As a reader, it can be hard to fully understand all that goes into publishing. It’s such a complex industry with so little transparency. As an Indie Author since 2012, I’ve had to learn a great deal about this industry. Here’s a few things I’ve come to know.

The Real Cost of Publication

As an indie Author, I work with a publisher but I also promote my own work. It’s a method that works for me and gives me maximum control but don’t be fooled, it’s a lot of hard work. First, there’s the work that goes into actually writing the story. For example, my first book, Jason, Lizzy, and the Snowman Village took two years to finish. Granted, I was working at the time, but there were many early mornings and late nights involved as I was also working full time. Number of hours spent on it were easily more than 300 hours (or 7.5 weeks at 40 hours a week). And it was only 120 pages! You can expect a novelist to spent at least 3 – 10 times as long working on a novel (a fast writer will take 6 months, an average speed writer will take a year, slower writers could need two years or more).

Then comes the editing phase. I paid a professional editor a healthy amount to review, revise, and provide feedback on the book. The changes were done via track changes which meant I had to review and approve or decline them as I saw fit. This process took three weeks as there were changes I wanted to make as well.

I worked with an illustrator to come up with the cover art. The initial concept only took a few days, then it was another two weeks worth of tweaks and changes to everything from the font to the colors we used. Everything had to be just perfect!

Then, the book has to be submitted to the various sales channels and the website had to be updated with a new product. There’s sales copy, marketing content, and all kinds of descriptions plus SEO to do. This stage took about a month. Finally, it’s ready for sale!

But wait, there’s so much more: marketing, blog posts, Facebook sharing, reviews, and submission to contests. The work for a book is never ending and always ongoing. So the next time you think that the price of a book is too high, remember the blood, sweat, tears, frustration, and joy that went into making that book the physical product it is today.

 Physical Costs of Printing

A 120 page black and white book with a gloss cover in paperback costs $2.15 to print. A hardcover is a whopping $9 just to print it. Then there’s the cost to ship it to me. If I drop ship a single book to someone, it’s $3.54. Media rate is a little cheaper depending on where it’s going in the US but takes forever to get there. So let’s call shipping $3.50, which includes a small fee for shipping and handling costs for me to buy shipping materials and ship it through the post office (although, that’s easily $1-$10 alone). So at this point, it’s $5.65 to print and ship. That’s before I ever even get to the cost of what I paid to the illustrator and editor. If a book is priced at $9.99, then I’ll receive $4.34 (43.4%).

Because I’m self-employed, I can claim my expenses against my income, which means I won’t pay as much in taxes. That helps eventually but it takes a year (or more) to see a refund. What’s left is taxed at 37%.  So let’s call it $1.60 for taxes, not counting sales tax which is 8.25% ($0.825). That means I make $1.92 for a book. If my costs were $3,000 for cover and editing, I would have to sell 1,351 books just to break even. That doesn’t include marketing, website hosting ($250 a year), domain name ($12/yr), Facebook boosted posts, etc.

Think Amazon is better? A Kindle book has all the same expenses of cover and editing, but also has the expense of paying Amazon. You can choose two royalty rates – 35% or 70%. At $6.99, that means a royalty of $2.45 at 35% or $4.75 at 70%. Unfortunately, once again there is another trade off with Amazon which is that for a 70% royalty, you’re required to allow lending, which reduces sales potential (I personally hate lending – it means I’m giving away books for free). That’s part of why Kindle pricing is generally not much less than paperback. The costs are still there, they are just different. That’s why you’ll see my Kindle ebooks priced at $2 below paperback. I price my children’s books slightly less because there’s less pages as compared to a full length novel but that doesn’t mean less effort goes into it.

So if you have a favorite author, know that they don’t get rich, unless they sell millions of copies. Most of the time, they don’t even break even. To make $50,000 a year, they would have to sell $68,500 worth of books (or 13,700 copies at $5 profit each). The average author sells 250 copies, making $1,250. Even a traditionally published author only sells 3,000 copies and their royalties are often low as well (15% for paperback, 20% for hardcover). That means a paperback book priced at $9.99 gets a royalty of $1.49 and a hardcover at $19.99 earns $3.99. That’s earnings of $4,470 paperback or $11,970 hardcover at 3,000 sold each.

For the traditionally published author, this means a much more straightforward compensation – if you can stomach it all. It’s nice to receive a check each month. I personally have been unwilling to sign over my work to a traditional publisher which is why I have gone the indie route. It’s also why face to face book events are critical – I don’t lose as much money for shipping costs. That’s why I have no choice but to charge for shipping or raise the price of the books. It’s also why Amazon Prime is so popular – the shipping cost is included as part of the membership. Because of the volume of shipping they do, and the fact that they now have their own Prime fleet, Amazon is able to deliver products and goods effectively. And I don’t begrudge them at all – I just know that selling through my own website is the best route to take.

Looking for your next great read? Check out Most Wanted! To purchase a copy of the short story for $1.99 via PayPal, click here. Or visit the shop for other great stories, including the award-winning Jason, Lizzy, and the Snowman Village!


Till our next adventure,