I was at a networking event a couple of months ago and I was talking to someone about independent publishing and how I believe that independent publishing is the best opportunity for someone to make money as a writer in today’s world. All of a sudden a woman with extensive experience in the traditionally publishing world overheard our conversation and said she strongly disagreed with my opinion. She is of the opinion that the best way to make money as an author is to be traditionally published. Unfortunately, we were not able to finish our conversation so I thought I would write a couple of articles to explain my position. This article is going to cover income potential via traditional publishing.
I should clarify that when I say writer I mean a writer of books, not journalists that get paid to write for news media or for magazines. So for all of you out there wanting to write and publish a book this article is for you.
I know that many people dream about writing the next New York Times’ best seller. While a good dream, the odds are that it is most likely not going to happen. Before you can be a New York Times’ best-selling author you need to get your book into the hands of a traditional publisher and then have that publisher actually publish your book.
Publishers are in the business to make money not to satisfy egos of authors. I know that may sound harsh but it’s true. The most important thing to a traditional publisher is the number of books they can sell. Another important thing a publisher wants, is to sign authors that have many more books inside them that they can later publish. The older you get the more difficult it will be for a publisher to take a chance on you. In the old days publishers knew it was going to take three books to break an author and were willing to invest time and money in a new author. They knew they would lose money on the first two books but then make it all back plus their profit on the third book. Well, publishers want to make money on the first book and make money on the next two as well. What’s changed over the past 20-30 years is that they are no longer willing to lose money on the first two books to make it back on the third book. The first book has to be profitable and it has to be profitable in the first 21-90 days or the publisher will lose interest and move on to the next book in the publishing queue.
Now without a selling platform established in advance your chances of signing a lucrative book deal are practically zero. There may be exceptions to this publishing practice, but for you, a member of the general public; these exceptions will not apply to you.
Did you know that 95% of all traditionally published books sell less than 500 copies? Remember the premise of this article is to earn a living as an author via traditional publishing. Can you really live off of the royalties on the sale of 500 books? Of course not. Not only that but if you only sell 500 copies of your book you will receive no royalties at all.
That’s because royalties are only paid after the publisher recoups their production costs. Those costs include: the advance, editing, interior and exterior layout, etc.
What does all this mean to you? Let’s do the math and see:
Congratulations, John Doe Publisher is going to publish your book. You will be paid a $2500 advance and you will receive an 8% royalty on all books that are sold. John Doe Publisher will own the copyright, publishing and distribution rights of your book.
Okay, now that you have signed the contract what happens next? Well, you’ll be paid the $2500 advance and your book will go into production. This part will take 12 -18 months. This is the time it will take to finish your manuscript (if not already complete) go through editing/re-writes, interior and exterior design (text layout and cover design) and printing and distributing your book.
Unless you’re financially independent or have a spouse or significant other supporting you, you’ll need to keep working your full-time job while your book is going through the publication process and then continue to work while you promote your book after publication.
How much did the publication process cost? I don’t know for sure and I don’t think the big publishers are going to tell me what the author is charged. But I do know how much I charge for preparing a book for print…
- Editing- These costs vary depending on how much editing you need. My guess is that all books published at the big publishing houses are going to put your book through comprehensive editing – plot, character development, continuity, grammar, spelling, etc. Costs for this service are between $.10 and $.20 per word. If you’ve written a 70,000 word book then editing will cost $7,000-$14,000.
- Interior Layout- this is how your book will look inside. All the formatting and laying out of the text takes place at this stage of production. The process of preparing your text for print will cost $500 – $1,000.
- Cover Design - A professionally designed cover is extremely important for the success of any book. Cover design will cost $500 – $1,000.
The total for just these three steps plus your advance is $10,500 – $18,500. That may not seem like much money but if you receive a royalty that is 8% you need to sell 13,125 – 23,125 books just to break even! This is assuming your book’s retail price $10 and you are receiving your royalty of $.80 which is based on the full retail price. However, you are most likely receiving your royalty off of the wholesale price. If the wholesale price is $5.00 your royalty would be $.40, so then to break even requires sales of 26,250 – 46,250 books!
This doesn’t include money to be paid to your agent and any marketing or promoting costs the publisher has incurred. All of which comes out of your royalty income requiring that even more books be sold to break even.
Remember that 95% of traditionally published books sell less than 500 copies. Even if you take an average of the revenue reported by the traditional publishers and using an average sales price of $10.00 per book, divide that by the total books published this results in an average number of sales of about 7,500 books per title.
In this example the total earned and payable to you is $2,500. You don’t break even and the only income you’ve received is your advance. If your goal is to still publish your book via traditional publishing methods then work very hard to create a platform in order to sell your books. Always remember that regardless of publishing method authors sell books!
Part two of this topic will go over the expenses and income potential of independently publishing your book.