Breakeven Analysis for Self vs. Traditional Publishing

I thought it might be helpful to go through a little math, in order to compare the revenue coming to an author through self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. (Note: these examples are fictitious and not based on any real author situation.)

Let’s say that you have a 250 page trade paperback book, with a list price of $15.99. It will be 5.5″ by 8.5″ with no illustrations; just text.

Traditional publisher contracts will often times give an author royalties of either 7.5% of a book’s retail price, or 22% of the book’s net revenue to the publisher (this allows discounts to better be taken into account). In either case, this results in roughly $1.20 per book sold that goes to the author.

In a self publishing scenario, looking only at paperbacks sold in the US, using Amazon Createspace, the amount coming to the author would be $5.74 per book for books sold through (You can go to and without even logging in, experiment with different book sizes and retail prices, and see what your royalties would be through a variety of distribution channels.)

The result is that you need to sell about 4.8 times as many books through traditional publishing as through self-publishing in order to make the same amount of money.

Now there are many caveats to mention here; it is not at all an apples-to-apples comparison:

  • With traditional publishing you are likely to receive an up-front advance on royalties when you sign the contract. You could think of this as getting paid to write the book. Your book sales may or may not end up justifying the amount of the advance, but that financial risk is with the publisher.
  • With self-publishing you will probably need to spend some money up-front on editing and book design assistance. (here are some examples of such services our partners offer)
  • If your book is self-published, it is far less likely to be available in brick-and-mortar bookstores. But they will probably be able to order it if a customer asks.
  • If your book goes through a publisher, they have a sales team that pushes your book to traditional bookstores, thus increasing its awareness and sales.

In today’s world, most of the marketing effort required to sell books is the responsibility of the author. That is true whether the book is self or traditionally published.

As I have often said, self-publishing is not for everyone.  However if you are not able to line up a traditional publisher, it is not a bad option!

Novelist at Work

by Frederick Buechner

On Michelangelo’s ceiling, the old man reaches down out of the cloud to touch Adam’s finger and give him life. Here the situation is reversed. I am Adam reaching up to touch an old man’s finger and give life to a cloud. I am writing about an old man who exists only in my mind. I have put him together out of scraps and pieces, most of them forgotten. There’s some of Mark Twain in him, the old Mark they brought back in a wheel chair from Bermuda to die at Stormfield. There’s some of the old man Isak from Bergman’s Wild Strawberries in him who at the end of the film looks across a little inlet and sees a young man and a young woman in Victorian dress—the man in a straw hat fishing, the woman sitting on the grass beside him with a white parasol—and recognizing them as his parents, raises one hand in greeting as across the water one of them raises a hand to him. There’s some of an old German cousin in him who looked like the Kaiser and walked through forests with his cane in the air naming trees. No need to list more of what went into my old man’s making. It is enough to say that it is I who made him and not he himself. I speak not of Michelangelo’s old man in the cloud but of the old man in the novel I am here to try to write. He is my old man, and it is in me that he lives and moves and has such being as he may be said to have.

It is true that he has never run away with the book as novelists are fond of saying their characters do, but he has on occasion lived and moved in ways other than those I had in mind for him. For instance, he weeps from time to time. I had imagined him as crustier and more remote than that. Also, although I intended him to see ghosts, I did not intend the particular ghosts that he saw—Elizabethan ghosts mainly. He saw Shakespeare’s ghost whispering on and on with a faint lisp about forgotten rooms and forgotten faces, and he saw the ghost of Elizabeth herself. “She had the worst set of teeth I ever saw,” my old man said, “as if she’d been eating blueberry pie. Now, the dress and all could have been a figment of my imagination,” he went on. “The dress I could have dreamed, but not the teeth. It would have taken a dentist to dream a set of teeth like that.” It was I obviously who put those words into the old man’s mouth, but I had not planned on his saying them any more than the old man planned on the Queen’s bad teeth. It is the same way, I suppose, as with people you dream about. They have only your dream to move around in and they are your creatures, but they move with a curious freedom. It is my godlike task this morning to start the old man moving again.

With the rain beginning to let up a little, I read back over the work of the last few days, an absurdly small amount for all the hours of my life I spent on it, only three or four pages in a script so nearly unreadable even to myself that I assume that at some level of my being I do not want it read, sentences written and rewritten and then so befuddled with interlineations that I have to copy them out all over again in order to read them and then in the process of copying rewrite them into illegibility again. I read it all over only to discover when I am finished that it is apparently not the words that I have been listening to but the silence in between the words maybe or the silence in this familiar room where I have spoken the name of Christ and signed myself with his cross. I have understood nothing of what I have read so I have to go back and read it all over again.

The Importance of Creativity Playdates

– by Sophfronia Scott


If you’re a writer and a parent (I am) you probably schedule or once scheduled many playdates for your children. When was the last time you booked one for yourself? I’m not talking about hanging out with your friends, (although you could include them in this adventure) I’m talking about a creativity playdate. This is time you set aside for yourself to do something that fills your well of inspiration. A creativity playdate can be simple and close to home—sitting in your favorite chair perusing gorgeous coffee table books. Or it could be a mini field trip that gets you out of the office and into a new environment: a trip to a museum or a public garden which would be ideal now because spring bulbs will soon bloom. It could even be a big trip: In 2014 my Vermont College of Fine Arts study abroad residency in Puerto Rico was basically a huge creativity playdate with my fellow writing students.


Creativity playdates are just as important as the time you schedule for writing. In fact, your writing time can be difficult and fruitless without them. If you find you spend much of your writing time staring wordless at the screen or blank page, you’re in need of a creativity playdate. Looking for a story idea? Ride the subway a few stops or go sit in a park and pay attention. Your next character might step on at West 66th Street, or stroll past you wearing a top hat and walking a fluffy Scottish terrier sporting blue booties on its paws. I know my writing eye is awakened every time I travel the 65 miles south to New York City and take in the energy and movement of a different environment. Suddenly my senses have new sights, sounds, and smells to process. It’s exciting.


My other creative activities include watching the television show “Project Runway” because I like seeing a different kind of artist, in this case fashion designers, exercising his or her own brand of creativity. I also color in coloring books (my Harry Potter one is my favorite), visit museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City or the Bruce Museum  in Greenwich, Connecticut, and tour the homes of famous artists/designers/writers. I love Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, but I recently learned part of the chateau home of the essayist Montaigne is open to the public in Dordogne Village in France. I would love to see his office/library and view the exposed beams in the tower where Montaigne engraved some of his thoughts, including his famous question “’Que sais-je?” or “What do I know?”


One year I explored the Architectural Digest Home Design Show in New York City. It included art installations as well as design ideas and new home appliances and products. A bed of green apples caught my eye and sparked my imagination, as did a bizarre seating bench covered in tube-like purple velvet cushions entwined again and again. Mysterious and erotic!


I encourage you to schedule a creativity playdate at least once a month. If you can’t think of something to do, consider this—you want to excite your five senses. Try to come up with ideas addressing each one. For example:


  • Smell: Explore perfume or incense shops; check out a store where you can sniff barrels of coffee beans, visit a florist.
  • Touch: Go to high-end stores or fabric shops where you can run your hands over rich materials or beautiful furniture. Take a cue from your childhood and visit a petting zoo or an aquarium that features touch tanks of specimens to hold.
  • Sight: Feast your eyes on works of art, or go on hikes to see spectacular views.
  • Sound: Attend concerts, plays, musicals, or sit in a place with lots of people where you can pick up pieces of overheard conversation.
  • Taste: Try a new cuisine by cooking a recipe you’ve never tried before or going to a different restaurant.


Really, you could do anything you want for your creativity playdate as long as you don’t forget to have fun! Let me know what you do or would like to do for your creative adventures. I might be in the market for a new idea this month. Thanks in advance!

Write, Publish, Market: Where Are You Along the Journey?

Regardless of where you’re at along the path of writing, getting published, or marketing your work, we have resources to support you.

Our best-in-class authors and industry experts have given you their best – their best presentations in their specific areas of expertise. Each of the following video presentations is available for individual purchase. They are all approximately one hour in length, including Q&A. Watch them on your schedule, from your home or office. Click on the title to learn more about the video and purchase it.


Presentations on How to Write:


Presentations on How to Get Published:


Presentations on How to Market:

9 Reasons to Consider Self-Publishing

The more time I spend learning about the spiritual publishing industry, the more I am convinced that self-publishing is the best route for many aspiring writers. Not because I dislike the publishers! On the contrary, I have found most of them to be great people doing great things. It is just that there are only so many books that they are able to publish each year. And the tradeoffs between traditional and self publishing have changed dramatically over the past few years.  So here are 9 reasons why I think most early-stage writers should consider self-publishing:

  1. You need to have already built a platform in order to get a book deal. Now I realize that this statement is not universally true; I admit it is an overstatement – but barely. The larger the publisher, the more it is the case. There is no question that having (or more importantly, not having) a platform is a very important factor in a publisher’s decision whether or not they will publish your book.  And I can’t blame them – having a platform (an engaged group of people following you) is a sign of credibility; a sign that a critical mass of people are likely to buy your book.  At a recent conference I heard a publishing CEO say “it used be all about the writing; now if they don’t have a platform, we don’t even look at their writing.” But all of this begs the question “if I already have a following, why do I need a publisher?”
  2. Approximately 1% of book proposals sent to a publisher turn into a book. I have heard this now from 2 different publishers – and not just the Big Five.  And I have heard 1-5% of book proposals sent to a leading agency get represented. What other things have you ever tried to do where the odds were 99% against you?
  3. It is up to the author to do most of the marketing of their book. Again, the “good old days” are gone, where you just wrote a book and the publisher took care of the rest. Now even with traditional publishing, the author must not only have created their platform, but it is largely up to them to leverage it into book sales before and after the book is released.
  4. Self-publishing no longer has a vanity stigma. In the past, the predominant form of self-publishing was when someone was just bound and determined to have their own book.  So even if publishers didn’t think their book was worth it, the person would just go ahead and spend the money to do it themselves. This is no longer the case; self-publishing is done by a wide range of authors, including well-established, big-name authors.
  5. There are many top-notch freelancers available to help you self-publish. The age of full-time employment being the norm for every job are long gone.  Freelancers are available for hire for almost anything.  And there are plenty of former publishing people and talented writers who can assist someone with their writing, marketing, and book design.  Writing for Your Life offers many such services.
  6. Traditional distribution is less powerful. When all books were sold through brick-and-mortar bookstores, and the only way to get into the bookstore was through a publisher, then authors had no choice.  Traditional publishers were the gatekeepers, and that was that. But now, for instance, Amazon has a 41% market share in the sale of paperback books, and eBooks overall represent 20% of all books sold. And of course, we’ve all unfortunately seen so many bookstores go out of business. (Confession: my wife works at a brick-and-mortar bookstore!) While there is no question that traditional bookstores are still important and still sell a great many books, they are no longer the only choice, and their share has been shrinking.
  7. Self-publishing platforms have become more capable. As with any new technology, self-publishing platforms have matured over time, becoming easier to use, less expensive, and with more powerful features. Included are the now high-quality, inexpensive printing technologies being used.
  8. Online advertising services. While I won’t go into the details here, both Facebook and Amazon advertising have been shown to be effective for promoting books.
  9. More money per book. When you self-publish, a greater percentage of the sale of each book goes to the author. I have seen examples of where an author would need to sell 5 times as many books through a traditional publisher, compared to self-publishing, in order to make the same amount of money.

But let me be clear – I am not saying that self-publishing is for everyone! If you are able to get a good book deal with a traditional publisher with a great reputation, then congratulations! Go for it! But for the many people who are not able to do that, you really should consider self-publishing.

“A Discussion on Spiritual Writing” with Father James Martin

This extended interview with Father James Martin includes topics such as:

  • How he approaches writing
  • How he selects book themes
  • How to think of your audience
  • His writing schedule
  • Using social media
  • His view of the publishing landscape
  • Working with editors and agents
  • His author role models
  • and more

Click here for the video.

The Rev. James Martin, S.J., is a Jesuit priest, author and editor at large at America, the national Catholic magazine. His most recent books are Seven Last Words, The Abbey, and Jesus: A Pilgrimage which is a New York Times best-seller. 

Among his other books, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life, a New York Times bestseller, was awarded a 2010 Christopher Award, and was also a number one bestseller in Catholic books. His memoir My Life with the Saints, which received a 2007 Christopher Award, was named one of the Best Books of 2006 by Publishers Weekly, and also received a First Place award from the Catholic Press Association. His book A Jesuit Off-Broadway: Center Stage with Jesus, Judas and Life’s Big Questions, was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2007 and was awarded a First Place award from the Catholic Press Association.

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