The Truth about ROI
Aside from whether to pursue the traditional publishing route or self-publish, the most frequently asked question I receive from those looking to publish is how much money my book made. The price of publishing comes in different forms – what was your cut, how many copies have you sold, has the book been doing well? Essentially, it all boils down to one simple query: was it worth it?
I always tell writers who ask these questions if their goal of publishing is to make money, then they definitely shouldn’t publish. Publishing a book will not make you rich. In fact, the royalties probably won’t be enough to make your student loan payment. When it comes to the price of publishing, so many are focused on the ROI, they forget “I” stands for investment. And you can’t get a return unless you invest.
Defining Success & Paths to Publication
Aside from evaluating why you want to publish, another important question writers need to ask themselves is “What does success mean to me?” Is success getting on the bestseller list? Is success selling a million copies? Or is success simply finishing something? Your idea of “success” has a drastic impact on your chosen path to publication, which then affects your investment.
Now, while I could probably talk all day about the different paths to publishing, we’re only going to take a little crash course here. It’s important to understand how the paths to publication affect how much the writer will need to invest in making their book a “success”.
The appeal of the traditional publishing route is the Big 5 publishing houses have spent decades cultivating connections within the literary community, which they use to promote their authors and their books, and usually have big budgets to back that promotion up. Independent publishers also have connections, but usually smaller budgets and less human power which puts some of the burden of making the book a “success” on the writer. Self-publishing, on the other hand, the writer is typically on their own from start to finish.
The Price of Publication
To give you a little background on where I’m coming from, I’m a first-time author whose book was published by an independent press. Here are some of the costs I encountered on my path from contract to bookshelf.
These days, the thing you absolutely must have is a website. Fortunately, where are so many service providers such as WordPress, Squarespace, and Wix who make it easy to create a website, even if you’re not the most tech savvy person. However, the more fancy you get with it, the more costs can add up. Purchasing a domain name, monthly hosting fees, and design-related expenses can put you in the hundreds and go up to thousands of dollars.
Whether you’re being published by one of the Big 5 or self-publishing, one thing is true everywhere: at the end of the day, getting your book out there is 100% on you. The costs no one tells you about are the time, effort, and energy it takes to get your book out there.
Even though I already worked full-time, promoting my book was the full-time job I worked after I clocked out of my 9-to-5. I spent countless hours carefully curating Instagram posts, sending messages to Instagrammers and bloggers, and planning a calendar of content designed to engage and pique the interest of readers.
That’s not an option for everyone, though. Publicity and marketing consultants are more than happy and qualified to help you navigate social media, make meaningful connections, and get your book out there…for a price. However, you’ll be happy to know that no matter what your price range, there’s a pot for every lid.
My publisher gave me a single box of 44 author copies for free, the rest I purchased at the author rate, which was still pretty substantial. Shipping fees, packing materials, and ads for giveaways quickly put my bank account in the red.
In the beginning of this article, I told you all this boils down to one simple query: was it worth it? I guess it’s only fitting that I answer. At the end of the day, my book ended up costing me more than it made back in terms of straight dollars and sense. However, my social media promotions allowed me to build an audience of people anxious for my next book, my website gets a decent amount of traffic, and I managed to have an email exchange with one of my favorite authors. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
LAUREN J. SHARKEY is a writer, teacher, and transracial adoptee. After her birth in South Korea, she was adopted by Irish Catholic parents and raised on Long Island. Sharkey’s creative nonfiction has appeared in the Asian American Feminist Collective’s digital storytelling project, First Times, as well as several anthologies including I Am Strength! and Women under Scrutiny. Inconvenient Daughter is her debut novel, and loosely based on her experience as a Korean adoptee. You can follow her at ljsharks.com.