Can you make money from self publishing?

self publishing your book

Or how to self publish your book

Speaking as a self-published author, I feel qualified to wax lyrical on how to go about getting your work up for sale on Amazon and CreateSpace, but I can’t tell you how to become a bestselling author or how to make real money off it… yet.

Thus the subtitle of this post, and why I didn’t opt for “how to make money from publishing your book.” Unless it’s very little money. I mean, I did make some, but not much. So best I can do is speak about how I gave others more money than I made, getting myself self-published, and how to go about it.

I want to be honest about that. I’ve made essentially pocket money off my book, nothing you could live on, so if you’re going to try your hand at writing, do it for the love of it – or you may be sorely disappointed.

Everyone thinks they’re sitting on a bestseller, including me.

I had an idea swirling around my nubbin as I drifted off to sleep for years, and one quiet day at work, decided to make use of the downtime by sneakily starting my literary masterpiece – on the company’s time and dime. Nice of them to provide me with that grant; very visionary.

I wrote about 30,000 words, off and on, over a few weeks (yeah, it was a busy time…) till I got out of the habit (or some actual work, I can’t remember now) and parked it. The story of most lost classics of literature!

Then a couple years later, I re-read it, thought it wasn’t too bad – my own story held my interest anyway, and I had enough distance between writing and reading to view it with reasonably fresh eyes, so I determined to finish it.

And finish it I did. Came in around 101,000 words by the end. 100k words is the advised word count for new authors’ manuscripts and that was okay with me, that my work naturally came in around that mark.

That 100k words had liked to kill me by the end anyway. I don’t think I had anything more to write in me!

Before I went the self-publishing route I spent a couple fruitless months emailing my book to various literary agents. I’d no experience of that world, so just used Google to find them and checked out various writers forums for advice.

The prescribed wisdom is get yourself a literary agent, do not send direct to publishing houses. You can, but like as not your book will never be read.

That said, I’m not sure if your book ever gets read when you send it to a literary agent, but that’s the industry advice.

I won’t list the agents, you can Google them yourself, but I noted that many of them had assistants that your work reached in the first instance, and presumably if they felt the work deemed pursuing, would pass onto the actual agent you were hoping to reach.

These agents would list if they were currently open to receiving manuscripts, and what field they represented. So don’t send your poetry to an agent dealing in military history.

What I noticed about most of the assistants whose lap (or inbox) your work was gong to land in, was that they generally tended to be recent English Literature graduates, female, and under 25-years-old.

I also noted many proudly reeled off their feminist credentials within their profiles. Not that I have a problem with young feminists, or young women looking to make a career in the world of publishing… but my book dealt with decidedly unfeminist material and I wondered if they’d be able to switch off the rose-tinted glasses of youth, and actually assess the work on its merit, not how they felt the world should work.

Not that I wrote anything intended to be misogynistic or offensive or sexual, it was more of an autobiography, but as anyone who’s got a few age-stripes on their arm knows, the world doesn’t always tick to what you were told in college.

And my book, dealing in the real world, related events and real people, and that combination is frequently non-PC, nor tolerant. That goes for the attitudes and behaviour of both men and women.

So, I admit I had some trepidation sending my treasured manuscript off, thinking this is never going to get past 23-year-old Sophie with a profile stating she’s a fierce women’s rights activist… and wondering why she even feels the need to state that as political discussions, along with religion, aren’t generally encouraged at work.

But anyway, I never heard a peep back, except from the ones that actually sent rejection slips via email. Most don’t, they just tell you to give up hope after six weeks.

I did manage (to just about) quell my concern that Sophie, or her boss, would recognise my literary genius and steal my magnum opus, but to date, that fear was baseless as I haven’t seen my work published under another name… 🙂

Of course it could be that my book just wasn’t worth a damn, I did consider that too. However, many years ago I read a book on writing that advised, no matter what your subject, to go ahead and write and submit, because (and I quote from memory), “There is no book so lousy that it can’t be published.”

Reading the list of works and authors that these agents represented, I can attest to that. I was left wondering how any made money at all in fact.

But anyway, following around half a dozen rejections, both written and stated by silence, I decided to go self-published. At the very least my effort demanded that I see it completed and in print one way or another!

Regarding making money though, even if my book had been picked up, from what I read, I could expect an advance of anything from £1,000 to £5,000 for a new work by a new author. And it would take around two years to get the book into print.

None of that sounded particularly appealing, not when there were Amazon ebook self-publishing success stories out there – and from folks who it looked like they could barely write their name in the mud with a stick, if their prose were anything to go by.

So I decided to hop up on that wagon.

First things first, you need an editor, or at the very least a proofreader as an actual editor is quite expensive. A proofreader not so much.

Now, when you get into the forums and discussions re editing your work, you get some real argument of what all’s required. If you can afford a developmental editor, a copy editor, a line proofreader, and three rounds of revisions of all of that, then by all means, go ahead…

But coming in around £6,000 most folks can’t, and nor does their book warrant it.

For your first self-published effort you have to keep the costs down as much as possible. Actually for all your self published efforts until they start making money. Because therein lies the rub: most likely your book will never make back its publishing costs.

Like I said above, you won’t believe that though, because your book is different and special. Just like mine was. But I know your book is more different and more special.

At the very least though, you need your book proofread, as no matter how many times, how slowly you read it, typos and missing words will remain.

However, don’t ask friends or family to undertake this task for you or you’ll never get published. To read a work of 100,000 words, take notes and provide feedback on errors and clumsy sentence structure and grammar, is quite a task. It is a task of sustained and concentrated effort, and thus best commissioned and paid for.

You’ll read that you need to hire editor/proofreaders from the sort of firms with websites that you input your word count into a box, and it spits out a price. Mine was around £1,500 – which is still way too much.

Yup ^

So I went to Fiverr. I had a look through the gigs and contacted a woman with a high rating who immediately fired back a quote of £100 to do it – in a week no less, and with a dozen orders already in her queue.

I was impressed, so agreed and sent my manuscript on.

Six and a half days later I got the word document back with the markups. There were no spelling corrections or sentence restructuring, just must many, many comma additions. And they largely ended after chapter three. According to this proofreader the next 75,000 words were error free and only missing a hyphen here and there.

After congratulating myself on my own awesome editing and proofreading skills, I sat down to re-read the thing again… and discovered and noted some twenty glaring typos and missing words in the first three chapters. One of which was sandwiched between a comma correction she’d supplied, and was so obvious that there was no way that you could identify a missing comma, yet not a missing word!

So I messaged the woman back enquiring if she’d actually eyeball read the work, or just put it through a piece of grammar software?

She said she’d read it but that I hadn’t been clear in my instructions and could I give her another week? I agreed as it was a good price, but I should’ve bounced then, as to return that sub-par document to me, and hope I’d not notice and release payment, was just trying to con me, and here she was further BSing me: it was a proofreading gig and if she didn’t understand my instructions (read it and highlight any errors and clumsy sentences – I’d correct) then she didn’t understand her own gig description.

After prodding, I got an email saying she was working on it and would deliver by the end of the week. At the end of the week I received a message cancelling the gig along with a BS note saying there were too many structural elements that required addressing and it was beyond her scope… which was just an outright lie, like her first attempt at providing me with a proofread manuscript.

The reality was it was too big a project and she was making more off copying & pasting 1,000 word documents into Grammarly and sending the results back.

These are the joys of Fiverr, though.

More than a fortnight had been wasted but I wasn’t dissuaded: I found a guy to do the work and performed a very thorough job for £200. It wasn’t perfect, but I got my money’s worth and all I hoped for at that price i.e. a good proofread that picked up the obvious errors that had escaped me.

Then I re-read the book again. Believe me, you’ll get sick of reading and re-reading your work, to the point you never will again. And I haven’t… but that’s also bound up in the fear of finding remaining errors!

In between I went looking for a cover for my tome. I tried Fiverr again… and got a fiver’s worth. It really was an abysmal effort. There were others I could’ve tried with better ratings (but my first proofreader enjoyed a top rating), but one of the posts I read on a writer’s forum suggested using 99Designs. It was a bit more expensive, what with the minimum offer being around £200, but I wanted a decent front and back cover for my book, so I created a bronze (the lowest) competition.

The entries were plentiful and excellent. I really had a wide range to choose from, some forty odd being submitted, and chose two to go forward into the final stage. It was a tough choice too.

The difference with Fiverr and 99Designs is that on Fiverr you have to know exactly what it is you want, and then hope the graphic ‘artist’ can reproduce it. On 99Designs, while you supply a brief and suggestions, you’ll get a plethora of other styles and looks that you just hadn’t considered, and see designs that will probably be better than your original idea.

The design I chose was nothing like I originally conceived: it was much better!

Now I had a proofread book, I could see about getting it formatted for Amazon as an ebook and printed book format for CreateSpace. That cost me around £100. Which was probably too much and maybe I could’ve figured out the formatting for myself using the online tools etc., but I’d seen enough homegrown MS Word efforts submitted to Amazon with covers done in PowerPoint, that I wanted some assurance the text and layout would look professional – to go with my professional cover.

And once I had a final page count from that, I could pass that info to the graphic designer so the spine width could be properly accounted for too.

Final cost was ISBN. You don’t need them, you can publish your ebook and printed book minus them, Amazon/CreateSpace will apply their own codes in their absence, but I’d read it was better to use your own ISBN, especially for print (not so much for ebook) so I went and paid the £100 or so to get one – having my own “publishing house.” I did this because I wanted ownership of my work (copyright is different, you automatically have that) rather than CreateSpace… what with this going to be an international bestseller, and already imagining myself on the chat show promotional circuit, it seemed a worthwhile investment and prudent(!).

For US users of Amazon there was a deal with CreateSpace to secure an ISBN for $15, which is terrific, but unfortunately not one I could access being over the pond.

Once I had all that, I created accounts with Kindle and CreateSpace and just uploaded my documents. It was quite straightforward.

Then sat back and awaited literary immortality.

Except if you peruse Kindle’s chat boards, you’ll see that you’re advised to promote. Most of the advise is just regurgitated and won’t be applicable to you. I mean, how do you promote to your subscribers list without one?! Or convince your local bookstore to let you do a signing there?

Some of it, like getting on email shot lists, is of little value as well. Maybe if you have a few books to offer, but as a first time, one-work-only writer, it’s not worth it.

The other advise was start a blog and promote there, so I did that… to discover it takes years to build a blogging audience and you’re best to get the audience first, before publishing a book. Not do it the other way round like I did.

But I was still glad I did it, finished a personal project and kept a promise to publish.

If you want to make money writing you can, but you need to be writing constantly, and publishing every few months. That’s a lot of work, so you have to do it for the love of it, because at first, there will be little to no money.

The path to money on Amazon is not the 100k word traditional book, but a series of smaller ‘books’ around the 5k word mark. At that sort of word size, this post is half a book! But it’s in that market, the $0.99 bin, that the money’s to be made if you’re looking to do it for profit not passion.

And ‘erotica’ is apparently the best selling fiction on Amazon.

Oh, and forget enrolling in the Kindle library program. You get something like $0.005 per page read, so you lose money. My book was inexpensively priced, so I missed out on a few sales I reckon. I followed the advice, and it was bad. Maybe good if you have a dozen or more books and a respectable following that reads all your ebook library lends from start to finish, but otherwise it’s not.

I have a friend who’s been writing and self publishing for at least seven years now, and it’s only now he’s starting to see some significant sums; not great sums, just sums he finally notices being put into his bank account. So forget all the advice about setting up your own company too – no one’s going to notice or care (i.e. the government) until you start making some money.

However, it was researching ways to get more blog traffic, and promote my book, that led me to start looking into how to seriously make money online, and eventually took me to Wealthy Affiliate.

It’s a very different approach at WA, but one I could see the merit of, even within my limited experience back then, and I haven’t been proved wrong.

There is discussion of writing within  WA but the main focus is on (as the name suggests) affiliate commissions. Check out my review here.

If you want to take a look inside, you can create an account without any of that “credit card needed for verification purposes” nonsense and still get a week’s free membership. That’s more than enough time to get the run of the place and decide if you want to stick around – like I did.

I’ll tell you honestly, I’ve had more success with Wealthy Affiliate than I’ve had at becoming a bestselling author ;).

Recommended further reading:

Write. Publish. repeat.Write. Publish. Repeat.

The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success

by Sean Platt

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