The Cost of a Good Book

The first thing that hit my eyes this morning upon jumping on the internet was this petition that's going around. Reportedly written by self-publishing cheerleader Hugh Howey, it's the biggest crock I've seen in a while. If you want to be very confused and misled for the next twenty minutes, go read it. My beard-brother Chuck Wendig has a great response over on his blog.

In his argument that Amazon is the best thing since sliced bread, Mr. Howey goes after my publisher, Hachette. The publisher that took a wild chance on my first book. The publisher who has treated me fantastically from start to (as of February 2015) finish on my first trilogy and has me under contract for another trilogy. Mr. Howey spends a lot of time talking about how horribly publishers treat their authors and how little they pay us and why Amazon is so much better. Because I don't have time to say all the things I want to about that petition, I'll just address the one complaint: payment.

Let's take a quick moment and note that, like Howey, I am a hybrid author. I publish my novels with Orbit and I self-publish my expanded universe short fiction via Amazon, Kobo, Nook, etc. You can read more about that on a guest post I did just last week. I do this because diversity is good and I have rent to pay.

But maybe Howey has a point. Maybe Orbit (imprint of Hachette) should be paying me more than industry standard 10% on hardcover and 25% of net on ebooks and audio. So I thought it would be a fun thought experiment to figure out how much it would have cost me to produce my first novel, Promise of Blood, all on my own.

Let's say that Promise of Blood, as it is on shelves now, sprang fully formed into my brain and I was to put it into motion exactly as Orbit had done (which it wouldn't have, because Orbit employs amazing creative minds to help it become what it is). Here's our breakdown, all of which I've tried to be conservative on:

I spoke to a couple freelance copy-editors and looked at this handy guide here, and am guessing around $4000 for three rounds of editing: copy editing, substantive, and typesetting.

A source within the industry which would like to remain anonymous has guessed my cover, with photography, digital art, model, props, etc, would cost between $4000 and $6000.

The audiobook of Servant of the Crown (my self-published Powder Mage novella) cost me $145 per finished hour to do through ACX, and the excellent reader gently told me he was working cheap because I happened to catch him at a lull. So for 19 hours of Promise of Blood: $2800.

Printing costs is where it gets tricky. My book is a hardcover. Self-publishers will go for Print on Demand because it's free, with Amazon or whoever just taking their cut when the book is ordered. But POD books can be of dubious quality. Let's say I ordered a print run of 8500. At a professional printers, the estimate is about $2.50 a unit. That's $21,250 right there.

We're looking at somewhere around $32-34K to produce Promise of Blood, and we haven't even included marketing, ads, ARCs, ebook production, mailing to reviewers, placement in Barnes and Noble, nor even the cost of the UK printing or the paperback in either country. I'd be shocked if it was made for less than $60K.

You know how much money I made the year Orbit picked up Promise of Blood? About $13,000 with months unemployed and three different crappy jobs. Let's just say I didn't have $60,000 laying around to produce a novel that wasn't just a fun read but a tightly-finished experience. Hell, I didn't have $12,800 it would have cost just to do the ebook and audiobook right.

"Brian!" you protest. "You're a smart, thrifty guy. Surely you would have gotten it done for less than that!"

Probably. Servant of the Crown was my last self-published novella. It cost me $420 for art, $200 for copy-editing, $25 for the ebook layout, and $430 for the audiobook. And I got all of that dirt cheap. I got friends to do beta-reading and cover layout stuff. Let's say I do Promise of Blood to my standards rather than Orbit's. It'll still cost me $1000 for the art, $2800 for the audiobook, and $4000 for the copy-editing. That's $7800.

So, to recap, Orbit pays me the traditional industry standard on my novels because they invested between $34K and $60K into each of my novels. NOT INCLUDING MY ADVANCE.

Sure, my self-published short stories and novellas pay me between 35% and 70%. But do you know how much Amazon has invested in me? $0.

Would I love for the industry standard to be higher? Of course I would! But I understand why it's not, and I'm learning to diversify because this is what I do for a living.