Science Fiction is in-between the layers of reality, beyond the now, and forever forward facing.

No matter which way you look at it, the path to super-star authorship is fraught with maybe’s and what-if’s and nope’s. It’s best to see and understand that, in most cases, being an author will not pay well. Only the extremely lucky and talented or the very devoted with time, effort, and money to spend can crawl to the top. Being an author isn’t about making money, it’s about telling stories and giving readers something to think about. It’s very unlikely that an author will get rich selling books.

We can’t all be best-sellers, so let’s look at professional authorship realistically.

We provide a service, an escape, the information the readers long for and in return receive adoration from our fans…. and money. Unfortunately, love and stories don’t pay the bills. This week I’m going to look at a couple of examples and examine the difference between traditionally published and self-publish authors in regards to, well, profit, time, and pay-out.

First we need some information about each author:

Traditionally Published Tabby

  • Book Price – $14.99
  • Copies Sold – 4,400
  • Marketing Expenses – $100.00
  • Author Advance – $2,000.00
  • Royalty Rate – 6.8%

Self-Published Sammy

  • Book Price – $4.99
  • Copies Sold – 1,100
  • Editing Fees – $600.00
  • Cover Design and Formatting Fees – $600.00
  • Marketing Expenses – $100.00
  • Royalty Rate – 70%

Here’s the Math

How much money will the author of the traditionally published paperback earn per book? About $1.02

Price × Royalty Rate = Earnings per Book  

How much money will the author of the self-published e-book earn per book? About $3.50

Same Equation, Price × Royalty Rate = Earnings per Book  

How many books does the author of the traditionally published paperback need to sell in order to earn out their advance? About 1,961 units based on the amount of the advance and pricing given in the example

Advance ÷ Earnings Per Book = Number of Copies Needed to Earn Out Advance

How many books does the author of the traditionally published paperback need to sell in order to recoup their personal investment? About 98 units

Total Expenses ÷ Earnings per Book = Books Needed to Sell to Recoup Investment

How many e-books does the self-published author need to sell in order to recoup their personal investment? About 372 units

Total Expenses ÷ Earnings per Book = Books Needed to Sell to Recoup Investment

How many books does each author need to sell in order to make a gross profit of $10,000?

Traditionally Published Author: About 7,941 units

Self-Published e-book Author: About 3,229 units

My Brain Popped

Well that was enlightening… And now my head hurts. Besides confirming that I’m still terrible at math, that little exercise gave me some things to think about. First I looked at changing the advance amount for the traditionally published book and how many copies would have to be sold in order to make the $10,000. At an advance of $5,000 the number of units drops to about 4,900, which is only about 500 more than the expected number of sales. Not bad, not bad at all. At a $7,000 advance, the number of units drops quite a bit to 2,940. The more the advance, the easier it is to get to the $10,000 mark, if we include the advance in profit. I don’t know if that’s really the way it works, but it sure would happen that way for me in my unmathematical mind.

Now, looking at the self-publishing side, I changed the price of the book to $1.99 and $8.99. This drastically changed the amount of units sold to recoup cost, 1,820 and 206 respectively. But, we have to take into account how hard it is to sell an e-book at $8.99 and how easy it is to sell on at $1.99. The self-published author of an e-book that costs less than $2.00 is likely to sell many more books than the author of the one costing $8.99. To get to the $10,000 profit mark,  the $1.99 author would have to sell about 8,072 books while the $8.99 author would have to sell about 1,794. I’m rounding up here.

Which Is Better?

None of this has particularly changed my mind about self-publishing. At my present moment, I cannot devote the time needed in order to properly market a book and sell enough copies to break a profit, even a small one. While there’s a chance to make lots of money, at least enough to pay the bills, I simply can’t stop working in order to make that happen. On the other hand, it takes such a long time to get traditionally published, if at all, that my work could be sitting around collecting dust and not being read by anyone. That would stink, too. On top of that, if there’s not enough of an advance involved in the acquisition of the work, I’ll have to really stretch that bit I do get and make it last until royalties start to come in… if at all. So what we’re looking at is this: If we assume that the book is in fact picked up by a publisher, there’s a lump sum upfront that has to last and hopefully enough sales happen to recoup the advance for the publisher. If the book is self-published, small amounts of money can start coming in right away, but there has to be enough to recoup the production cost to the author. Six to one half-dozen to the other. While self-publishing isn’t loathsome, if I had more than 24 hours in a day I might give it another go, I simply cannot make an investment if I know I do not have the ability to back it up with marketing.    

And that’s okay. I’ll be happy just to get to where my readership lives.

~Sarah Ockershausen Delp

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