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
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
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
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