So how much money is there is this book writing job anyway?

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 really 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 alone (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. With the Tallis Steelyard stories I use the finest artists the western world has known. But remember the book cover is the thing people see. It’s the thing that leaps out from the Amazon webpage shouting ‘Buy me.’

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.


In the interests of making me an overnight sensation you might want to consider purchasing a number of copies of this book to give as suitable presents for your friends..


As a reviewer commented, “When a story starts with the words ‘There are safe ways to kill an Urlan. No, let me rephrase that, there are ways to kill an Urlan that do not lead to their kindred hunting you down like a rabid dog’, you KNOW it’s going to be a classic Jim Webster tale.
True to form, this is indeed a great yarn, worthy of being sung about at feasts in Medieval, or, Valhalla-like, halls.”

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31 thoughts on “So how much money is there is this book writing job anyway?

  1. The Story Reading Ape June 9, 2014 at 3:52 pm Reply

    That’s a lot of money to shell out for such a pittance back Jim – you’ll just have to keep dreaming of that special barn sized Dining room with en-suite Bathroom you crave (or is it a Bathroom with en-suite Dining Room?) LOL 😀

    • jwebster2 June 9, 2014 at 4:18 pm Reply

      I’ll just have to keep washing in the rainwater butt I suppose Chris 🙂

      • The Story Reading Ape June 9, 2014 at 5:40 pm

        And have a shower when it rains Jim lolol 😀

      • jwebster2 June 9, 2014 at 5:47 pm

        Like the good little Hitchhiker I am, I always know where my towel is 😉

      • The Story Reading Ape June 9, 2014 at 5:58 pm

        😀 😀 😀

  2. The Story Reading Ape June 9, 2014 at 3:53 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog….. An Author Promotions Enterprise! and commented:
    Hey Authors – not to freak you out or anything – but is Jim reasonably accurate with his figures here? 😀

    • roughseasinthemed June 14, 2014 at 9:06 am Reply

      I think that cost for proofing is expensive (sorry speaking as editor here not author) and the editing is relatively cheap, but as I do both at the same time, my work is probably more cost-effective. I also think it’s difficult to separate them. Who does factual checking? Who checks for inconsistencies? At what point does an editor start to question the story/plot? I think all authors should be clear what services they need, what they want and what the editor will/can provide. We all work very differently.

      • jwebster2 June 14, 2014 at 3:16 pm

        I agree entirely, different ‘editors’ do offer different services, and some will offer different levels of service. My problem is I was trying to put in hard figures and it’s a very flexible area 🙂

      • roughseasinthemed June 14, 2014 at 3:40 pm

        I admire for you for trying to cost it out. From the other side of the fence, it is so hard to give a price. You can’t do it per word, page or chapter. You have to see the MS. And then agree (!!) what needs doing for what price.

        Even a virtually word perfect needs two or three reads. Compare that with one full of errors, literals, punctuation and factual. Big difference.

        Few people put up prices. For obvious reasons. That applies to editors, proofers and authors on the paying end. And the non-profiting end. So that’s why I thought it was a good post, and one that most people don’t tackle.

        I would say a cover without a doubt. First impression so critical. Second, an editor, at the minimum for proofing spelling, punctuation, consistency, facts, timescale etc etc. you need a different set of eyes, and honestly ‘my best mates’ don’t do it. Unless they have spent years in the industry.

        Uploading and marketing – if you are IT literate you can upload. Marketing? Another tough one. Review copies? Before anyone hits the ping button to publish, they should have decided how they want to promote their book.

      • jwebster2 June 14, 2014 at 3:56 pm

        I steered away from marketing and promoting, I felt the blog post was going to be long enough anyway 🙂
        I’ve been self employed and running my own business all my life so one thing I have to do, all the time, is put prices on things. Basically I was trying to give people a feel for the job, something they could look at and say ‘Ah, so that’s what it’s going to cost me.’
        But yes, things are pretty flexible, you’ll end up paying more for this and less for that. But give or take 50% I don’t think I’m too far adrift 🙂

        Marketing I’ll look at, but probably when I’ve got my act together on that one. So it could be a while

  3. willmacmillanjones June 9, 2014 at 3:58 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on willmacmillanjones and commented:
    Who wants to be a millionaire?

    • Rebecca Douglass June 9, 2014 at 4:11 pm Reply

      Apparently not me! I am fortunate to have good friends who can do some of this. But my latest book isn’t in the black yet, just from costs for editing, cover, and purchasing a stock to hand-sell. Giving away promotional copies is an expense he didn’t mention though obviously only counts for those of us who go paperback.

      • jwebster2 June 9, 2014 at 4:22 pm

        Yes, paperbacks are a mixed blessing. I remember when I opened a box of Justice 4.1(The Tsarina Sector) paperbacks and saw a ‘real’ book with my name on it for the first time and it was an unrepeatable feeling. But then when you stop and think how much you’re spending handing somebody a promotional copy, you wonder if it would be cheaper to just read the book to them whilst plying them with strong liquor 🙂

      • Rebecca Douglass June 10, 2014 at 1:52 pm

        Might be more effective, too. I hear drunk shopping causes people to spend a lot.

      • jwebster2 June 10, 2014 at 2:57 pm


  4. Carole Parkes June 9, 2014 at 7:05 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on New Author -Carole Parkes and commented:
    You really tell it as it is. My guess is that most of us plunge in and do it ourselves, regardless of all the advice given.

  5. Ali Isaac June 9, 2014 at 11:38 pm Reply

    There are other costs too… I had to buy my own laptop, microsoft word, and internet access, none of which I had before I decided to write a book. Oh, and you forgot to mention the second book cover, because I didnt really know what I was doing to start with and so got it a bit wrong… I could go on! But its all good fun! What else would I be doing?

    • jwebster2 June 10, 2014 at 6:24 am Reply

      Too true. Given that I farm as well, I can at least console myself that writing has a really good return on capital and an hourly rate which isn’t a lot worse than farming 😉
      The costs do multiply, but I suppose that if you consider it a hobby it’s comparatively cheap.
      It strikes me that what is happening is that all the people who would be village story tellers and keep families and clans entertained around the fire at night have suddenly been given their voices back and they’re now writing.

      • Rebecca Douglass June 10, 2014 at 1:55 pm

        LOL! Yes, it’s cheaper than farming! I haven’t counted the computers and internet against my writing costs, because we have them for other reasons too. Though if I could figure out what percentage of the use was for writing, I could write some of those costs off on my taxes. But that’s too much math for a writer.

        Don’t feel bad about the cover! i did that too–made one myself for the first book, and later figured out that a) it looked amateur and b) it didn’t appeal to the right audience. Now I pay for covers. :-p

      • jwebster2 June 10, 2014 at 2:14 pm

        It’s easy to waste money on covers by not spending any 🙂

      • Rebecca Douglass June 10, 2014 at 2:26 pm

        Yeah. I wonder how many potential readers I turned off with that initial cover.

        Damn, if I’d done that right, I could be a best-seller now.

      • jwebster2 June 10, 2014 at 2:55 pm

        I’ve always felt that vast and undeserved riches wouldn’t spoil me, and I’d like a chance to prove it

  6. asidiruth June 9, 2014 at 11:46 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on asidiruth and commented:
    Thank you for this!

  7. M T McGuire June 11, 2014 at 5:12 pm Reply

    That’s a great potted summary. I’ve spent about £2,500 all told on my covers, maybe a bit more, but they show people what my influences are I hope – a shorthand for ‘if you like x, y and z, you’ll like this’. On the upside, I have a big group of eagle-eyed beta readers, now, who are close to being as good as a proof edit.

    So, I’ve sunk £5k of savings – or thereabouts – into four books.The first one is perma free but on the whole, once I’ve persuaded people, at gunpoint, to read that one, they read the second of their own volition. Especially now that I’ve put the price up. Following on from that, I’m hoping that this crack dealer marketing technique will flow though to the last two when they come out tomorrow and in July.

    How much do I earn? Well, since I made the first one free and put the second one up in price I make about £15 a month. Before then, I was selling about one book every 2 months. Maybe when I’ve written more books I’ll make some proper money… to be honest all I’m aiming for is to feed my authorolicism. Just to make enough to publish some more books.



  8. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt June 12, 2021 at 4:07 pm Reply

    Learn to self-edit. Editing is a skill which even editors had to learn (no one is born knowing how). Every trick you master there then improves your future writing. Good habits become automatic. Don’t let the editors use your work to improve THEIR writing.

    • jwebster2 June 12, 2021 at 4:22 pm Reply

      Yes my two best tricks are to
      1) Abandon it for three months or more. Then when I read it I read what’s there, not what I thought I wrote.
      2) Read it aloud

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt June 12, 2021 at 4:32 pm

        You have to be very self-critical to edit yourself well. My gut is relentless – it won’t leave me alone if the writing isn’t up to snuff. But it won’t tell me why there’s a stink – that sometimes takes a good while to figure out.

        So far the gut is right. So I grit my teeth and write hundreds of words to figure it out.

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