You may have decided to self-publish your poetry book in order to get more royalties than a traditional publisher would offer you. It sounds like a great idea, but what many poets don’t realize is that it is too good to be true.
Because when you self-publish, you’re responsible for all of the costs upfront. A traditional publisher is great because they will manage all of the costs (and work) upfront, so you don’t have to worry about it.
But there is some good news. Self-publishing your book can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. If you don’t have any money, publishing your book and getting it out there can be completely free! But if you want to put some effort into it, then you’ll want to consider investing some money into the project.
Keep reading, and I’ll fill you in on how much I spent, where I allocated my money, and what mistakes I made (so that you can avoid them).
From my research, there are three main avenues where you can self-publish your own poetry book: Amazon’s KDP, Ingram Spark, and Barnes and Noble Press. I decided to go forward with Amazon’s KDP, but once I found a free promo code for Ingram Spark, I decided to upload my book for free there as well. I haven’t looked into Barnes and Noble Press yet, but I may in the future when I have more time. I know many poets have had success with this press.
On Amazon, it’s free to upload your book. They will give you a free ISBN, let you make a free cover, and upload your manuscript for free. It’s a very easy platform to use, and you’ll be publishing your book on one of the largest bookseller platforms.
Ingram Spark is a little bit more advanced and complicated to use, but they are important if you want to get your book into physical bookstores. Most bookstores won’t want to purchase your book on Amazon and will order it from Ingram Sparks. However, Ingram Sparks does charge you to upload your book to their website. Thankfully, they offer promo codes that will allow you to upload a title for free, so it cost me $0 to upload my book on their website.
Make sure that you upload the final copy to Ingram Sparks. While Amazon KDP allows you to make edits for free even after publication, Ingram Sparks will charge you fees for updating the manuscript or cover, so keep that in mind.
Keep in mind that if any publisher ever approaches you and asks you to pay for them to publish your book and do all of the marketing for you, it’s likely a scam. Ingram Spark is one exception because they are a distributor, not a publisher.
This is one of the hotly debated topics in self-publishing: whether or not to invest in an ISBN. After doing a lot of research on it, I decided that for me, it was worth it to purchase my own ISBN.
KDP and Ingram Spark will give you free ISBNs for your book that you can use on their platform. However, the reason I didn’t go with that option was that I wanted to own all of the rights as the publisher for my book. If I had went with a free ISBN on both platforms, my book would’ve had a different ISBN on KDP and a different ISBN on Ingram Spark. It could get very complicated very quickly, and KDP and Ingram Spark would’ve been the publisher imprint on my book. I wanted my own name and rights, so I invested in an ISBN.
If you’re in Canada, you can actually get free ISBNs. However, for those in the United States, we do have to purchase them through Bowker. One ISBN costs $125. However, you can also buy 10 ISBNs for $295.
I opted to buy the package of 10 so that I could have them for future books. Remember that different versions of your book will need an ISBN as well. So if you’re going to publish a hardback and a paperback, then it would be better to buy the pack of 10 ISBNs.
Bowker also sells barcodes that incorporate your ISBN, but I did not purchase that. Instead, I used a free barcode generator that I found online.
This is where I made my first mistake. I knew that I wasn’t the best at design, and I barely know how to use Adobe Illustrator. I know that people will judge poetry books based on their cover, and I wanted it to be something that I would love.
I started looking on Fiverr for a graphic design artist, and there was a large range of prices. After looking through different profiles of freelancers, I eventually narrowed it down to two people. I went with the cheaper option. I had a coupon, so the order only cost me $54.
However, I wish I had spent more on the cover. While I’m in love with the cover I have now, the cover I have now was heavily edited and fixed compared to the original design that was delivered. I came up with the entire concept idea, and the graphic artist couldn’t fully deliver what I had envisioned. They were late on delivery, sent me multiple wrong revisions, and didn’t incorporate most of my edits. Thankfully, I have a brother who is skilled in graphic design and was able to help me edit it into what is published today.
So word of advice to poets who don’t have experience in design: spend (extra) money on the cover. This is one of the most important aspects of your self-published poetry book.
As someone who has completed my bachelor’s in English Writing Studies and is working on a master’s in English Creative Writing, I’ve been in a lot of poetry workshops. I’ve had many peers and professors help me edit my poems.
The poems in my first book were all written while I was in college, and I had many peers help me edit my poems to the point where I felt like they were edited enough. The only thing I was concerned about was having a copy editor and having people read the collection as a whole to ensure that it made sense.
That’s when I decided to get a few beta readers. There are services where you can pay people to read your books and provide feedback, and of course, there are poetry editors. But beta readers don’t really focus on copy editing, they just give you feedback on your work as a whole.
I found beta readers using my own personal network, Reddit, Facebook, and Goodreads. You just put a synopsis of your book out there, how many words it is, a deadline, and then send people the manuscript. I received a lot of great feedback that I incorporated into my final draft, and it was completely free. So I spent $0 in editing, but if you don’t have the experience and want to ensure the draft is professional and has no typos, I would recommend hiring a poetry editor. For the next book, I will likely hire an editor as I still found minor typos in my final copy that I had to fix.
Depending on how many words or pages your book is, it could cost you between $200 and $500 for a good poetry editor. It will also depend on how many rounds of editing you go through.
Marketing / Ads
This is one area where you can really spend as much or as little as you want. Personally, I like to try and focus on organic searches and leads, but sometimes it can pay off to pay for marketing and ads if you know how to use them.
One thing I did invest in was a professional website. I originally started a free one on Wix and decided to upgrade it and purchase a domain name to make it easy to find. Wix and WordPress are the two most common hosts for a website, but I spent hours trying to figure out WordPress and couldn’t. Eventually, I may try again, but I needed something quick and easy, so I went with Wix.
I decided to upgrade my free account with their Unlimited website plan, which was $11 a month (paid annually) on sale. Regularly, it’s $22 a month, but Wix often hosts promotions where you can save 50% on their plans. Along with that plan, I also got one free year of my custom domain.
In addition to a professional website, I also wanted to have professional social media. Thankfully, I still have not paid anything for my Instagram, TikTok, or Twitter account. I use a free social media scheduler called Planoly, which allows me to schedule 30 posts a month for free. Eventually, I may upgrade that plan, but for now, it’s a great deal for free.
I also wanted to get early reviews for my book, so I needed to build an advanced reader copy (ARC) team. There are many avenues that will let you pay for these services, but I wanted to make sure that I was investing in the best options.
I started by uploading an eBook version of my poetry book into BookSirens for free. BookSirens does have a paid option where they send your book to people, but they also let you promote your own book for free there. I used that as the hub for my advanced readers and spent time sourcing them elsewhere. I emailed a lot of poetry book bloggers and bookstagrammers with a free copy in exchange for a review, and I had the most success with that.
I did pay for an ARC team through Voracious Readers Only. This is a great program that connects readers with writers. You can sign up for a free giveaway and receive twenty readers for free. After that, I signed up for a free six-week-long trial. After that trial, I only had to pay about $.75 for each connection, which totaled $22 a month. I will run this for a few more months to generate new readers, but eventually, I will pause it until my next book.
I haven’t paid anything for Amazon ads yet. I will wait to do those until I have more books published to generate more revenue. The ads are more likely to be successful and worth the investment if I have multiple books for readers to buy and choose from. When I do that, I will invest in Rocket Publisher, which is a tool that helps you determine SEO keywords for your book to show up in the right searches and ads.
Another cost you’ll have to consider is buying proofs and author copies, but again, this cost is totally up to you. I had to buy two proofs from Amazon because the first time the color didn’t print the right color that I had wanted. However, they were very cheap. I only paid around $6 for each of them. You’ll just have to pay the printing cost on Amazon and then shipping. Unfortunately, you can’t get Prime Shipping with it.
I also wanted to order author copies, and I did that through Ingram Spark. I wanted to sell signed copies and do book signings on my own, so I ordered them on Ingram Spark. They are a little bit more expensive than Amazon’s KDP, but they are also better quality (in my opinion. I’ll have to do another article on that later).
The cost will vary depending on how many copies you want. I ended up spending around $250 for 65 copies. However, I will still make money back when I eventually sell those books, so I saw that as an investment. Some of them will come out of my pocket as I give away some copies for free, but still, it was only a few dollars per book.
I wanted to get some nice pens to sign my books with. Plus, it was my first book, and I finally reached my dream of being a published author, so I decided to treat myself.
I ended up paying around $5 for these pens, and after signing a few copies of my book, I will say that they are amazing. They don’t smear or smudge, and it is bright and doesn’t bleed through.
I also had to get some 6×10 shipping packages on Amazon to ship the signed copies with. I ended up ordering these because they were cheaper, but I did pick up ten at the local post office for $1.99 each before I realized I could get cheaper ones on Amazon.
For shipping, the book was small enough for media mail, which was the cheapest option at $3.49 for each book. However, I took this out of the profits of each book, so I consider this cost an investment. Keep in mind that you also don’t have to ship out your own copies. If you publish through Amazon KDP, they handle all the shipping for you!
All in all, the total cost of publishing my poetry book was around $785. While this might seem like a lot, keep in mind that this also includes the cost of all ten ISBNs, my website, and all of the author copies (which I will hopefully make a profit on).
I could easily have spent so much more and maybe made the book launch even more successful, but since this is my first book, there was a lot of learning the ropes and understanding how the whole process worked.
But don’t let this number intimidate you. You can easily publish your book for $0 and be incredibly successful. But I will say that you do get what you pay for, so if you want a more professional-looking book, you may want to invest some money.
Disclosure: I am an Amazon Associate, and some of the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.