The Business of Becoming an Author

Some Fun With Numbers

Since the Jericho Writers’ Summer Festival of Writing started, I’ve been eagerly scrambling to catch up with all the webinars. I think I’m about there now, and it’s been a real learning experience already. At the end of this month I’m planning to do a round-up of some of my key takeaways from the event so far, but for now I feel compelled to write about the business side of becoming an author. Because while most of us write because we love it, those of us who strive to become published are, more than likely, hoping to get some kind of payday from it. The gloomy reports from across the web and publishing industry at large might have tempered our dreams of making it ‘big’, but that doesn’t stop thousands of authors trying everyday to make a few quid or bucks from their work.

And why not, I say. After all, if you’ve put in all this effort to create a brilliant novel or non-fiction book, then get it out there, let people enjoy it, and take full advantage of any financial rewards that come your way.

But to do that, you have to accept that publishing is a business. Selling a book is a business, and if you want to do it successfully, you do have to start thinking like a business owner. This particular message was very well stated during the webinar with Adam Croft, who is a best-selling indie publisher, and founder of The Indie Author Mindset programme. (Note: I haven’t delved too far into the resources offered so please don’t take the link as a whole-hearted recommendation of the platform, but I’ve been enjoying the podcast and found Croft’s webinar to be very insightful, so I do think there’s probably value to be gained from his platform, I just haven’t done the due diligence yet).

During the webinar, Adam Croft shared his own experiences of being an indie published author (a.k.a. self-published) and he repeated several times that he really began to see success when he treated his writing like a business. That means investing in his own development, as well as taking out ads for his books, and putting some real effort into marketing them.

The whole thing got me thinking about my own potential journey. As with many authors I’ve always considered traditional publishing to be ‘gold standard’ i.e. what I’d aim for. But then, lying awake the other night, I started to think about it from a business point of view, and more specifically from a financial point of view, and really began to doubt that aim.

Admittedly there is still a certain kudos that comes with being traditionally published, but if my aim is actually to get my book into the hands of as many people as possible, and make as much money as possible, then perhaps traditional isn’t the way for me.

So, I decided to crunch some numbers to see what the different would be in terms of royalties etc. and while I knew the difference would be notable, I don’t think I ever quite considered how big it would be.

Here’s a rough breakdown:
– Advance from a traditional publisher – £5,000 (very conservative estimate but let’s be realistic)
– Royalties from a traditional publisher (roughly 8%) – £0.30p per £10 book sold (this is based on research from Celandor’s blog which was written in 2013, so it’s just a very rough estimate, but seems to be realistic)
– Number of books I’d have to sell to buyout my advance – 16,667! (That’s a lot to get £5,000 in the bank)
– Number of books I’d have to sell to make a £36,000 salary (that’s my current salary for a full time job) – 120,000!

Now, I’m not saying it can’t happen. Clearly it does. Authors do sell well in excess of these numbers, and good on them. But let’s just compare that to the numbers for indie publishing:

– Advance – £0 (not off the a great start, but stay with me…)
– Royalties from indie publishing (70%) – £1.09 per £1.99 book sold (see it get’s better. FYI this is based on Amazon Kindle royalties and factors in UK VAT at 20% and delivery fee, the figures are similar for most major ebook publishers)
– Number of books I’d have to sell to make £5,000 – 4,587 (much more manageable I’d say)
– Number of books I’d have to sell to make a £36,000 salary – 33,028 (That’s less than a third I’d have to sell traditionally)

Obviously these numbers are made up, and I have no idea if I could actually sell 33,000 books, or even 100. But to me the figures illustrate something even more important than the potential income for me, they represent how many people I could get my book to. Because let’s be honest, few people these days really have £7.99 to spend on a single book. I know I don’t. I have to be extremely selective about how much I spend on books, and that’s why I tend to buy them digitally. Digital books are just more accessible from a price point of view, and I like that. On a personal level, access to ebooks has introduced me to a huge range of new authors that I’d never have been willing to splash a tenner on in the store. If I can buy a book at £1.99-£3.99 I’m more likely to do so and support an indie author.

Now, I appreciate that may raise the heckles of those who work in traditional publishing, are hoping to publish via this route, or even those who work in bookshops. So I should just state that I’m not saying it have to be an ‘either or’ scenario. There remains plenty of space in the industry for both approaches, and I have a number of friends who will only ever buy physical copies of books, so I’d actually be missing out on their readership by publishing digitally (if I ever get that far). And personally, I do still love a physical book, I just can’t afford to buy them new, and don’t have space for them, so overall ebooks are a better option for me. If you disagree, then that’s great. Because I really don’t want traditional publishing to go away, and I definitely don’t want books of bookshops to disappear, so please keep supporting them!

But the point of this post was to explain why I think indie publishing might be a better option for me, and also share some figures for those of you wresting with this decision yourself.

I should, of course, add that there are lot of other factors to consider when deciding on your route that have nothing to do with money. Having the supportive cheerleaders of traditional publishing is definitely something you might miss out on going indie. Equally, as an indie you have to do it all yourself, or pay money to get expert help, so if your book doesn’t do so well, you could be out of pocket (plus it’s a lot of effort, and you really need to put the work in).

And finally, we swing back to something I’m always thinking about – why do I write and why do I want to be published? If I’m writing just for me then money shouldn’t factor into it, and if I’m writing for money then I’d argue there are easier ways to make it.

Ultimately, there are a lot of factors to consider, so don’t make the decision lightly, and don’t rush it. And remember that every journey is unique, so whatever you choose, be bold, be brave, and own it.

OK, over to you – what do you make of the figures I shared? Are they as surprising to you as they were to me? What about your motivations – money? Fame? Just get the damn thing written? And which route do you think you’ll take – indie or traditional?
I’d really love to know. Comment below or tweet me @Hilly_B_Author

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