Self-Publishing or Traditional Publishing: Which Pays Better?

Posted by Kristen House on November 17, 2017 at 12:55 AM

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog on the differences between self-publishing, independent publishing, and traditional publishing—and which one is best for youLet’s continue the conversation. When it comes to different types of publishing, what pays authors more?

For those of you who know me, you know that I’m terrible—just terrible—with math. But figuring out these numbers doesn’t take a math genius.

Every week, thousands of writers are finishing their first manuscript, asking themselves the question:

Should I pursue traditional publishing or some form of self-publishing?

Assuming you’ll have similar rates of success (selling the same number of copies) with your book whether you self-publish or publish traditionally, the defining answer to your level of success will come down to royalties.

Let’s say author Suzie writes romance books. She decides to self-publish on Amazon Kindle and prices her newest book at $3.99. Since she’s written several books already, she has a growing number of loyal readers, many of whom will buy her newest book right away. Suzie happily secures 3,000 sales—due to her large following (from publishing several books) and because of a competitive price for her books.

Now let’s look at author John, who writes in the same genre, but chooses to publish traditionally. His books are published and distributed in both ebook and paperback format, and are available at Barnes & Noble (awesome!). His publisher prices his ebooks at $6.99 and his paperback books at $15.99. Given that John is an average-selling author, his books are likely to sell about 3,000 copies in its lifetime. Ebooks generally account for 20% of the total book market, so John can expect to sell 600 ebooks and 2,400 paperback copies.

Remember author Suzie, who self-published? Her 3,000 sales at $3.99 each account for $11,970 in total sales. Since she can secure 70% of her royalties with Amazon, Suzie’s looking at a cool $8,379 for those sales.

Unfortunately, a 70% royalties option is unheard of—and in fact, laughable—with traditional publishers. Authors can expect to receive 8% of royalties on paperback books and 25% (sometimes up to 50%) on ebooks because publishers don’t have to cover the traditional costs of paperback publishing (think paper, ink) with ebook copies.

John’s 600 ebook copies (at $6.99 each) rake in $4,194 in sales. At 25% royalties, John can expect to earn $1,048. His 2,400 paperback copies, at $15.99 each, will draw in about $38,376, of which John can expect to receive about $3,070 (8% of royalties). In all, John’s take-home royalties total $4,118—about half of what Suzie earned self-publishing.

The numbers don’t lie: Self-publishing is the best option for authors looking to make a living off their writing. Still, many authors today consider traditional publishing to be the ultimate dream—and I understand that. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about having your work accepted by a publishing company. (I admit, the idea of having your manuscript picked up by a publishing house is terribly romantic.)

But me? I’ll be over here in the self-publishing industry, helping my author clients release their books, build up a following, and make their millions.

Want to learn more about how to build your author brand

and become a self-publishing pro?

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Book editor Kristen Hamilton is the owner and sole employee of

Kristen Corrects, Inc., where she provides manuscript editing

services for traditionally and self-publishing authors. Several

authors whose books she has edited have won awards and have

topped Amazon's best sellers lists.

Reading is Kristen's passion, so when the workday is over, she

can usually be found curled up with a good book alongside her

four cats. She loves watching cat videos and scary movies,

eating pizza, teaching herself French, and traveling, and she is

likely planning her next vacation. She lives outside of Boise, ID.

Categories: self-publishing, traditional publishing, author business

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