When self-publishing, consider your profit potential

Whether you’re buying publishing services from a single vendor or from a set of freelancers, you have to do a cold calculation. Can you sell enough copies of your book to recoup your investment?

add money profit

Illustration by IconEden

In an earlier post, I talked about some of the costs that go into producing a book. I came up with a figure of about $6,000. But if in addition to what I outlined earlier you were also to hire, as most publishing houses would, a developmental editor, several proofreaders, and most importantly a kick-tail artist to create a unique cover illustration, you can easily rack up $10,000 in costs.

If you make $2 per book, you’d have to sell 5,000 books. Can you do that? Are you sure? Most self-published books sell in the hundreds, not in the thousands.

This isn’t only a problem for self-publishers. If anything, the risks are even greater for royalty publishers. They invest huge amounts of cash in each book: multiple levels of editing, up to eight professional proofreaders, and top-notch cover artists. Add in their overhead costs, and big publishers can sink up to $50,000 to produce a book. Which is why they are so stinkin’ picky. They’re risk averse. Who can blame them? I would be, too.

This is why platform is so important to writers and publishers, and doubly so to self-publishing authors. You need to be able to realistically estimate how many people are going to buy your book.

The amount of money you spend producing your book, divided by the royalty you’ll receive per book, equals the number of books you must sell to break even.

Just break even. Beyond that, you’ll get into profit, although there’s cost of sales to consider, also. But let’s not go there just yet. And never mind the costs you’ve already put in: your time, all the books you’ve bought, conference fees…If you start thinking about those, you’ll despair of ever seeing a return on investment. Just focus on your hard costs, because that’s a tough enough equation.

Cost ÷ Royalty = Units

Am I saying don’t publish if you can’t recoup the costs? No. Publishing, like a lot of things, is a worthwhile endeavor even if you do it at a loss. There is nothing wrong with publishing as a hobby. And there’s nothing wrong with cutting costs to match your sales expectations. And if publishing is part of your business model, consider carefully whether it’s a profitable revenue stream or a cost of doing business.

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

One thought on “When self-publishing, consider your profit potential

  1. […] books to store in your garage. But if you’re paying, you’re the publisher, and you must do the math, as we’ve seen. Because money should flow to the writer, even—no, make that especially—when the writer is also […]

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