The Struggle of the Self-Published Author

I’m not a self-published author, but I do have a few books out with a small, digital only press. I have been researching the self-publishing process, and I have been listening to concerns and complaints from the self-published author’s I know. The short version: self-publishing is hard work with little reward.

I discussed a little of what goes into the act of writing in my previous post: A Picture’s Worth 1000 Words – but I’ll discuss it in depth here.

First of all, a novel length project, depending on genre and the preferences of the author, requires at least minimal brainstorming, outline, and character/world development. If this is the only thing the author works on for the 2-4 hours they have each day to dedicate to their craft (between family and work commitments) it can take anywhere from one-to-a hell of a lot of days. Still, let’s say on average about two weeks of consistent time spent to make a cohesive outline, four tops if it requires a full world build. That’s 196-784 HOURS just of writing prep. Some of this will take place before the writing starts, some will take place during the writing process, but it will happen.

Second, the novel needs to be written. If we omit the days when the writer works on other projects, sits in front of the screen suffering from writer’s block, and browses Facebook, it will still take anywhere from 30-365 days, or more, for the piece to be written. And those are just the days when writing occurs. Keeping in mind our 2-4 hour per day schedule that’s 60-1460 HOURS of raw writing time. MINIMUM. And that’s for 30-50k. You want something 80k? Try 2920 HOURS of raw writing time.

Third, there’s the editing that the writer does for themselves. No out of pocket costs, just more time. Say one week total for all the various read-throughs and rewrites. That’s 14-28 hours. Now, add to that the option of buying the services of an editor, at least $50, probably closer to $250.

Fourth, there is the final draft and formatting. This is probably 4-8 hours of setting margins, checking for typos, correcting the header/footer, setting font style and size to industry standards, formatting page size to the self-publish website requirements, etc.

Fifth is the cover. $50-$300 for a semi-professional or professional book cover by an artist. Or 2-20 hours of tinkering with it on your own.

Six is the book blurbs and the promotional blurbs and the summary for your blog and the about the author info. This probably takes another 8-12 hours of fussing and asking for opinions and more fussing.

Seven is sitting for 2 hours and fighting with the various upload systems.

And there you have it, it’s done and online. So what did that cost the writer?

Minimum Time Commitment: 2226 HOURS
Higher Time Commitment: 3354 HOURS
Minimum Cost out of Pocket: 0$
Maximum Cost out of Pocket: $550
Average Cost out of pocket: $100
Minimum Wage (Approximation): $11/hour
Time Costs: $24486-$36894

Cost of the book on Amazon? $1.99
Author Royalties? $0.34
Number of book sales required to break even? 72-110 THOUSAND books sold.

Number of Facebook friends, blog followers, Twitter followers, and offline friends who will find out about the book release (overlap has been taken into account) 100-500 people.
Percentage that will buy books: 50%
Guaranteed sales (sales you can count on before you even finish the book): 50-250 sales.

Yeah, 250 is a lot smaller than 72,000. If every person who bought the book convinced one more person to buy the book it would take 288 successful steps in that chain to reach the 72,000 mark.

It’s possible. The BIG books out there are selling millions of copies. What’s 72k compared to that? But it’s a big step above 250, which is the most sales most of us will ever see. Sad but true.

The one thing we didn’t discuss yet was marketing. All the time and costs that go into blogging, tweeting, Facebook page updates, ad design, paying for ad space, book mark design, time to distribute book marks, etc. This can take as little as one hour per week, and as much as a person is willing to give.

In my next post I’ll be looking at a free marketing platform that may interest self-published writers.


2 thoughts on “The Struggle of the Self-Published Author

  1. I just stumbled upon your excellent article. I’m traditionally published, but I would say this information is true of us, too. Publishing houses have tipped the responsibility of marketing, first edits, etc. onto us. More is expected from them, less is provided by them. Don’t write a book if you expect monetary compensation. That is so rare.


    • That is one of the reasons I self-published. If I had to do so much work alone, why not just go it alone?
      I think aspiring authors need to know what the big publishers will expect of them before querying.


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