Money Talks: Traditional and Self-Publishing Profits

Money Talks: Traditional and Self-Publishing Profits
by Julie Butcher-Fedynich

There is information all over the internet telling you that self-publishing is better. “No, wait! Traditional is better.” “Hey! Indie is the only way to go.” For someone who aspires to be a professional writer, as in make a living from writing and still having a roof and food, I’m interested in the dollars and cents involved.

Unfortunately, I’m from Missouri, the show me state, and I don’t happen to trust everyone on the web. (Even though we all know the internet would never lie.) So in order to get a clearer picture of what kind of time and money are involved in the different publishing camps, I went to my social media stream. Seriously, I trust these guys over the haters of one side or the other.

Guys, the numbers are very interesting. So I’ll give you the dollar amounts and then you can make an informed decision for yourself. For the sake of clarity, in this article a debut author stands for both a first book, and for someone who has published before and is writing under a new name. They’re really the same thing. Some of these authors have given permission to use their names and book titles and some have not. They have kindly shared their sales numbers and costs to help you make an informed decision.


Author One—Traditional—Romance/urban fantasy/paranormal—Debut Author
Advance: $42,500.00 (after agent percentage)
Time Writing: 12 months
Costs: Website – $8,000.00 plus $50.00 hosting
Posters, bookmarks, etc. – $580.00
Professional Memberships – $300.00
Hiring a PR professional (7 months) $14,000.00
Conventions: $6,000.00
Original Book Sales (1 month) Paperback – 19,120 shipped (This doesn’t count returns, if any.)
E-book – 320

Author One Advice “Debut writers–don’t think you can throw money at the situation. You need to engage, both with your publishing company, and your readers. Not your PR person—you!”
***Author one also now recommends Painless Marketing for Busy Authors by Valerie Bowman

Our next author has kindly offered numbers for two different erotica novellas. One is published traditionally, and one is self-published. This makes an easy comparison since we have the same author/genre for both novellas.

Author Two— Traditionally Published (Primarily E-book) Debut Novel
Advance: $0
Time Writing: One week
Publicity Costs: $0
Original Book Sales (1 month) E-book: 908 (Priced at $2.99)
Profit: $ 935.56

Author Two— Self-Published (E-book) Not a debut novel This author had one novel and two novellas under this name traditionally published before self-publishing
Advance: Zero
Time Writing: One week
Costs: $30 for copyediting, $20 for stock photos
Original Book Sales (1 month)
E-book: 62 (Priced at $2.99)
Profit: $ 120.40

Author Two Advice: Well, my advice is that one shouldn’t overestimate one’s fan base and never discount the clout and visibility publishers provide, especially romance and erotic romance publishers. Self-publishing done right has a cost, one that can’t be ignored despite the potential for a higher royalty percentage. Everyone talks about the success stories; no one talks about 95% of other people who, for whatever reason, don’t do well. And while I intend to try self-pubbing again the future, I’m very aware this time that my backlist and fan base make me no different from any other author.

Author Three—Self Published author Nick Ponzo, no advance. FBI spy thrillers. The first one is titled A Touch of Deceit, the remaining Nick Bracco thrillers are, A Touch of Revenge, A Touch of Greed and A Touch of Malice.
Costs: Production- $1,500.00 Promotion- $500.00
Original Book Sales (1 month, E-book) 35
Number of units sold to date of all Nick Bracco thrillers since March 2010: 100,000
Profit: First month – $11.55 ($0.33 on the first book per unit, $2.00 per unit on the following three
Author Three Advice:
My advice for authors would be to make sure your book is the best it can be. All the marketing in the world won’t help the sales of a book which is poorly written or packed with grammatical errors.

Author Four—Self-published author, Ruthanne Reid, no advance, Science Fiction titled, The Sundered. Debut Novel
Time Writing: One year
Publicity Costs: $0 (She was given a blog tour valued at $45.00 and recommends this highly.)
Original Book Sales (1 month): E-book: 20 (Priced at $2.99) Paperback: 15 (Priced at $14.99)
Profit: $134.80 (Not a lot sold in the first month – it picked up speed later, reaching a high of 300 ebooks and 40 physical at the peak – but I was very happy with my start, given how few resources I had available.)
She set the price for both, with limitations, but for the physical copies, expanded distribution added a charge. She dropped that distribution this month because she wasn’t selling physical books anywhere but Amazon. That let her lower the price (and dropped what Amazon takes to 40%), and with her doing nothing else, She’s started selling physical copies again.

Author Four Advice:
1. KDP Select is very much worth the exclusivity. My best sales came during the months I offered a week for free, consistently. In fact, I was on other platforms for a while, but I’ve returned to Amazon exclusively because the sales just weren’t showing up on other platforms.
2. Write. Don’t worry about the marketing as much as you might fear. What matters is whether it’s a book worth talking about. If people talk about it, then even when your life circumstances blow up (like mine) and you end up with no money and no time to market (like me), people keep talking about your book, and that drives sales. People are your real investment.

So dear writers, take these numbers and make an informed decision. It seems to me that great writing will win out in the end no matter what venue you choose. Traditional publishing brings more green dollars in the beginning. Self-publishing gets you a higher percentage of the sales figures, but more of the work, and takes longer build sales. Whichever you choose, you’re still going to need a boatload of patience. There isn’t an easier road. Drat!

by Julie Butcher-Fedynich

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Julie Butcher Fedynich
Buzzy Mag Columnist & Pundit. Julie Butcher lives with her husband and six children on the fringes of Utter Chaos. She is the sister of #1 USA Today and NYT bestselling author, Jim Butcher. She adores puppies, kittens, and thinks world peace would be awesome as long as stuff still blows up in the movies.
  • Author Danae Ayusso

    eight grand for a website? HAHAHHAHAHA

  • Arlington Nuetzel

    You neglected to mention that those traditionally published had to pay back much of their advances, if they got any. I control my destiny, quality and all aspects of marketing as a self published or Indie author. I employ two editors. These are clean books. I have never been turned down for a review from some big guns. New York is a publishing graveyard.

    • Julie R Butcher

      Advances aren’t returned unless manuscripts aren’t delivered. You don’t make more money unless the books earn out, but unless you break the contract terms–the advance is yours.

    • Simon P.

      Trad pub, advances are never returned – it wouldn’t need mentioning. It’s an advance against royalties. Don’t agree NY is a graveyard – it’s a place full of passionate, book-loving people with experience and connections to help authors whose work they enjoy,. The trad vs. self argument isn’t helped by either ‘side’ trying to make it seem like the other format is inherently bad all around. I think at the moment traditional means more money and higher quality, self means more control to the author

  • Jamie

    We need to talk about author one for a moment. It is soooo unlikely a debut author will get a $42,000 advance. Hiring a professional PR person @ $14,000 with an $8000 website seems very over the top for the average new author. This author could have easily spent $100.00 on web fees and paid a few hundred to set up a wordpress site AND if the author wanted to get real fancy he/she could have hired an artist for a website banner and background image. Something very snazzy could have be made for just a few hundred. Do you have any numbers on how well any future books did for this author? I would like to know if the money invested was worth it for future sales.

    • Julie R Butcher

      I know this author and the actual deal was 150K for three books. It does happen. I know several people it has happened to. And no, there aren’t any other numbers as this is really new author. Traditional sales figures only come out with statements–usually every six months.

  • ijere

    Actually you are a writer is not to impact knowledge on people but also to make the dollars and cents from people……www.unn.edu.ng

  • syrimne1

    Only looking at the first month of sales (especially for indie books) is pretty misleading though…would be more interesting to compare 6 months to 6 months (or 1 year to 1 year), for authors who are seriously pursuing both. Even that totally ignores the fact that an advance is a 1x payout that is rarely earned out, versus income that occurs regularly…and pretty much indefinitely (as far as we know).