There are 2 accepted methods of getting a book onto the market. The familiar way is being accepted by a publishing house, signing a contract and either getting an advance on your work, a cut of each book sale, or a mix of both. The second route is to self-publish whereby authors use a web-based company to upload their text, design their cover and anything else required. Said company will then manufacture the books when orders come in, known as print-on-demand (POD). Gone are the days where a publisher will run off 10,000 copies in expectation of projected sales. With self-publishing, if the producer receives an order for one book, they will literally manufacture and mail out one book. There is also a last option, agents. Agents act on your behalf and approach the publishing houses for you. They know the right people in the business and have greater experience in promotion. They do charge for their work obviously and this will be deducted from any profits you may make, expect to lose around 15% of your gross earnings which goes to the agent.
It is incredibly difficult getting accepted by a traditional publishing house, in fact I often hear that the acceptance rate is less than 1% of manuscripts submitted. A few people have asked me if they think I’ll ever be lucky enough to get published. I did, admittedly, always want to be accepted by a publisher, especially when I first started out as I thought it was the only option. Now, however, I’d stick with self-publishing because the rewards are greater (and I’m talking about control of your work, not just financially). If you’re reading this and want to get your work out there, I’d thoroughly recommend you self-publish.
Writers get financially stitched, make no bones about it. Whether you’re accepted by a traditional publisher, or you self-publish, the rates paid to authors are often insulting. The reason is simple, authors do not possess the resources to produce a book, none of us have sheds in the far reaches of the back garden housing a printing press and neither can we afford to buy them. Even if we could, it would still be false economy, our baby may not sell and pay back set up costs and even if it did fly off the shelves, unless you’re a best seller many times over you still wouldn’t recoup costs. So, we have to rely on those with the resources to produce the book for us such as Amazon, Nook, Kobo and iBooks for ebook versions at least.
Royalty rates vary with a traditional publishing house from 7.5% to 12.5% per book. The lesser figure would be for a first time-author. So, if you sell a book for $15.00, your cut would be a miserly $1.13.
Crap isn’t it?
Best-selling authors can command higher cuts but to make any money in writing books, or at least to write full time, we would have to sell thousands of books.
Publishers also tie you into a contract; you will have less say on how your work is designed, how it is edited etc. You will have to go down the whole bureaucratic highway of dealing with a large corporation and all the red tape that involves. The input you lose could mean the cover photo you set your heart on is not accepted or your blonde princess peering out from the tower is changed to a brunette.
You have spent much time writing, would you be prepared to hand it over to someone else?
There are advantages, however, but I don’t think they are enough to outweigh the disadvantages. A publishing house can market your baby in a way that you could only ever dream of. It could potentially end up in all the major book stores, benefit from great advertising and you’ll have a lot of people who can help you. Having said all that, since I write this article in 2013, self-publishing has made significant advancements. I’d argue now that an indie can market their work more powerfully than a publishing house. The advertising options alone we have at our disposal are incredibly powerful, and if handled wisely can be successful.
Over to self-publishing. Many laughed at people going down this route in recent years. Most were thought as poor writers because they couldn’t get accepted by a publishing house, therefore their book was inferior and they had to get it out there for themselves. Arguably, there are bad books out there by authors who can’t write but that could well apply to a published work also.
Self-Publishing is becoming so popular now that even authors who have been traditionally published are switching. The industry has been in the monopolising grip of publishers for many years, there were no alternatives, we authors had to accept what they dished up, or go hungry. Now, I honestly think that publishing houses are dying a death and we will see a continued resurgence of writers using self-publishing companies.
The advantages? You have pretty much full and absolute control over the words in your book, the photo on the cover, what price you want to sell it at, what profit you want to make. You can dismiss publishing red tape, say good bye to others imposing deadlines and telling you what to do and how they want you to do it. If you want to reject their title of ‘Gone with the Wind’ in favour of your own – ‘Departed with a Fart’, then hell, you can! Want to get your book translated to Aboriginal and take a 6 month tour of the Outback to sell a few? Knock yourself out.
Remember though, you have to sell a lot of books to make a living. I am occasionally asked how much I make from my books so I’ll tell you.
The companies I use for my books are Amazon KDP, and Draft 2 Digital who handle a few retailers. All my titles are sold through Amazon in either ebook or paperback format, with hard covers and audio books on their way, some are exclusive to Amazon because they offer certain perks for doing so. Draft 2 Digital handles two titles that I have chosen to also make available outside of Amazon through outlets such as Nook, Kobo and iBooks. Amazon is the biggest platform to sell my books on.
This is how much I make on my books.
Ebook retail price: $3.99 – Gross profit @ 70%= $2.79
Paperback retail price: $14.95 – Gross profit @ 60% = $5.11 (Exclusive to Amazon). Gross profit @ 40% = $2.12 non-exclusive. (Paperback figures do depend on the page count but this is about an average).
Not great is it? After that the US Tax Department takes 30% until you get a US tax number. Then, the UK government will swipe another 20% of that figure. Amazon itself holds onto the money for a while, payments are issued to authors 30 days from the end of the month of sale. So, if I sold a book on the first of the month it could take around 59 days until I see the money.
There is editing costs for my book as well. My trusted editor tells me my writing is apparently so good it needs few tweaks but you should expect to pay $500 up to over £1300 for editing a book, and I thoroughly recommend you do. Cover design sets me back $585 per title, formatting a further $130. Plus, advertising isn’t just an idea these days, I’d consider it necessary. 10% of income is a good guide but I often spend far more. Associated software subscriptions are $130 per month.
Time is an author’s best friend. You can be an overnight success, but most authors take a few years to get up to speed, and make a presence in the market. Now, in a day, I sell the same number of books I sold in my entire first year, and believe me, it’s not a lot, but I get by.