How Much Will It Cost You to Publish Your Academic Book?

Things have been a little quiet on the newsletter front for me because these days I’m channeling most of my academic publishing advice energy into finishing my book manuscript. But I got a question from a prospective author the other day and it was so good that I had to answer it. The author asked, “How much out of pocket costs does it take [to publish an academic book]?”

The answer, as alwaaaaays, varies depending on the book, the press, the author, and the specific deal between the press and the author. But in any case, first, there's the cost of researching and writing the thing. Your publisher is not going to pay for that, so ideally you have an employer who will at least pay you a salary and maybe even throw in some funding for research.

Your publisher might offer you an advance on royalties, but this isn't super common in academic publishing, and it won't be the kind of money that will even come close to compensating you for all the hours you spend researching and writing your book. For a first book (revised diss), I've seen clients get anywhere from $1000 to $5000 as an advance, but most get nothing. If you do get an advance, you won't get any of it until the contract is signed, and you might not see all of it until the book is actually published, so this money won't really be useful for the writing costs.

Anyway, other out of pocket costs include:

Indexing. Most publishers place the responsibility on you to have the book indexed. For a typical scholarly book and a professional freelance indexer, that'll run you anywhere from $1k–$2k give or take. (You can do it yourself, but that costs your time, plus you may not know how.)

Copyediting & developmental editing. Most academic publishers still pay for manuscripts to be copyedited, but that happens to the final manuscript that goes into production. If you need to have your materials edited before submission, you'll have to pay for that yourself. Not everyone needs to have their materials edited before submission. I only recommend it when there are a lot of errors that could interfere with peer reviewers' understanding of the material or the writing/organization is so rough that the manuscript might get rejected on that basis. For more on when you might want to hire a developmental editor, there's this post. Developmental editing can cost anywhere from $1000 on up into the several thousands (it depends on the editor and the scope of work you want them to do). Copyediting varies widely in price, but if you want an experienced professional who has training & credentials, expect to pay up to $5000 for a full book manuscript. (Plenty of people will do it for cheaper, but make sure they know what they're doing before you hire.)

There's proofreading too. You can check the proofs yourself (I think this is most common) but if you don't trust yourself to find errors for whatever reason you can hire a professional. That could run up to a few thousand dollars.

If you want to use copyrighted material in your book, you may have to pay for the permissions to reprint it. I've never encountered this first-hand, but I imagine the costs vary widely depending on the material and who owns it. You can sometimes get the copyright owner to give you a break if you provide proof that you’re publishing with a nonprofit press such as a university press (thanks to Johns Hopkins UP editor Laura Davulis for this tip).

Some presses will ask you to provide a subvention to cover things like open access publishing and printing of color images (if you want either of those things). I would only advise you to do this if you can get your institution or an external grant to cover these costs.

You may also incur costs when you promote the book, if you are paying for your own travel to give talks, etc. However, you can try to only give talks where people are inviting you and their institutions are able to pay travel expenses (and speaking fees hopefully!)

You may be able to get institutional funds to cover the other costs I mentioned too. Many of my clients pay me through university research funds or start-up money from when they got their job (if you do get job offers, keep these things in mind when you negotiate your package).

University presses are non-profits, and will likely put more money into publishing your book (average is $30–50k) than they will see back in sales. It'd be great if they could cover all the costs I mentioned (and some will cover some of them—you can ask) but most just can't. I know this list of costs might look discouraging, and no doubt it will unfairly preclude some people from being able to enter the publishing game. But if you are aware of these costs up front, you can try to plan and calculate whether publishing a book is truly worth it to you. You can also use your awareness of these costs when selecting a publisher. It might be that your book project is so desirable that presses will go above and beyond to try to land it and you can negotiate for them to cover some of these things. Having a killer proposal can help on this front.

To that point! I’m running my Book Proposal Accelerator this May–June. It’s a 7-week online workshop that’ll walk you through everything you need to know to assemble a professional book proposal and put your best foot forward with acquisitions editors and peer reviewers. It costs $275 ($325 if you have institutional funding) and you’ll get a packet of materials to structure your work, access to an interactive online forum to ask questions and get feedback from me and other participants, and live video Q&As with me every Friday during the workshop. It’s very worthwhile if I do say so myself, but you don’t have to take my word for it—others have said it too. More info and an enrollment form are here. If you have any questions, you can reply to this email or hit me up on Twitter!