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Adventures in Self Publishing 3: Revenues and Pricing

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Pat Fitzpatrick

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Last time out in this slot, I took a look at the costs involved in self-publishing a novel. This month I’m going to look at revenues and pricing.

What I Know.

Let me start by telling you what I know about the average earnings of a self-published writer. That won’t take long because I don’t know much. Every now and again the internet bubbles up a story claiming that self-publication is like a money-printing machine. And then it bubbles up another one saying the exact opposite. It’s hard to tell if anyone is telling the truth. The Guardian ran a piece in 2012 detailing a survey of self-published authors. It found that average earnings were about $10000 a year, with half the respondents making less than $500 a year. Most people I speak to reckon those figures have probably dropped since then as more people pile into the market. But here’s the real kicker. Those figures were for royalties. The survey found that a quarter of the books would fail to break even once costs were taken into account. So now you know what I know.

What I sold.

I published Keep Away from those Ferraris (paperback and eBook) on December 1st 2013. Since then I have accrued royalties of about €200, give or take a few euro. That means I am about €1300 in the red when I take cover design and editing costs into account. And that’s without accounting for the time I spent writing and re-writing the book. Let’s just put that at zero and call it a labour of love.

What’s the price?

Well there’s the six billion dollar question. (Reduced to 99c on Amazon.com for one week only.) People spend a lot of time writing articles on how to price your self-published novel, when they might have been better off writing one. Here’s what I know. I under-priced my novel at the start because I didn’t understand how it would sit on the Amazon bookshelf. I thought with millions of people cruising up and down the Amazon aisle, a few or more were bound to stop for a look at my novel. Because they didn’t know anything about me, the book would have to be cheap to entice them to click and buy. That’s not how it works. People head to Amazon to buy my book because I sent them there. That might be after they read one of my blog pieces or articles in the Sunday Independent. In other words, they are at least mildly inclined to buy once they get to my author page. The important thing is to avoid setting my price so high that it will scare them away. In other words, don’t go for cheap. Go for not too expensive. Right now my paperback is $13.50 on amazon.com, with the Kindle edition at $2.99.

What’s the catch?

There are a couple of things to watch out for if you are an Irish-based author. The first is the much-vaunted 70% royalty for Kindle books priced between $2.99 and $9.99. You’ll hear self-pub disciples quote that figure as conclusive evidence in favour of going with KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). What they don’t mention that this royalty applies to sales in certain countries. Ireland isn’t one of them. So you only get a 35% royalty for books sold to Amazon customers in Ireland. Bear that in mind when setting your price if you are targeting the Irish market. Because it makes the road to break-even very long if you opt for a low list price. The other thing that caught me was a low list price on my paperback, published via CreateSpace. The problem there is if you go for their Expanded Distribution Channel. The upside is they sell your book on a variety of 3rd party sites. The downside is they do so at a much smaller royalty. If you set your price too low, that royalty could be down around 20 cents a copy (as happened to me.) Amazon owns one of these 3rd party channels (bookdepository.com) who discounted my book shortly after launch and attracted a good few sales away from the main Amazon site. The upshot was that I directed people to my Amazon page who then went off and bought the book cheaper from bookdepository.com because they are not idiots. I made only 22c per sale, rather than $2. Lesson learned. I’ll launch the sequel to Keep Away from those Ferraris at around $13.50 (rather than $9.99) to make sure I get at least $2 per sale.

How to Get Paid.

Amazon makes life easy for self-publishers. That’s why so many of us use their platforms. KDP, the Kindle platform, pays royalties into my bank account from all over the world (I’ve had sales in India and Australia for instance). CreateSpace is a bit messier for authors living in Ireland. Because we don’t make their list of countries which can be paid by direct debit, we are instead paid by cheque and only when royalties exceed a threshold in certain currencies ($100, €100, £100.) It can take a while to reach those thresholds. Put it this way, I have yet to get a cheque from CreateSpace. I probably won’t either until I release my next book and   push the royalties over the thresholds. There is an alternative. It’s the Payoneer card, which allows you to have a virtual bank account in the United States. Royalties can be paid in to this account and then withdrawn locally using the card. The problem is that the card attracts an annual charge of around $30. That’s not worth it for the amount of royalties involved.

Is that all you know?

That’s about it. For now. I’m learning more about pricing and revenues every week. For my next trick, I’m going to reduce the price on the Kindle version of Keep Away from those Ferraris and see if it attracts much attention for the sequel (working title, Revenge Of the Killer Ferraris.) I’ll let you know how that goes.

(c) Pat Fitzpatrick
Read Parts 1 & 2 of Adventures in Self Publishing here:
Adventures in Self Publishing: Self Publishing is a lot like dieting.

Adventures in Self Publishing 2



About the author

Pat Fitzpatrick lives in Cork city. After 19 years working in the I.T. industry he decided to jump ship in 2008 and head for the lucrative world of writing. So don’t hire him as a life coach, investment advisor or anything to do with your career. His Sunday Independent newspaper columns plus TV and radio appearances have been entertaining Irish people through some tough times. You might have seen him recently with Maura Derrane and Daithí O’Sé on the RTE Today show, where he relayed the highs and lows of writing in advance of that show’s novel writing competition. He hopes to release a sequel to Keep Away from those Ferraris in November 2014.

You can read more on his adventures in self-publishing here http://www.patfitzpatrick.ie.

Pat can be found @Pdfitzpatrick on twitter and you can follow him at https://www.facebook.com/BooksAndThingsByPatFitzpatrick if Facebook is your thing.

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