How Self Publishing Royalties Compare to Traditional

How Self-Publishling Royalties Compare to Traditional

self publishingIf you’re like many writers, one of the greatest allures of self-publishing—alongside the heightened level of control and more abbreviated time frame—is the royalty percentage you receive when the book sells. Not merely a perk, that increased dollar amount has become one of the primary driving forces behind the choice to self-publish—even authors who’ve previously gone the traditional route have left the venue for a more lucrative take on their labors of love.

Let’s examine why:

• Traditional House: typical 6% royalty on paperback

Self-Publishing: typical 15–40% royalty on paperback

Yes, the difference is that stark! But why, you may be asking, is there such a variance with self-pub books?

I know some of you would prefer to run and hide when dealing with numbers, so my goal here is to provide you with an easy-to-digest explanation of how the whole system works. So hang on with me, and let’s dive in to the fun stuff!

First of all, when you publish through a company such as CreateSpace or Lightning Source, the cost of your book is determined by the page count and your interior being either black and white or color. Obviously, color interiors are much more costly to produce, so that’s when your royalty will fall in the lower percentage. Very long books will fall into this category too.

Side note: For color books, the range of cost between companies is great: I recommend Lightning Source’s Ingram Color Program here for the most appropriate list price vs. royalty ratio.

But for traditional books with black and white interiors, it really boils down to how many pages the distributor has to print. Your royalty is then measured against your list price.

For example:

CreateSpace Model (taken from actual client):

• 207-page book
• b/w interior
• 6×9 trim size
• full color cover
• $17.95 list price

• set fee to produce: $0.85
• per-page printing cost: $0.012 (207 x .012 = $2.48)
• $0.85 + $2.49 = $3.34 total cost

Now, through the various distribution channels, a certain percentage is taken from the list price right off the top and given to these distributors:

• Amazon US: 40%
• CreateSpace e-store: 20%
• Expanded Distribution (other online retailers): 60%

So using our same book and selling it on Amazon US, we’d have:

• $17.95 list price x 40% = $7.18 to Amazon

• $17.95 – $7.18 = $10.77

Now subtract the above cost of producing your book:

• $10.77 – $3.34 = $7.43 for you!

You can use the same formula to calculate the other channels.

Now let’s compare that number (since, love the platform or not, Amazon will likely make up a large percentage of your online sales) with traditional publishing:

• $17.95 list price x 6% royalty = $1.08

Wow! When you see $7.43 vs. $1.08, it sure makes self-publishing seem like a shining option, doesn’t it?

But before you run and upload your book to CreateSpace, Lightning Source, or any other self-pub company, you absolutely must heed my consistent advice to ensure your manuscript has been given:

• Professional editing, both developmental and copyediting
• A professionally created cover
• A professionally designed interior
• Professional proofreading, multiple times for accuracy

Yes, I repeated the word professional for a reason: Writers rarely possess expertise in the areas of editing and book design, so the necessity for experts in these arenas is crucial. I don’t want you to be one of the many authors who has produced a substandard book and deemed it acceptable in the literary marketplace—I assure you, it’s not. You, your book, and your readers deserve better!

So what do the real numbers look like?

To produce an impeccable book cover to cover—be it a novel, memoir, or work of non-fiction—the “sweet spot” is typically $3,000–$5,000, sometimes more, depending on the level of editing it requires and the complexity of the design. If your eyes just became round as saucers, take a deep breath. :-)

I know it may sound like a lot, but trust me, not only do publishing houses spend at least this much to produce your book, but I myself have produced many beautiful books for authors—taking them by the hand all the way from raw manuscript to market—and the high end of that range is standard for all the dedicated work that’s involved.

And the best part of doing it the right way? When the book comes out, you can compare it with a bookstore buy from cover to cover and truly find yours to be equal, if not superior. Now what self-publishing author doesn’t want that?

So yes, when you self-publish, you definitely make a higher royalty on most any type of book you publish (some full-color books can be an exception), but you do also incur the expense of creating that book in the most professional way possible.

The good news?

You have to sell a lot fewer self-published books to make up your investment than you do to equal your advance from a publishing house.

And my last friendly piece of advice:

When examining self-publishing companies, make sure they offer a royalty calculator on their site, or at least a method of calculation for every fee they charge for your book’s cost. This way, you can make a sound comparison between companies on what your royalty will be. Even if you don’t have your book’s total page count yet, you can estimate and use it to compare.

Self-publishing is a fabulous option for many writers, and the increased royalties are a significant benefit. Once you’re clear on the percentages you’ll be receiving for the various channels of distribution, you’ll be able to make an educated choice for bringing your labor of love to beautiful fruition … and making worthwhile revenue every time your book sells to an eager reader!

If you found this post a helpful guide to self-publishing royalties and/or think other writers would be aided by it, please do leave me a comment and let me know! Also, I’d be most grateful if you’d share it on Facebook, Twitter, and/or LinkedIn!

Stay tuned for my next post, “The Gift of Deletions,” where I’ll share my personal story of how I learned to embrace deletions in my writing … and how you can do it too!

Sending love and best wishes as you produce a book that will Show You the $$$!


Write from the heart,


Stacey Aaronson is a professional Book Doctor who takes self-publishing authors by the hand and transforms their manuscript into the book they’ve dreamed of—from impeccable editing and proofreading to engaging, audience-targeted cover and interior design—rivaling or exceeding a traditional house publication.

Visit me at my new domain name:

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