It is therefore extremely refreshing to come across actual facts about the actual experience of an actual author....for free.
Arthur Slade is a successful Canadian YA author: he has won major awards (e.g., the prestigious TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and the Governor General's Award for Children's Literature) and sold a lot of books (i.e., makes a living at it). My oldest read a number of his books (e.g., The Hunchback Assignments series and ,Jolted) during the crucial period when she was deciding whether reading was really worth the effort and I credit Arthur for being one of several authors who pushed her over the edge to 'yes'. And I've used his novel about high school cliques ,Tribes, as an assigned reading in my course for student teachers.
Now Arthur is experimenting with self-publishing, and what's of potential interest to readers here, is that he is documenting what he has done, step by step, what it cost, and how the whole process has gone (so far):
- Why I am Self-Publishing in which Arthur talks about his reasons for self publishing his vampire novel(s); arranging for editing and book design and so on.
- Part 2 where Arthur discusses how it all went a month after the book's launch (complete with charts!)
It's all pretty useful information, and gives one a real feel for costs and income—though one month is still pretty early and we can assume the book will continue to earn for some time to come.
[Arthur has also previously talked about self-publishing his backlist as ebooks if that could apply to you.]
You will note that even though Arthur is a critically acclaimed writer (see awards above) such that we can assume the quality of the manuscript is high (reader reviews would seem to confirm this); and even though he has an established readership ready and willing to buy his books, and he is pretty savvey about social media and so on, he didn't exactly sell a billion-zillion copies. I'm guessing that he did about as well in terms of sales the first month as if he had gone to a small press (which would have covered the expenses, but then taken half the net income) so those figures look pretty reasonable to me.
The question then becomes, what are the implications for a new writer?
Well, the most obvious moral is: don't quit your day job. If someone tells you can write a book and make your fortune, and you buy their book or take their course or etc, expecting that to happen, then I'd like to introduce you to my cousin from Nigeria who has this really interesting proposition for you.
The second, perhaps less obvious moral, is that if you're going to do self-publishing right, then you have to be the publisher, and hire the editor, cover artist, and book designer etc for which the publisher normally pays.
I note that Arthur says he paid an absurdly small amount for editing, but that just means that Arthur's manuscript didn't require much actual editing. (I mentioned that he is an award-winning author, right?) New author's can expect to pay more for editing because their manuscripts are likely to require more work, and perhaps several iterations, to get to publishable standards, which therefore requires more hours of editing.
[Professional editors charge between $40- $60/hour, but one can often find colleagues with whom to swap edits, or qualified friends to do some of the initial editing for free, so that the professional editors are not starting from scratch, as it were. Going to a small press is another way to avoid paying out for expensive editing, since editing and cover art and book design and distribution are what the publisher brings to the table—and distribution of ebooks is probably about as easy for you as for them, so...it's just really about the editing/art/design. (Oh, and publishers may add a layer of branding, assuming they are a credible publisher (like, say, CZP).]
Realistically—which is to say—statistically, most self-published books only sell 5-200 copies, depending how big one's family and circle of friends is, and how aggressively one is prepared to push the book on neighbours and one's church congregation. I'm considering self-publishing my collected short stories, once I have enough published stories to fill a book. I have a bit of a reputation among fans, and people seem to like my stories, so I can allow my ego to daydream about such a collection eventually making sales into the 50 copy range, but I'm no Arthur Slade, so I do not expect to ever match his self-published sales figures. So...we're talking chapbook, we're talking souvenir, we're talking self-fulfillment, but we're not talking about making a living, let alone making one's fortune. You've seen Arthur's figures... feel free to extrapolate that experience to your own situation.