You Make Lots of Money From Selling Your Books, Right?

By: Ebonye Gussine Wilkins

As an author, I hate how mis-informed readers are about authors making money from their books. The reality is, most authors don’t make a lot of money from their books. There is always room for learning and improvement, but there is no guarantee that any author will make a ton of money from their books.

Here are some real conversations and comments that I’ve had with/from people:

Person A: Why are you looking for work? I thought you were a big-selling author now.
Me (to myself): If that were the case, how come you didn’t buy my book?

Person B: If you want to make money, then go out there and sell the book you already have!
Me: You think it’s that easy huh?
Person B: Yes! Just go sell your book.
Me: Have you bought my book yet?
Person B: No.
Me: Okay then….

Person C: So how many books have you sold yet?
Me: Less than [insert downright embarrassing number here]
Person C: Oh, well, I hope it will pick up time soon! Just you wait…

Person D: So how are book sales going?
Me: *pulls out hair and deletes Facebook*

Person E: Can I go buy your book in [insert name of bookstore]?
Me: Yes, if it’s not on the shelf, just ask the cashier and they can order it for you.
Person E: Oh, well it’s cheaper on Amazon anyway….

So, for those of you who don’t know, I will break it down for you. Yes, my book is available on Amazon (both in print and Kindle formats). My book is also available on Nook. My book is available from just about any bookstore you can think of, though you usually have to ask for it, since it won’t be on the bookshelf (explaining why requires another post).

In order to get my book into a bookstore, my book has to be available through a major distributor, such as Ingram. I’ve take the steps to do this, so when I talk to someone who works in a bookstore about carrying my book, it is my secret weapon. Almost instantly, I’m offered consignment terms for carrying my book. I gently let them know that my book is available on Ingram. They proceed to look surprised, and then look it up. The next thing they check for is the terms. What they are looking for is the discount and the return status.

The industry standard for discounts for bookstores is about 55%. Sometimes you can get away with 40% but 55% is usually what they look for. This means that the bookstore is able to buy your book from the distributor (such as Ingram) for 55% of the cover price. The return status is critical here, because a bookseller does not want to get stuck with inventory they cannot sell. Let’s do the math here: If my book retails for $15.95. then the bookstore can purchase it from Ingram for about $7.18. When they get the book, then they can turn around and sell it for $15.95, so they make $8.77 for every one of my books that they sell. If they find that they cannot sell it, if the book is returnable, then they send it back saying that they cannot sell the book and they want their money back. When the book gets sent back, then they can either send it to me (for an additional fee) or they can destroy it. It is actually cheaper for them to destroy it, believe it or not. Whether or not the book gets sold, I still have to pay the fee for it to get printed. For my current book, that fee is roughly $4.25 per book.

So, my book gets sold to a bookstore for $7.18, and then the printing cost is $4.25. This leaves me with only $2.93 per book that gets sold. So for a book that retails at $15.95, I get $2.93 per book. Let that sink in for a minute. If I sold over 100,000 books, then my profit would be $293,000 for a single book. However, the average indie author sells a measly 100 copies of a book which leaves them with about $293.00. Not 100 copies a month, about 100 copies total.

Does any of this surprise you? What were your thoughts on how much authors make before reading this article? Let us know about them in the comments.

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