Do I Have to Spend Money to Get Published?

Updated: Nov 3

One thing that confuses a lot of authors is if they need to spend money to publish a book. This partly comes down to how you want to be published. So let’s look at where you might want to spend some money with each type of publishing.


A piggy bank with a coin being dropped in.

Traditional Publishing


If you want to get an agent and picked up by a publisher, you don’t really need to spend much money at all. Most agents still take on authors through standard submissions, and no reputable agent will ever require you to pay to submit to them.


In traditional publishing, money should always flow to the author. Agents and publishers will take a cut of your earnings, but you will never pay them to be published.


But with more and more writing academies and book coaches popping up, it might seem that you need to invest in your writing before you can get noticed by publishers. Getting an agent is competitive and people understandably want their books to stand out in the submissions inbox.


However, publishers can be concerned about authors whose first books have been shaped in writing courses or similar programmes. This is because publishers don’t just want one book – they want to invest in you as a writer. If your first book has been polished through courses and going through multiple revisions with editors, publishers aren’t sure what your work will be like when you are writing your next book without that support.


This isn’t to say to avoid writing courses if you want to take them. They can be invaluable and a lot of fun if it’s what you are interested in. But I also want to assure those of you who can’t afford to do one, or simply don’t have the time. You do not need to complete a writing course to get published.


The only type of editing I recommend to people wanting to get traditionally published is an initial manuscript critique to give you a professional opinion on your text. Some authors choose to have a developmental edit, but I would only recommend this if you’ve had some interest and feedback on your book, but still haven’t landed and agent.


Sometimes, though, you may need an authenticity / sensitivity read. If you know that your text would benefit from one before you have an agent, then it might be better to pay for this upfront. Publishers may foot the bill for this down the line, but it’s still a grey area as to who will cover this at the moment, especially if you’re not contracted yet.


One final type of editing you could choose to pay for is a query letter or submission package review. A lot of authors can find writing the query letter and synopsis really challenging, even with guidance. So having someone check that for you can be helpful if you want your submission to really shine. And this isn’t quite as expensive as getting your whole book edited.


So let’s recap. If you’re aiming to be traditionally published the only types of edits you could consider (but don’t have to have) are:

  • Manuscript critique

  • Developmental edit (recommended only if you’ve had interest and feedback on your work, but still don’t have an agent)

  • Authenticity read / sensitivity read (where necessary)

  • Query letter review

And that’s it. The cost for these services will vary depending on how long your book is and a few other factors, but remember – these are all optional.


A pouch with coins falling out

Self-Publishing


Choosing to self-publish is a completely different story. In this case, the author pays for everything. Because as a self-publishing author, you are also the publisher.


Just like traditional publishing, you don’t have to pay for writing courses or a book coach unless you absolutely want to. However, unlike traditional publishing, there aren’t any filters for what gets published. So unless you’ve worked with an editor who has given you feedback, you might not know how quality the work is until the reviews start coming in, and that can be scary.


Understandably, most self-publishing authors don’t want to spend a lot of money. But this is the problem – you get what you pay for. And skipping editorial stages will be obvious in the quality of the book.


While a manuscript critique is still beneficial and can highlight if you should consider writing courses or working with a book coach, you can sometimes skip this step and go straight to a developmental edit to start shaping up your text. Note that this edit is still looking at the bigger picture. After that, the next edit you’ll need is a copy edit, which focuses on grammar, spelling, flow, and consistency.


The developmental and copy edits should be done before a book is fully designed. Then, once you’ve finalised the design an illustration, you get a proofread. This is probably the type of editing you’re most familiar with, as it checks to make sure there aren’t any errors in your book. But along with checking the text, it will also make sure there aren’t any problems with the layout. Think of it as quality control before you publish the book.


So to sum up, here are the edits you should get if you’re going to self-publish:

  • Manuscript critique (ideal, but not always necessary)

  • Developmental edit

  • Copy edit

  • Proofread

But that’s just the editorial process. Remember, you’re the publisher here, so you will also need to spend money to get the book illustrated (if necessary) and designed. It’s also up to you to market and publicise the book, either by hiring someone to do this for you or paying to take out ads.


You will also need to pay for printing costs, although how that’s paid for varies by how you publish. Sometimes it’s just taken out as a portion of each sale. Other times you may have to pay for the printing up front.


Self-publishing can be an expensive venture. In some genres it still can work out where you make money, particularly where eBook sales are strong (romance, fantasy, etc.). In children’s books, especially illustrated children’s books, it’s more challenging. But that’s an entirely different topic that I’ll go into another time.


And if you're on the fence between traditional and self-publishing, it's always better to try traditional publishing first before you spend money getting self-published.


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