Mike’s note: This article was originally published in February of 2012. But there has been an increase in questions from readers about self-publishing lately, so I’m updating the article and republishing it with current information. For readers with no interest in the topic, don’t worry, I have no intention of discussing book publishing on a regular basis.
Aside from the usual financial planning-related questions, the most common thing readers ask me about is self-publishing — how to do it, how to get a book on Amazon, which printing company to use, how to market books, etc.
What follows are the answer to the questions I’m asked most often. If you have any questions left unanswered, feel free to ask via email.
Of note, this article is written from the perspective of a writer whose goal is to publish a book as an entrepreneurial endeavor. If your goal is simply to publish a book, and you have no goal of any financial reward, you can read the first FAQ below and ignore everything else.
Which printing company do you use?
CreateSpace. Their costs are low, and they’re easy to use.
I also have printing set up with a second company (Lightning Source), so that the books are still available while they are being updated. (I update 3-5 books each year. And while a book is being updated with a given printing company, it must be taken out of distribution with them.)
But for most writers though — especially anybody just getting started — I’d suggest sticking with CreateSpace alone.
What do you have to do to get a book selling on Amazon?
If you’re using CreateSpace, it’s easy:
- Create an account,
- Send them a pdf of the cover and a pdf of the interior,
- Order a proof copy and check it over,
- Submit necessary revisions,
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 as necessary, then
- Approve the proof.
After you’ve approved your proof copy and checked the box for distribution via Amazon, it will automatically be available for sale within a few days.
How much money do you make from a book sale?
With CreateSpace, your revenue per unit (for a black and white book) will be calculated as follows:
60% of the book’s list price (which you set), minus
$0.012 per page.
So, for example, for a book with 150 pages and a $15 list price, you’d receive:
$9.00 (60% of $15)
–$1.80 (150 pages x $0.012 per page)
$6.35 profit margin per book
How much money can I make by self-publishing a book?
There’s no way to know ahead of time how much a given book will make. I’m happy to share some information though, because I know it’s helpful to at least have some idea. For the twelve months ending 7/31/15, five of the eight books in the “…in 100 pages or less” series generated revenue of between $10,000 and $20,000. One book generated less revenue than that, and two books generated more revenue than that.
From what I’ve heard from other financial self-publishers, that range is fairly typical, subject to the following caveats:
Caveat #1: If you make a book about a topic that very few people have an existing interest in, or if you don’t bother putting in the time to market your book, your sales will probably be much lower.
Caveat #2: These figures include both a print edition and a Kindle edition for each book. For the last 12 months, Kindle sales were responsible for 26% of my sales revenue. (This figure grew quickly from 2010-2011, but has since leveled off.)
How much does it cost to get started?
With CreateSpace, the cost is negligible. Setting up a book is free. Each proof copy costs about $20 including shipping. That’s it.
If you want to sign up with Lightning Source, there are more upfront costs involved. Plan on spending a few hundred dollars to get the book into distribution.
You may also want to buy an ISBN for the book rather than using one from your printing company. This will allow you to choose your own publisher name. (Otherwise, the printing company will appear as the publisher.) In the U.S., one ISBN costs $125. A block of ten costs $295.
That’s it as far as costs for the actual printing. However, I’d definitely encourage you to budget for professional editing services (both regular editing and technical editing) as well as cover design.
Why sell a book on Amazon rather than direct-selling ebooks to visitors?
The primary reason is that you get to take advantage of Amazon’s millions of visitors. This allows you to be successful with less of your own traffic, and without having to get other bloggers to promote your book.
Also, once the Amazon marketing engine starts promoting your book, it generally continues to do so. (My understanding is that with the direct-sales model, sales tend to decline dramatically after the first couple months of promotional effort.)
Finally, there’s no need to handle any sort of customer interaction at all. It’s passive income once the book is selling.
That said, those are just the advantages. There are disadvantages too. For example, you’re unlikely to get away with charging $50 for a book on Amazon. In addition, you’re not in control of what people say. If people don’t like your book, you’ll end up with negative reviews on the book’s sales page.
Do you have to keep a lot of inventory on hand? Is it a hassle to mail books out all the time?
You don’t have to do anything involving inventory or shipping. Amazon and the printing company handle all of it.
How do you make a Kindle book?
For the most part, a Kindle book is just plain old HTML. However, rather than create the Kindle files yourself, it likely makes sense to outsource the conversion process. Because conversion from a Word document to an HTML document is a commodity-esque task, you can get it pretty cheap. (It’s easy to find people who will do a good job for less than $200 per book.)
How much do you make per Kindle book sale?
If you set the list price for your Kindle book between $2.99 and $9.99, your margin per book will be 70% of the list price, minus a “delivery fee” for the cost of transmitting the data. This fee is quite small. ($0.05 is typical for my books.)
If you set the list price for your Kindle book below $2.99 or above $9.99, your margin per book will be 35% of the list price, minus the data delivery fee.
What’s your most important marketing tip?
Make a book that satisfies a need that people already know they have.
My most successful approach for book creation and marketing has been to:
- Find a specific question that people are asking. (Even better: Check your blog’s analytics to see what questions you’re already getting traffic for.)
- Answer that question as a chapter in a book.
- Answer several related questions as your other chapters. (Bonus points if you’re already getting traffic for these questions too.)
How do you promote your books on your site?
For me, by far the most successful spot for book promotion has been right at the bottom of each post. I simply have a paragraph that says, “for more information about [topic of book], consider picking up a copy of my book: [title].” Then it has an image of the book cover and several links to the sales page on Amazon. (See the bottom of this post for an example.)
I also use a widget that promotes my most-related book in the sidebar of every post. But it gets a much lower conversion rate than the end-of-post promo.
How do you get book reviews?
It depends which type of review you’re talking about.
In my experience, reviews from independent bloggers (as opposed to people writing for larger publications) are usually only of minor importance. It would be typical for a very positive review to sell just a few copies of your book.
Conversely, positive customer reviews on Amazon are tremendously helpful. My most successful method of getting customer reviews has been to include a prominent section at the front of the book requesting feedback from readers. When you get compliments, thank the person, and ask if they’d be so kind as to copy/paste the compliment into a review on Amazon.
Again, if you have other questions, please feel free to ask.