The cost of self-publishing one book: By the numbers.

my bookshelf with Repent and HauntHaunt My Heart is in the world and exclusively on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Haunt is my first independently published book and I’m pretty dang excited!

The best thing about indie publishing is that you get to make ALL of the decisions.

The worst thing about indie publishing is that you have to make ALL of the decisions.

There were a few trying moments. My friend and fellow author Cara Bristol talked me down from more than one ledge. Ultimately, it was the best decision I’ve made so far in my publishing career.

I honestly thought that publishing with a big-name traditional publisher would sell more books for me via their brand than I ever could  on my own. This past year has proved to me that’s not necessarily true.

I know lots of authors don’t like to talk about the financial side of things, but I think it’s important for aspiring authors to know what they’re getting into. Sure, there are a few publishing miracles and books (and authors) that rocket to the top of bestseller lists but most of us are here working in the trenches just trying to tell our stories and get them read.

As a reader, I never considered what it took for a book to make it to my shelf or e-reader. Now that I’m on the other side of that curtain of Oz, all has been revealed.

I kept a list of expenses thus far for Haunt My Heart and share them now.

What self-publishing costs. Breaking it down…

Haunt expense wp

So, $1,315 to get this one book published in digital and print. I suspect it cost around the same for a traditional publisher. Obviously some books have a much bigger budget and get tons of marketing/advertising/special photo shoot covers etc., which would have to be added in. I’ll spend more on marketing myself over the coming weeks and months.

I snarkily mentioned that the actual writing of the book is incalculable. Maybe not entirely. Haunt My Heart is 68,000 words. I average–during active writing–500-1,000 words an hour. Let’s say then, Haunt was written at an average of 750 words per hour.

68,000/750=90 hours of active writing x $20 per hour (day job wage) = $1,813

Of course that doesn’t count the undocumented pile of hours it took for research, editing, more editing, marketing and promoting. That truly is incalculable.

Still, you get the idea of what goes into a book in time and money.

What can you expect to make? By the numbers.

The next questions everyone wants to know is how much am I making per copy. Well, let me tell you, for my traditionally published books, I’ve earned less than a hundred dollars for all of the combined editions and incarnations this past year and sold a total of 420 copies since March 2014.

Do that math…don’t worry, I’ll wait 😀

Now, it’s true I had very little upfront financial output for the traditionally published books. The burden of publishing costs lay with the publisher. I also did not receive any advance money. What I did get was the coveted CALL, and FANTASTIC editing. Those things were very valuable and overall it was a good experience. I have no regrets and how have three well-honed stories.

I bought some promotional cards, banners, advertising etc. for each of those publications. Plus all the other ‘stuff’ it’s taken to be published. I also attended the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention two years in a row to network and market myself and my book. That cost me around $1,500 per convention. I’m skipping it this year.

Since I began this journey in July of 2011, I’ve kept receipts of my expenditures. Nearly all of them. And now that I’ve finally received a paycheck, I can deduct my expenses from my taxes. Wonder how much those receipts have added up to?

Are you sitting down?

$7,156.35.

So now, perhaps you’re wondering–I know I would be–how much I expect to make with my indie published book.

For the print copies I’ll make approximately $2.48 per copy sold on Amazon at $10.99 each. For the e-book edition, I’ll make $2.75 cents per copy sold on Amazon at $3.99 each. I make considerably more selling print copies out of my trunk and at appearances. For each hand-sold book at $10 each, I pocket a little over $5. BUT, those hand-sales do not help your Amazon rankings one iota. So there’s the rub. Earn more, but hurt your algorithm potential.

See why I’ve gone indie?

The benefits of exclusivity.

For Haunt My Heart, I’m going exclusively with Amazon and KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) for the first ninety days. Maybe longer. The immediate benefits I see are these:

  1.  Haunt My Heart will be available through Kindle Unlimited‘s download service.
  2. Ninety percent or more of my readers are reading through Kindles or Kindle apps (or could).
  3. I have more of an opportunity of exposure through Amazon marketing and lists

For each KU (Kindle Unlimited) download for which the reader reads at least ten percent of the book, I’ll get a royalty of approximately $1.50. KU downloads are ‘free’ to KU subscribers ($9.99 a month subscription for virtually unlimited reading from their available selection).

In conclusion, to ‘break even’ on Haunt My Heart, I’ll need to sell approximately:

531 print versions… or

479 e-book versions…or

878 KU downloads…or

263 hand-sold print copies…or

some combination of those three to recover the costs of publishing. That doesn’t include any profit or compensation for the time I’ve spend writing/marketing/promoting/ or thinking about this one book.

I’m not quitting my day job. Not just yet. In my mind, the end goal is clearly to write and publish for a living and replace my day-job income.

I turn 50 in 2018.

I’d like to spend the second half of my life doing this crazy thing for a living from the Big Cedars.

For a girl who’s adverse to math, that’s a lot of numbers. I hope it helps guide you on your writing journey. And may the words be with you.

Have you ever tried or succeeded in working your dream job?  What happened? What’s your second act dream?

Want to read my first self-publishing effort? Lucky you! You can get it here: Amazon Kindle     

HauntMyHeartFinal (533x800) - CopyBook Description:

A Civil War soldier dies to save his men. Can he find true love to live again?

Sarah Knight has a job she’s good at, a quirky BFF, and a boyfriend who’s bad for her. When Sarah unearths a Civil War artifact on a ghost hunt at Chatham Manor, she brings home more than a souvenir.

Lieutenant James “Tanner” Dawson fought for the Union, working as a supernatural liaison for his Major General in a secret Masonic offset called the Brothers of Peril. When he’s hexed by a witch, he learns the only way to save his men is to die himself. But death is not the end. Awakening 150 years later, he knows if he wants to be corporeal again, he has to find true love to break the hex—a task no easier in 21st century than it was in the 19th.

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57 Responses to The cost of self-publishing one book: By the numbers.

  1. It breaks my heart you spent so much unnecessarily. There’s an author group I’m a part of on Facebook with a lot of people who will be happy to help make book 2 a lot cheaper. It’s called Indie Author Group (there are others too.) Join them and tell them Steven Wolff sent you. Also, don’t hesitate to contact me personally at AuthorStevenWolff@gmail.com I’m not saying you did anything wrong, just that it’s a LOT cheaper to do than what you spent. Bravo on your book publishing! That is a feat in and of itself. Most importantly, you should be well on your way in book two (if you haven’t already.) People want to fall in love with your characters over a series of books. They don’t want the story to end in book one. 🙂

  2. Hi Lisa, thank you for such an honest and interesting post. I am considering self publishing and this really helps me. It’s also comforting to know that most of us struggle to get our books out to a wider audience regardless of how and who we publish with.
    I have just bought Haunt my Heart on Amazon UK and will review it on my blog http://www.jolliffe01.com/blog next week. Best of luck with the sales. 🙂

  3. Thank you for your honesty. I say what you are doing is exactly what I am doing. I belong to that Indie Author Group on Facebook that Steven is talking about. They ARE a great group. I’m working on my eighth novel right now, and I spend much less now on marketing than I did. I have the same goals as you – quit the day job and live off my writing. Unfortunately, with seven books published, I thought I’d be there already. Alas, I am not. But I’m not giving up on my goad – and I turn 50 two years before you do. 🙂 Good luck to you, and I hope I see you in our Indie Author Group.

  4. Thank you for sharing the numbers. I admire you and Cara for making this move and for sharing so much of the experience. It’s very empowering. 🙂

  5. Candid posts about the numbers in publishing are hard to come by. Kudos for sharing!

  6. Thank you so much for your openness. It’s refreshing. I have one book out and another under consideration with a publisher, but I suspect self-pubbing is in my future. Question: do you have a critique group or beta readers that you utilize in addition to the editor and proofreader?

  7. Just want to say to everyone who visits, if you haven’t read Haunt My Heart, read it! It’s awesome!!! Quality writing and editing.

  8. Thank you for sharing this. I know there are ways to save on expenses as Steven Wolff has stated. I have exchanged editing services for cover designs, and formatting. I have been submitting the traditional route for a couple of years now, and getting very discouraged. My Beta readers all give positive feedback, blog readers as well, but each time that rejection letter comes I wonder why I bother. I’ve been looking more into the INDY route, and wondering what it would cost me – your piece was very timely and helpful for me. The writing,research, rewriting, self editing time invested is indeed invaluable but if you put an hourly rate on it – I’ve lost track of how many hours as I fit my writing into free time around the day jobs and family. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING THIS!!!!!

  9. Bravo for your honesty! You’re a wide and amazing woman. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Some of these things could have been done for a lot cheaper.Also, it would not cost the same amount if you have a good traditional publisher. Yes, you’d have to pay for marketing but not editing, cover, isbn (which you never really have to pay for) formatting etc.
    Even when you indie publish there are ways to get these things for far cheaper. That’s why I encourage people to research indie publishing extensively before getting started.
    Really hope you meet your goal soon.

    • Right, Janiera. I didn’t incur any of those expenses other than marketing for my traditionally published books. Like I said, that was incurred by the publisher. It would have cost me much, much more to have hired my editor from the trad. pub. books. She would have been worth every penny, but I couldn’t do it. Also…cheaper is not always better. I did a lot of research before making my choices and I’m pleased with their work 🙂 Many thanks for your input!

  11. Thank you for the honesty. I have published two books and working on the third. People ask me all the time, if I’ve recouped my investment in each one. Of course, the answer is no, but with continued or increased sales, I could easily manage to go from the red to the black within a few years. This is not a “get-rich-quick” business, but I love telling my stories! I will also check out the Indie Author Facebook group.

  12. Congrats on your first self pub. Wishing you many sales

  13. Lisa,
    Thanks for sharing – it is hard to find real numbers about indie publishing. I have to agree with Steven that some of your expenses might be unnecessary. I have self-published several non-fiction books without paying for ANY of those items except the proof copies from CreateSpace. My most recent effort launched October 23, 2014 and so far I’ve cleared about a thousand dollars from it.

    The ISBN, for instance. Do you think any of your readers care if you use a free ISBN from CreateSpace? Most don’t have a clue what it is.

    Over the years I have invested some money in software and some time in learning how to use it. I have no problem doing my own formatting for print, pdf, mobi, epub, etc. As far as editing is concerned, my four critique partners have been reading and correcting my work for about eight years. I trust their combined efforts far more than I ever would a hired editor.

    • Thanks, Carolyn. I utilize about six beta readers early in he process and up to yhe point I feel I’ve done all I can. That’s when I need a structural/line editor. After a while I an just blind to my flaws, large and small. As for the ISBNs and barcodes, I don’t know what is best. I didn’t want CreateSpace anywhere on my book so that’s why I went that way 🙂

  14. You go, girl! This will be me next month, so I must say reading this was very enlightening. I’m VERY excited to compare my royalties from traditional to indie. My traditional experience did seem to be a bit more lucrative, but not enough to keep my happy, lol.

    My goal is to be a hybrid. But, that all depends on what I see come from the indie experience. I can’t wait though! And I’m so excited to see where your success takes you 😀

  15. Avatar lbgrant0921
    lbgrant0921 says:

    This was a very enlightening post, Lisa. Thanks so much for sharing such helpful information with many of us newer authors. Much appreciated.
    ~Livia

  16. Great post, Lisa. Good luck on your new endeavor.

  17. Good luck going indie. I hope it works out well for you. I’m surprised by your high expense numbers. With traditional publishers, I get a royalty check. Does that happen if you indie publish? Just curious. I hope you meet your goal at age 50!! That’s when I reinvented myself, too. 🙂 I’ll be purchasing Haunt!

  18. P.S. Thanks for that honest post. I’m sure you’ll help several writers–at the very least you’ll open several eyes.

  19. Found your site after reading about your “costs” post on The Passive Voice blog. After browsing your other posts, and absorbing your joy, I have decided to go the self-publishing route — something I’d been considering for my latest book that can’t seem to find a home with a traditional publisher. I’m so glad I found you today, I’m so glad you were willing to share your journey, and I’m so glad that with Haunt I have a great book to read (I just downloaded it from Amazon). Best of luck to you, Lisa, and I look forward to reading more of your work. Sophia

    • Wow! Thanks so much for tracking me down AND for buying Haunt My Heart 😀 I’m happy my post helped you on your journey as well. We’re all in this crazy thing together. Better cooperation than competition 😀 Best to you, Sophia.

  20. Great post. Thanks for sharing your numbers and experiences with traditional and indie publishing. It was interesting to see the comparison.

    I format my books myself (except two paperback versions Amazon did for me as freebies), but I pay considerably more than you for other things. If you’ve found a cover artist you love and/or editors who jive with you it’s worth it if they cost extra. Marketing is always going to be a guessing game for what works well (or not) each time, but some paid advertising can really help. It seems to me you’re off to a good start.

    Best of luck on your future publishing endeavors!

    • Thanks so much, Susan. I admire you for formatting your own books. I want to learn so I can manipulate my front and back matter as needed but I know I don’t have the time or patience to do an entire book. At least not as long as I still have the day job, ha! I just clicked over and checked out your page. Your books look great! We should team up for promotion sometime. Your covers are gorgeous! Best to you!

      • For ebooks I highly recommend you check out Jutoh. It’s ridiculously easy to use and fast. Another author did an excellent video showing how to use the program that sold me on it. This is the link:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3lvhRpJrIg

        You pay a one-time fee of $39 to purchase it, but then you never pay to format your ebooks again. Plus the files are easy to access after the first time and reformat if you have minor changes to make. I felt silly for ever paying anyone after discovering the program.

  21. I found this post through Passive Voice. I think your costs are completely reasonable, and even on the low end, especially when you just count cover, editing, etc. Some of the promo stuff (banner, print copies to sell) aren’t really production costs, and you could arguably have spent them with a traditionally published book.

    On production costs alone I spent similar amounts when I was starting out and gradually spend more now. I’m proud of my books and my income from them supports these costs. I’d have no interest in whatever cheap options (or fake sympathy) the people in that FB group would have to offer. I can’t believe they blasted your comments section like that…

    • Thanks, Skye. You should have seen the group comments. My friend posted the post link there. It eventually got deleted a few hours later because of the turmoil. Guess it’s a hot topic, ha! Thanks so much for your input. Your books look great!!!

  22. Hey, you made the Passive Voice. Sweet! I’m so happy you put this out there. Life works better when we share.

  23. HA! This is on the cheap end. Some authors spends a lot more and publish it for free. I have been telling indie authors to let their readers know the truth on the total coast because all they see is free and not the cost behind the scenes. I know a lot of readers knows but the majority dont and they need to understand that free books was not free for the author.

  24. Congrats on Haunt and self publishing! I’ve been with four small publishing companies and have never really been happy with them, so I self publish as well. I enjoy making all the decisions. I also get to pick the people I want & enjoy working with. The one thing I spend the most on, besides marketing, is editing. I want to make sure the reader can enjoy my book without having a glaring error staring back at them.
    It’s awesome of you to list your expenses as you have. I couldn’t do it. I know I spend a lot, but the benefit for me is just having my book available for people to read.
    Best of luck to you!

  25. Thanks for all of the great information. And for making your writing known to me. i just purchased your book and definitely look forward to the read! Best of luck to you.

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  28. Congratulations on getting your book out there. I hope to be in the same position in a few months. Thanks so much for sharing your experience–it really helps those of us still wondering what to do next… 🙂
    Best,
    Deb@ http://debioneille.blogspot.com

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  32. I have read and reviewed Haunt My Heart now and I loved it, here’s the link for my review.
    http://jolliffe01.com/2015/03/07/5-review-haunt-my-heart-lisa-medley/

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