I’ve been watching the “Nuts and Bolts” series over on YouTube and the latest is about the costs of self-publishing a book. I found it useful, but I felt like it was missing a dimension, so I thought I’d break down how much I’ve spent on my books and what the return on investment has been.
The usual caveats apply, of course. Just because these figures are true for me, doesn’t meant they’ll be true for you. I’m a fairly decent self-editor, so my books have less mistakes than the average (Although still have a bunch), so some books aren’t professionally edited. None of the figures are guarantees. All prices and income are in US Dollars.
Cover = $500
Editing = $650
Advertising = $100
Income to date = $65
The editing is still in progress, so I haven’t any conclusions on that yet. Also, this book is a free series starter, so only has a few sales from non-US & UK countries.
Cover = $70
Income to date = $410
This is the second book in the Bytarend series, so the income should really be split between the two books, but the admittedly hideous cover doesn’t seem to put people off too much. I’m going to change the cover soon, so it will be interesting to see if that affects sales.
Cover = $300
Income to date = $352
The third book in the Bytarend series, so again a lead-in from the first book. All told, the Bytarend books have cost $1620 and brought in $827. Obviously this doesn’t include the time I’ve spent writing them, but at this rate, the books should pay back my investment within about a year at present rates of income. So it takes about two-and-a-half years for a three book series (The fourth book will be out in 6 months time or so).
Personally, it seems like editing might have boosted the series by a bit, but I’m not sure if it would be $2000 over two years. I need to experiment to find out more.
Cover = $70
Editing = $500
Income to date = $93
A bit of a disaster, in terms of income. I’ve invested a fair amount into this book, but haven’t seen all that much return. On a creative level, I think it’s probably the best book I’ve written, but people aren’t interested in the book at all.
If this was a series starter for free, it would be dynamite. As it stands, it will take about a decade to earn back my investment in it.
Cover = $10
Editing = $230
Income to date = $16
This has been free for a few months, so hasn’t been drawing in that much income. It wasn’t a big hit when it cost a dollar, but got a few sales a week. When I put it free, it got a thousand downloads in a few months. The sequel is due out in little over a month.
I hope this might be useful for anyone early on in their publishing career. For me, the massive success so far has been my Bytarend series. People really like them and I get fanmail fairly often.
From a purely financial perspective, my choice of genres isn’t the greatest, so other genres might get more income. Sci-fi and fantasy are the genres I love, though, so that’s what I’m going to keep writing.
All things being equal, the thing to do to maximise income is write in a series with the first book free. If you are going to self-edited, you need to be meticulous. However, if you don’t want to spend the money, people who can’t put up with the poor editing will drop out in the first book. Obviously your reviews will suffer.
The first book in the Bytarend series has had over 33K downloads to gain those 700 sales, so my guess would be that a substantial number are dropping out due to poor editing.
On covers, it seems like designing a cover is a place where the money is best spent on a series instead of a book. For instance, my Shiny New Swindle cover could serve more books with a colour change. The Bytarend books, meanwhile, need a custom cover each time at a $300 investment. So over 5 books, that’s a substantial chunk of money.
If you possibly can, I would say that the following is a good idea:
1. Write in a series – Free.
2. Make the first book free – Free.
3. Pay for a custom cover with possibilities for reuse in the sequels – $300.
4. Find another author and swap books for beta-reading purposes. Ask them to be harsh and tell you when they were bored, confused, or didn’t buy something that happened – Free.
5. Pay for copy-editing – $500+.
6. Advertise on a book email list every 3 months – $100+ per go.
So that will cost around $800 per book. If you see the same return as I have, then that should pay back your investment in about 2+ years. It’s a substantial investment, but that series will hopefully keep paying every month forever.
If you’d like more information, I went into the subject in more depth in this video:
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