There’s an old saying: don’t write to get rich. Most writers never make anywhere close to minimum wage on their books, and some don’t even make up the advance on sales (if there was an advance at all). Writing a book isn’t always about making lots of sales anyway; it can be about having that line on your resume, sharing your knowledge with a small group who needs it, or just generally wanting to spread the word about something you love.
I definitely didn’t get into writing for the money. In fact, my first book was published by php|architect, a fine group of folks who have a great lineup of books. My second book was self-published, and priced in line with the first.
And even though money wasn’t the primary focus of writing, it’s worth noting that there is a little bit of money in writing. In fact, after having two books out on the market, I can safely say that self-publishing is a better route to take for the average author.
The Q3 Revenue Statements
In Q3 (from July to September), I received a royalty payment from php|architect for $31.39. In the same period, Mastering Object Oriented PHP grossed $2,195.70, or nearly seventy times the royalties I received from my first book. In fact, $2,195.70 is more money than my first book has ever earned me, advance included.
I’m usually loathe to talk about revenues generated by book sales, largely because money isn’t my primary focus in having a book (but it’s definitely a nice side effect). And, at an average of $731 a month in sales, there’s no potential for that replacing my income (though it makes a nice supplement). If I had gone into self-publishing to replace my salary, I would be sorely disappointed, but as a side revenue stream, it’s pretty reasonable and decent.
So clearly I’m a huge fan of self-publishing. But, you might ask, what about all those services that a publisher offers, like editing, indexing, layout and design?
The cost of producing a self-published work
Editing, layout, indexing and design are important elements of book production. And they are certainly something I’ve given considerable thought to over time.
The truth is that you can hire a great editor for $20 – $40 per hour, a cover designer from $200 – $1,000 (depending on how much you want to spend), a layout specialist for $20 – $50 an hour, and an indexer for something similar. All told, you can spend roughly $1,000 – $2,500 on producing a book, depending on length, complexity, your individual writing style and your command of the language you’re writing in.
That means that in one to two quarters you can easily recover the costs of publishing your book, even on the high end of the spectrum.
And what about all that management that a publisher is supposed to do for you? Well, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. My book sat around for some nine months from the submission of the first manuscript to publication. I had to push hard to get it into production. My second book took less than nine months from conception to first purchase. That’s how much faster you can push your book into the hands of your readers, even self-managing the process.
If you choose to use a service like LeanPub for layout, you don’t have to spend the money for that kind of work. Check them out; they make self publishing easy.
But I want to print my book. Don’t I need a publisher?
Nowadays, you can not only have your book printed, but you can sell it on Amazon.com and other places with ease. In fact, your book can even be sold in brick and mortar stores through Amazon’s CreateSpace service.
I chose not to publish my second book in paper form; the technology changes too quickly for that to be a reasonable choice. But, my next book will likely be printed and I expect to use Amazon’s service for this.
What about distribution costs, sales commissions, etc?
The average publisher takes 80% or more of the revenue from a book they publish on your behalf. But with modern publishing tools like LeanPub, you have the option to keep upwards of 90% of your sales price in your pocket.
Sure, you have the initial outlay for editing and design, but beyond that, every dollar (minus the commission) is yours to keep.
Bottom line: self publishing is a winner.
You’re going to spend 100 – 200 hours writing a book. Why should someone else keep 80%+ of the revenue from it? It’s your knowledge, hard work, experience and research that went into making the book a success. I’ve never been asked “who’s your publisher?” about Mastering Object Oriented PHP. Most people don’t care. And they won’t care about your book’s publisher either!