This Anwer was originally part of "I am an unestablished author with a decent book. Should I publish online, or try to find a 'real' publisher?", then was asked as a Q and was shut down till re- editing it as a Q and A.
These following numbers are broadly inaccurate; they are here to get a general idea. Some SE members strongly disagree of mentioning numbers without sources, others disagree with the numbers.
Please tell me if in your research, or as a published author, my estimates are not consistent with your experience
- To the first, I say that I am not going to chew your food for you. Do some research, you will find some numbers, also you will find much more detail than what is presented here, this is just a basic introduction.
- To the second, please give us your numbers, there are not enough quantitative data especially from personal experience.
Cold Coins for your Soul...
The crux of the matter is money vs. fame, here we speak dough.
- 1) You have a problem manuscript
It is badly written, plots go nowhere, it is boring, not commercial…
Trad. publishers won’t be interested; you won’t make much, if any, by self-publishing anyways.
- 2) You have an average manuscript
It shows potential; there are some issues with it.
This is the grey area where traditional vs. self publishing comes into play the most.
A publisher will improve it and you get the recognition of a mid list “professional” author, but you don’t make much, and would need many more books like that to contemplate going really going full-time professional.
It is much harder to self edit to improve the book; the end product may be inferior. However, with self publishing, you will most likely make much more money, but won’t get the recognition. With a fan base, you can become professional much sooner. in this case, trad. vs. self is a decision that can be a trade between some fame or some cash.
- 3) You have a great manuscript
The trad. houses will distribute it to markets you can’t reach on your own; this way reaches the most readers. You will make money even from puny royalties. This could be the beginning of a “partnership” with that publisher. it will give you a "name".
You will reach fewer people by self-publishing , but have some “fame” from the number of sales; you will make lots more money.
This is broadly inaccurate, full of estimates and suppositions and is here to get a general idea.
KindleDirect at 70% royalties book sold at 3 or 4 (£, $, or €). vs. let’s say 6%-8% royalties from a publisher, book sold at 7 (£, $, or €).
Yes, Stephen King may get 15% or more, but we are talking about beginning writers, and ignoring advance payments which will be deducted from the royalties anyways.
Yes it is a subjective judgment call and some sell books the same price, however I believe this is the average, 7 for paperbacks novels and 3 or 4 for e-books.
(Although there are differences between £, $, or €, having bough books in all the countries concerned most paperbacks are about 7 (£,$, or €), so i'll use no currency as in this case £,$, or € are interchangable, for sales, if not for ultimate profits.)
So, with a printed book price ot 7, trad. royalties of 6% are 7*.06=.42 and royalties of 8% are 7*.08=.56, and per book sold, let’s average this to 50 cents per book sold.
With e-books sold at 3-4, KDP are 3*.7=2.1, or 4*.7=2.8 per book sold, lets average that to 2.5 per books sold.
For the numbers to match traditional publishers need to be able to sell 5 times more books.
(Though some other estimations i did resulted in closer to 4 times more sales for the same revenue.)
Though they sell more, the data between printed and e-book sales in Amazon suggest that it is more like twice, though that includes e-books sales from trad. publishers.
(It would be great if someone could find relevent numbers for the industy, even if aproximative estimated numbers.)
Anyways, for illustrative purposes, the nuts and bolts of making money from writing.
- @ 500 books sold, trade=250, KDP=1250
- @ 2500 books sold, trade=1250, KDP=6250
- @ 5000 books sold, trade=2500, KDP=12500
- @ 25000 books sold, trade=12500, KDP=62500
- @ 50000 books sold, trade=25000, KDP=125000
Well, let’s not dream bigger. The conclusion is that the difference in profits becomes more and more important, mentally if not mathematically, as there are more books sold.
However, let’s keep in mind some generalities…
- First time authors who self publish have typical runs in the low hundreds, if that. So, a few of hundred bucks for all that work is the financial result.
- Most trad. published first time authors never get any royalties because the royalties are less than the typical 2500 or 5000 advance they are given.(Well, at least according to the creative accounting traditional publishers seem to excel at...)
- Many midlist authors sell no more than about 20000 books, so they only do marginally well and need multiple book deals and a backlist of published books to earn a living from writings.
I am not sure when the term bestseller starts to be applicable, but I would consider 50k book sales to be it.
@Kate Sherwood commented in I am an unestablished author with a decent book. Should I publish online, or try to find a 'real' publisher?
And with the edits, you're adding more numbers that don't really jibe with my experience. Your estimate for an advance, even for a new author, is really low.
I know mid career authors often get 20-25k advances and that some talented prospects, well represented by an agent, may get 10K. However, I read, in writing books, that in the US first timers used to get a standard 5000 advance, but that it is now more often 2500 due to market pressure. In Europe, I personally know first time authors who where given 5000 euros advances, and where not paid royalties for a couple of years after that.
I arrived to these numbers by various researches, as a beginner I needed to get a concrete idea of the financial realities of publishing. Some of my numbers may be wrong but I believe that they will be helpful to aspiring writers trying to figure the money side of things
This text is a base, a platform from which interested readers can then hunt down the specific numbers. I didn’t pull the numbers out from my hat, they can be found. Yet, my numbers may be obsolete for today’s market; they are here to give a general idea to those who are clueless. I wrote what I would like to have read early on. Specifics, even if inaccurate, can give a broad sense of the financial realities behind writings.