How much can you realistically make self-publishing a book?

One of the most common questions I get as a self-published author is “how much money can I make by self-publishing?”

This question is difficult to answer for a number of reasons, partly because it’s awkward to talk about money. But mostly because every situation is different and how much you will earn depends on a number of details.

That being said, I want to be transparent with you because when I was planning to self-publish I read dozens of articles online about what I might earn… only to realize (a year later) that the numbers and information they gave was way off.

This misinformation was a major source of frustration because my earnings ended up being drastically different than what I thought they would be. 

Let’s say you have a (basically completed) manuscript and you want to turn it into a book. There are two routes you can take:

  1. Getting the book accepted by a traditional publisher
  2. Self-publishing the book yourself

Both have their good and bad points (of course). You can read this post on things I wish I would have known before self-publishing my book. Looking back, I wish I had gone with a traditional publisher (for many reasons that I can’t go into with this post), but since I went the self-publishing route, I’ve committed to it 100% and figured out how to maximize sales. 

So.

Let’s talk about money.

Before we can determine whether you are making a good deal from self-publishing, we need a metric to compare it to. In this case, the metric will be a regular, run-of-the-mill traditionally published book.

How much will you make with a traditional publisher?

Option number 1 (if a regular, traditional publisher picks up your book) can often get you more money and get your book into more hands compared to self-publishing.

As a first-time, virtually unknown author, you can expect to get a $5000 advance and 8% of the list price (or at least that’s what my friends got). This contract ensures you earn $1.20 for each book sold and once a bit over 4,200 books are sold, you will have paid off your advance and can start earning additional money.

The publishing company takes care of the general edits, structural edits, line editing, cover design, reviews (from newspapers, blogs, and “famous people”), getting the book into stores, and basically everything else. 

This is why I wish I had gone with a tradtional publisher. As a first-time author, I knew NOTHING of the publishing world and had to hit the ground running.

What’s more, with a traditional publisher, you don’t have to pay anything. Publishing companies take care of the entire financial burden of publishing the book.

A publishing company takes a “good book,” turn it into a “great book,” and get it in front of an audience.  

That’s traditional publishing.

Now let’s talk self-publishing (which is kind of like “no, company that specializes in doing This Thing, I don’t need your help making my book approachable. I can do everything myself.”)

So really, how much can you earn self-publishing your book?

Before we talk about how much you can actually earn self-publishing a book we need to talk about how much you will have to spend to get the book into print (because when it comes to self-publishing, you pay for everything upfront yourself).

I swear, I will get to the $$$ eventually.

To get a high quality self-published book, you should pay for general editing, structural editing, line editing, cover design, a barcode, and ISBN number, proof copies – all out of your own pocket.

  • A professionally done self-published book can cost you $5,000 to $10,000.
  • A moderately well-done self-published book can run from $800 – $2,000.
  • A very poorly done self-published book will cost $150 – $500. It’s hard to go any cheaper than that.

And yes, the audience can tell pretty well how much money you spend. Keep in mind, these costs exclude the price of printing your own books.

I spent about $2500 on my first self-published book, plus another $1500 to print the first round of copies. Thankfully I sold everything in the first six months and made back everything I spent (plus a small profit!)… but I just as easily could have botched everything up and been left with boxes of books in my living room.

I had nightmares about boxes in my living room for the first three months of self-publishing.

Every subsequent book has cost me about $750 to print (mostly because my editors are wonderful amazing people who found me through my blog and edit my books out of the goodness of their hearts, in exchange for free copies of the books) along with hundreds of hours of formatting and fixing tiny problems myself. 

If you do want to self-publish your book, I recommend reading this post I wrote about how to self-publish your book.

That’s self-publishing.

This brings us to the real question (and probably the only reason you’re actually here): How much can you earn self-publishing?

Answer: It depends on how many books you can sell.

Yes, captain obvious here.

The marketing strategy you come up with to get your book in front of an audience is what determines your earnings. 

The biggest mistake self-published authors make is assuming that book sales will just… happen. These are other common mistakes self-published authors make.

Sales don’t “just happen.”

Really, they don’t.

Each sale needs to be planned for and earned. It’s not enough to get your book listed on Amazon and/or Kindle, you need to convince people that your book is worth their hard-earned cash and even more valuable time.

I polled some of my self-published author friends and we concluded that you can probably sell 1-3 copies a month (paperback) and 3-5 eBook copies from random, impulse buys online (if you’re lucky). You can get a lot more impulse buys if your book is stocked by a bookstore but many places are still hesitant to accept self-published books. 

I got my comic books into their very first brick-and-mortar store (Austin Books & Comics in Texas! Go check them out) just last week, over a year after self-publishing my first book. Even that was luck.

Basically, you need to be responsible for every single sale.

Assuming your books are priced competitively, impulse buys translate to only about $10 – $25 a month.

I estimate 50% of self-published authors make less than $50 per month on their first book. This is the reality of self-publishing.

Unless, of course, you promote your book (very effectively) like crazy.

I decided on a marketing strategy that fit with my personality and my goals early on: giving away useful content for free and allowing people to buy a book if they are interested. It sounds counter-productive, but I post most of my book’s content on the internet for free, every week in the form of blog posts and comics.

If people like my comics and want to read them at home (instead of the internet), they buy my books. Or if people want to support the creation of said free content on the internet (blog posts, comics, YouTube videos), they can choose to buy my books.

In case you’re wondering my “conversion rate” from this type of marketing strategy is about 0.025% (quarter of a percent). I do not recommend this type of marketing strategy unless you already have an established fan-base (like I did) and have a secondary source of income (in my case, freelancing).

Other self-published authors sell their books at speaking events, contact book stores directly to get their books on the shelves, or use their books to promote a class or workshop (where they make their money).

Money is tight – it’s hard to get people to part with their well-earned cash and take a chance on your book (especially if your book is self-published). It’s a very understandable reality. The bottom line is unless you have a way to effectively promote your book, you won’t sell copies and you won’t make money.

Well, how much do I earn from self-publishing?

I talk a good game… but can I actually back it up? Kind of.

Through my chosen marketing strategy, my sales come from four main channels: Amazon.com, Kindle, my Etsy shop, and speaking events.

I have three comic books and am able to keep 100% of the profits (minus a 6% listing fee for books sold on Etsy, a ~30% – ~45% download fee for books sold on the Kindle, and a 40% – 55% fee that most bookstores and events charge).

Naturally, when I only had one book out, I was making about ⅓ of the money I make today. The more books you publish, the more you will earn.

Right now, my monthly sales are:

Amazon.com

What is it? Amazon.com is one of the largest online shopping marketplaces in the world. Amazon.com owns a print on demand company, Createspace, that allows users to self-publish and list their books on Amazon (for free). Every time a book is ordered, Createspace prints and ships the book to that address.

  • 100 books – 200 books sold
  • List price is $14.50
  • I earn $5.3 per book sold (except when bookstores and libraries order it, then I only get $2)
  • Profit: $350 – $1000 per month

Kindle (paid downloads)

What is it? Kindle is an eBook reader by Amazon. Using a Kindle, users can download and read books, magazines, and newspapers.

  • 300 – 400 books sold
  • List price is $3.85
  • I earn $1.35 per book sold (I have to pay 30% – 65% of the list price per download to Amazon)
  • Profit: $200 – $550 per month

Kindle Unlimited

What is it? Kindle Unlimited is a monthly subscription program where users can download and read as many qualifying books on the Kindle as they want each month, for free. The proceeds are split among the authors depending on how many pages users read that month.

I recently quit Kindle Unlimited because they changed how they paid their authors (by number of pages read vs number of downloads, something that punishes books with less than 300 pages).

Before they made the switch, I was making about $400 – $800 per month. After they changed, I made $75 – $200 (35,000 – 120,000 pages read) per month.

Now that I am no longer a member of Kindle Unlimited, I can list my book all over the internet (which is something I am working on right now).

Etsy

What is it? Etsy is an online shop for creative entrepreneurs. You can sell hand-crafted clothes, trinkets, decorations, jewelry, and yes books. Since my books are self-published, they fall into this category.

  • 20 – 60 books per month
  • Profit: $100 – $550 per month (depends on number of books sold, number of packages sold, if any packages get lost in the mail, and what countries I ship to)

An Event

What is it? I’m using the term ‘event’ loosely here. To me, events are speaking gigs, presentations, and fan meetups where we sell books on the side. A lot of people want to buy a signed book from us directly (as well as take selfies), so events are a great place to sell books.

If you’re a specialist, you can get paid to give a speech and sell books after – it’s great for self-published people.

  • 10 – 140 books per event (I don’t do large events because they’re too overwhelming)
  • $6.50 profit per book, paying between 0% – 40% of the list price to the bookstore/event hall
  • Profit: $35 –  $550 per event (minus cost of getting there, booth supplies, etc)

Total I make from self-publishing a book (excluding 15.3% – 30% taxes) per month: $370 – $950

Combined total I make from self-publishing all my books (after taxes) each month: $1050 – $2200

(but most months it’s around $1600)

So is this a realistic amount of money to be making, if you decide to self-publish?

Not necessarily.

Like I said before, I have a distinct advantage that most other self-published authors don’t have: an established readership. Between my YouTube channel and my blog, I get about one million views every month. That’s where a lot of my sales come from.

I also have 200+ glowing reviews for my books on Amazon.com and tons more on Goodreads. That helps a lot.

Sales perk up for the two months after I publish a new book and the month before Christmas. I’ve had months where I’ve made a lot of money and months where books sales don’t even cover rent. The whole thing is incredibly unpredictable.

What’s the point of this article?

Basically what I’m trying to say is this:

Your monthly earnings as a self-published author depends entirely on what your marketing and promotional strategies are. And most self-published authors grossly overestimate how many books they will sell (leading to bitter resentment, frustration, and embarrassment when they only sell a fraction of what they thought they would).

Even if you write an amazing, thought-provoking book, if you don’t have a good strategy, you probably will NOT make money or sell copies.

Period.

And even if you have a good strategy and your book is crap, you probably won’t sell very many copies either.

If you want to make money self-publishing, first list out all the places you can promote your book and how many sales you think you can realistically get. For the sake of this argument, assume that every single sale will come from direct promotion and that word-of-mouth won’t magically drum up anything.

After that, you can decide whether or not self-publishing is worth it.

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

33 Comments on How much can you realistically make self-publishing a book?

  1. Also, anyone who is reading this should check out Joanna Penn. She is one of the most successful indie authors who helps other other authors become successful. I don’t plan on going the self-publishing route… not just yet anyway… But, if anyone want to learn how to be successful as a self-publisher go to her website: http://www.thecreativepenn.com. I’ve learned a lot from her!

  2. You forgot to mention that you have go get lucky enough to get a publisher to accept your book. It’s not as easy as a publisher picking your book just-like-that.

  3. I’m sure first-time authors came here looking for a definitive answer, but the answer is really simple. As a self-publisher, you can make as much money as you want if your finished product is top notch. With the right marketing strategy and a great book, your success is limitless.

  4. Thanks so much for this great article, Grace! Well done as always, Let me just say though that your information about first-time authors receiving $5,000 advances is totally pie in the sky! From my own experience, advances can be as low as $750.00 –even for someone with a really long list of publications, major literary awards, and a good sales record–from an independent press. From a Big 5 publisher, it can also be low, but then there is not as much pressure for sales that way and then everyone is happier if the book sells. You are right, it is not just about writing a good book. Sales, marketing, positioning, and using the internet as you are doing so effectively is key. Bravo!

  5. Thank you for this post and being so up-front and honest about the whole shebang. Super helpful! I’ve considered self-publishing, and even though I know it comes down to marketing, it’s still somewhat surprising to again realize just how important that all is! Thank you for sharing!

  6. Good article, this is definitely one of the more helpful and informative posts on the subject. I was reading a cracked article on the depressing realities of writing YA fiction and it WAS really depressing. Especially women using ambigious pen names in order to appeal to a larger audience, and their editers agreeing.

  7. Emily West // 5 December, 2015 at 5:56 am //

    I love your comics! They are so cute and funny and always make me smile! I can’t wait to own all of your books one day! It’s so awesome that you have great support too!

  8. Thanks for sharing, the insight from someone actually self publishing using kindle was something I was very curious about! Might make a good book by itself.

  9. Hi Grace. You know, I was hoping that number was larger cause I like your work (comic & youtube) and I really want both of you to do well. I really enjoyed videos where you guys go travelling and having fun like that video where u guys stayed at a ryokan. But i know those type of videos are expensive to make.

    Having said that, sorry I’ve never bought your book, but hey, i “liked” every videos posted and “hearted” all your webtoons comics. Its not much but I still want to write this as i think many others are like me. Your regular fans who arent supporting you financially but were hoping all the best things for you.

    Good job so far and keep doing what you love and share it with us. We’ll be happy for you.

    • Not at all! I’m really okay with these numbers. Ryosuke and I get to do what we love and make enough money to support our lifestyle, which is really all we want to do. There’s really no need to buy a book unless you want to read it.

      Thank you so much for watching our videos and reading my blog and <3-ing all my comics on the Webtoons site. That means a lot.

  10. Well congrats ! These are good numbers :)

  11. Kudos to you Grace! I love that the authentic you I have come to adore in person is endeavoring to be real online. Am sure your authenticity and transparency is going to bless any number of folks who find your article.

  12. It also depends if you are self-publishing non-fiction.

    One of the more successful (but obviously fairly rare) books I’m familiar with was one about technical photography. It was done as 100% ebook (plus trial utilities, photoshop scripts, etc.), and sales were primarily done through face-to-face distribution (meet and greets at conventions, camera stores, etc.). A tremendous amount of time was spent by the author, both in the actual creation of the book (about 350 pages in the main text, about 1/2 of that as photographs, and probably another 300 in the twenty or so related texts that were included with the main e-book), and in the previously mentioned sales aspect.

    Independent sales were also done through his website. He acted as the direct agent of distribution for the retail stores.

    He said he’d spent about a year “working twice as much as he did when he was working a ‘real’ job”. He was doing this to “have something to do when he retires”. He still is fairly active (there are a lot of different technical aspects of photography), and there are a number of follow-on books. They are primarily re-packaging (similar support texts, scripts, etc.) of the original e-book, with the main text adjusted for the model(s) covered and such.

    The actual returns are quite different because of the pricing of the book, and because of the different sales channels used (many of which allowed the majority of the profit to go to the actual author, unlike ‘traditional’ publishing, and unlike what the larger e-book channels are becoming).

    All in all, it become much more like an independent version of an online course like Udemy.

    His last count was north of $300,000 as a net profit, even after factoring all his travel (which he would do anyway), the trade shows (which he would go to anyway), etc.

    It all sound like, wow, he’s totally *rich* from self-publishing, until you do the math for hours expended; then it comes out to closer to about $45,000/year. Yes, he avoids the whole “warehousing” and “returns” costs deductions against advances, and as he does JIT physical publishing of DVDs (and recently, secured flashdrives), he still does have some internal “warehousing” issues to deal with, but his total JIT inventory is about the size of two (2) banker’s boxes, which he can hide under his desk at home.

    Did I mention that he only sleeps about five hours a night? Works every day?

    Publishing is glamorous, I’ve heard, but I’d not know it by his example.

    Still, he absolutely loves it — and isn’t that the definition of being rich? He does exactly what he’d actually pay to do, but makes a living from it.

  13. Very brave post. This is why I love you guys <3

  14. Thank you for this article filled with realistic numbers. [as well as more pros and cons for both self publishing VS traditional publishing.]

    From what i gather, traditional publishing has the benefits of professional advertising and stuff, but getting just $1.2 from each book sold is not something i like. this is a killer [bad meaning here] for a new author, depending on how much time he or she spend researching/ writing, and how long the book is.

  15. Thanks, Grace, for such a transparent post on the ins and outs of what you do! I have had thoughts of self publishing. Now I have a much better picture of what is involved, etc.

  16. So…if I want you to receive the most money when I buy a comic book, should I buy it from Etsy? I still have to get comic book #2 and #3. :)

    Kudos for putting real numbers here. I’m sure it will help some people make the decision between traditional publishing and self-publishing.

  17. Anonymous // 2 December, 2015 at 7:27 pm //

    thanks for sharing! very interesting read :)

  18. Great post! Thanks for sharing your trials and tribulations — and especially your successes! Well done.

  19. I am actually surprised that you are really revealing concrete figures of what you are making per month. Okay, maybe just a range, but still… wow! I was expecting an article full of SEO keywords but nothing concrete.

    That’s what happens to most entrepreneur wannabes nowadays, I suppose. Not just self publishing but every other ventures they want to make. They see a successful online personality raking in the bucks, and think they can do the same without knowing the hard work and tear inducing moments that come along the way. Good to have something out to set their expectations straight.

    • S. J. Pajonas (spajonas) // 2 December, 2015 at 10:32 am //

      Transparency is becoming a big thing in self-publishing now. Those that reveal their figures are garnering a lot of attention for it! If you want to see another person revealing these things, check out Joanna Penn at thecreativepenn.com. It definitely DOES take a lot of work, time, and dedication to get anywhere.

    • I was a bit scared to share… but now that I know what I know, I KNOW that a lot of the articles I read full of SEO keywords and buzzphrases were way off. And I find that really annoying/frustrating.

      I want people to actually be able to know what they’re getting into when the self-publish, instead of just jumping in and hoping for the best.

    • It was really interesting to read this article. For me it is always amazing how income is so often a taboo topic in many countries. In Finland no one really cares and in case you don’t want to tell how much you make a year/ month people who really want to know can just check it out themselves as the income of every person is available on a list there…

  20. S. J. Pajonas (spajonas) // 2 December, 2015 at 10:18 am //

    Here. I’ll give you my numbers as a fiction author with an established series. I make 1/12th what you do, in that I make only $1200-$1400 per year. I don’t do events because I don’t have a readership that would attend said events, nor do I have a YouTube channel nor do I draw cartoons (which I think are more marketable). So, as always, YMMV. It IS hard to get real numbers for self-published authors because SO MUCH depends on medium, genre, fiction or non-fiction, etc. You are in a good midlist author range! Congratulations!

    • Thanks for sharing! I hope people reading this find it helpful.

      That’s totally true – a LOT depends on genre and medium. I have a friend who writes the super-trashy romance novels and makes a killing – and another friend who does Sci-fi series and makes quite a bit (because each book boosts sales for the previous books). It totally depends on way too many factors to be able to generalize.

      • S. J. Pajonas (spajonas) // 2 December, 2015 at 10:30 am //

        It really does depend. I’m trying a new genre, a cozy mystery series set in Japan, because I want to see if things are different income-wise in a different area. What I will say about being self-published, and I LOVE being self-published, is that not only do I make all the money, but I have the freedom to do what I want. Switching genres is almost unheard of in traditional publishing. It’s still considered a big no-no. But I can do it because I make the decisions. It’s a wonderful spot to be in.

1 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. HUGE Blog-y Updates | Texan in Tokyo

Comments are closed.

error: Content belongs to Texan in Tokyo
%d bloggers like this: