Self-Publishing Your Book: Where’s the Money?

    by Carla King
    July 9, 2013
    There are many ways to sell your self-published print books and e-books, and the associated fees and royalties vary wildly. In this post, Carla King helps wade through it all.

    There are many ways to sell your self-published print books and e-books, and the associated fees and royalties vary wildly. The highest margins come when you sell from your own online store. You can employ an e-book aggregator/distributor, or upload the e-books yourself to each online retailer. Don’t forget to get into the new (for self-publishers) library market. It’s easy to collect the money. You can get paid automatically by direct deposit into your bank account.

    "It's a good idea to let readers choose where they're going to buy and in what format."

    Create Your Own Online Store

    Most self-publishers rely on distribution services to sell their books, but the most profitable place to sell is on your own website. You can use an e-commerce website builder like HostBaby, Yola or Shopify to sell digital downloads and physical books. If you like WordPress, integrate one of the many store plugins to sell direct. New options are popping up all the time, like the relatively new Gumroad service. Or you might consider Leanpub, a new, “iterative” publishing system. Then of course there are direct-from-your-web-page options like PayPal. If you’re using a service like HostBaby, they’ve got a turnkey solution.


    It’s a good idea to let readers choose where they’re going to buy and in what format. Here’s how I do it on my page. Note that autographed print copies are available from my own (PayPal-enabled) store, and there are options to buy from any retailer they like in print and e-book formats:

    Carla King Book Sales Page

    Employ a Distribution Service or Aggregator

    There are several advantages to working with aggregators (for e-books) and distribution services (for print books) instead of working directly with individual online e-book retailers:

    • upload once, distribute everywhere for about 15 percent on sales
    • centralized accounting
    • better rates with retailers

    Smashwords pays authors an 85 percent royalty when your book sells in their store and 60 percent, more or less, when they sell your book via a retailer (like B&N, Apple, etc.).

    BookBaby charges from $99 to about $300 to set up the average book. PressBooks partners with BookBaby for distribution. Vook, like Smashwords, takes 15 percent of sales in its store with an additional percentage depending on the retailer. Stripe, its e-commerce platform, takes 2.9 percent and charges a fee of 30 cents per transaction.

    Aerbook Maker plans to add a distribution service, but as of this writing, you must distribute your books directly to retailers.

    PigeonLab distributes your e-book to the major resellers and handles accounting for you, for a reasonable 10 percent fee.

    Do It Yourself

    If want to do it yourself instead of using an aggregator, you can upload your book directly to each individual e-book retailer and manage each relationship separately. Here are a few examples of the royalties you’ll receive.

    • Amazon KDP pays authors a 70 percent royalty on Kindle books priced between $2.99 and $9.99.
    • Kobo pays 70 percent for books priced between $2.99 and $12.99 and 45 percent for books outside that range.
    • Apple pays 70 percent of sales in the iBookstore.

    Use CreateSpace to create and sell the print version of your book in the CreateSpace store (for 80 percent of retail sales) and the Amazon store (for 60 percent). Here are details from their site on sales channel percentage shares:

    Amazon Kindle Sales Channel Percentages

    To figure out about how much you’ll make per print book, use their royalty calculator.

    Amazon CreateSpace Self-Published Print Book Royalty Calculator

    Selling to Libraries

    Smashwords Library Direct complements Smashwords’ existing relationships with library aggregators. The service is targeted to the small subset of libraries who want to host and manage their own e-books. Authors get 70 percent of library sales.

    If you’re enrolled in Amazon’s exclusive KDP Select program you are participating in the Kindle Lending Library. Every month, Amazon sets a budget for how much they’ll pay authors who participate, and the royalties are split among the allocated budget.

    When Do You Get Paid?

    Generally, terms range from royalties paid by check or PayPal 30 to 60 days after the quarter ends (Smashwords, Vook, and Amazon), to when you’ve made at least $10 (by electronic payment) or $100 (by check), to immediately upon sale (BookBaby). All of these companies will pay you by direct deposit to your bank account or PayPal email address.

    Get Carla King's new e-book on self-publishing!This article is a short and sweet version of the information found in How to Self-Publish Your Book: A Practical Guide to Creating and Distributing Your E-Book or Print Book, which details the fees and royalties for popular services based on U.S. dollars. (Though all of these services cross borders so you can sell internationally.)

    Carla King is an author, a publishing consultant, and founder of the Self-Publishing Boot Camp program providing books, lectures and workshops for prospective self-publishers. She has self-published her adventure travel stories since 1994 on the internet and in print. Find her workshop schedule and buy the Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors on SelfPubBootCamp.com.

    Tagged: aerbookmaker amazon bookbaby carla king e-books hostbaby pigeonlab self-publishers self-publishing smashwords

    27 responses to “Self-Publishing Your Book: Where’s the Money?”

    1. Michael says:

      Thank you. I found this very useful.

    2. Ellen says:

      Some Information that is new to me…..thankyou Carla

    3. donnalethal says:

      Be sure to copyright your book! I did that first thing.

      • Lastangelman says:

        Under current copyright laws, copyright is automatic, though it doesn’t hurt to register with Library of Congress

        • Carla King says:

          The Library of Congress discourages one-book authors to register with them, their requirement is for “publishing companies” with more than 5 books.

      • Carla King says:

        I discourage the effort of copywriting your book since it’s automatic. But if you’re worried about it you can do it for about $35 yourself very easily. See my PBS Mediashift article on copyright for details.

    4. HowdyNeighbor2 says:

      PubPreppers.com formats books to the technical print specs required by the largest print on demand printer, as well as the ebook specs required by Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Apple.

    5. sezwhom says:

      Technically, copyright is automatic but if you want to be sure, I used Legal Zoom in the past. All these distribution sites are good for print but other than iBooks, I don’t know anyone else who can handle interactive ebooks. Audio, video and external links built on one platform. To the best of my knowledge, KDP can’t handle it. Options to disturbute is still very limited.

    6. Judi Romaine says:

      Cannot imagine how I’d drive people to my own store; I’ve had a web site for 12 years and probably only had very slow, slight increase in hits over those years. Same with my blogs. That’s the point if going with amazon where there’s only the need to get found there by a few of the millions who visit daily.

      • Carla King says:

        If you’re active in social media – twitter and facebook and perhaps pinterest – and you have an email newlsetter – you can drive people to your own store. When you capture audience – emails, friends, followers, contacts – you can talk to them directly. Of course, not by being spammy “buy my book!” but by being a helpful member of the community. Check MailChimp for newsletter mailing list – up to 2000 email addresses are free!

    7. Susan Arscott says:

      Good information, thanks.

    8. LarryEdwards says:

      This is good basic information, but it needs analysis to be truly useful. As Judi Romaine pointed out earlier, what good is having the greatest profit margin from one’s own website if the author sells only a few books? In most cases, the author will be better off with a lower profit margin but higher volume of using an online retailer, such as Amazon, because DIY requires taking into account the cost of warehousing, shipping and handling the books, as well as maintaining the website. In my experience, it is not cost effective to sell books from one’s own website. I only do it if the buyer wants it autographed. The best deal for indie authors (at this time) is Amazon, with the Kindle offering the best opportunity to make a buck (but it’s still a challenge). With my current book, the ebook edition outsells print about 6 to 1, with the majority of those being Kindle. Nook/Smashwords sales are a small percentage by comparison. Amazon provides a great opportunity for exposure, marketing and promoting one’s book. Plus, Amazon handles all the administrative and technical aspects, and deposits the sales revenue (it’s not a “royalty”) directly to one’s bank account after 60 days. (Yeah, two months — that’s one of the cons, but live with it.)

      • Carla King says:

        Hi Larry, Analysis is good! High volume is desirable of course but if an author builds a platform and community then driving sales to their own website is much easier. Amazon print and Kindle sales are good for me as well, also Smashwords, but my own site works very well and I’ve also been trying Gumroad and more people buy from there than from my site. Scribd has also been an effective sales channel for me since I joined their “premium” program, which was a surprise. So I use them all – doesn’t really cost anything but an our or so of effort to upload and enter your payment information, descriptions, keywords, etc.

    9. Worth remembering that most self-published books sell less than 200 copies.

    10. Xaviant Haze says:

      Where’s the money?? half-baked article. Explain how much money it will cost to market your book first then maybe you might actually make a few dollars. Figure about a 1,000 dollars in budget to get your book out there enough for people to buy it.

      • Carla King says:

        Marketing takes time and effort on the part of the author, not necessarily money, though you can spend a few hundred here and there if you’re using a professional to help you create and distribute a press release. More effective are email newsletters, contributing articles and stories to magazines and books, guest blogging, having an active facebook, twitter, pinterest, etc., presence, participating in forums, and being a helpful or entertaining member of various communities. Giving away stories, and even books, for free, has been shown to give a huge boost to publicity. Serious book PR costs $3000-5000/mo for a 3 month minimum because the PR agency has to “be you” – that is, study up and participate in social media as you, as well as create press materials and use their contacts to get you on traditional media. This is overkill for the great majority of self-publishers. Which is why, of course, social media is so popular and effective.

        • Xaviant Haze says:

          marketing doesn’t take money?? lol
          you have to pay to get reviews!

          • Carla King says:

            You certainly can pay to get reviews – Kirkus for $500 – and there’s no guarantee it’ll be good so that’s a valid route. But you can get reviews elsewhere – from bloggers and many others, such as experts in a field (nonfiction). Key is to cultivate a community long before your book is done, so that you know who to approach for reviews. If you’ve built your platform and are known in communities, and LIKED in communities, reviewers will pop out of the woodwork.

            • Xaviant Haze says:

              Yes that’s true but if you plan on making some money with your book plan on spending some money to market it. Anyways, thank you Carla for the informative post. Message me and I’ll send you a free kindle copy of my Errol Flynn Novel.

            • Carla King says:

              Thanks very much Xaviant! So… I am curious where you will be spending your $ on marketing… reviews? A PR pro? Newswires?

            • Xaviant Haze says:

              I have a few options I’m thinking of exploring. Write me here and I’ll discuss more
              [email protected]

          • Lillian says:

            Clearly you are ignorant in the successful ways of marketing–for FREE.

    11. Johnny says:

      I commend the article, but sadly, none of this applies anymore. People who buy self pubbed books buy from Kindle and Nook these days, and that’s about it (can’t blame them, they at least have customer service and reliable purchase software). The problem is people don’t pay more than a buck or two for a book anymore, which is why so many authors resort to 99 cent sales or just giving them away for free–which is obviously counter intuitive to making money. And since there’s no gate keeper (which may or may not be a bad thing) as to who can upload a book, about 200-500 new titles go up every day (which includes both novels, non fiction, and shorts). So now you’re competing to give your book away or sell it for a buck against 100,000 others, many of whom will choose the free option to entice readers. So can you still make money? Not really. Not unless you have over 20 titles so you can pool money from your sales. I don’t mean this to sound bitter, or suggest you don’t self pub, I still make my living writing novels, but man oh man have the days of being the million dollar self published author gone away. You’re better off still trying to get a big NYC deal in the end. BUT, to not be all doom and gloom, here’s what’s worked for me: Goodreads Giveaways, holding contests on your blog to give away free copies (both of these are to generate reader reviews), paying LOTS of money out of your own pocket to get reviews in “reputable” journals, attending LOCAL book fairs and (again) paying out of pocket to get a table and do a signing (with luck you will break even but at least you will have new readers– and don’t bother going two cities over because no one will care and you will not sell very many copies), offering supplemental content on your blog for SEO purposes (I.e Draw them in from google with an article and have them see you have books too). Here’s what NOT to do: Don’t constantly tweet or post on facebook about your book. It’s incredibly annoying and people tune it out. Don’t post every time you get a 5 star review (even if it’s not from a friend for once). Don’t cheap out on getting a proper cover artist–there are people who do this for a living for the big NYC companies and will do it for you for 200-500 bucks on the side (I’ve paid my guy $250 and he’s exceptional), don’t undercharge because you will never make a profit (I sell my books for either 2.99 or 3.99), don’t assume your book is special–if it doesn’t sell like hotcakes it’s because people aren’t gaga over it, and if people aren’t gaga over it it’s just another title in a sea of titles–so you need to either fix it or write a new one that is a masterpiece by mass society’s standards. I have 1 book people are gaga over and it pays a lot of my bills. My other books are bought on the basis that people loved that first book. So i keep trying to write another one like that. On that note I have friends who sell thousands of copies of their books a month, and I’ve read them (in some cases edited them) and while I might not understand their appeal, for whatever the reason the masses love them, so I have become accustomed to trying to see what those books offer that mine don’t–which namely comes down to the fact that the masses want “easy reading” not classic literature. Dumb it down if you have to, you know.? There’s nothing wrong with it as long as the story is good. Don’t market to other writers! I know writers are also readers, but they’re also trying to sell books. So hanging out on writer-driven facebook pages is just a waste of time. Market to Readers. And it really is true that a book’s ability to make money is dependent on it being an AMAZING read and/or having TONS of money put behind it for marketing. Good luck.

    12. Moulton Mayers says:

      It is very unfortunate that the odds are stacked against self-publishing writers, in view of how things are set up. In the first place, I disagree with the idea that bookstores should be given 55% of your book’s value with the option of returning it if it doesn’t sell. This is utterly ridiculous and hogwash of the worst kind: It is a very flawed carry-over from the traditional way of doing things. And now, Lightning Sources is referring all authors with less than thirty titles per year to Imgram Sparks with its preposterous royalty payment. These are moral criminals are the real convicts who commit revolting atrocities against their fellowmen. These giant book vending machines view authors as slaves–their slaves, and it high time that authors pull themselves up by the bootstrap and begin finding more lucrative ways of selling their own books. All authors should abandon Imgram Sparks and its 40% royalty for the e-books. That is so pathetic, it is not funny.
      For the most part, writers’ perception of writing books is totally wrong. They are lazy and want a free ride; thus, they give up millions of dollars that they ought to have every year by their unwillingness to pound the pavement selling their books. They need to, and must, find new ways of selling their own books as much as possible: If they cannot produce quality content that can compete with traditional writers, why bother? Writing is not easy: it is not for everyone–it is for writers. You must have enough confidence in your writing to sell it by using your own creative smarts; moreover, most writers’ perception of marketing their books is wrong: You do not market your book for a few days and stop–marketing a book is a lifetime chore. You push it until it gets through–and you just don’t stop pushing it. That is your blood, sweat, and tears there: Do you want it to sell? Then push it with all your might–a few days of marketing won’t cut buddy. Push and push and push and push until you break through. Writers with this kind of mentality will always sell thousands, if not millions, of books.
      And then, there are the greedy book marketing outfit whose prices are well beyond the average self-publishing writer: Now, does that make any sense? Why sell a service to people cannot who cannot afford it: Why not bring the service and price to a level that is of service to the majority of people writing books–self-publishers. Greed and folly are a poisonous cocktail: Many are on the other side who have partaken of it. There is an enormous amount of money to be made out there by good writers who know what they are doing and push the mountain of resistance to their books out the way. Perhaps, self-publishing writers should band together and boycott book servicing outfits like Lightning Source and Imgram Sparks with their da gone foolishness: They think that self-publishing writers in still in the Stone Age of literary development. Shame on Lightning Source and its subsidiary! I have one piece of advice for it: Pride always goes before a fall, and no one is too big to fail or fall.

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