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From proof sheets to royalty reports: what a self-published book can earn

A client just asked what she could plan on making per copy of her book — she’s trying to put together a budget, which is always an excellent idea. Well, I talked earlier about the costs of preparing a book for publication, but hey! We know your book is going to sell, right? So what should we plan on in the revenue column?

I thought it might be helpful to share my response to her, to give you an idea of what a book might actually bring in (per copy — how many copies sell is entirely up to you).

The numbers I gave her are based on these assumptions:

  • The book is going to be self-published (so the author will the person going to Amazon’s KDP and Createspace subsidiaries, and to Ingram’s Lightning Source or IngramSpark)
  • The book in question is going to run approximately 350 pages (black ink on white paper), will have a trim size of 6″ x 9″, and will be “perfect” bound (the standard paperback binding)

Here’s my response:

For ebooks, you earn about 70% at most bookseller sites. Amazon (which sells something like 75%-80% of all of the ebooks in this country) pays 65%, minus a fee based on the size of the ebook file. Full-length ebooks typically cost between $3.99 and $9.99. So you’d earn between $3.00 and $7.00 for each copy sold. (If we go over $9.99, Amazon only pays a 35% royalty — very odd.)

For print books, the answer depends on whether the book is in the Createspace/Amazon zone or the Lightning Source/Ingram/Everyone Else zone.


Through Amazon/Createspace —

For Createspace, the equation is comparatively simple. We set a price — let’s say for the point of argument $14.99. The cost of production per copy of the book is deducted from that — somewhere around $5 per copy for your book (I’m assuming that your book will run something like 350 pages). If a copy of the paperback is sold on Amazon, they deduct a further share of 40% of sales price — around $6. Which would leave you with a net royalty of about $4.

So on sales through

Sales price: $14.99

Amazon’s share: $6.00

Production cost: ~$5.00

Gross Royalty:$  4.00 (approx.)

If the book were sold on Createspace’s own website (which is what I link to from mine), Amazon “only” skims 20% off the top, leaving you with closer to $7 per copy of royalty.

Sales price: $14.99

Amazon’s share: $3.00

Production cost: ~$5.00

Gross Royalty: $  7.00 (approx.)


Ingram/Lightning Source

Going through Lightning Source, we get to control not only the list price, but the wholesale discount. Traditionally, bookstores get a 55% discount on orders, but we can set it anywhere from that down to 20%.

At Lightning Source, that same book (according to my calculations) would cost closer to $6.00 to print. If you decided to offer the standard 55% discount, that would leave you with a net royalty of about $1.75. (Now you see why books are so expensive!)

Sales price: $14.99

Wholesale discount (55%): $8.25

Production cost: ~$6.00

Gross Royalty: $  1.75 (approx.)

We would have the ability to play with all of those numbers — Lightning Source’s discount rate and most importantly the list price — at any time. I can also control the page count in a number of ways, squeezing a bit more text in per page, which would lower the production cost, but make the book a bit less pleasant to read.

The other way to increase the (potential) royalty is to have the book offset printed, and distribute it ourselves. To be cost-effective, however, you’d need to print at least 500 copies of the book or more — and we’re still only looking at a savings of 25% to 50%, with additional costs (and headaches) for storage, fulfillment, and shipping. Plus there’s a large outlay of cash up front.


By the way, I only talked about Lightning Source here, not Ingram’s new self-publishing platform, IngramSpark, because I’m already on Lightning Source. If anyone’s had any dealings with IngramSpark, I’d love to hear about them!


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