People do occasionally ask this question. Normally they’re too polite; sometimes they just assume the money just keeps rolling in. Other times when they actually meet me they make the inspired guess that it doesn’t put my amateur status at risk. There again, perhaps it’s the new bathroom that leads to them jumping to conclusions.
So how much does it cost to produce a book properly?
Well first let’s ignore the writer’s hourly rate. Let’s look at the stuff that ought to happen.
Assuming we’re talking about a book that’s 70,000 words long I’d suggest you’re looking at the following figures. We’ll stick with an e-book because the numbers are less complicated.
Front cover. I’d guess somewhere between £30 and £70 should get you something acceptable so we’ll say £50. Be aware, artists are considered remarkably flaky, prone to attacks of the vapours, but unlike writers they get paid before the book is published. So go figure that one out.
Editing; because the basic rule is that nobody can edit their own work, will cost about £180. A good editor will correct major typos and punctuation disasters, but most importantly will ask questions like “Why does this character suddenly do that?” Or they’ll say things like “This doesn’t convince me. You can explain this better.” Your editor points out the changes you need to make to lift an ordinary story up to the level of a really good story. Your editor is really your partner, between the pair of you; you produce a really good book.
Then there’s the line-editing or proof-reading. This goes through the book picking out all the errors. A good proof-reader will spot the fact that you wrote ‘drawers’ when you meant ‘draws’. They’ll also make sure you’ve got the right ‘its’ and haven’t applied your commas with a shotgun. It can cost nicely over £1000 for this length of book.
Then there’s the techie bit when they pour the corrected final document into half a dozen different electronic formats and make sure they’re properly uploaded onto the correct websites and that all the pricing deals are correct and that the links all work. I guess I’ll put in a nominal £100 for that.
At this point we could talk about marketing and publicity, but you do that in your own time. Flitter away your waking hours on the web trying to be seen amidst a myriad other small voices all shrieking, ‘Look at me, look at me.’
Remember that the first year is when your book really sells, next year it’s old hat and will hopefully pick up a few sales on the strength of your second book which you published a year after you published the first.
And how much money do we get back?
Well there’s an interesting table I saw based on Amazon sales rank.
Amazon Best Seller Rank 50,000 to 100,000 – selling close to 1 book a day.
Amazon Best Seller Rank 10,000 to 50,000 – selling 3 to 15 books a day.
Amazon Best Seller Rank 5,500 to 10,000 – selling 15 to 30 books a day.
Amazon Best Seller Rank 3,000 to 5,500 – selling 30 to 50 books a day.
Amazon Best Seller Rank 500 to 3,000 – selling 50 to 200 books a day.
Amazon Best Seller Rank 350 to 500 – selling 200 to 300 books a day.
Amazon Best Seller Rank 100 to 350 – selling 300 to 500 books a day.
Amazon Best Seller Rank 35 to 100 – selling 500 to 1,000 books a day.
Amazon Best Seller Rank 10 to 35 – selling 1,000 to 2,000 books a day.
Amazon Best Seller Rank of 5 to 10 – selling 2,000 to 4,000 books a day.
Amazon Best Seller Rank of 1 to 5 – selling 4,000+ books a day.
Most self-published writers seem to creep in slightly above 10,000 when they’re launched, perhaps have a spell when they manage to hold up above 50,000 and then a couple of months later they drift down to 200,000 but with occasional flashes when they sell another book and shoot up to the giddy heights of sixty or seventy thousand.
But you’re different. You’re going to be a real success; you’re not going to drop below 50,000. (As a reality check, Terry Pratchett’s ‘Guards Guards’ is currently about 4,000.)
So over the first year we have 365 days in which we average sales of ten books a day. (Be still my beating heart.)
Now e-books are priced cheap, as a new writer you’re not going to sell many if you charge £5. So let’s say you go for £0.99 so make sure you’re attractive and don’t scare off the big spenders. You’ll get a 35% royalty rate which is 34.6p a book. Now you’ve sold 3650 books, so you’ve earned the magnificent sum of £1265; my sincere congratulations.
So against this magnificent sum of £1265, you’ve got to set £1000 for the proof-reading, £180 for the editing, £50 for the cover, and £100 for the techie bits. That’s £1330.
OK so even through you were a big success for an indie writer, you’ve lost money. What can you do?
Well in your second book you can put the price up a bit, you’re a success, you’ve got a reader base.
But if you just publish through Kindle (which would lose me between 10% and 15% of my sales) you can simply do the techie bits yourself, immediately saving £100.
Actually if you know what you’re doing you can probably do it with the other platforms as well but don’t expect me to be able to show you how to do it. For me the £100 seems a sensible amount of money to pay someone so I don’t have to do that sort of stuff.
What other savings are there? Some people produce their own covers. Well if you’re a gifted artist that’s fine. But remember the book cover is the thing people see. It’s the thing that leaps out from the Amazon webpage shouting ‘Buy me.’ Do you want it to look amateur and rubbish? Personally I’d pay the money.
Then there’s the editor. Frankly the £180 you spend there is the best money you do spend. If you spend nothing at all, still spend the money on the editor.
And then there’s the big saving; that £1000 for proof-reading.
Frankly very few of us are that successful, so very few writers can afford to even think of spending that sort of money. In fact I have come to suspect that even with the big publishers, they’re not willing to splash out and pay for proper proofreading on new authors who might never cover the cost. So we, the little people, do it ourselves, or more wisely throw ourselves on the mercy of good hearted friends who can do it.
So there you have it. You thought you wanted to be a writer; here are the bare bones of the trade laid out in a seemly manner for you to ponder upon. There is a route to success. When your second book appears, your first book should get a boost, and your second book might sell faster and sell more copies. When the third book appears you’ll see the same effect, perhaps amplified. So write a book a year, or ideally two a year, keep on plugging away, keep on improving (because the more you write the better you get) and suddenly, after twenty years hard work, you might just become an overnight sensation.