This Week in Self-Publishing: Am I Going to Earn Any Money on This Book?

Money earned (total): $6,950.87

Money spent (total): $1,545

Money earned (this week): $2.79

Money spent (this week): $0

So we’re moving forward on the paperback copy of The Biographies of Ordinary People, and I’m starting to plan this summer’s mini-book-tour.

This is all good news for Biographies. The paperback is going to look great! I’ll get to go to bookstores and have conversations with other authors and readers!

It’s also good news for my career as an author, which is different from my career as a freelance writer (though closely related). I had a conversation with another author at the beginning of this process where she said, essentially, don’t wait to start acting like the person you want to become. I should start doing professional author stuff right away, like applying to be a panelist at local writers’ conventions, submitting my book for awards, and teaching classes.

Luckily for me, I’ve already been a panelist at numerous conventions—I used to do the geek convention circuit, and although I’ve scaled way back on my annual cons, I’ve been part of numerous panels on freelancing and crowdfunding and being a creative person on a budget.

I’ve also already read my fiction aloud at a handful of venues. I’ll read at pretty much any venue I can, honestly. (The public speaking part doesn’t bother me. I went to theater school.)

I’ve even started the teaching thing; this summer I’ll be teaching my second course at Seattle’s Hugo House.

So it’s all in the plan: teaching, panels, readings, award applications. I can do—and have been doing—many of the things I used to dream about doing someday.

But most of this work costs money.

When I ordered my promo cards for Biographies—you remember, the ones that I had hoped to hand out on the JoCo Cruise—I actually did the math on how many books I’d need to sell to make up the cost:

I’m kind of avoiding doing that math on other aspects of my marketing. I spent $1,125 to submit my book to reviewers, for example, which represents roughly 490 book sales.

I do in fact think I’ll sell 490 books. Maybe even by Biographies’ launch day on May 23, although that’s a stretch goal and I’m really hoping to sell 300 by then.

But the real question is whether I’ll sell enough books to start turning a profit beyond my expenses.

At this point you’ll probably ask “wait, what about the Patreon money? Aren’t you already well in the black because you crowdfunded the Biographies draft via Patreon and earned $6,909 from supporters and readers?”

Oh, for sure. In terms of straight-up earnings, I am going to be in the black for a good long time. But there are four things to consider here:

  1. That $6,909 figure was pre-tax. Only ~$5,182 was actual money in the bank.
  2. I earned that money a long time ago. I started earning monthly Patreon income in summer 2015. It’s still “in the black” money, but those actual dollars were put towards rent, food, and debt repayment months ago. (I’m debt free now, so that worked out.)
  3. That money technically went towards the drafts of both Biographies Vol. 1: 1989–2000 and Biographies Vol. 2: 2004–2016. I’m planning on counting the money I earn from sales of both volumes in a single pot as well, but there will be costs to produce and market Vol. 2—which I’m planning on doing this fall, so it can release in the first half of 2018—and that will shift the number on the earnings vs. expenses.
  4. I could very easily drop a few grand on a book tour/convention circuit.

I used to sell music and merch at geek conventions (long story) and although I knew how to hustle and how to get items off my table, I would rarely end a con with a net profit, even when I followed the “only eat one meal per day and keep string cheese in your purse” rule. Traveling is expensive, plus you have to remember that selling $600 in books or CDs or whatever doesn’t mean you’ve earned $600. You’ve earned the profit margin on each item, which might only be $2 on a $10 paperback, minus federal/state/business/sales tax.

So doing the book tour and paneling at conventions is much more about acting like the person you want to become than it is about making money.

I still want to do it. Right now I’m planning my book tour around cities I’m already scheduled to be in, which seems to be the sensible and cost-effective way to manage this, and only considering conventions that are within the Greater Seattle Metro Area. (And maybe Portland.)

But I’m also asking myself: when all of this work is done, will I have earned any money on this book?

I’d like to think so. The numbers, so far, work in my favor. But we’ll have to see what happens with sales.

Let’s say that both Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 are what’s considered a “success” in the debut literary fiction world, meaning they sell between 3,000–5,000 copies each. That would earn me:

  • Roughly $6,900 post-tax after the first book sells 3,000 copies. (It is interesting that this number is almost exactly the same as the Patreon earnings.)
  • Roughly $13,800 post-tax after both books sell 3,000 copies.

If we go all the way to 5,000 copies, those numbers bump to $11,500 and $23,000 respectively, which is money I’d be happy to see in my bank account, but also: before expenses, and probably spread out over two years. ($23,000 over 24 months is $958 per month, which actually looks better than I thought it would.)

You’ll probably also ask “why not charge more for your book, so you can earn more money faster?” Because the $3.99 price point has been determined by multiple sources to be the optimum price for a self-pub literary fiction ebook—that is, the price that gets the most purchases while also allowing the author to have the highest possible profit margin. (The paperback will be more expensive but will probably have a similar profit margin.)

I know that my biggest fans will buy the book whether I price it at $3.99 or $9.99. I’m keeping the ebook price at $3.99 for everyone else; the people who haven’t heard of me but want to take a chance on this story.

For me, acting like the person I want to become has always included being honest about the financial part of it. I’ve been sharing my freelance income online for, like, five years now, and I’m going to share my publishing income as well. I want to explain what it costs to become who I am (in the case of freelancing, it included $14,000 in credit card debt as I built my career, which I have since paid off in full) and I want to show exactly how much I’m earning.

So that’s why I’m asking whether I’m going to make any money off my book, and showing my work as I work towards the answer. ❤