The Big Reveal Part I: MOUSETRAPPED’s Costs & “Royalties”

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As promised, today I’m going to reveal exactly how much money I spent self-publishing my travel memoir Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida, how many copies I’ve sold and how much money I get to keep when somebody buys a copy. In exchange, I’d like to know what you think about it. Does it sound like it was worth it? Are you impressed, or underwhelmed? Does this cement your decision to do it too, or confirm that it’s a bad idea?

(I know I said I’d do sales in the morning and profits in the afternoon, but I’ve decided the information makes more sense the other way around and coming together. So in this post I’m going to reveal exactly how much money I spent and how much of it I get back as profit, and then in a half hour or so I’ll post Part II, which will reveal my sales figures.)

Let’s Get You Up to Speed

If you know nothing about my self-printing adventures, here’s a quick summary: I used the Print On Demand service Createspace to ‘publish’ a 232-page paperback measuring 5.5 x 8.5 and both Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (DTP) and Smashwords to release an e-book equivalent. The book tells the story of the eighteen months I spent living in Orlando and working in Walt Disney World, and I decided to self-publish after being told by an agent and three different publishing houses that while it was well-written and an enjoyable read, it didn’t have enough of – or anything resembling – a market to warrant publication. It was released on March 29th last, and is for sale almost exclusively online. The only exception is my local independent bookstore where I had a signing/book launch at the beginning of May. You can view a full list of sales locations here.

The Costs

As I’ve said before, I had two goals for this project: (i) to not embarrass myself and (ii) to spend as little money as possible. So far, I’ve parted with cash to pay for:

Pre-Publication

  • €330 on copyediting (a proofread only, no structural editing)
  • €50 on cover design (got a great deal with graphic designer who built my mock-up in a PDF).

Publishing with Createspace

  • €15 on my proof copy, including shipping
  • €30 on a “Pro-Plan” that would enable extended distribution, i.e. international Amazons, Book Depository, etc.

Promotion

  • €25 on two WordPress.com domain name upgrades (“catherineryanhoward.com” and “mousetrappedbook.com”)
  • €50 on miscellaneous items, such as stationery
  • €124 on free books – including postage – sent to reviewers, bloggers, etc.
  • €180 on printed materials such as posters, invites and postcards, all used for my bookstore launch.

(All costs approximate.)

This is a total expenditure of €804, or $1,020 or £665. While I spent money on the book launch and review copies, most of my promotion and publicity came from free sources such as:

Um… “Royalties” Did You Say?

Strictly speaking, the money I make from sales of my book are not royalties in the traditional sense. What I’m really talking about is profit, or the portion of the list price that rightly belongs to me. But if we’re going to get into technicalities, then I didn’t really self-publish my book (as I didn’t purchase my own ISBNs, set up my own publishing company or produce a print run) and by definition, Createspace is a vanity press (as you pay them to publish your book, albeit it on a case by case basis as copies are sold). But I use ‘self-publish’ as a shorthand, and I intend to do the same with ‘royalties’ –  especially since that’s what Createspace and Amazon’s DTP calls them too. And we’re all just going to have to get over it, okay?

How POD Royalties Work: A Crash Course

Upload your files, order a proof copy and tell Createspace everything is a-okay: that’s pretty much all you have to do to get your book for sale on Amazon.com. Then when someone buys a copy, all the parties involved take their share and you get the rest. Or:

List price – (Createspace’s manufacturing cost + Amazon’s cut) = Your profit.

I opted to pay for Createspace’s “Pro-Plan” which allowed me to take advantage of their Extended Distribution Channel (EDC) and see my book for sale on online retailers other than Amazon.com. (Click here for a full list of my sales channels.) When someone buys my book from, say, The Book Depository, the money formula looks more like this:

List price – (Createspace’s manufacturing cost + Createspace’s cut as distributor + The Book Depository’s cut) = My profit.

Once a month Createspace then adds up all your sales and pays you by way of a cheque, in US dollars and usually on a delay, so that at the end of June for example, you’d be paid for your sales in May. (It’s like a little poem…!) If you live outside the US and fail to provide CS with non-resident tax information, you will be deducted 30% as a sort of emergency tax. Remember there is no such thing as non-taxable income – if you don’t pay it to the U.S. government, you’ll be paying it to your own. (Unless you live in Ireland and you’ve written something that qualifies for the Artists’ Exemption, but that’s a whole other story…)

The Same-Sized Small Print

For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to list all amounts in US dollars, as that’s how I’m paid. (Except for the list of all royalties at the end of the post.) The amounts below are purely profit, i.e. all costs have been taken into consideration. For example, when I sell via my own website, I have to take into account the cost of the book, shipping the book first to myself, the envelope, postage and other miscellaneous costs (such as printing a packing slip) that accumulate over time. In that case, the ‘royalty’ you see below is the profit I clear once all those outgoings have been taken into consideration.

Some Perspective

A ‘properly’ published author will receive, on average, about 10% of the list price. (Of course they’ll get an advance, have entire departments behind their promotion, suffer no costs of their own, etc. etc. but that’s all for another day. If you’re familiar with my blog you’ll already know I’m not a self-publishing evangelist, and would have gladly – deliriously – signed on the dotted line if somebody had asked me to. Self-publishing – or self-printing – would only ever be my Plan B.)

Get On With It, Already

Mousetrapped retails for $14.95 for the print edition, so 10% would be $1.49. My print royalties, in descending order, are as follows (all percentages rounded to the nearest whole number):

  1. Createspace e-store: $7.92 or 53% of price*
  2. Author sells direct (no shipping): $6.36 or 42% of price
  3. Amazon.com: $5.07 or 34% of price
  4. Author sells via own website (domestic shipping): $4.93 or 33% of price
  5. Author sells via own website (international shipping): $3.63 or 24% of price
  6. Bookstore: $2.96 or 20% of price
  7. Extended Distribution, i.e. international Amazons, Book Depository, etc: $2.22 or 15% of price.

*CreateSpace’s e-store is not really a viable selling option, as you have to register for a CS account before you can purchase from there and if that didn’t dissuade you, the ridiculous shipping costs most definitely would.

I think my pricing of $14.95 (or €11.00 or £9.75) is extremely reasonable. Many self-published books I’ve come across in bookstores or online seem to me to be overpriced (around $19.99 or €14.95) and I can only imagine that this is down to greed and/or not sourcing cheap enough manufacturing options. Go into your local bookstore, independent or otherwise, and find a book similar in size and shape to yours. How much does it retail for? Your book shouldn’t be much more than it. (My book is about a euro more expensive than traditionally published books of the same size.) I talk about pricing considerations in this post.

E-Books: The Bonus Round

Mousetrapped retails at $2.99 for the e-book edition. To sell through Amazon’s US Kindle store, I uploaded directly to their Digital Text Platform (DTP). Later Mousetrapped automatically appeared on Amazon’s newly launched UK Kindle store. After I uploaded to Smashwords, Mousetrapped went on sale on their website, but also on Barnes and Noble online e-book store and Apple’s iBooks through Smashwords’ free extended distribution plan, or ‘Premium Catalogue’.

My e-book royalties, in descending order, are as follows (all percentages rounded to the nearest whole number):

  1. Direct from Smashwords.com: $2.09 or 70% of price**
  2. Kindle store (US) higher royalty option: $2.09 or 70%***
  3. Apple’s iBooks: $1.81 or 60% of price
  4. Barnes and Noble: $1.28 or 43% of price
  5. Kindle store (US) at standard royalty option: $1.05 or 30% of price
  6. UK Kindle store: $1.05 or 30% of price.

**Smashwords.com has not been a successful selling avenue for Mousetrapped. For whatever reason, only a handful of e-books have been sold from their site. However uploading it was worth it as there has been many sales from their Premium Catalogue. ***Only applicable to US sales.

For as long as I live I will never buy an e-book priced the same as its print equivalent. I have yet to invest in one that costs more than $4.99 because I love books themselves, not just reading them, and if the e-edition is more than that well then I may as well buy the real thing. Yet many self-published authors today have the audacity to charge print prices for their e-books – something, as a consumer, I can’t understand, because e-books are just not worth as much as real books. When pricing your e-book, think of those sales as bonuses, not as compensation for all your hard work. And remember: you get to keep a larger percentage of the price in most cases.

When I sell a print edition of Mousetrapped on Amazon.co.uk, I net $2.22. When I sell a (US) Kindle edition of Mousetrapped, I net $2.09. Yet e-books are so much easier to sell, mainly because they cost just $2.99. It pays to keep your e-book price low, especially when it doesn’t mean (much) lower royalties. (I talk more about e-book pricing in this post.)

All In

When we compare the net profit from both print and e-book editions, we get something that looks like this (P = print, E = e-book):

  1. $7.92 | €6.24 | £5.16 from Createspace e-store [P]
  2. $6.36 | €5.01 | £4.14 when author sells direct with no shipping [P]
  3. $5.07 | €3.99 | £3.30 from Amazon.com [P]
  4. $4.93 | €3.88 | £3.21 when author sells through website (domestic shipping) [P]
  5. $3.63 | €2.86 | £2.36 when author sells through website (international shipping) [P]
  6. $2.96 | €2.33 | £1.92 from bookstore sales [P]
  7. $2.22 | €1.75 | £1.45 when sold through EDC (international Amazons, Book Depository, etc.) [P]
  8. $2.09 | €1.65 | £1.36 when through Smashwords.com OR Kindle store (US) [E]
  9. $1.81 | €1.43 | £1.18 when sold through Apple’s iBooks [E]
  10. $1.28 | €1.00 | £0.83 when sold through Barnes & Noble’s e-book store [E]
  11. $1.05 | €0.83 | £0.68 when sold through US Kindle store at standard royalty rate or from UK store [E].

Selling Through My Website

Due to some bad planning on my part, I ‘launched’ Mousetrapped immediately after clicking the ‘Publish’ button on Createspace, and so could only offer potential customers the services of Amazon.com. So as not to dissuade Irish, UK and European customers from ordering the book, I offered signed copies of Mousetrapped delivered to your door for a flat rate of €12.99, regardless of your geographical location. As you can see above, there was a difference in about a euro’s worth of profit between a domestic (Irish) sale and a sale anywhere else, due to postage costs. However sales to each were pretty evenly matched in terms of volume and one ended up off-setting the other.

If I had my time over again though, I wouldn’t do it. First of all, there was no need; Mousetrapped appeared on Amazon.co.uk within a few days. (See my Timeline for specifics.) Second of all, it was a pain in the ass. I had to buy stock and envelopes, arrange hosting of site as WordPress.com doesn’t allow commerce of any kind, worry about things like customs forms and PayPal and drag the books to the post office twice a week. Having said that, selling like this did have its advantages. It was extremely helpful at the very beginning with cash flow, as money from these sales was depositing immediately in my PayPal account, and could be in my current account within three business days. I also sold a few copies to people who had read the e-book and wanted a signed print edition to keep. On balance, however, it was more trouble than it was worth and I don’t plan to continue it. So, if you want a signed edition of Mousetrapped for €12.99 including worldwide delivery, you’re going to have to order it from here before September 30th.

Well…?

What do you think? Is it what you expected? If not, is it better or worse?

And is this the longest blog post you’ve ever seen in your life?

Let me know in the comments below or join me in about half an hour for – dum, dum, DUM! – my sales figures.

CLICK HERE TO READ PART II: HOW MANY DID I SELL?

Read all my self-printing posts

Follow me on Twitter @cathryanhoward.

10 thoughts on “The Big Reveal Part I: MOUSETRAPPED’s Costs & “Royalties”

  1. nettiewriter says:

    Wow – firstly, congrats on being so organised and keeping such great records. And thank you for sharing them. It’s easy to get carried away thinking that if you self -publish you get to keep all the copies.
    Your way of self-publishing is very professional. I have a friend who self-published children’s books and not only does her product not look as good as yours, she has the things printed by the thousand and sells them all herself – whether through local shops, signings, in schools, word-of-mouth… All hard work.
    It certainly all looks worth it if you get satisfaction from the process and you at least break-even. I am, however, disappointed that selling in a book store generates so little income for you. Did you have to supply copies or the book store or did they order in from their suppliers?
    Well done for seeing it through and sharing it with us here.
    Nx

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Thanks very much, Nettie. The most important thing to me, as I said, was not to embarrass myself, so I’m delighted you think the book looks good!

      Okay: bookstores. If I could get one thing through to people who “self-publish” using a Print on Demand service like Createspace or Lulu, it would be BOOKSTORES ARE OUT. (Although no matter what you say to people, they just can’t seem to comprehend this, as seeing their book in their local Waterstones or whatever qualifies as success to them.) Almost all bookstores only buy books from distribution companies and while some POD companies may give the impression that they can buy your book through these too, it’s simply not true. (And if the book IS available through a major distribution service as it may be in the US, the wholesale price is prohibitively expensive for the bookstore.) That means that a) your book has as much hope of ending up in a bookstore chain as I do of boarding a Space Shuttle (NONE!) and b) if you want your book in ANY bookstore, you have to get it there yourself.

      I approached my local bookstore only because I knew another local author who’d used it for a launch, and the owner was kind enough to stock books for me. In return, I had a well organized and well attended launch there that brought sales to her store, and had great local media coverage in print and on the radio which of course brought publicity for her store. But to get her that stock, I had to order it myself from Createspace at cost price, factor in their ridiculous shipping costs and then sell them to her at a discounted price (so she could make a profit without charging €20 or something silly). However I still cleared 20% which is double what a traditionally published author would make, although they wouldn’t have to do anyway near as much work! 🙂 I also gave her all the books for sale/return, so if they didn’t sell I promised to take them back without charge.

      I only went to the bookstore in the first place so I could have a launch and avail of the free publicity, which is just NOT THE SAME if you only sell online. However I knew that bookstores were never going to be a major selling avenue for me.

      This comment is about as long as the post! 😉

  2. twintrons says:

    Right on. It’s good to see other self-published authors talk about profit margins. Although Amazon breaks it down for us laymen’s , the unknown of it all gets me. Thanks again for a great post.

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