A couple of years ago now I was asked to go to my son’s primary school and talk to the book club about ‘Being a Writer’. Imposter syndrome aside it was a rewarding experience but, as is the way of children, one insightful little monster cut right to the heart of the matter in the questions section at the end.
“How much money do you make?”
Now, it’s often joked about that writers don’t make much money but it’s not really something that’s talked about in depth for those just starting out so, though it may be gauche, Let’s talk about Money.
Now, self-pub is gonna cost you before it starts making money, let’s talk about costs. If you want your work to be available to readers through shops, most online retailers, and even libraries, you’ll need an ISBN or ‘International Standard Book Number’. This is a catalogue number that allows vendors to identify your book. You don’t need one to self-pub E-Books on Amazon, but you do need to resign yourself to the fact that it won’t go any further than that platform without one*. A book ISBN is also used to generate the barcode which carries the books details, they retail from Nielsen’s at £89 each (there are job-lot discounts available). Remember, your ISBN is linked not just to the book, but the format. Releasing in softback, hardback and Ebook? That’ll be three ISBN’s.
Next come print costs. Amazon will put your work on it’s e-platform and print-on-demand service with no file upload costs, it’ll take the cost of hosting directly from your sales and your work won’t be available on the likes of Apple Books, Waterstones or Barnes and Noble. Another factor to consider is the amount of complaints I’ve come across about their overall print quality, from the cut, to the ink running and smudging. As with many things, the quality of your product costs. I’ve mentioned before that I use IngramSpark, I pay $25 dollars each to upload my cover, internals and my eBook format, then I order fifty units for my own stock upon approval and get the file uploads for hardcopy ($50) back. I have had it recommended to me that CreateSpace is the printing house to use for cheaper copies for retail yourself but that’s all you get, there’s no distribution, no e-platform service.
So, already you’ve laid out quite a stack of bills and you’re looking for returns. Well, let’s talk about pricing. Amazon offers a 70% royalties plan, surprise, surprise there’s a whole mess of hoops to jump through and it’s limited largely to the western, English-speaking world. More likely you’ll be subscribing to the 30% royalties plan for ease. So, for a $3 book you’ll be earning less than a dollar. Sounds good right? Remember that your royalties will only be paid once you reach the ‘Remittance Threshhold’ of $100 and you’ll receive that no sooner than sixty days after the sale of the last book.
It’s worth noting here that Ebook and face-to-face sales are where you’re going to make money initially. Brexit really did a number on my pricing for the Camelot series, I used to make 45p per hardcopy sold online (which is more than big pub pay authors, but they make up for it in volume of sales), now I sell online at break-even in the UK and have had to instigate a slight rise oversea’s for any kind of profit margin. Of course, I can still buy my units at cost from Ingram and sell at the list price (except I can’t until Covid Restrictions ease). Ingram will show you, as you price, how much you’ll get in compensation. On Ebooks the margin is about 20% so, as I say, that’s where you make some back.
Of course we’re *hopefully* approaching the end of Covid restrictions, and we’ll be vaccinated soon to the point where ‘Herd Immunity’ can be properly applied as a principal. Selling at events is fun and I highly recommend it. I’ve been to events where I covered Table Cost and expenses with a couple of sales (a small, local con I could walk to that charged a tenner a table). Likewise I’ve sunk some money into conventions, hotels and travel and not nearly made it back. Depending on what you want from being an author it’s often worthwhile taking a risk. Literary Conventions will see you put up stall in a room full of book sellers, if your products good and you sell well it can be worth it, but those are big ‘If’s’. Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Film con’s are a good bet because a large percentage of the footfall are readers as well as fans. My biggest cost/reward return was Worldcon. I went to Dublin, it was a massive outlay but it paid for itself and, with it being a Literary Con, I met some great people, got some good exposure (which I wasn’t paying for/being paid in) and even picked up the Rendered Flesh project into the bargain. I’m going to Chicago next year on the strength of Dublin sales.
Of course, if you’re lucky you’ll be able to pick up freelancing projects to subsidies your own projects. Now Freelance pays by the word, not the hour or the page. You’ll more than likely have a fixed word-count too. I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy rates of three to five cents on the word for projects ranging between two-thousand and ten-thousand words. Getting paid for your work is a wonderful feeling. I mentioned ‘exposure’ earlier, the recent rallying of creatives against ‘working for exposure’ is a wonderful thing to stop big companies trying to get away without paying artists. It’s a scam and you shouldn’t ever accept it from them. However, as a personal opinion, I *will* work for exposure when the person, or persons I’m working for is a struggling creative like myself. By working in concert we as creatives can expose the others audience to our work and maybe pick up some more followers. I’ll let slip here that I’m currently staring down the barrel of a joint project with a particularly notorious creative individual, although I can’t say anymore than that.
Of course I’m not supporting myself, not even close. I enjoy a living arrangement that allows me to pursue writing as a career. The likelihood is that most of you will be supporting yourselves, funding your writing with your day jobs and, should you choose, attending cons alongside those jobs too. I empathise, I haven’t done the two things side-by-side but I was introduced to the con scene by someone who did and I’ve seen the effort that they put in. Although, I *did* make a profit fro my tax return last year (mostly because I haven’t been anywhere and all the events have carried my table costs over from last year. Anyway, still holding out hopes for the Netflix deal but, until then; writers don’t get rich, we enrich the lives of our readers.