Can I make money self-publishing?

This is a dichotomy. It’s simultaneously an interesting question and a redundant one. Let’s deal with the interesting part first. Can I make money self-publishing? Of course you can, you can also spend a lot and get no return on your investment as well. How would you lose money? By not knowing your business maths or doing proper research into the company you are working with. Let’s next deal with the redundant part of the question.

The question is ‘can I make money self-publishing?’ What makes it redundant is that it is a poor-quality question. A much better one would be ‘How can I make money self-publishing?’ This opens up far more possibilities. It’s also a more empowering question.

What is my goal for this book?

Let’s begin at the start and it’s not with the writing although that is a critical part of the process. The beginning is business maths. The question you must ask is what is my goal for this book? Do you want to sell thousands of copies, do you want it to open more business possibilities, do you want the book to help people change their lives? I’m going to ignore the people who only want to go into print to give their books to friends and family as this question would be meaningless to them.

The cost to produce your book

The maths would begin with the cost to produce your book and include all the print costs as well. You have a huge choice at the number of companies that will help you produce your book from those charging very little to those charging five figures. You should then add in marketing costs. The production cost will be a one-off whereas the marketing and print costs will continue. At least they will when your book is successful as more marketing leads to more sales and more sales means more books need to be printed. What you then have to work out is how much you will make per book. Let’s do a simple calculation.

Production of the book: £3000

Marketing of the book: £1000

Speaking simply here 500 copies at £7.99 would cover this cost. Except it wouldn’t because you’d have to get them printed. We allow 100 copies in our packages, so let’s say you need another 400 copies. As a simple example, let’s say those books cost £2.50 each – that’s another £1000. How many books would you need to sell at £7.99 to recover £5000? The answer is 626.

Ebook sales

Which leads you to your next question? How much would it cost to sell 5000 books or any number for that matter? All of this presumes that you would be selling only paperbacks. What it doesn’t take into account are ebook sales. If you’re a novelist this is very important as it is likely that you will make a lot of sales this way, if you are smart with your marketing. The profits on an ebook will vary from a few pence to a few pounds. The advantage of ebooks is lost somewhat to the person that wants to sell a cookery book as most people would prefer either a hardback or paperback version.

Books flying off the shelves

Let’s get back to the simple stuff. Having used this example you should be able to see that you can make money with self-publishing, but you have to aim high with your sales. Two to three hundred books sold won’t return your investment. What this piece should also do is convince you that the self-published author is not just a writer, but a business person. You have to write, do the marketing and be your accountant. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t employ people to take care of the marketing or the accounting but it should help you realise that the cosy image of the author writing in their hut for two or three stints a day and their books flying off the shelves by osmosis is a fantasy. And don’t kid yourself that published authors don’t have to do this as well. A contract for three books can easily be cancelled if the sales don’t come in on book one or two.

Good team

Writing is a business. You have to produce a brilliant product with the aid of your publisher. You have to market your book (and you) daily. You need to get the business maths right and you have to keep learning. You will also need a good team around you to achieve your goals. Do this correctly and with passion and you’ll be amazed at how well this can work out.

As always if this has inspired more questions contact us at 3P Publishing on 01536 560410 or email

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