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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Above Average: Straight Talk about POD Sales

After nearly a decade of working with traditional publishers, last year I opted for a POD publisher for Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: The Writer's Guide to Making Money Ghostwriting and Coauthoring Books. At the time, I didn't know that the average POD author sells about 150 copies of his/her book. (Considering the relative success of a small number of POD authors, the median number of sales is probably significantly lower. That's sobering news for would-be POD authors.)

Because I believe in talking about money, I've shared my actual sales figures for the first six months before. Now let's look at the entire year's worth of sales. Since October, 2010, I've sold:
  • 159 print copies through CreateSpace (including expanded distribution);
  • 50 e-books;
  • 50 copies through a special sale; and
  • 36 copies as "hand-sales," or copies I sell at speaking gigs, writers' conferences, or directly to readers who want a signed copy, etc. (If you do--or want to buy a copy as a gift for a writer, shoot me an email at kelly at becomebodywise dot com.)
That's a total of 295 copies, which means I've already doubled the "average" number of POD sales. But what does this figure mean in real dollars? To determine that, I have to know what I make per-book on each type of sale:

For each print copy sold through or, I make a "royalty" (though it's not a true royalty) of $5.32.

For each print copy sold through what CreateSpace calls "expanded distribution" (e.g., your local brick-and-mortar bookstore), I make a royalty of $2.33.

For each Kindle edition sold in the US, UK, or Canada, I make 70% of the cover price, which is $9.99--that's a royalty of $6.95.

For a Kindle edition sold outside of those three countries, I made 35% of the Kindle price of $9.99, or $3.49.

For hand-sales, I purchase copies of the book directly from CreateSpace for $3.65 each, plus shipping. At a cover price of $14.95, I net about $11.30/book, less if I mail copies to purchasers myself.

For special sales, I can set my own price (and do give discounts on bulk purchases. That's a good deal for me and for buyers. For special sales, I average a profit of $4-5/book.

Bottom line? The first six months, I made $587 in book sales. After 12 months, I've made (drumroll, please): $1703.

This number isn't nearly as high as I'd like. However, Goodbye Byline continues to sell steadily, has gotten good reviews, and has little competition. That means that I should continue to see steady (if not stellar) book sales and encourages me to continue to promote and market the book.

And there have been other benefits as well. The book has led to other work, including a feature in Writer's Digest on ghostwriting, and speaking gigs at writers' conferences on (surprise, surprise) ghostwriting. I'll be teaching a class through Writer's Digest University on ghostwriting, and my book is a useful calling card for potential ghostwriting clients and helps build my platform as a ghostwriter/collaborator.

The bottom line? If you're going POD to make money, be realistic about what you may make--and make sure you read your contracts carefully so you'll know exactly what you make on every version of your book.

Readers, what do you think? Are you surprised by the different amounts you make on POD books versus ebooks, and how "expanded distribution" royalties are so much lower? Have you learned something from this post? Please let me know. :)


  1. Hmmm. It ate my previous comment. I've done a little bit of everything - traditional, POD, e-book self-publishing - and my sales for POD and e-books haven't exactly blown me away. Well, for that matter, most of my traditional book publishing experiences haven't blown me away either. Every writer's experiences are different in that respect. I'd say I like the freedom of the self-publishing, think e-books do better than POD, and much of it still comes down to marketing muscle and luck. These days I seem happier just doing my brand of medical and business writing and doing the book stuff for fun when I have time (?) rather than treating it as a legitimate part of my business plan. But, as I said, each writer's career is unique.

  2. This is really helpful. I have looked at some POD publishers for a cookbook but am running into trouble when it comes to paper quality. Thanks for sharing your data. I think it's important to remember the added benefits--speaking gigs, classes--that come along with the book.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Mark. I think you make a good point re: writing books. One of the reasons I started focusing more on ghosting/coauthoring is because I can make better money (both per-hour and overall) writing with or for a client as opposed to focusing on my "own" books. I agree that marketing plays a huge role in book sales, and that's another challenge-finding the time to market a book that may or may not sell.

    Kimberly, thanks for your comment, too. I'd ask POD publishers to send actual samples of the paper they'll be using for your cookbook, and then make sure that it's in your contract that that particular paper will be the one it's printed on. :)

  4. I know you're fully aware of this, but I didn't mention it in my comment along with marketing and luck. That is: platform. Nonfiction books are all about platform these days, and I suppose you can fold the whole concept into marketing, but a good example is a nonfiction book proposal my agent is marketing about medical advances during World War II. As my agent said after initial lack of interest on the part of publishers, "Why you?" In other words, I'm not a doctor. I'm not a medical historian. I'm not a military physician. Why should I be the one to write it? It's a hard sell in that respect. I'm a medical writer and I'm interested in history and I'm interested in how great advances in many things seem to come about because of a perfect storm of challenges.

    That's also one reason I've done some ghostwriting as well. The authors have the platform. I'm just the scribbler.

  5. Lots of options, that's good to know. Thanks for this post.