Self-Publishing — Money Matters

I’ve come to the conclusion that unless you are as talented (and fortunate) as J.K. Rowling, your best bet at making money from writing is probably not through books. You are probably better off cranking out feature stories. I know there are people out there who can prove me wrong. But for the vast majority, I think this may be true.

I’m going to share my numbers with you.

During the Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Workshop I took in the spring and summer, we had an assignment to calculate our break-even point. How many books did we need to sell to start making money? At the time, I estimated my expenses and royalties and calculated that I would need to sell 211 print books, if everyone bought them from Createspace where I have a higher royalty, or 355 if everyone bought them from

Yesterday I reworked the numbers, taking into consideration the actual costs.

Expenses for print book


Estimated$1039 Actual$1222
Upfront: editing,Createspace Pro, Proof copies and shipping $350 $405
(50)Promo copies (includes shipping) 177 180
Promo materials $100 $100
Website $100 $100
Business set up $312 $337

My upfront expenses were higher than I anticipated because I need more proof copies, and I got a delivery license so that I could hand sell books if I wanted to. The promotional materials number is still only an estimate. These numbers do not include the purchase of 10 ISBNs ($250 but will be good for five books.)

Roughly speaking I will have to earn $1222 in royalties before I make dollar one.

After much deliberation and consultation, I decided to price Dancing in Heaven print version at $9.99. The ebook will be $2.99. The book royalties depend upon the distribution channel.

 Book Royalties by distribution option Estimate Actual
 Createspace  $4.92  $4.84  $2.92  $2.84
 Expanded distribution  $0.92  $0.84

If I sold only print books, and I assume that I will make an average of $2.00 per book, I need to sell 611 books to break even. Selling ebooks will help. I think I should make about $2.00 on each one.

I have read that a very large percentage of people (like 99%) never sell more than 100 books. So the odds are not in my favor.

But then, for me, the money never mattered. I wasn’t doing this project for the money. I wanted to tell my sister Annie’s story, and self-publishing has enabled me to do that.

I suggested at the beginning of this post that if you want to make money, you should consider writing feature stories for magazines, print and online.

I’ve only had two feature stories published. In total I made about $1000. Each story took one or two weeks to write. Let’s say I can manage to crank out and sell one major feature story a month for $500. I would make $12,000 in the two years it took me to write, edit, and publish Dancing in Heaven. I will have to sell over 6000 books to get that same return for my time.

Write books if you want. Write books if you must. But don’t quit your day job.

I have also decided that if I do manage to break even, I will donate half of the additional royalties to Hospice of Dayton. I’ll be sure to let you know if that happens.

Do you make money on your writing?

19 thoughts on “Self-Publishing — Money Matters”

  1. Your charts were eye opening! I had no idea what the cost would be and it was interesting to see it all in black and white. I think it is wonderful that half of your additional royalties are going to go to Hospice! That is so great!!! I can not wait to get this on my Kindle!!! I feel like I have gotten in on the tail end of your “adventure” but am so glad I found your blog awhile back!!! Keep on writing!

    1. I think you probably could do it for less money if you were very thrifty.
      I hope I am able to generate additional royalties. I thought about giving half of all royalties from the get-go, but decided I should pay our personal money back first if I am able. (My accountant would like that too, I suspect. I have to look like I am trying to make money or I will get in trouble with the IRS for the pens I expensed through my business.)

  2. I have been told that the “average author” only makes about $4,000 per written book. Many of the publishing companies and agents no longer market the books which leaves that cost to the writer. I’ve decided long ago that writing for me is truly for the enjoyment and not to make a living. Now, if I had enough money that I didn’t need a job then I might consider it as a career!

    1. I wonder if those are the 1% of the people who sell more than 100 books. Not a very lucrative career. But then, neither is painting.

      I think having to make living by my writing would make it tedious and not at all enjoyable. So I’m with you.

  3. Very realistic and eye-opening post for most people, so also a very useful post.

    Do I make money with my writing? Are you kidding? The authors who do are like lottery winners, few and far between, among the many who try. Or like people who are struck by lightning: it happens, but to anyone you know???
    suzicate is on the right track — it’s for enjoyment, or self-realization, or to tell a story you need to tell or think should be told. If the money follows, wonderful! But if not, you’ve achieved your primary purpose anyway.

    1. I got a lot of this perspective from the WD workshop I took. They cautioned us to be realistic.

      If you look at it the way you suggest, then self-publishing makes all the sense in the world, doesn’t it?

      1. the facts are not happy to see…but it is real.

        it is better to write for one’s self. and then do as you do …self-publish.

        Even some very published authors are not making what you think they would be making. And their works do sell well. And yes, with all the marketing and pr one has to do now…ugh.

        Break even yes….go beyond that yes:) go !!!!

  4. This is very helpful information for anyone seeking to self-publish. I’ve never sought to write for money myself, but my wife always says I should. I’ll show her the info you give her and it will quiet her a bit 🙂 Seriously though, thanks for the info. 🙂

  5. I’ve made a little money, but I ain’t getting rich anytime soon! Authors like John Locke and Amanda Hocking who are prolific writers and sellers of ebooks make me aspire to more, but I have to face facts – I’m a slow writer. I can’t knock out a book a month – or in less time. So I’ll write for fun, keep on learning, and just maybe I’ll get lucky.

    1. Well, at least you made a little money. You’re right. I think you have to be pretty productive to make a living at it. That, and be good. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  6. This is a real eye opener. I’ve chosen to wallow in denial so your number crunching was a wake up call. I have far more invested due to hiring a very pricy editor. Yikes! Thanks for posting these figure.

    1. The workshop emphasized the numbers from the beginning so that we went in with our eyes open. You’ll be okay. Your book will be beautiful. When will it be out?

  7. Thanks for continuing to share your adventures on self-publishing. I’d been debating about participating this year in the NANOWRIMO (.org), but it didn’t fit in overly well with my current goals. After reading your post, I realized that I didn’t need to be spending my time on something with so little return. I’d rather work on my journals and family histories.

    1. I have to admit my ignorance about nanowrimo, but you’re right that there are many opportunities to get side-tracked and distracted from our goals. We can’t do everything. I love working on my family histories and would like to get back to that soon as well.


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