Oct 17

Is self-publishing a book a wise move?

A recent article on how an Amazon bestseller made nothing has me thinking about whether writing and self-publishing an e-book is a worthwhile pursuit. Almost everyone I know who considers themselves to be a competent or better practitioner of their craft thinks that they ought to write a book about their expertise. But for every Twyla Tharp (I recommend reading The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life) there are thousands of writers who sell fewer than 500 copies and make almost nothing from their labour.

Patrick Wensick’s story is important. Despite landing near the top of Amazon’s best seller list and outselling The Hunger Games for a while he made just $12000. That sounds good but it’s a pittance if you consider that’s a pre-tax number for work that took hundreds of hours to complete. Based on my system for setting a pay rate it’s not a good return on investment.

Like anything you do in your business, you need to consider whether the time you invest is going to deliver a worthwhile return. Writing a book is not a trivial exercise – I’m close to finishing a book and I’ve invested many hours that I could have spent doing any number of other things – so you need to do it for good reasons.

Expecting to publish and wait for someone to fill your money bath is not a good reason.



Allison Tait recently wrote about The Business of Writing: How to be an authorpreneur. Her advice is sensible. A well written and edited book can be an exceptionally powerful marketing and promotional tool. But you need to include it as part of a well thought out plan. It’s not like Field of Dreams where if you build it they will come.

Writing a book and becoming a published author is a great ego boost. But a big ego doesn’t pay the bills.

If you’re planning to write a book and get into self-publishing – be clear in your objectives and make sure they are realistic.

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  1. Ellef

    TBH even if you do get published by a major company, riches are very far from guaranteed. You’d need to churn out at least two ‘standard’, reasonably solid-selling books per year to pay the rent. An average author (expert in their field) can expect maybe $5000 up front and 10-15% of net sales. Five thousand copies at $30 a pop is a good result – actually, very good result.

  2. Anthony Caruana

    Thanks for that feedback Ellef.

    I think there’s a perception that getting published is a path to riches. We hear lots of stories of famous people being offered multi-million dollar advances and thing that it filters down. Sure, we might not get $10M but surely a well respected writer, an expert in their field and craft, would get $100K.

    But that’s not reality.

    For every Stephen King there are hundreds or thousands of struggling teachers or poets battling to make rent and eat.

  3. J Special

    (the following is the opinion I hold not necessarily those of my employer)

    Self publishing has opened the floodgates, and I feel that there are some books slipping through that haven’t had the editorial review that the published books of old would have had.

    Having said that, If you publish a decent book it can be your ticket to credibility in an area of expertise. I’ve seen a formula that works quite well for self publishers:

    Price the book (PDF only) itself at $29 and discount by 20% on first 24 hrs of launch.
    Create two more value tiers above the PDF only:

    – One that has videos with the author interviewing other experts in the field ($79)
    – Another that includes the videos and a half hour of your time in skype consultation ($199)

    You’ll sell far fewer of the highest price package, but it will make up 60% of your revenue and bring qualified leads in the door – should you ever want to consult based on your subject material.

    – Regards

    J Special

    PS Love your work, keep it up

    1. Anthony Caruana

      Thanks J

      Appreciate it and the advice about creating two value tiers is interesting.


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