Me: Please don’t.
Eager Author: …but it’s ok, I want to….
Me: Publishing your book is not a quick way to earn money. Authors releasing several books tend to only break even after the 5th or 6th title. Pleeeease don’t take a loan to fund your book!
Eager Author: It’s fine, I want to do this and if I don’t make the money back – that’s ok!?
A few weeks later…
Upset author: Dave, it has been 2 weeks and I have only sold a single title! I wish I did not spend the money…
Spoiler: It is very uncommon for authors who self-publish to earn enough from sales of the first book to cover costs.
My advice to new authors tends to mirror my own as I would amble into the casino on the odd occasion. Before lockdowns made us all introvert hard(er). I only spend money I can afford to. I would also accept that at some point, should the machines gobble up my loose change, I would draw the line and leave. With my wallet’s virtue more-or-less intact.
Publishing your first book will not earn quickly back the costs of producing it. I can’t stress this point enough. There will be exceptions of course, and those books and authors are the ones to blame when an author’s eyes gloss over as I outline the frustratingly slow nature of royalty payments made by bookstores and online mega-stores such as Amazon.
(Self) Publishing your book can be a costly adventure. There are several publishing-steps that any good book should pass through before being released. Depending on your chosen genre, certain steps can carry unavoidably large bills.
A typical book process could look something like this.
- Editing of the words +
- Any illustrations for the cover and book interior +
- Cover design +
- Interior layout for print +
- Creating the eBook version +
- Finally, being distributed either into local bookstores, online bookstores or perhaps both.
Editing normally accounts for a bucket of change. Where a good editor (worth their weight in gold) often charges a per word rate. For example, here in South Africa, rates of 30c – 100c per word are the norm. Multiply that by the amounts of words in your documents. Do you know what you have then? Tears. You have tears. 😢
Adding to the problem is that the book is normally released into the wild without a plan. The author, at some level at least, expects money to start rolling down the publishing slope, splashing loudly into their pond. *sigh*
Thoughts for those of you currently on the hunt for a publishing partner
- Only spend money publishing your book that you can afford to. You should not be choosing between a book or bread.
- Never under any circumstances borrow money to finance a title. The slow rate of return on book sales, even if widely distributed, can still be frustratingly slow.
- Do your homework. The same way you would painstakingly pour over a document outlining your loan application before signing, understand the ins and outs of the publishing process BEFORE you jump in. A good publishing partner should be able to explain things to you in a way you understand. If they can’t consider a polite breakup.
- Certain publishing processes are more prone to bootstrapping (a DIY approach) than others…IF you are prepared to get your hands dirty and learn. Said differently, saving money on publishing whilst wanting to remain hands-off is tricky, nigh impossible. If you figure this one out, drop me a mail 📧
Finally, accept that no matter what you might be sold regarding the self-publishing process understand that the ultimate responsibility always rests on your shoulders. Be careful before slinging blame at those around you, once you realize you might have partnered with a dubious publisher.
Savvy authors who earn a healthy income from book sales tend to share similar traits.
- Firstly, they normally have more than just a single book planned. The more books you have, the more products you have to sell to curious readers.
- They treat their first book/s as lead magnets. The book opens a door to sell more things to the reader. This could be the next title in the series. Or even merchandise that might be sold from an online store. The savvy author treats their first titles as that gentle knock on the door that, once opened, could lead to a stronger relationship with your reader.
- Savvy authors hustle. Scared of spending time on your phone with potential leads? How does selling make you feel? If I was stuck with you in a lift for a minute, would you be able to summarise and sell me on the idea in your book?
- Building a platform. Where would you send curious readers to find out more about you and your books. If your answer was centered on a Facebook group, shame on you. The savvy author has a dedicated online piece of real-estate that explains to visitors why they should make the purchase. Yes, this means having a website professionally designed and hosted. Yes, this will cost money each month or year.
What I am trying to highlight is that the savvy author is in this for the long haul. They understand that they might not make their money back in the short term. However, their plans embrace generating income in the long-run. Their results are not judged on a daily basis but rather using weekly, monthly or even yearly goals and targets.
A local example
I was suitably impressed with the launch of the recent release from State Capture celebrity Angelo Agrizzi. During the first few weeks of his first book – Inside the Belly of the Beast – being available, my social feeds were crammed with content showing interviews with Angelo. See examples of Angelo hustling his new book here, here, here. I don’t need you to like the man, I need you to recognize an author hustling. He had very obviously put effort into how to get people talking about his new book.
To summarise things. Understand what you might consider a win before you start publishing. Perhaps your first book being found on shelves around the world will be everything you need. Or perhaps your itch will only be scratched on releasing your 7th book. Invest yourself into the publishing process. Understand that some days your sales report will look emptier than the Eskom power grid.
Remember that the success or silence that greets a new release will always be up to you.