I’m often asked how much it costs to publish a book, so thought a brief summary on my blog might be helpful.
All my books have been self-published through Matador, who in general terms offer the same services as a traditional publisher but with two crucial differences.
Firstly, it is the author’s book, so whilst Matador will make recommendations it is the author who largely has the final say in edit and design. Secondly, it is the author who takes the financial risk, paying upfront for all production, printing and marketing costs, plus 15% on each sale through the normal book distribution system.
Matador produce an excellent book and are lovely people to work with. Beware some other companies who may be cheaper but often don’t deliver the profitable sales they promise. Matador offer a range of marketing services and it is necessary to take the most basic of these in order to gain entry into the trade market. My experience is that whilst they can open certain doors, it is the author’s efforts in gaining publicity and persuading shops to stock the book which has a greater impact on sales. The hard work is not done once a book has been written!
There is no simple answer to “How much does it cost to publish a book?” It depends on the type of book, how much (if any) is in colour, what extra services are required and the number of copies printed.
Essex Coast Walk has only black & white photos, so was cheapest of my six books to print. The next four books have colour photo sections which add to the cost and 50 Walks on the Essex Coast is in full colour. After realising with Essex Coast Walk that no matter how many times the author, friends and family read a book, errors will slip through (but were corrected in the reprints), I now always pay for a proof read. I don’t pay for an edit and take only the basic marketing package. Judging the print run is difficult but costs come down considerably with quantity, however one doesn’t want to be left with mountain of unsold copies.
A summary of production costs for 50 Walks on the Essex Coast, my most recent book, is as follows:
Pre-Press Costs (typesetting etc.) 700
Trade Marketing & Mailing 460
Proof Read 288
Maps (not Matador) 1500
Print 1500 copies 3219
Based on the print run of 1500 (it’s looking as if I should have gone for more) this works out at £4.17 / copy.
With a selling price of £9.99 at first glance this looks to give a handsome profit but the next lesson for the self-published author is that they have to share the profit. Shops expect a discount of 40 – 55%, Amazon take 60% and Matador 15% to service the sales. It comes as a bit of a shock to find that a book that sells for £9.99 on Amazon nets only £2.50 to the author, which may be less than the production cost. I try to encourage people to buy from book shops (I have an arrangement Swan Books with my local independent to offer free p&p for which I further discount their price) but many will use Amazon. Even if these sales make little profit they are contributing to the total sales and without them the print run would be lower and unit cost higher. An alternative would be to try to push sales through Matador’s website, for which the author gets 85% of the selling price.
Profit is greater on books sold by the author but they need somewhere to keep them. I’m fortunate that my company has a warehouse where pallets of books can be stored. Some authors choose to take the whole print run from Matador and sell the books themselves, rather than the publisher supplying the retail trade and Amazon. Sales are then likely to be lower but the margin higher. The best profit comes from books sold directly to the customer; to friends, family and at talks or book fairs.
I’ve estimated a sales breakdown for 50 Walks on the Essex Coast which shows how the income varies widely according to the sales route. Estimating this breakdown is crucial when considering the finances of a book – including the selling price.
Income Estimated % of sales
Author sales to Customer 9.99 10
Author sales to Retailer (average) 5.00 50
Matador Website 8.50 0
Matador sales to Amazon etc. 2.50 30
Matador sales to Waterstones etc. 3.00 10
Matador sales to Independent Bookshop 4.00 10
This breakdown gives an average income of £4.95 / copy. Based on these estimates 1264 copies will need to be sold to break even and selling all 1500 will give a profit of £1168 (which would most probably go towards a reprint). Note that for a local book it is much easier for the author to supply retailers than one which sells nationally.
At 190 pages 50 Walks on the Essex Coast is shorter than my other books, but being in full colour and with a map for each walk, production costs are higher. A similar book but without maps would need to sell 961 copies to break even. A summary of costs and income on some of my other books gives further insight into the variability of self-publishing finance.
Essex Coast Walk No Boat Required The Next Station Stop
Production Cost 2.21 2.83 2.52
Copies Printed 4000 2000 2000
Selling Price 9.99 12.99 9.99
Author Sold 6.31 7.94 6.09
Matador Sold 2.62 3.66 2.74
Author % 34 23 21
Matador % 66 77 79
Average Income 3.87 4.64 3.44
Copies to Break Even 1574 1220 1465
Note that for Essex Coast Walk 1000 were printed, followed by another 2000 then another 1000 and that had these all been printed together the unit price would have been lower. It would have been more profitable to have printed 4000 in one go but of course only if they sold. I printed too few Essex Coast Walk, probably too many Stand Up Sit Down but think I’ve judged the others about right.
It should be born in mind that there will also be additional unforeseen costs such as storage and delivery. Matador charge £30 per month for storage of more than 300 books (of each title) so this can quickly eat into profits.
Finally, I should mention selling price. Other than No Boat Required, which is the longest of my books, I have priced all at £9.99. They seem to be considered good value at this price and whilst I could have charged more, my view has been that it is a threshold price above which buyers are less likely to make spur of the moment purchases. I would prefer more sales at lower margin, particularly as I now have six books published and readers of one very often go on to buy others.
So in summary the key factors are:
Production Costs – be aware of all the costs and for example that you may need to sell another 100 books to cover an extra £300 cost.
Print Run – It’s hard to judge but crucial to whether the book makes a profit or loss.
Selling Price – Find the balance between what will sell and what will make a profit.
Sales Route – Be aware of the percentage of cover price the author will get and where possible try to direct sales to the most profitable routes.
And my final advice, writing and self-publishing a book is very rewarding, but don’t expect to make any money!