Who Gets Paid in Publishing?

The economics of publishing is a bit of a mystery if you are just coming into the business. With all the talk about indie publishing vs. traditional publishing and the talk about how writers can get rich if they follow a certain plan, I got to thinking. Maybe we should do a quick look at the economics of publishing to see if anyone is making off like a bandit. Sorry for you non-numbers people, but it is critical to understand the infrastructure (i.e. the lifeblood) that keeps your ideas in print.

A detective in a movie says, “Follow the money,” so we shall. But first a disclaimer. These models are estimates for the traditional publisher, based on years of reading contracts, profit and loss sheets, spreadsheets, and royalty statements. Your mileage may vary.

Follow the Money

Let’s start with a paperback book that retails for $15.00 and is projected to sell 10,000 copies the first year.

Expenses per book sold:

Trade Discount $8.25 55.0%
Print Cost $1.25   8.3%
Royalty to Author $1.08   7.2%
Production $1.00   6.7%
Marketing/Publicity $1.00   6.7%
Publisher Overhead $2.00 13.3%
Total Profit $0.42   2.8%

Explanation of each line item

Trade discount  is the discount given to the retailer/wholesaler: $8.25 (I’m using a 55% discount as the average. This number can fluctuate wildly, depending on the account which is buying the book.)

This leaves $6.75 for the publisher to work with (also known as the net receipt).

I could have set this up with the following expenses as a percentage of the net receipt but chose to base these numbers as a percentage of the retail price for simplicity’s sake.

Print cost: $1.25 (based on the cost to print ten thousand books at 240 pages in length; includes freight to the warehouse). Prices fluctuate, depending on the printer, paper availability, type of paper stock, number of books printed in a single printing, etc. If you were to use print-on-demand, each book would cost approximately $3.60 for a 240-page book.

Royalty to author: $1.08 (based on a 16% of net royalty rate. On contracts that use a 7.5% or retail royalty this number would be $1.25). Note that this scenario does not account for any upfront advance dollars paid to the author. If the author was given a $10,000 advance, the monies earned in this column would go toward offsetting that expense.

Production: $1.00. This is where they pay for the editorial work (content, copy, and proofreading edits); cover design; and typesetting. While this is a fixed cost, I’m basing this on the first 10,000 sold or about $10,000. (This may seem high, but the top-level editors and designers are worth their weight in gold.) Even if all work in this section is done in-house, it is still an expense that must be covered (salaries/benefits).

Marketing/publicity:  $1.00. (This is a wild guess that varies from book to book and author to author and where the money is spent. But in general conversations the publisher will look at a book’s first-year sales projection and plan on $1 per book sold to determine the marketing budget.) This cost also includes any graphics-design work for catalogs, advertisements, banner ads, etc. Also do not forget that the editorial department is involved in writing back-cover copy, writing catalog copy, proofing advertising, and more.

I intentionally separated sales (see below under overhead) from marketing. They are separate divisions in a publishing house with separate budgets.

Publisher overhead: $2.00. This is where each book sold contributes to pay for office space (rent and utilities), warehouse, returns of unsold books, sales-team expense, telemarketing, accounting (accounts payable and receivable), legal fees, bad debts, unearned advance write-offs, administration/management, nonbook-related editorial costs, etc.

Six things to note:

(1)      Ebooks only eliminate the print cost. There are still production costs that fall under the publisher overhead section.

(2)      There is no mention of the cost of returned inventory for unsold books. I lump that into the publisher overhead cost.

(3)      Many independent and maverick writers will be thrilled to read this, saying, “Whoopie! I can get rich because I not only keep the royalty, I keep the publisher overhead too!” And there is the rub. If the author can generate the sales and is willing to handle the infrastructure, then indie is a distinct possibility. But realize you are going into a business, not a hobby.

(4)      Independents must face the fact that there are costs associated with creating a fine product. Nothing gets published for free. Even time costs money. Recently, an article interviewed an author who claimed to have spent only $300 to produce their book. That author obviously did not pay for freelance editors.

(5)      Before you look at that 13.3% for the publisher overhead and start railing against the “money-grubbing” evildoers called “publishers,” stop for a moment. Would you say the same thing about a car dealership? Or a dry cleaners? Or a bookstore chain? What about your own business? What about your church? (You mean a church has overhead/expenses?)

(6)      It is not necessarily true that having more books creates less overhead per book. Certainly there is an economy of scale in some service areas, but we are using generic estimates in this post. One cannot compare Penguin Random House with Small Press Ten Titles Book Company.

Bigger Picture

If we create a cost analysis of the above model, except this time do it on selling the entire print run (multiplying everything by 10,000) we get the following profit and loss projection:

(Paperback book that retails for $15.00 and is projected to sell 10,000 copies the first year. A value of $150,000 at retail.)

Expenses (combined):

Trade Discount $82,500 55.0%
Print Cost $12,500   8.3%
Royalty to Author $10,800   7.2%
Production $10,000   6.7%
Marketing/Publicity $10,000   6.7%
Publisher Overhead $20,000 13.3%
Total Profit $ 4,200   2.8%

Remember that model is for the first printing.

Note that if the author received a $10,000 advance paid before publication, that has been offset by royalty earnings and the author has received an additional $800.

On a second printing, there is no longer a cost for the cover design or editorial or typesetting. And even other costs become more efficient. So if a publisher is able to cover their cost on the first printing, then they start making money. Similar efficiencies apply if this were an ebook.

Go back to that “Production” section. Who gets paid there?

Editorial: $6,000 (again, a variable cost but if you consider hiring a high quality content editor, a copy editor, and a proofreader or two, the cost will add up). There can be as many as five or more editorial people involved in the direct editing of a book.
Cover design: $2,500 (Variable. I’ve seen cover designs cost $5,000. And if the designer is in-house then the cost is absorbed into general overhead.)
Typesetting: $500 (Variable. Freelancers used to charge as much as $8 a page, but desktop publishing destroyed that price structure. But there is still a cost to have this done well. Have you bought an ebook that was formatted wrong? This is the place where that kind of error can be fixed.)

But wait! Go back to that “Publisher Overhead” thingy again. Who gets paid out of that stash?

Sales expense: $1,500 (If the publisher uses a commission-based sales company, then this number can vary. If it is in-house, the cost to travel and manage an account properly is still the responsibility of the publisher.)
Warehouse: $1,500 (A wild guess because it is nearly impossible to do cost-account per book against the cost of maintaining an entire warehouse. Usually that total cost is simply divided by the number of books in the warehouse.)
Production manager and managing editor: $2,000 ($1k per person per new book published–a wild guess). These people are critical to the smooth running of a large publishing house. The production person is not only involved in this one title, but also the inventory management and printing of older titles. If a book (4-color) is being printed overseas, there are a number of logistics that must be managed. The managing editor insures overall work flow inside the editorial department. In my days at Bethany House as editorial director of nonfiction, I leaned heavily on my managing editor.
Acquisitions expense: $500 (a wild estimate for this contribution). What about all the time the editors spend reading proposals and full manuscript submissions only to have to decline them? That is time not spent on editing contracted books. That expense is part of overhead that does not produce sales.
Administration, legal, accounting, IT, building maintenance, corporate taxes, etc.: $14,500. The money to pay the rest of the infrastructure has to come from somewhere.

A client of mine, a debut author, visited the headquarters of his new publisher last Fall. He said, “I met 35 people who were involved in the management, production, marketing, and sales of my book. I had no idea!” Imagine if he were an indie author. He would have to be all 35 of those people and be an expert in every aspect. That is why a traditional publisher keeps around 80% of the net revenue (approximately 20% going to the author in royalties). Those people have earned their living.

[A previous version of this blog was posted in October 2011.]


51 Responses to Who Gets Paid in Publishing?

  1. Steve Laube October 10, 2011 at 10:49 am #

    Lindsay, I could not have said it better myself!


  2. Steve Laube October 10, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    I intentionally separated sales from marketing. Because they are separate divisions in a publishing house with separate budgets. There is no double dipping in the numbers.

    And it is not necessarily true that having more books creates less overhead per book. Certainly there is an economy of scale, but we are talking about generic averages here. One cannot compare Random House with Home-Grown One Title Book Company. This is not that kind of post. Re-read the bold print that says “Your mileage may vary.”

    It is a challenge to write a post like this in 500 words.

    • Timothy Fish October 10, 2011 at 11:34 am #

      I said “in general” by which I meant that given a publisher like Random House and one that is smaller but is doing all the same stuff, Random House will have lower per book overhead. There are differences in management strategy and a number of other things that could make that an untrue statement, but your post isn’t really talking about that.

      As for the small one title publishing house, I agree that its difficult to compare that to Random House. That type of publishing house has an advantage over a company like Random House because though the per title overhead is technically higher, the company wide overhead is so low that they usually have under utilized resources that are sufficient to account for much of the overhead. The family computer serves as the office equipment. The spouse serves as the editor. The spare room serves as the warehouse. So while these authors won’t get rich off the additional money, they’re able to make money from resources and services that were previously unused.

  3. Donna Russo Morin October 10, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

    While I appreciate the concisely written, easy-to-follow the money explanation; however, I call question to one fact in particular: unless you’re one of the big names, there is not one publisher today expending a $1.00 per book specifically for that book in marketing/advertising. It is an inconceivable notion that a 10K print run book is receiving a $10,000 marketing/advertising budget. And without such an marketing/advertising budget, it is very difficult to become a big name.

    • Steve Laube October 10, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

      That one dollar per projected sales is truly the rule of thumb. And publishers do use that measure. The problem is that marketing and publicity dollars are mixed in the same pot and there are both “cash” expenditures for ads and design and catalogs and “personnel” expenditures for media placement and the like.

      Recently I saw a client’s Marketing campaign from their publisher. That book (a novel) is projected to have 10,000 copy first years sales (this was stated back when we contracted the book). The publisher is hiring an outside PR firm for the publicity campaign. The cost of that three month campaign is $9,000 (I saw the invoice). So there truly are publishers who are spending money on marketing and PR.

      Publishers also will use something called Co-op advertising dollars to get a store to put a title on a table or an endcap. This money is garnered from a percentage of that store’s annual purchases from the publisher. Thus it isn’t “cash” but it is a “value” that the publisher “spends” with that vendor. (By the way, all the quotation marks are to emphasize the word with the air quotes around it, if we were talking over coffee.)

      As I’ve said before, “Your mileage may vary.” Publishing economics and marketing dollars is often a study in situation ethics. 🙂

  4. Steve Laube October 10, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

    Sorry for assumption. I just glanced at your web site and saw the cover and publisher and made an general comment. (Beautiful cover, by the way.)

    I am sorry your publishing experience has not received the marketing support it deserves.

    At a recent conference I made a very public comment (to a room of about 70 people) that one of the main problems for publishers is a lack of communication. If the author doesn’t know what the publisher is doing for them and the author cannot see it, or have something tangible to point to, the author feels that the publisher is doing nothing for them.

    True story:
    Publisher changes marketing focus from spending money on media and publicity and targets space ads in magazines and online banners and blog tours. Author’s media exposure dropped 90%. Author calls me in a fury saying, “The publisher has abandoned me and nothing is happening for my book. I went from over 40 interviews on my last book to four this time around!”

    I talked to the marketing director and found out about the shift in marketing dollars. I said, “In other words you are spending money that does not touch the author. And you failed to tell the author about it.”

    The irony is that at the end of the day both books sold about the same number of copies. That was the author’s “audience.” But the publisher blew it big time not communicating what they were doing and the author left for another publisher.

  5. Angela Benson October 11, 2011 at 7:54 am #

    As to writing as a hobby, there is also some concern that the IRS could come knocking at the door, but that’s a different story.

    I know this article is from the publisher’s perspective but how about an article from the writer’s perspective? When does independent publishing become a good option for the writer?

    An important point is that there is no one “author” model. There are lots of authors writing for different reasons and reaping different results.

    A Christian writer who believes God gives him/her stories to tell and share could find independent publishing of ebooks a way to accomplish that mission. It doesn’t require a publishing house or a publishing contract. It only requires a good story, some technical know-how, and faith that the person is doing God’s will. I see this as very empowering.

    There is another set of authors whose writing incomes supplement their primary incomes. This is a case where writing income pays for the family vacation but not the family home. These authors might seek independent publishing to bolster their outside incomes in ways that they have not experienced with traditional publishers.

    Then there are authors who are very well compensated from their publishing contracts who may have no interest at all in pursuing any other avenues. There could also be mavericks who want to try it on their own.

    With all the warnings of what independent publishing won’t do for authors, is there a case to be made that it is the option for some authors?

  6. Tim Pietz March 6, 2019 at 8:55 am #

    Thank you for sharing your expertise on the financial side of publishing. Showing numbers and percentages in each area gave me a much clearer picture of how everything works!

  7. Shirlee Abbott March 18, 2019 at 3:15 am #

    It is, as you say, “a business, not a hobby.” You’re right, Steve. These folks earn their living.

  8. Debby Kratovil March 18, 2019 at 5:17 am #

    I love this. I’m printing it. As a published author in the crafts industry (3 books, 18 calendars, hundreds of magazine articles) I understand what’s going on. It’s NOT the publisher who “makes out like a bandit.” It’s the middle man (book store, quilt shop, etc) who buys the book wholesale and then sells it retail. My last book retailed for $27.99, wholesale $14.00. My royalties were 10% of WHOLESALE, so I made $1.40 per book! Authors do NOT make bundles of money (unless you’re John Grisham, etc). In the crafts (quilting) industry, I have the unique opportunity to teach what I call “Smart Art” (how you, the student, can make exactly what you see in those books) and that’s how I make money. I travel, teaching classes on the content of my books. Thank you for getting into the weeds with those numbers!

    • Steve Laube March 18, 2019 at 8:47 am #


      I spent over a decade as a “middle man” a bookseller. I would have to disagree that they “make out like a bandit.”

      It is rare that a bookseller gets a 50% discount like you’ve described. I may have received that if there was a special deal. But normally the bookstore buys a book between 40-45% off the retail price.

      At first that sounds like a lot. Today’s exercise of who gets paid in publishing can also be applied to “who gets paid in bookselling”

      To use your example of a $28 book. If the bookseller pays $14 for it and then actually sells that copy (no guarantee), they have a gross profit of $14.

      As a training video for our stores I illustrated where the money goes. It goes to employee salaries, management salaries, benefits like health insurance, corporate taxes on profit, rent payments, utilities like lights and air conditioning (which in Arizona was a huge monthly cost for our 12,000 sq. foot store). Then there was an additional 2% of profit per year that went to “shrinkage” or shoplifting. Our #1 product that was shoplifted were Bibles….#2 were CDs…#3 was jewelry.

      When all was said and done, for every dollar we received in sales we were left with 2% profit.

      I had to close one of our locations because the rent increase to the point of making us lose money just to be in the building.

      • Debby March 18, 2019 at 9:36 am #

        Yes, my choice of words (make out like a bandit) was wrong. I know book stores (ie, quilt shops that carry quilt books) and I know they have a lot of overhead. Everyone is trying to make a living and I fault no one – except the shoplifters you mention. Holy Cow! People were stealing BIBLES? What would Jesus think? I guess if they repented and came to faith, Jesus would forgive them. But I think they should consider restitution . . .

        • Steve Laube March 18, 2019 at 9:44 am #

          We were startled every year at inventory time to discover how many Bibles were gone. A favorite tactic was people sneaking behind the counter and swapping boxes. The box the inexpensive bonded leather edition was switched with the box for the high-end goatskin leather edition. They would take the cheaper box to the counter at a time when the cashier was flurried and taxed by a flood of customers. That cashier would not check inside to make sure the product matched the box….

          Or they would just walk out of the store with the product.

          Maybe they got home and used a x-acto knife on Exodus 20:15.

          • Peggy Booher March 18, 2019 at 5:19 pm #


            I work in a large retail store. Would you believe people have switched bags on bed pillows and walked out paying a cheaper price for a name brand bed pillow? Now the cashiers are required to open the plastic bag and make sure the item matches the name on the bag.

  9. Lance Albury March 18, 2019 at 5:49 am #

    Excellent article! Answers a lot of questions I’m sure most writers have.

  10. Damon J. Gray March 18, 2019 at 5:58 am #

    Steve, I really appreciate this blog post. One question, however, if regarding the agent. I didn’t see that in the calculation. I suspect that comes off the author’s $1.08, so in reality, the author clears 0.92 per book. Is that right?

    • Steve Laube March 18, 2019 at 8:50 am #


      Agent commissions are not a separate expense. They are part of the revenue an author receives. Your math is correct.

      But without the agent it may be that the author wouldn’t even receive that $0.92.

      And agents do far more than just make deals.

  11. Bryan Mitchell March 18, 2019 at 6:16 am #

    Sounds very reasonable to me. I’ve read somewhere, probably this blog, that it’s a good idea to use advances for the marketing of a book. Do authors usually take the money and do this on their own, or do they let the publisher know to redirect the funds to their marketing department?

    • Steve Laube March 18, 2019 at 8:52 am #


      Some authors do apply their advance or a portion of it as part of their marketing.

      The author spends it on things that they are doing. They never redirect the money to the publisher.

      The best advice is to talk to your traditional publisher about marketing. Find out what they are doing and discuss what you can do to supplement their efforts. Your efforts you pay for. Their efforts they pay for. This way you are not duplicating efforts and both paying for the same thing.

  12. Kay DiBianca March 18, 2019 at 6:32 am #

    I am a “numbers” person, and I love seeing the breakdown. Thanks for this great information.

  13. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. March 18, 2019 at 7:24 am #

    Thanks for the info, Steve. It helps make sense with regards to why it is so difficult to get published!

  14. Karen Sargent March 18, 2019 at 7:33 am #

    Thank you for this breakdown. Where the money goes always seemed like a mystery. Even though an agent’s commission isn’t mentioned in the article, when I first learned what a literary agent was and their usual cut is 15%, I thought, “Wow,” especially since I had naive visions of money rolling in. 🙂 Now I realize 15% of not much is not much. 🙂 I write because I love story. I hope to see income increase as I write more books, but my view is much more realistic after having my first book out there.

  15. Melissa Henderson March 18, 2019 at 8:07 am #

    WOW!!! What a detailed description! Thank you.

  16. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 18, 2019 at 8:20 am #

    It isn’t really about the money,
    or, yeah, OK, it is.
    But being honest, this ain’t funny,
    need to find another biz!
    Maybe I can make a way
    to be famous for being known
    and then could spend every day
    gettin’ offers on the phone.
    Or maybe politics would work
    I can be real outrageous
    and foment things only a jerk
    would vote for…and then do Vegas.

    • Steve Laube March 18, 2019 at 8:54 am #


      Thank you for your poetry. I have editing out the last lines as I’d rather not have the splash of inappropriate language posted on our agency’s blog.


  17. Carol Ashby March 18, 2019 at 9:09 am #

    Fascinating! As you say, if you’re an indie, you have to do all these functions yourself, and it truly is a business. As an indie, I have the 55% trade discount on paperbacks to bookstores, but I don’t on ebooks through Amazon, B&N, or Kobo, although they do charge me 10 to 15 cents per download, depending on file size (explain the legitimacy of THAT one!). Do publishing houses claim they have that trade discount for ebooks? I would hope they pay a higher royalty rate to their authors on ebooks than they do on print, give its much greater costs.

    • Steve Laube March 18, 2019 at 9:22 am #


      The industry standard for traditional publishers is to pay a 25% of net receipts royalty on all ebook sales.

      If an ebook has a price of $9.99, the vendors, like amazon or apple or kobo, typically pay the publisher $7 per sale.

      Of that 25% goes to the author or $1.75 and the rest ($5.25) is kept by the publisher to offset their overhead expenses.

      If the ebook has a price of $4.99, cut everything in half as far as revenue. Author makes $0.88 and the publisher keeps $2.63.

      Ebooks, sold cheaply, becomes a volume business model. You have to sell twice as much to make the same amount of money.

      I had a major publisher once tell me, “We are selling more units in fiction than ever before. But our total dollar revenue is down because of having to sell those books at such a cheap price. It is not a sustainable proposition. We can’t sell more books but make less money…at least not for the long haul.”


      • Carol Ashby March 18, 2019 at 9:34 am #

        He wasn’t very good at math. They certainly can continue to sell more books and make less money as long as they are still running a net profit.

        • Steve Laube March 18, 2019 at 9:37 am #

          You are assuming they were making a net profit.
          Another thing to consider is that in the corporate world, if you show reduced profit, then management starts firing employees to increase the bottom line.

          So while it is easy to say, it is harder in the reality of corporate business. One must have a good reason to tell stockholders why they are not as profitable this year as they were last year.

          • Carol Ashby March 18, 2019 at 9:44 am #

            True! The business world is a cold, cruel place.

  18. Brennan S. McPherson March 18, 2019 at 9:14 am #

    Great post, Steve!

  19. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 18, 2019 at 9:47 am #

    Really did enjoy this post, and have learned so much.

    Might be time to post a thank-you for everything.

    It’s bittersweet to read this now,
    tales of a world I’ll never see
    and I can’t really tell you how
    much this blog has meant to me.
    There’s been humour, love and faith
    and hard-headed business sense,
    and when hope’s a wayward wraith
    you’ve gently bid it hence.
    But it’s most of all community;
    familiar names and faces
    make polyglot a unity
    of multicoloured graces.
    Did you know, at this site’s birth
    that it would be a bit of Heaven on Earth?

    • Steve Laube March 18, 2019 at 9:48 am #


      Thank YOU.

  20. Sherri Kukla March 18, 2019 at 10:02 am #

    Thank you, that was an awesome post. I really appreciated seeing how it all works and what costs are involved in publishing a book.

  21. Janet Ann Collins March 18, 2019 at 10:24 am #

    Thank you so much for this information! It’s something I’ve wondered about.

  22. Mary-Anne Crooks March 18, 2019 at 12:09 pm #

    Thank you for this article. I have always refused to self-publish – a personal choice. I believe I will be published one day by a traditional publisher and will not give up until I am! I want the professionalism that publishers offer.

  23. Linda Riggs Mayfield March 18, 2019 at 1:03 pm #

    This extremely informative post was like a coin with good news on one side and bad on the other. The data breakdown answered a lot of questions I’ve had about the financial aspects of publishing and precipitated an “Aha!” moment, which was encouraging. But seeing the tiny percentage the author receives from book sales also made it clear how unrealistic it is for most writers to expect to earn a significant income, much less a living, exclusively from writing. Reality check! Thanks.

    • Steve Laube March 18, 2019 at 2:08 pm #


      Like many things in business, volume or amount of sales determines financial return.

      If the author is earning $1 per book sold in royalties but sells 50,000 copies that can be a good thing.

      If, after many years and many books, the combined sales of all their books past and present sell 100,000 in a year, the numbers get more exciting.

      This also presumes that book royalties are the only source of revenue. There is speaking fee revenue. There is back of room book sales at events. Other opportunities arise because of that first successful book.

      • Linda Riggs Mayfield March 18, 2019 at 9:15 pm #

        Well, Steve, the model just became a prism with a few more encouraging sides than the original two-sided coin! I was thinking consecutively instead cumulatively: I didn’t think in terms of one book still being in print and generating significant sales as subsequent books came out, but of course that happens for anyone who writes a successful series! I think I need to put on my businesswoman hat and be more intentional about seeking publication of my historical fiction series. Thanks!

  24. Debby March 18, 2019 at 2:33 pm #

    Steve. Can you address “speaking fee revenue” sometime? I’m a newbie to this blog and understand it within my own professional niche, but clueless to how that works for authors in other fields. I do understand “back of room book sales.” Been there, done that, and it’s all about causing someone to part with their $$ with a big smile on their face because they are getting something you’ve enticed them with (your book). And a big promise that they will keep smiling as they read every single word in your book!

    • Steve Laube March 18, 2019 at 2:44 pm #


      I cannot really give advice on speaking fee revenue. The fees vary too much. I once was paid in cookies. Literally was given a batch of homemade cookies after speaking at a local event. (The cookies were good, but still…) I have a few clients who are paid thousand of dollars for a one hour presentation.

      Maybe listen to Novel Marketing’s latest podcast by Thomas Umstattd on the topic: https://www.novelmarketing.com/178/

      Also consider taking a four hour course “How to be a Successful Speaker” on The Christian Writers Institute

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 18, 2019 at 3:02 pm #

        Steve, buy me a calzone, and my speaking voice is yours.

        Well, it would be if I could still really talk…but would gesticulating and Powerpoint do?

  25. Peggy Booher March 18, 2019 at 5:25 pm #


    Thanks for breaking this down and making it a lot clearer. There is so much more involved in publishing than I ever considered. Hopefully the next time I look at the cost of a new book and start to think, “Wow, that’s expensive!”, I’ll remember this post.

  26. Colleen K Snyder March 19, 2019 at 8:54 am #

    One thing that wasn’t mentioned in the publisher’s overhead: when books DON’T sell, and they are left with a negative on all those expenses. It happens. (Mine was one of those…it was a good book, It just didn’t sell like hotcakes!)(Long story, that. But anyhow…) So traditional publishers will take the “risk” and the hit on all that. For the “indie” crowd… now YOU get the burden of making your book profitable. And yes, it becomes a business, a full time business, Fail in one critical area (editing, artwork, typesetting, marketing…) and you have a great story… and no way to get it out to people. No matter how much I may love my story, am I willing to put in all the work involved to “get it out there?” It requires time and effort… and sacrifice. What am I willing to give up to do all this? Worship time? Family time? Free time? Hard questions I’m seriously having to ask myself!

    • Steve Laube March 19, 2019 at 9:43 am #


      You make a very good point. Back in my days at Bethany House we had a book we contracted with full confidence and paid a reasonable advance to acquire. We spent a reasonable and quality amount of money to market the book. After a year we did a profit/loss analysis and the book lost $35,000.

      There is considerable risk for the publisher if a book does not perform.

      I know of another situation (not Bethany House and not one of our clients) where the advance was $800,000 for three books. All told, the three books sold only 100,000 copies combined. The publisher obviously lost money.

      It isn’t always overpaying on advances that creates the problem. The bottom line is sales. No matter how budget conscious a publisher is, if the book doesn’t sell, the project loses money.

      Losses are not always sales related either. In another situation a published book and author was sued. The publisher of that book had to spend legal fees in its defense. The publisher won the case, but spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the defense.

      Losses can also occur if a store doesn’t pay their bills. When Family Christian Stores went bankrupt many publishers lost millions of dollars in unpaid invoices. (Authors were effected as well because the royalties were not paid either.)

      Never forget that Traditional Publishing is a business.

      • Colleen K Snyder March 19, 2019 at 10:39 am #

        RIght. As the author, I was afraid I’d have to pay back my advance!

    • Linda Riggs Mayfield March 19, 2019 at 10:44 am #

      Thank you–I think you very succinctly “nailed” the bottom line for writers: What am I willing to give up to do all this? I’ve been WRESTLING with that question ever since I made 7 pitches at a conference and received 7 invitations to submit formal proposals in two genres. I only submitted three. One publisher wanted changes I couldn’t make. One agent liked it and passed it on to another who was a better fit, but who never replied to my proposal. One very high-profile agent “loved” my book, but said she wouldn’t represent me w/o seeing a significant platform within a year.

      So I set up a WordPress site and tried to build a platform. But I only gave up my community volunteer responsibilities for that year. I didn’t give up spending time with my husband and children, helping homeschool our grandchildren, gardening for our food, keeping church commitments, writing for a newspaper column, or consulting for clients. Platform building only got the leftover time, and it wasn’t enough.

      Steve’s post about the financial realities of publishing highlights the need for a realistic assessment of how important publication really is to us, what we’re willing to give up to achieve it, and most importantly, how publication fits into God’s purpose for our lives. Recently having my platform-building website crash, shut me out, and erase virtually all the content, forced me to address that platform need again and also forced me to ask those questions with a new urgency. What am I willing to give up to build that required platform? Thanks for the focused perspective!


  27. Colleen K Snyder March 19, 2019 at 11:24 am #

    Linda, I wrestle with that same question: What does GOD want in all this? Who does He want to reach? If we commit it to Him, do everything we’re “supposed” to do to the best of our abilities, and then it goes basically nowhere, what do we learn? It’s a hard place to be, and a hard question to ask. Do we really believe that: if He is in all things, and controls all things, and
    we wrote what we did under His “authority”… that His will was for it NOT to be a million dollar seller? Or that somehow, in reaching only the few (maybe very few), God’s will was done, and it reached who it needed to reach. I don’t have the answers to all that, except I believe God. It was His book to start with, and what happens to it is up to Him. Keep writing, my friend!

  28. Doug Ross March 19, 2019 at 1:20 pm #

    I have never seen it stated more clearly and accurately!

  29. BILSON DOTLER June 17, 2019 at 11:57 am #

    Question: If an author and publisher are discussing a possible book deal between themselves, and the publisher indicates an interest in hiring a developmental editor for the book, who (the publisher or the author) is normally responsible for PAYING the developmental editor? And if the publisher, is the publisher normally entitled to RECOUP that expense out of the author’s future royalties?

    Thank you!

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