Self-Publishers Break Even

Unless you are giving away all your books, as a self-publisher, you want at least to break even, to recoup your costs. 

break even in book sales

At the Sunshine Coast Writers' Festival, I asked my fellow self-publishing booksellers how many books they needed to sell to break even. The results are in the table at the right.

My own experience is hidden in the numbers at the 50% level.

Understanding Breaking Even Beyond The Graph

The graph shows what one group of writers believed to be their break-even points. At least four pieces of information are missing. If you want to know how many books you'll have to sell to break even, you'll want to consider each of the four items below.

Size Of Print Run
There is a huge difference in the price per copy depending on the size of the print run when you use anything other than a print on demand company. So how many books you print will have a direct impact on how many books you have to sell to make back your costs.

Everyone represented in the graph on this page who needed to sell 100% of their books to break even had very small print runs.

The Retail Price Of The Book
Deciding on the price you will charge for your book is one of the most important decisions you will make. In general, when someone produces something for sale, the retail cost is about eight times the production cost. More about why in the next point below.

For now, understand that this is only a rule of thumb. In my own case, I was firm on the need to have a hard cover book with full colour on all pages. Those things really up the costs of a book. If I had priced my book using the eight times rule, no one would have bought the book. Even I wouldn't have bought it at that price! So I needed to plan very carefully because my retail price, which is the basis for all prices, had to be lower than I would otherwise have wanted. But I needed to price low to guarantee sales. 

As an aside, I've received countless compliments on pricing my book perfectly for retailers to sell for me.

Many self-publishing writers have major sticker shock when faced with those who will sell their books for them. Unless you want to sell every book you print at its retail price by yourself, you will need to offer significant discounts. Here are the current going rates.

  • Bulk orders for friends, family, and others. I save a lot of money when I sell books in bulk. I invoice only once. If I have to mail anything, the cost per book goes down as the number of books goes up. I don't have marketing costs for each of the books. For these reasons as well as for simple good will, I and many other writers are happy to offer a discount to anyone who orders at least ten books. For these buyers, I offer 20%. Some others offer 10%. There is no rule in this case, but it is reasonable to offer something.

  • The writers I interviewed who said they would break even when they sold 100% of their books were considering only their printing costs, so in reality, they would have to sell more than 100% of their books to beak even. This is a legitimate choice in many cases. Just be sure you that if you choose this, you understand why.

    ©Audrey Owen 2011

    Return to Self-Publishers' Survey

  • Retailers. A book store, a gift store, or any other retailer has costs. Staff, utilities, rent, etc., all have to come from somewhere. It is typical for a bookstore to pay 60% to you, keeping 40% for themselves. Invoices are usually written as the retail price less the discount. In this case, the discount is 40%.
  • Distributors. First of all, if you can find a distributor willing to handle your book, thank your lucky stars. The distributor will reach markets you can't reach. Large chains often will not sell to someone with a single product. It's just too expensive to carry an account for such a small fish.

    The distributor has costs, similar to the retail outlets including the 40% of retail discount for the retailers. So, a distributor will want a discount of 60-65% of your retail price.
  • Other costs. Printing is not the only cost you incur when you sell books. You store your books. You send them out. You drive around to find markets. You make phone calls. If you are serious about your book as a product sold as part of your business, you will want to be sure that you count all your costs when you figure out how many books you have to sell to break even.
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This is Jack Popjes and one of his published books. He and I worked on multiple projects. He's  met many goals.

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