Will the royalty cheques buy you a yacht?

Self-publishing means an up-front investment… but the rewards it can bring are vast

If images of enormous cheques are waltzing before your eyes, courtesy of a big, famous publishing house, I’m afraid this article may be like a bucket of cold water in your face.

Writers like J.K. Rowling, Tony Robbins, and Stephen King get the kind of royalty cheques that can buy a yacht; the rest of us… well, let me paint you a picture. A dreary, disappointing picture of how the publishing world really works.

Typical book publishing royalties are between 10–12% of the retail price of the book and an advance is usually around one-third of the total royalties. Let’s say your book costs £20. You negotiate a royalty rate of 10%, so for each book sold you receive £2. If your print run is 5,000 and they all sell, your total royalties will be £10,000.

Which means your advance, around a third of your total royalties, will be £3,330. And the rest will drip in as and when your books sell. Not really enough to buy that yacht, is it?

Now, before you start weeping into your typewriter, I have good news for you. You don’t need a publisher to make lots of money from your book. You don’t need to be a big name. You don’t even need to become a New York Times bestseller, or sell a gazillion copies.

Gone are the days when you had to grovel to the big publishing houses to get your book out there. The power no longer rests with them; the internet and Amazon have levelled the playing field (which is a double-edged sword, if I’m honest — it’s never been easier to publish a book; but it’s also never been easier to publish a crap book).

As I hope you realise, becoming rich solely off the back of this book you’re writing is not the purpose of what you’re doing. Your book is just the start of an exciting journey and will open up myriad possibilities for you.

First, though, you have to publish. You have three options: traditional publishing, hybrid publishing, and indie-publishing (self-publishing). This article is about indie-publishing… and how much it costs.

Before we dive in, though, sear this into your brain: book promotion is now your raison d’être. Doesn’t matter whether you go the traditional route or the indie-publishing route: you are responsible for your own success. (Good rule for life, that.)

Indie-Publishing For The Win!

Most business owner authors today go down the self-publishing route — or, as I prefer to call it, indie-publishing. Which is what I and Moxie Books can help you to do. Self-publishing implies writing is a hobby — and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I work with top-quality professionals to produce my books and this is my business. I’m an independent author business owner, and I help other business owners and authors to publish independently. Hence “indie-publishing”.

It has never been easier to write and publish an honest-to-sprouts book, and that’s brilliant. It gives everyone an opportunity to get their message out — an opportunity they may never have had if their only option was traditional publishing.

However, indie-publishing also makes it simple to publish a book. Just because it’s easy and relatively inexpensive to publish your own book doesn’t mean you should do it on the cheap. The biggest mistake small business owners — and other organisations and individual writers — make when they’re self-publishing is doing an amateur job of it.

How To Avoid Looking Like An Amateur

Do not scrimp on the details. I cannot emphasise that enough, so I’ll say it again, in italics.

Do not scrimp on the details.

Do not think you can do this without investing in some experts.

If your cover looks amateurish, potential readers will assume your book is amateurish and, by extension, you and your business. If it’s typeset in Comic Sans and looks like it’s been laid out by an overenthusiastic primary school receptionist, potential readers will assume you are as amateurish as your book suggests you are.

If it’s riddled with typos and run-on sentences that threaten the very structure of the English language, readers will give up on it and assume — yep, you’ve guessed it — that you and your business are amateurish.

Do not underestimate the damage you can do to your reputation by cutting corners here.

Before we dig into how much of an investment printing and publishing your book will be, here are a few tips about how to avoid looking like an amateur:

  1. Hire an experienced and talented cover designer to create an eye-catching, professional, and beautiful book cover.
  2. Hire an experienced editor and proofreader to polish your manuscript and make sure it’s as good as it can possibly be.
  3. Get beta-readers to read your manuscript. They’ll be able to tell you if there are any gaping holes or if there’s anything your ideal reader is likely to misunderstand.
  4. Consider hiring an interior book designer if you’re worried about creating a professional layout.
  5. Find a printer that specialises in books, like Bill Goss at Elite Publishing Academy. Don’t go to your local brochure printer and expect them to be able to turn out a professional book; in most cases, you’ll be bitterly disappointed — it’s not their area of expertise.

Just because you’re an indie-author doesn’t mean you have to look like an amateur. Okay? Good.

Now we can move onto the magnificent benefits of indie-publishing, which I can sum up in one word: control.

Your Responsibility…

You don’t have to give up your rights to your work. You don’t have to let someone else decide on the cover, the title, and what happens to your book once it leaves the printers.

You keep control of everything: final wording, design, selling price, reprints, release date, printing style, format, marketing — everything.

Which is splendid, because you can do what you like with it — including creating ebook versions for the Kindle and other e-readers, creating an audiobook, printing limited edition hardback copies…

But with great control comes great responsibility — financial responsibility, that is. You bear all the costs of printing and publishing. You’ll need to pay your printer, and for a good quality book you can expect to pay around £2.43 per copy, depending on the quantity you order.

At the time of writing, my printer Bill charges the following:

  • 250 = £ 2.43 per copy
  • 500 = £ 2.27 per copy
  • 1,000 = £ 1.96 per copy

So, if you order 1,000 copies of your book, costing you £1,960 in total and send them second class as large letters at £1.64 postage, you could get your book into someone’s hand for £3.60. If you’re charging £20 for your book, suddenly the print cost doesn’t look so expensive.

Assuming you sell all 1,000 copies at £20 each, you’ll make a total of £20,000 — with a profit of £16,400. That’s just for selling the books. But remember: what your book leads to is where the real profits lie.

Remember you’ll also need to pay for an editor, a cover designer, and an ISBN (if you go with a printing package from my printer Bill, your ISBN is included in the package price — as is a printed proof copy, legal deposit copy, and delivery charges).

If you decide on short-run printing, as I do, talk to your partner, housemate, mum, or other cohabitee… because you’ll need space to store your books. Don’t underestimate how much space 1,000 books take up. Or even 250 books. If you’re ordering a lot of books all at once, I recommend asking your printer if you can print them in batches as and when you need them. Some printers will do that for you, or store your books for a fee.

Independent printers and short print runs aren’t your only option, though. There are many choices for print-on-demand — from Amazon’s CreateSpace to Lulu.com. These services hold your electronic file and print your books only when someone buys them. This is usually a little more expensive per copy, but it’s a good solution if you’re short on storage space.

What Does Indie-Publishing Cost?

Although indie-publishing isn’t enormously expensive, it’s not cheap if you want to do a professional job — but think of this as an investment.

Don’t see your book as a cost; done right, this whole book-writing project is just the start of a long-term marketing strategy that will repay you in great clients, higher fees and prices, and a more enjoyable business.

Remember, it’s not just about paying other experts to help you with your book: there’s a time investment, too. It will take you a fair chunk of time to write your book, so factor that into your expenses.

Let me do a quick run-down of what you might expect to pay:

  • Developmental editing: from £1,600, depending on word-count.
  • Proofreading: from £300, depending on word-count.
  • Cover design: from £100 at the cheapest to £1,600+ at the top end (I always choose a top-end designer. I work with Julia at Brown Owl Design).
  • Interior book design and layout: from £500, depending on page-count.
  • Indexing: from £200, depending on word-count.
  • Printing: from £1.96 per copy, depending on quantity.

Creating a professional-quality book isn’t cheap, as you can see. Expect to invest a few thousand pounds in it. But always keep your eye on the end goal: you will make your investment back and much more if you promote your book and sell it, and use it to build your business and credentials.

If you pre-sell your book before you print it — and you definitely should — you may find you make enough money from these early sales to cover some of these costs. When I wrote my first book Business For Superheroes, I sold around 100 copies before I printed it, which paid for my print run.

My client Kenda Macdonald sold 180 copies of her book as VIP pre-orders. Her full book price is £17.99 and she offered 30% off for pre-orders, making the price £12.59. So those 180 sales made her a total of £2,226.20 — which more than covered her first print run.

But that’s not all writing a book did for Kenda. Read on…

This Is Just The Tip Of The Profit Iceberg

This might all sound very expensive, and it can be. But selling the books is only the start of your profit. Remember why you’re doing all this: to boost your credibility, open doors and create opportunities, and find and win higher-paying clients. Not to mention all the other cool — and profitable — things you can do with your book once you have it. The money you make on the books themselves isn’t the point. It’s the tip of what can be a vast iceberg of opportunity.

Take Kenda. I had a conversation with Kenda recently, and she told me what she’s been up to since publishing her book Hack The Buyer Brain. Here’s what she told me:

  • She did a book signing at an event, where the organiser bought 50 of her books and gave them to the audience. People queued for 45 minutes to meet Kenda.
  • She won the outstanding contribution to her field award from the Content Marketing Academy because the judges said her book made her the obvious winner.
  • Two universities want Kenda to lecture for them, and they want to put her book in the curriculum.
  • The Content Marketing Academy has made her book required reading.
  • Because of her book, Kenda has an average of two interviews per week for the next few months — which will get her name and credentials out to a far wider audience.
  • A potential client watched Kenda speak, bought her book, read it the next day, then contacted Kenda asking to talk about a project. She closed him on a £9,000 project on the call. “No fuss, he knew what his problem was and how to solve it, just wanted us to do it.”
  • She closed a £12,000 contract off the back of the book, too.

All within two-and-a-bit months of publishing. So if you’re wondering if writing a book is worth the investment, I hope this spurs you on. You must do the work, of course — but without the book, these opportunities would never have come up for Kenda.

Whatever publishing route you decide to go down, there’s one thing you absolutely must do — no excuses and no exceptions. You must build a platform from which you can launch your book. That means a website, social media presence, and other marketing gubbins.

Even if you’re going the traditional publishing route, you will still need to do this because even if your publisher loves you, they’re never going to be as invested as you are. It’s a requirement these days for all traditionally published authors to have a solid marketing platform. Look at people like J.K.Rowling, Steven Pressfield, and Stephen King and you’ll see they have amazing marketing machines in place.

Build a platform, do it now, and start working it.

If you do the work, you’ll soon recoup the investment you make into publishing and printing your own book.

About the Author

Vicky Fraser

Please do share any articles from this site in part or in full — as long as you leave all links intact, give credit to the author, and include a link to this website and the following bio. Vicky is a gin-quaffing, pole-dancing, trapeze-swinging copywriter who writes about the perils and joys of writing, velociraptor training, and running a small business. She writes this stuff on her websites vickyfraser.com and cookiesforbreakfast.co.uk. She’s the author of one book (with two more in utero) and teaches small business owners how to write copy that sells, and how to be more fecking interesting. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

PS  I’m in the final stages of writing my new book – How The Hell Do You Write A Book? – and will be sending it to print in the next couple of weeks.

Want to be the first to get your hands on a copy? I’ll be opening up pre-orders very soon…

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