Indie vs. Published Traditionally (the dollar show down)

Today is my husband’s birthday (Happy Birthday, Mark!) and so we were over at my parent’s house for dinner and we got to talking about the process of publishing.  My parents (God love em’) are totally behind this little project of mine–no one’s got it better than I do when it comes to unwavering support from all angles, and so for that, I’m blessed.


My parent’s are old school.  They are sweet, educated, good natured, well intended people…but somewhat “new” when it comes to realities of publishing and the track technology has put this long unchanged industry on.

I should probably throw out a backstory here to understand where they’re coming from before I get into what we discussed.

Many years ago, my parent’s close friend’s son was bent on being a rockstar.  He was good in all the ways that matter when that’s what you want to do–he was good looking, sounded good, good work ethic.  He wanted this dream and pursued it down every single avenue possible.  At some point in the process, he hooked up with an agent/manager who promised he’d be the next big thing…but first…he had to pay umpteen thousand dollars to get started.  And so he did, with joy.  When that didn’t work, he scrounged up another umpteen thousand.  And so the story goes…fail, money, fail, money…the merry-go-round of paying for fame.  He now works for a clothing store chain.  Success, as a rockstar, evaded him.  He couldn’t buy it, couldn’t find it, couldn’t make it his.  And it cost him dearly, both in time and money.  

My parents come from a place of “if it’s good, someone else will see that”…they honestly don’t believe that going it alone–force feeding your product–is a rational move.  Like their friend’s son…if he’d been a great rockstar, wouldn’t he be famous without having to pay for the pleasure of it?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, because, if you’re good you will gain a following and people will take notice…

No, because, there was no such thing as iTunes…

Like the music world before it, the publishing world, as I understand it, is changing.  Ten years ago, eBooks were stuff of science fiction.  Borders and Barnes and Nobel ruled the world, proficiently shutting down Ma & Pop bookstores across this great country with their bargains and book clubs and rewards.

Now, we’re seeing eBooks give the big chains a taste of their own medicine.  As I write this, Borders is being wiped off the face of this Earth.

Things.  Are.  Changing.  Ready or not, here is comes…

So…what is the ripple effect?  There must be one, right?  OF COURSE!  Just like when the housing market collapsed and everything else suffered because of it…one huge ass bookstore going under is going to change things for writers, publishers, readers, and so on in sequence .

How is the publishing world going to depend on the likes of Barnes and Nobel to float all of this when even they have an eReader on the market and selling well?

I think what we’re going to see, is this…

Publishing houses tightening their belts and eBooks opening the door for otherwise unpublished authors to make their literary mark.  And how freaking cool is that?

But…you say…big publishing houses can now save money on materials–they don’t need to physically make as much product, which means they can pay more/accept more!  Yes…but…all those indie authors, with their secret society of cool books you never got to read because they were hard to find….are now on a level playing field!  A reader will go to Amazon looking for the newest Jodi Picoult novel and right next to it is “Sarah Somebody” with an equally interesting, less expensive book…a reader might just snag them both up!

So, let the debate begin!

With all the changes…what’s the right move for a new author without any baggage?


First of all, I should credit the amazing folks over on the Kindle Boards for a lot of this knowledge.  And the many who hang in the Writer’s Cafe are giving of their knowledge, time and wisdom freely.


When you publish a book–in my genre–you can expect (or hope) for an advance of somewhere between $3,000 and $10,000.

Wow, you think, that’s a nice hunk of cash!

Here’s the truth.  If you have an agent, and probably would have to have one to net that sort of coin, they take 15%.  But, the advance is divided into three installments–so let’s do the math and shoot for the stars…

$10,000/3 = 3,333 (not bad, right?)

$3,333 x .15% = $500.00 (okay…)

$3,333-$500= $2,833 (that’s it?!)

$8,499 net advance

*Payment 1 comes when the author signs the contract.

*Payment 2 comes when the draft is accepted.

*Payment 3 when the book goes to publication.

Oh, and by the way, that agent charges you for postage, phone calls and printing…so, you’re going to have to come out of pocket to some extent, let’s call it another $500.00–could be more, could be less.

$8,499-$500= $7,999

Most books, from editor to press, take many, many months.  So–that first time author with her $10,000 cash advance either better have a full time job or she’s gonna be broke.

Then you start tiptoeing into royalties.  Royalties are usually given on a sliding scale of success, the more you sell, the more you get.  From my research, it seems like the number falls typically between 10%-15% averaging an author around $1.50 per book.

The thing is, royalties don’t kick in until you’ve outsold your advance.

Meaning, you’d have to sell, roughing, 5,666 books before you got another check.  ($8,499/$1.50=5,666)

Where as, with indie publishing…

You pay a freelance editor or beta reader.  Usually this charged per word…something like .0075 per word.  A 100,000 word book will run you $750.00.

You pay a cover artist, let’s say, $200.00

An ISBN number runs around $50.00


Okay, so you’re in hole $1,000…ouch, that hurts…especially when you remember you’re trying to make money doing this!

But, you go to put it Amazon, Barnes and Nobel, Smashwords, you put it anywhere and everywhere you as the author feel like.

Most indie books on Amazon sell for $2.99 Amazon takes a 30% slice of the pie, which is roughly $.90

So, let’s compare…


$1.50 (royalty) – 15% = $1.25 net


$2.99 (sale price) – 30% = $2.09 net

**But, remember…you’d have to sell 4,067 books on Amazon before you’d touch the territory of your traditional net advance of $8,499

You’d have to sell 1,599 books less using Amazon to make the same money going the traditional route.

You’d have to sell 478 books on Amazon to break even with the cost of self publishing.

Wow…let that marinade for a moment….those are big, scary, exciting numbers…

It’s true…publishing in the traditional sense will bring you a bigger presence on the market.  Publishers will work to get you press, book signings, write ups and highbrow press mentions.  You’re advance is a sure thing, the publisher cannot call “take backs”…but, you’re paying for it–and earning it!

However, there is no accounting for the emotional toll publishing takes on you.  There are millions of threads you have to unravel before you get there.  There is rejection, deals that fall through and hopes hung high on promises.  It often requires compromising one’s story to fall within the guidelines of a “good read” by their standards–less words, genre specific.

Self publishing, or being Indie, means that you can cut the corners.  You get the luxury of staying true to your work, put out the product you want–it doesn’t have to be this or that or the other, it can be what you intended it to be when you started on the journey.  You may get a bad review, or several, but you don’t have to listen to someone you don’t know, who doesn’t know you, say “I don’t believe in this” before they’ve even read it.

The downfall is, obviously, there is no guarantee, no promise, no fat check to motivate you.  You may never, ever, never sell anywhere near 4,097 books, maybe not even 478 books–you might even lose money.  It’s an adventure, that’s for sure.

In the end, I think both are really good options.  Something to explore and be excited about.  I like to tell myself, there is NO way to fail, be it either picked up as a fresh meat author or a lone wolf on the Indie road.  I’ve done something I love, and I have options–two big, big, wins.


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