordPress sites and whoo boy … rip off city. Sorry to hear it.

  5. I have been traditionally published 5 times and have just begun publishing through my own publishing house, Skylight Publishing. I did my research well and asked tons of questions. I have spent nowhere near what you have spent. All told it is less than $3000.

    Kristen Houghton, best-selling author
    A Cate Harlow Private Investigation series

  6. As an aspiring author myself, and a freelance editor, and a book reviewer — I can say with absolute authority — This author was ROYALLY RIPPED OFF!

    If someone charges by the hour for editing and proofreading, RUN, DON’T WALK AWAY. Most editors charge a per word rate for those services.

    You can get someone to do you a really good cover for $200-1500 dollars.

    As for the printing costs, go with an ebook first. Then do the paper book later, after the ebook. This was wayyyy tooo much.

    As for the website, you can create a really nice website for free on

    About the only thing here that was probably money well spent was the amount spend on marketing, and that probably could have been spent much better.

    In conclusion, I would like to say:
    – While you’re writing that book, be researching the costs for all these things. Join author discussion groups on facebook and read the posts and ask questions and learn.
    – Be promoting you, the author. When you publish that book, you don’t want them saying, ‘Who’s that?’.

    I’m not published yet, but I could almost write a book on the subject. I’ve spent a lot of time learning, and I know stuff that some of my published author friends don’t.

  7. dirk says:

    time to name names I reckon…
    can’t but help agree with the other commenters…

  8. Nat Russo says:

    I’m commenting because I myself am a self-publisher, and I mentor other up-and-coming self-publishers. I fear this may scare many potentially great writers away.

    These are NOT the true costs of self-publishing. These are the true costs you’ll face if you don’t do research before publishing.

    I have never spent more than $200 on a book cover, and my covers have been critically acclaimed. The total cost of publishing my first novel (Necromancer Awakening, which went on to be a #1 Amazon bestseller in the UK and #3 in the US) was less than $1000, which included purchasing 10 ISBNs, 1 for Necromancer Awakening and 9 for future work.

    If you’ve read this article, and you’re thinking about self-publishing, please don’t consider the costs quoted by the author. They are beyond ridiculously high.

  9. LS Bergman says:

    Wow! With costs like that most of us would not have gotten off the starting mark! My biggest cost has been the editing, but apart from that book design, formatting is nowhere even near what is suggested here. Marketing is also not purely about out-sourcing but understanding or coming up with a real strategy. There is so much you can do with practically no charge!

    Personally, writing must come first; but I am also a fan of augmenting my own skills along the way. So, don’t give up!

  10. Hi,

    It is indeed outrageous! You are right, a book should be edited, and even designed, professionally but these prices are way above the worth of the service! I recently published an article about the budget planning every author should do before beginning to self publish. It’s really important to take the time to do this. Have a look:

    Thanks for sharing your experience anyway, I think it’s really useful for others to see what to be mindful about, etc.

  11. I am an author/illustrator and I usually invest $50 or less at the starting point. I have beta readers and I format myself. If someone really wants to self-publish they should do a lot of research and avoid the advice of people who have a lot of money.

    Something that this doctor should have done is start networking before publishing. Networking can make a big difference in what you do or don’t spend on your work!

    I’m sorry, Dr. Saltzman. What happened to you is very unfortunate.

  12. Betty Bolte says:

    Dr. Saltzman was scammed multiple times in the process of self-publishing her book. There are a LOT of people making money off of authors for ancillary services required to publish a book (cover design, editing, even classes on how to write or how to market) who are all reasonably priced, not like this outrage. I’m so very sorry she spent so much to sell so few books.

  13. Alan Tucker says:

    $10,000 for book design? I’ve done print layout for about 20 years and I must say you got taken for a ride. If your book is 1000 pages with full color pictures on every page, that price might approach reasonability.

  14. Tim Sanders says:

    The 10k book design fee was 5k-7k high. Those who claim you get good design (front, internal matter and eBook format) for $50 aren’t realistic.

    Although 30K is a gouging, I’ve seen authors spend upwards to 80-100k just for a ghostwriter alone!

    To give context to this, I’ll likely invest 30-40k in promotion, paid distribution in Hudson’s etc. to support my traditional publishing launch next year … but that’s because the book drives the business and is not a business on its own in my genre (business/advice).

    Thanks for the article, nice for others to see these breakdowns.

  15. Your costs seems very high, although I imagine a lot of that is because your book is illustrated – particularly if that’s in colour. I published my book When Computing Got Personal in paperback, Kindle and audiobook formats for approximately £1,600 (about $2,000). You can find a detailed breakdown of my costs at, together with some thoughts on pricing.

  16. Suzie Quint says:

    Wow. They really saw her coming and took her for a ride. No way do most books require that kind of investment.

  17. Rik says:

    Interesting. IMHO, the formatting costs are very very high. I have formatted more than 650 books for eBooks and for Print on Demand. Never ever came close to those fees!!!

  18. Suz Korb says:

    Wait. What? I self publish books and it doesn’t cost me anything.

  19. As with my TOO EARLY FOR FLOWERS: THE STORY OF A POLIO MOTHER, or hundreds of indie films, when a piece of art HAS to be seen, the creator will move heaven and earth to make it known,

  20. Pete Bauer says:

    Anyone who would spend that much on self-publishing has done absolutely ZERO research into how to do it. She basically took the trad model and outsourced everything, selecting the most expensive option for all of them.

    Knowledge is power. Ignorance is expensive.

  21. Wow, Dr. Saltzman, I am sorry – this is one of the worst cases of author abuse I’ve ever seen. You really got taken for a ride!

  22. Bob Mayer says:

    Wow. I believe she would have been better off investing time in researching the business. That’s an utterly ridiculous amount of money to spend on a book. 10k for a book designed? At least someone made a great profit on this.

    Her advice after spending so much is so basic, one wonders if she did any research before jumping into this. Really? She thinks one should do an eBook too? And use POD?

    Perhaps some time at Kindleboards reading some threads would have helped. Or investing a few dollars in one of the myriad books out there about how to self-publish.

  23. Joe Cormier says:


    That seems like a lot of money to self-publish a book. I have a budget of $1000 for my novel. Am I crazy to think I can do a quality job for that amount?

  24. Goodness, no says:

    What a complete rip-off! I truly empathize with Dr. Saltzman’s experiences, but my god some people have utterly robbed her during this publication process!

    I ran a small press about 5 years before Dr. Saltzman wrote her book and a print run of 3,000 wouldn’t have cost us anywhere NEAR $18,000, even with color plates! And whoever charged her $10,000 for layout and design should be taken outside and hanged.

    It’s rip-offs like this which convince authors to go with vanity presses!

  25. Donna Butler says:

    No way on earth is this the real cost of self- publishing. She truly spent thirty thousand too much and she’s marketing in all the wrong places. This is so not the typical self publishing experience. The prices she paid for an editor and a book designer are tragically extreme and unheard of. I easily do my own ebook and Createspace formatting at no cost. And the typical price to pay someone to do your ebook formatting is around $100. She needs to network with other self-published authors to increase earnings on her current book and help her save tens of thousands should she write another book.

  26. I hate to tell you this given all you’ve been through, but you’ve been GOUGED by the most of the prices you paid to produce your book.

    A professional cover should run anywhere from $50-500–the higher end if a wraparound print cover and a square audio book cover is included in the price. A formatter should cost from $100-300 for an ebook that includes the major vendors–Amazon, Nook, iBooks, Kobo AND a print interior. The set up to print the book at Createspace is FREE. You do pay for author copies.

    Your editing expenses are about right. Mine are higher because I have several editors.

    Audio is costly because the author usually has to hire a professional narrator who uses his or her own studio. $100-400 per finished hour, meaning if a book is 10 hours long, it’s 10 finished hours, regardless of the amount of work that went into each hour.

    Anyone wanting to self-publish a book should study the industry. There are many books, websites, and author groups that provide excellent information. Do your research.

    Debra Holland, Ph.D, NY Times Bestselling Author

  27. Timothy Pew says:

    I haven’t seen your book design, so I suppose there *could* be some reason for such an outrageous cost, but I’d love to talk to you before you do your next book.

  28. Thank you. Your posting was very informative.

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