A couple of weeks ago, I decided to try to answer a question that I’ve seen over and over again in author circles: Is it worth spending money on professional cover design and editing?
The answers tend to break down into two camps, depending mostly on the level of the author. Either:
- Of course, you have to respect your readers. Think on it as an investment;
- I have no money and over $1000 per book means that if I went with covers and editing, I wouldn’t be able to publish anything.
I understand both answers. $1000 is a lot of money to invest, when you might not get any of it back. At the same time, people are giving their free time to read your book and typos are annoying.
I decided to focus my survey on the second answer: If you invest money in your books, will you ever see it again? After all, reader respect is a difficult thing to measure.
Before I start, I have a big disclaimer. I only managed to get 26 respondents to the survey. So these results may be far from representative. If you’re an author, please feel free to add your own experience to the survey and I may do an update in the future.
Levels of Author Earning
In the survey, there was a broad range of authors from an earning standpoint:
The majority of authors earned less than $200 for 2014, but a few earned between $60,000 and $100,000.
Length of Time Publishing
The first question asked how long people had been publishing. This was to get a general sense of where an author was at in their career:
It should come as little surprise that, other than a few outliers, the people that have been publishing the longest are earning the most on average.
Still, an average of $65,000 for everyone publishing for more than six years is encouraging for anyone struggling.
The next question asked how much people spent on professional covers. This is where the data got a little more interesting:
The people who didn’t spend any money on their covers are over there on the left, earning an average of $467 each. People who spent $100 or less, earned an average of around $5000. Anyone spending more than that seemed to get about the same return, whether they spent $300 or $1000.
However, it’s in the raw data that it gets even more interesting. By sorting the raw data on earnings for 2014, no one earning $5000 or more had a free or self-made cover.
That’s by no means a guarantee, however, some people spent $1000 on a cover and earned less than $200 for the year. However, it seems that a self-made cover dooms a book to obscurity.
Story editing seemed to have less of an impact on sales:
Ten out of the twenty-six hired a story editor, but the earnings didn’t reflect that investment, with just as many earning well without a story editor.
And so to the main event. Copy-editing costs a lot of money, so will you get a return on the investment?
The difference between spending $300 on copy-editing and spending nothing is $4594 on average. The difference between spending $300 and spending $700 or more, however, is negligible. So on a strictly financial basis, copy-editing is worth an investment, as it pays back more than 1000% on average.
There were people that spent $700 or more on copy-editing and earned $200 for the year. There was also someone who spent nothing and earned $100,000, but that person was an outlier and is likely boosting the 0 bar above considerably. Everyone else that spent nothing on copy-editing earned less than $200 for the year.
So copy-editing is by no means a guarantee of success, since spending money on it doesn’t mean an automatic return on investment, but on average it earns back the money invested many times over.
Otherwise, I had a series of possible checkboxes for marketing, just in case they turned up anything interesting. Here the data is less conclusive, as in some cases only a single person had done a particular type of marketing, but the conclusions are:
- People who used email services such as Bookbub and Booksends considerably more than people who didn’t. ($29,000 on average vs $7,600).
- People who used Facebook promotion also earned much more than people who didn’t. ($36,700 on average vs. $11,300)
- People who created their own marketing materials earned slightly more than people who didn’t. ($16,000 vs $13,600)
- The only person using an email list as their primary advertising earned $100,000 or more.
- YouTubers actually earned a fifth of people who didn’t use YouTube ($3,700 vs $15,600).
However, again, in some cases there were only a handful of people that reported using any particular method, so all of this should be with a giant grain of salt.
For me, this confirms something I’ve long suspected: that investments in a cover and copy-edit are well worth it. There are no guarantees, after all publishing books is a business and no one is guaranteed to make money. However, avoiding spending money on basics like those means that customers will find a better product to buy.
A massive thank you to all the authors that took part. Without you, I wouldn’t have gotten the results I did.
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