To publish or to self-publish… There is the question…

Now at this point in time i am between the release of my first book “Shaders for Game Programmers and Artists” and starting to ponder on the topic of my next book. Although i had a great experience with my publisher there are a few points which bug me when dealing with a big publishing company.

  • Low royalties. Well i get 10% of wholesale, which seems like the “norm” in the industry. However, when you think about it, for a book that sells at 40$, this means less than 2$ in my pockets after reserves being held and such. Although i understand that there are lots of costs involved in publishing but there is a certain number of copies sold at which the publisher will reach the break-even point. Meaning that all following income is pure profit. Why can’t authors also benefit from this by having a sliding royalty scale?
  • Little information of what is going on… Besides a quarterly report on sales, i get no information on how my book is doing and how well marketing efforts are going. Being proactive, i try to do my own promotional efforts. But beyond Amazon and B&N sales ranks i have no feedback on what is happening.

Since I’ve been pondering on the subject of my next book. I’ve stumbled across another blog entry which discusses the possibility of self-publishing a technical book. This has made me wonder about the pros and cons of self-publishing. This leaves the author with a few possible options…

Traditional Publishing

With traditional publishing, the toughest part is finding a publisher willing to publish your work. But once you have a deal signed you start getting advances and then royalties once your book is published and sells enough to recoup the advances. The big advantage of this approach is the low-to-none upfront costs to the author. Well you’ll have to spend the time to write the book but if the publisher picks it up, it means they’ll take care of the rest. But on the flip side you will have limited control over its distribution, limited information on how sales are going and marginal per-book profits.

Lets assume you have a 400 page book with a retail price of 30$ and lets assume that the book sells 10,000 copies. With a traditional publisher, if we assume an advance of 6000$, a royalty rate of 10% and a wholesale price of 50% off the cover price. This means you’ll be getting 6000$ spread out while you are writing the book followed by (10,000 * 15$ * 0.1) – 6000$ = 9000$ for a total profit of 15,000$.


With self-publishing, you have full control over what happens to your book plus know exactly what is happening. But this also means you have to do everything. This also means you need to cover all the costs. Here is what i came up with (those are mostly the upfront costs)…

  • ISBN Numbers (250$/10 ISBN’s)
  • Bar Code + Copyright (rough estimate 100$)
  • Tech Editing ( 2$/page )
  • Copy Editing ( don’t know the exact rate but I’ll assume 4$/page )

In this i don’t factor a few things like cover design and layout. I assume that someone who is motivated enough into self-publishing can do those himself. I also don’t factor in marketing costs as they will likely depend on the book, methods taken, …

Now this bring up two categories of self-publishing. The first one is Print-On-Demand (POD) and the other one is to use a printer to print a set amount of copies and then have them distributed.


These services essentially print books as they are ordered and do not pre-print lots and stock them. Depending on the printer the quality will vary since they use differing printing processes. The ideal situation for POD is low print books or to be used as a way of keeping out of print books in circulation. Using JustBookz Thor POD distribution with our previous book example, we would get the following.

  • Setup Costs 50$ (they take care of the ISBN and such).
  • Profits = 50% of retail – production costs.
  • POD cost for a 6×9 paper back  = 0.9$ + 0.013$/page

With this in mind the bottom line is as follows (per book) : (30 * 0.5 ) – (0.9+0.013*400) = 8.90$

Taking in account the fixed overhead with 10,000 copies sold: (8.90*10,000) – 50$ – (2*400) – (4*400) = 86,550$

This is way more than traditional publishing. Of course this doesn’t count in marketting costs and time but seems that you get more out of you effort this way.

Lot Printing

The other approach is to print lots of your books and use a distributor to supply stores and online retailers. An example of distributor would be Biblio and an example of printer would be Morris Publishing.

Biblio generally gives you back 40% of retail. So in other words, eats up about 10% for their distribution efforts. Which is not bad considering they an get your book to brick and mortar stores in addition to online venues. Where as for the printing, the costs varies on the size on the run. For a 400 page book, can vary from 7.25$/book for a 200 book run to 2.75$/book for a 5000 book run. For our example, we’ll assume you print in runs of 2500 books.

So the profit per book is as follows: (30 * 0.4) – 3.04 = 8.96

Bottom Line: (8.96 * 10,000) – (300) – (4*400) – (2*400) = 86,900

The return for this situation is about the same. One advantage of this method is that your book can be available in retail stores were are POD books will generally not be picked up by retail outlets. The drawback if that you have to get a bunch of books printed ahead of time. For 2500 books, we are talking an investment of 7600$. Pretty big lump!! But then again if you are confident in your book and are willing to go for bigger runs… You could get 5000 books printed at a time, changing your bottom line from 86,900$ to 89,800$…


Do i have a conclusion? Well not necessarily. I am pondering both ideas and i can definitely see a big financial advantage to self publishing. But on the other hand you loose the marketing power and workforce that a regular publisher has to offer. Anybody has anything to offer on this?

Comments (9)

  1. I hope that you forgive the comment spam. I came across your site on

    I part own a self publishing company in the UK, called ‘Publish and be damned’. We live over at We are a true self publishing company, as in that we don’t actually publish books. We even register our ISBN numbers in the name of the author/publisher.

    About 50% of our authors are previously published by ‘traditional’ publishers. The general opinion seems to be that especially mid range authors have to do so much of their own publicity that they might as well self publish.

    With PABD authors set their own selling price, so what the author owns depends on what the author thinks he/she can sell the book for. Especially books sharing niche knowledge tend to sell for high profit margins, up to $15 per copy, whereas novels need to compete with the traditional market.

    My email is if you’d like to have a chat about what we offer.

  2. Logical conclusion from your analysis would be to publish your first few books via traditionnal ways to make the publisher endorse the risks and see how you fare (are you able to write something the market will want to buy ?) – then if you see that your work is adequate you can self publish, knowing from experience how many sales you can expect.

    Plus all the marketing the publisher will pay for will be linked to your name and benefit your future works even if you self publish them.

    Am I missing something here ?

  3. In response to Renaud’s comment…

    I agree that its probably best to build a reputation and following with a traditional publisher first before attemprint to self-publish.

    But in another way, if you have a book you think has tremendous potential but no publisher is seeing this potential, sometimes it may seem like the best alternative.

    The intent of my post was also to see of other authors went through the same dilema and wanted to see if they wanted to share their conclusion on the topic. But of course, limited responses to this yet 😉

  4. Or, instead of using a publisher to build a reputation, use your blog. At least that is one of the theories I’m working on. I’ll let everyone know (via my blog of course) how it turns out. I just need to make time to write the book.

  5. Interesting idea DonXML.

    Just out of curiosity, do you plan on getting the "book" printed or are you trying something along the path of an e-book?