This article is the 7th in my publishing series for new authors. If you aren’t interested in publishing as a topic, check back in February when I get back to more general topics.


There are lots of topics to consider when publishing a book. We’ve already discussed Copyright, how to publish, contracts, editing, price, and distribution. This week we’re going to talk about another oft-ignored point: Cost and ROI (P&L in accounting terms). For those of you who have a background in business, accounting, or economics, this will be review. You can probably skip this article as it’s intended more for people who aren’t as familiar with these concepts.

Earlier we discussed cost as it relates to retail price. For example, the price of printing a single unit as compared to the retail cost of that unit and how to calculate net profits from that. That’s where most people stop, but there is a lot more to that conversation that you should be considering. In truth, those costs are only part of the equation – they are only the short terms. There are still long term costs that should be considered. And that’s where the other terms comes in: ROI – Return on Investment. The idea is analyzing how much you paying for something and comparing it to how much you are expecting to get back from that expenditure.

In terms of actual printing cost per physical book, most of the companies that are accessible to authors for printing are pretty competitive. Amazon, CreateSpace, Lightning Source, IngramSpark, they’re all pretty close in price. In my experience Lightning Source does tend to be slightly less expensive in printing, but not by huge amounts. But unless you already have an LSI account, you aren’t going to be able to get one until you grow your business as Ingram is kicking new people over to IngramSpark, which tends to be slightly higher per book than Amazon and CreateSpace. But, you aren’t going to notice an appreciable difference unless you are ordering more than 50 copies of your books at a time. But I digress. There are other costs and fees involved in these processes.

To illustrate my point, let’s start with some of the static fees. I’ll assume that you’ve taken my earlier advice and filed for a copyright on your book. That’s $35. Now, let’s also assume that you’ve spend $50 on a cover, and you’ve spent $150 on editing. (I know, I know, good covers and editors can cost a lot more than this. It’s just intended as an example because it’s semi-realistic easy math. Your mileage may vary.) So far we’ve spent $235 on our book and we haven’t even published yet.

Let’s say that we like the extended reach that Ingram Spark gives us. They also require that our book have it’s own ISBN number. For the sake of this example, I’ll assume that you bought the 10-code block of ISBNs and not a single ISBN, so that’s another $30 for that. That brings us to $265. When you submit that book to Ingram Spark they will also charge you a $49 set up fee for the title. I’m going to round that up to 50, and say that not puts us at $315. And whatever you do, make sure that you have everything fully finalized before you upload. Ingram Spark charges $25 to revise your files if you need to make changes. For now, let’s ignore that and say that everything is fine. Now, we’ll reference back to the lessons a few weeks ago on cost. We’ll assume that our book is 337 pages, 5×8 paperback and that we’ve priced it at $12.99. There’s a 40% wholesale discount and the printing fee is $5.27. This means the Net Profits are $2.52. My original investment in this book was $315 in order just to get it to print. At $2.52 income per book, it would take 125 copies sold just to break even. That’s a realistic and attainable sales figure, but if you are a new author just starting out it might take a while for you to reach that. It might take you all year to reach that. After the first year, maybe you have enough sales to recover your losses. You certainly aren’t going to be rich from this. Especially not in the beginning. And that hearkens back to my original question a few weeks ago about why you want to write.

Now, let’s go all the way to the other extreme. Let’s say that you filed a copyright claim ($35). And then let’s assume that you made your own cover (or maybe you got a friend to do it for free). Maybe you are an English major and you edited your own work (or you bribed a friend) but for whatever reason, you have no costs here. Certain printers (Amazon & CreateSpace among others) will provide you with an ISBN at no cost (although it will say “Independently Published” instead of your name). There’s no set up fee for Amazon or CreateSpace, and they don’t require you to buy a proof copy (although it is a good idea, especially if you’re new to this). We’re looking at a total overhead cost of $35. At $2.52 per book, it’s only going to take 14 copies to recover that money.

And that’s the point I’m getting at here. You need to choose marketing and distributing options that are right for you and will maximize your ability to turn a profit. Although I have a full account with LSI, I have recently stopped using them for the time being. There’s nothing wrong with their services. But they’ve upped the price of their setup fees to the point where it’s no longer economical for me at this current junction.

Here’s my advice to new authors who are self-publishing: Use the free IBSNs and distributions to start out. Use KDP. Use CreateSpace. Keep your initial startup costs as low as possible and focus on writing quality work, building your brand, and establishing a solid reader base. Then, as your sales figures increase over time, gradually adjust your printing and distribution plans to match. As you sell more books, hire better cover artists, which will help you sell more books, which will allow you to do more with your writing business.

LSI/Ingram Spark definitely have the most options for book formatting out of any of the major printers indie authors use. And they have a great distribution system that allows the books to go far and wide. But it’s not without it’s costs. If you have lots of disposable cash that you can throw at your writing and you don’t care if it takes a long time to come back, and if you have the marketing set up to support it, then sure, use Ingram. But if not, start with a printer that has fewer up-front costs and go from there.

I hope you found this helpful. Join me next week and I look at all three of these concepts together in A Tale of Three Books.

Cost and ROI