Self/-- Publishing and Marketing IF [Split topic]

Doesn’t Amazon offer up to 70%? Most traditional publishers would offer at least 60%, AFAIK. Seen that way, 25% is way too low.

Maybe ask Amazon if you can host on their Kindle Fire app store?

2 Likes

These aren’t good comparisons. Amazon doesn’t do any of the work of a traditional book or games publisher, it doesn’t edit, it doesn’t test, it doesn’t market, it doesn’t put the work on any platforms other than its own.

No traditional publisher is offering 60% royalties. You’re an order of magnitude off. They vary and can be higher for digital works, but 6-10% isn’t uncommon. If you talk to an author of novels, they would think 25% quite a high royalty.

My understanding is that Amazon phased out applications on their Kindles, and their propriertary e-book format doesn’t support state tracking.

7 Likes

How much does it cost to edit and test? There are editors and book doctors for hire out there. I’m sure there are game testers out there, too, although I haven’t yet looked.

How much marketing does it cost? It used to be you fight for shelf space and pay for radio ads. Nowadays, you just fight for attention. I don’t know how much marketing costs CoG, but the only marketing I know is an occasional announcement of planet-if. Word-of-mouth in social media counts more than any ad buying runs.

I think self-publishing is the answer. It’s faster, more control, and pays better. Here’s an example from Smashwords

We distribute to the leading retailers, and for these sales you’ll earn 60% of the list price you set.

I’d like to believe that the internet today have enough services to at least approximate marketing efforts of the smaller publishers. My biggest worry is that a publisher will ignore any marketing efforts beyond first step, and therefore cutting off any long term publishing potential.

Even Infocom products were marketed long-term, back during the day. Up until Activision acquisition, who then wanted to publish one story per month, with poor result. In my view A1RL0CK + 0ceanus pr1me have good visibility, as both products support each other.

So, for those who have done it, what’s the cost breakdown? I know @zarf and bob bates made about $30K off their works each, but what about the costs?

2 Likes

There are gamebook authors who self publish on Amazon. It’s possible some have good sales.

But another thing a publisher will do, which you don’t get with self-publishing, is that they’ll give you an advance on the royalties. (This is a big advantage of Kickstarter and other funding platforms.) Your suggestions here involve spending an outlay for uncertain returns. A publisher will give you the first chunk of money while you’re actually writing.

I worked in the book business, most self-published works sell less than a 100 copies. People can make money with them, especially if they have an existing audience they’re direct selling to, but most do not. (Of course, most writers of published works make very little as well, especially with the terrible royalties, but with advances it’s a least something to keep professionals ticking over.)

6 Likes

Yes, the advance that you get from publishers can be substituted by Kickstarter/Indie gogo. Or may even be private investor, or lottery winnings. What kind of outlays? How much should I aim for? :smile: (Reminding myself to be optimistic when no one else is)

Edit: emphasis added

1 Like

Because you’re doing two jobs (writing and publishing). Not every writer wants to take on a second job. Not everybody is good at both jobs.

This discussion has been going on for most of twenty years now. (There was self-publishing before ebooks but the effort was out of reach for nearly everybody.) The traditional publishing industry continues to chug along because for a lot of people, it’s the better option.

If you want to self-publish a game, Steam and Itch are right there. CoG is still the better option for certain authors and a certain kind of game.

8 Likes

Sure, but those are pretty serious outliers: you can’t base a business model on winning the lottery.


With the caveat that I haven’t done it, but I do follow a fair amount of fiction (trad pub and self pub), TTRPG, and video game people… most products in all three of those spaces sell less than 100 copies, as Joey says. If you sell 1000 copies you have a solidly successful product and 3000 copies puts you in the top maybe 20%.

As for costs… it doesn’t make sense to give a single number because there’s at least an order of magnitude range in what you can pay. For self-pub static fiction, if you’re willing to take on a lot of extra roles yourself, you can possibly get the editing/marketing/publishing costs down to US$2000-2500, but that’s really scraping the bottom. Most of that is editing, but that’s very minimal editing (basically just proofreading), and very little marketing.

A more reasonable low-to-middle-end number is probably $6-8000, with a developmental edit as well as a combined copyediting/proofreading pass, professional layout and a (cheap) professional cover, and spending a bit on marketing.

And then you can easily spend up to $30K or more if you go all-out.


So… let’s say you keep your costs well on the low end, and spend $6K on production costs. If you sell 800 copies at $15 each, which is achievable but a pretty darn solid success, that’s gross sales of 12K. So 50% of your gross sales goes to production costs, and then you add payment processing and store/platform fees and you’re down to not all that much better than if you had a publisher do it. And you had to do a whole bunch of non-writing work yourself, so how well are you paying yourself for that time, and is that something you even want to do at all?

And that’s if your product is fairly successful: if it tanks then you’re out the costs with no payback.


Anyway. I don’t want to be too doom-and-gloom about it. There are definitely reasons for some people to prefer self-publishing. For me, growing up around small businesses, it’s almost certainly the path I’d choose if I had something to publish.

But it’s running a business, which is a whole other career/skill-set. And it’s not a silver bullet: it’s mostly just you taking on the extra risk and extra work that a publisher would otherwise be taking for you. Are you willing to be the like “general contractor” who organizes all the work getting done? Are you willing to be the “venture capitalist” who funds the work in the hope of it being a success and you making your investment back?

Those aren’t for everyone. And from what I’ve seen from self-pub fiction/TTRPGs/video games, the people who make a go of it are absolutely putting in the WORK for the extra share of the profit they get.

Dunno. There are certainly people who aim to sell at least 3000 copies and expect to hit that a lot of the time, but from what I can see, most of those people are small publishers who have made picking and polishing and supporting potential winners their entire career.

9 Likes

Great reply! You show a whole lot of considerations. :clap:

And the question is, what are those peripherals non-writing work entails?

This is where the internet fails me. They say you need bachelor degree, interns to the industry, lots of time and money involved. Being a publisher sure is hard work!

I’m not part of the publishing industry, but I do have exposure, limited as it is. Talking to a writer, I asked, “what’s your advertising budget?” "She answered, “very little. I do extremely limited advertising.”

Talking to a publisher, I asked, “So do you ever cancel a print run? When the reviews are universally bad, I mean.” They answered, “No. We’d be asking ‘what were we thinking?’ and then dump the books to discount wholesalers!”

So back to the idea that being a publisher is hard work. It sure isn’t as easy as successful publishers say it is, but just how difficult and hard is it? Details matter!

If you’re running a business and publishing other people’s work, the majority of your time will be spend reading and editing other people’s work. That takes tremendous amount of time and skill.

If you just worry about self-publishing your own works, then the first consideration are the research and writing. If you’ve been to university and get your bachelor degree, then you know what it’s like, with the caveat that if you write fiction/fantasy, you can just make stuff up. You still have to do world building, but that shouldn’t be too hard. Just time consuming. That’s where you spent the most time of. The most enjoyable part.

Then there is the business. Accountants, Lawyers, marketers are for hire. Editors, book doctors, illustrators, as well. Some of them aren’t cheap. You can trade money for time by doing the work yourself. Can you do a good job?

Nope. Not at first, anyway. But once the path is laid down, you know mostly what to do. It’s cheaper to do it the second time around. Cheaper still for the third time around. Cheaper than (gasp!) a Bachelor degree! People learn. People grow. It’s a pain, but it’s good pain. Growing pains are inevitable for self improvement.

The only other parts that matter is marketing. I’ve been reading most self publishing books and they universally recommend a (push) mailing list, such as email subscriptions. And isn’t that the trick? If you want to make money, then have your built-in audience, and that’s your mailing list.

I’m not saying doing those things yourself are fast, good, and cheap. I’m saying that doing those things yourself are faster, better, cheaper. Yes, you still have to do the work and take the risk, and depending upon who you are, that may be too much too overcome. Heck, I’ve been trying and failed several times myself. But what keeps me going is that every time I failed, I learn something and I keep getting closer to the goal!

So why should I give up now? I’m too close to the goal! If somebody just started, then your advice is great. But I have sunk too much time (very little money) on it to give up now. So, don’t worry about the myriad ways to fail, I’d be finding out about them if not already. Let’s just focus on the way forward and see what happens, shall we?

1 Like

Not to derail the discussion of self-publishing, but this thread started with someone asking how difficult it would be to create a platform that’s an alternative to Choice of Games. Which sounds more like “being a publisher” than self-publishing to me.

3 Likes

Well, that depends on whether we’re talking about CoG or HG. The HG part is closer to self publishing part, IMO. Therefore, I want to see higher royalties instead of less.

Edit: sorry. Just double checking HG rate and it seems that they pay the same 25%. Still have to go through beta testing and copy editing (book doctor), but not much else. And it would still take months.

Yeah, you’re right. I did it with 88 lines of Perl. I’m still stuck with mapping, but I’ll probably ignore that for now and just release something quick for update.

Edit: This post is a reply to @HAL9000 where it was skipped during the split.

1 Like

From Wikipedia:

Methods of calculating royalties changed during the 1980s, due to the rise of retail chain booksellers, which demanded increasing discounts from publishers. As a result, rather than paying royalties based on a percentage of a book’s cover price, publishers preferred to pay royalties based on their net receipts.

When the publisher is getting $4 and the author is getting $3, that’s effectively 75% rate. Although the example shows that’s 20% rate off the $15 cover price.

It changed during the 1980s, which is why my figure is off. I wasn’t aware of this change. It makes sense now when the passage of times is considered. But 20% off the net receipt certainly sounds ridiculously low!

You’re faffing around with numbers. Nobody talks about royalties from a trad-pub deal as being 75%. Read down the next paragraph in that Wikipedia entry. It’s 7.5% to 12.5%, maybe 15% if you’re Steven King.

For games, I believe CoG pays its royalty rate after the platform cut (15-30% to Steam, Apple, etc). (I don’t know that for sure, but I think that’s the idea.) [EDIT-ADD: Dan confirms this in a post in the other thread.] So it’s less than 25% of cover price, but it’s got nothing to do with that book example (which includes 50% to the bookstore and 25% for physical printing).

4 Likes

Actually, they did. At least what people told me back then. What? You’re saying they didn’t? Well, they did! Certainly pushing 60% figure at least.

Of course, they didn’t specify “off the cover price” and they used different wordings, but effectively “net receipt”.

It’s possible to be a regional phenomenon, though, so I wouldn’t say that that must be your experience as well.

That 30% fee is the maximum a provider should charge. So, this 25%, you’re saying is 25% off 70%, right? That means it’s not 25%, but 17.5%, assuming the higher royalty rate. Or 7%, assuming the lower royalty rate.

Details matter. If you want to talk cover price, that’s fine. If you want to talk net receipt, that’s fine, too. But don’t confuse the two because that matters a lot.

That’s a little backwards. You need to start with unit cost. If an author gets 75% and is paid $3, that implies the book is $4 and the publisher gets $1. I don’t think any traditional book publisher does revenue like that.

As Zarf said, no author makes 3/4 of a book’s revenue in traditional publishing. They’re paid to write the book and get a smaller percentage of profits if that’s negotiated. Self-publishing in a venue like KDP is different - the publisher does zero work (the books are electronic or publish-on-demand) except hosting the book’s listing and a employing an existing sales front-end; there’s no marketing done so volume sales are much lower and the author may get a bigger cut of less volume - for doing all the writing/designing/marketing work.

1 Like

I need to start with unit cost? I don’t understand you. After all, that’s exactly what I did. The wordings were different but the idea was that publishers don’t get unit price, only wholesale price, and that’s what they based their calculations on. So much so, that if you told me that publishers are basing their calculations on cover price, I wouldn’t believe it. Like, at all.

Certainly, net receipt makes more sense to me, as they do have occasional single unit sales that they get from selling directly to the customers. Not often, since the customer must practically visit their printing/distribution factory, but it has been known to happen, and at times like that, they don’t calculate wholesale price when they get cover price!

Maybe they (the publishers I talked to) are more transparent to the process and treated me like I know bulk price discounts and other commercial distribution considerations and all that, but hey, that was my experience. Apparently, that’s not your experience. Enough said.

Edit: “implied” the book cost is $4? That should be clear from my statement, no? Apparently it was a wild time. Dan, on another thread, did mention “high” royalty rate, and I just wonder how high?

I can absolutely confirm agents are saying authors don’t get paid beyond advance payment. I’m not sure all of them are, though.

This is a problem where “marketing” is simply listing new books on regular channels, and no more. Sometimes, they arrange Author Tour, but that’s rare. Foreign Language market, even rarer. Merchandising? Can’t think of any.

1 Like

Well. Without disputing anything said so far, i think self publishing requires keeping the development costs super low. $6k to develop. No. I’m thinking more like $500. Then sell to net $5 per unit and hope to sell 100+.

Sure, there’s no immediate profit. But it means you’re not losing at the start.

2 Likes

Ha! At one point I had inkjet (printing color legal size dust jacket). Duplex BW letter laser printer (thick paper for cover, thin for inside pages). Guillotine paper cutter for cutting thick stacks of paper in half. Long handled heavy duty stapler for stapling 75 sheets of paper.

This duplicates the capability of The Espresso Book Machine ($100K) for around $3K albeit more hands-on process.

You can get by with much less if you go for SOHO printers as opposed to commercial ones. Good for prototyping books.

I was missing laminating machine, and the perfect binding machine at $5K each.

Definitely cottage industry level, but it works!

Edit: Nowadays, I think you can get by solely with Epson tank inkjet printer. Definitely get the duplex model, as I found out the hard way that the simplex feeding mechanism isn’t reliable past 50-80 sheets or so.

1 Like

Confession: I don’t have time to read all of the above and answer every little detail. This is a subject I’ve thought a lot about over the last ten years. I don’t purport to be the final word on any of this.

That’s correct. It’s called Kindle Select (so it’s only for ebooks). By opting in, you agree not to sell or distribute your ebook on any other venue—not even your own web site.

But Amazon is not acting as a traditional publisher here. This simply lists your ebook for sale on Amazon, and it can only be read by their Kindle readers and apps. They don’t promote or market the book in any way, and the exclusivity is agreed in 90-day increments (i.e., every three months you have the chance to opt-out).

I believe that’s correct. I suspect the best you could do is a CYOA-style book, with stateless hyperlinks leading you through the story.

Marketing costs range from zero to undefined. I’ve seen people throw dumb amounts of money at the problem with little appreciable results. I know writers who essentially spent their way onto the USA Today bestseller list (so they could then claim it’s a bestselling book), but in private admit the number of people who probably read the book was less than a thousand.

Also, what counts as marketing goes past formal advertising. It includes things like the book’s cover, blurbs (especially by well-known authors), social media, mailing lists, and so on.

Don’t get me wrong: Marketing works. It’s a matter of how you do it, who you market to, and scale.

I like self-publishing too, but only for the first two reasons you list.

If you want to make a living writing books, then study the market, devote yourself, and think like a businessman. Also, be realistic about what making a living means, or can mean. Professional writers often supplement their incomes with teaching, non-creative writing (e.g., ad copy, technical writing), or flat-out having a job in another sector. A high-salary spouse is more than useful. Marry well.

Too many come into the field thinking, “I want to get paid comfortably to write what I want to write,” which rarely yields fruit without some mitigating factor (such as an existing fan base).

It’s true, but less true today than it once was. The era of writers churning out unputdownable potboilers seems to have left us behind. So many releases by the big publishers are seven-figure deals aimed at book clubs while praying the story gets picked up by Hollywood, resulting in fewer contracts and one- or two-and-done authors. (Less true at smaller and genre publishers, but still seems to be a trend.)

Side op-ed: I’m tired of the book publishing industry being seen as a mill that produces draft zero screenplays (i.e., novels) for Hollywood’s use. What’s more frustrating is to see so many aspiring writers buy into the idea. (This is apropos of nothing mentioned in this thread.)

Respectfully, I would say three jobs: writing, publishing, and marketing. Unless your books are pure passion projects, and you don’t care a whit if people read them or not, marketing is a constant background buzz for the self-publishing writer, a mosquito that won’t stop.

8 Likes

I say you get the gist of it just fine! :money_mouth_face::woman_with_veil:

Edit:

Seems to me Kindle Apps is alive as of May 31, 2023. Has that changed?