Working Out Your Budget and Earnings as a Self-Publisher

Trying to figure out how much you’re likely to earn as a self-published author is a very tricky topic. Unless you’re publishing solely for the pleasure of sending your words out into the world, it’s likely that you’ll want to earn an income from your writing.

Of course, rather than shoving your book onto Amazon, holding out your hand and shouting ‘Monies, please!’ you’ll want to do everything you can to create a sellable book: write a good story, get it professionally edited, hire a designer to create a beautiful cover, gather reviews, and so on.

It’s no secret: publishing a book that has the potential for good levels of sales requires a little investment. However, most writers will want to know how much of an investment is wise so they don’t spend beyond their potential earnings. (Good thinking!)

How much can you earn as a self-published author?

How much you could earn as a self-published author, of course, depends on a lot of things. There is no blanket answer. It’s not useful to talk about averages because everyone’s experience is different, and the anomalies will skew the results anyway. However, there is a lot of potential to be had …

The media is awash with self-publishing success stories: Amanda Hocking, who made millions from her self-published novels before being snapped up by a traditional publisher; E. L. James, who started out self-publishing and now is rich beyond her wildest dreams; Andy Weir, who self-published The Martian before it was bought by a major publishing house and turned into a Hollywood blockbuster; and so on.

But these stories are by far the exception to the rule. Hundreds of thousands of people self-publish, and there are only a handful of mega-success stories that catch the attention of the press.

Don’t let their success lull you into thinking self-publishing is an easy get-rich-quick scheme.

It really isn’t.

The reality is: if you have a well-presented book, a potential readership for that book and a marketing plan, you can expect your book to sell. The wonderfully insightful Catherine Ryan Howard used her research to create a rough ‘scale of success’ for ebook sales in her book Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing:

Copies sold per month:

100+  Your book is selling

300+  Your book is selling well

500+  Your book is selling very well

1000+ Your book is selling amazingly well

2500+ Your book is selling ridiculously well

5000+ Your book is selling better than most traditionally published books

10000+ HOW ARE YOU DOING THIS?! Tell us now!

So those are some rough benchmark figures. How much you earn from selling that many copies depends on the price you set for your book. That’s a very different topic of conversation, though, as the price you set will affect the royalty you receive and the amount your book will sell.

How much should you invest in your self-published book?

Firstly, let me say this: Yes, you do need to invest in your self-published book if you want it to sell. By self-publishing, you are assuming the role of publisher … And publishers are businesses. So to be a successful publisher, you must be a successful business. And it is almost impossible to create a successful business with absolutely no investment.

On the other hand, it’s likely that you won’t have a huge amount of capital to invest in your book. Without a guarantee of how much your book will sell, it feels pretty risky to invest any money into your self-publishing venture.

The first step is to assure yourself that you have a sellable book. That way, you can be sure that your investment will be well spent. You’ll also need a solid marketing plan (this doesn’t have to include a huge monetary investment, especially if you can get your head around the best way to use social media). At the root of everything, though, you need a quality product.

If you want to spent the minimum possible on creating your book, you should invest in editing and cover design.

Everybody needs to be edited. Everyone is blind to the errors in their own work. Publishing an unedited book removes a crucial level of quality control. In the end, it means you’re not putting your best work forward, which is disrespectful to your reader and a shame for you, who has worked so hard.

Editing is worth the investment if you want to publish a quality novel. However, you do need to think carefully about the type of editing your book needs, and how much you’re able to invest. Remember: you can off-set your budget against your projected sales figures.

Different types of editing cost different amounts, and editors offer their services at many different price points. You’ll need to do a little research into finding the most suitable option for you and your book.

A good cover design is also crucial. Potential readers judge books on a variety of elements – reviews, blurb, sample pages – and one of the quickest ways to judge a book is by its cover, despite the saying. In the self-publishing world, a good quality cover design is a great indicator that an author has put their book through quality control.

More than that, many readers wouldn’t really know who has published the book they’re considering buying, but a bad cover is an instant indication of poor quality, whoever the publisher.

There are many very reasonably priced cover design services out there. Look for covers you admire (especially in your chosen genre) and see if you can find out who designed them.

So, to sum up …

I’ve not offered monetary figures in this post as I don’t think it would be genuinely useful. However, I hope I’ve given you some things to consider when you come to drafting your self-publishing budget and earnings targets. All in all:

  • If you have a well-written book (quality product), with a potential readership (market) and a marketing plan (implementation), then you can expect your self-published book to sell.
  • In order to create a quality product, you should (at the very least) invest in editing and cover design.
  • Work out how many books you’d need to sell in order to recuperate your investment, and make this your first earnings goal.
  • Feel smug in the knowledge that you’ve written and published a quality book, allowing you to market with confidence.

If you approach self-publishing with an analytical, business mindset (and keep your head firmly out of the clouds) you’re much, much more likely to sell more books and generate some well-deserved earnings.

Don’t just publish something and see if it sells. Publish something great, and readers will be eager to buy.

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By | 2017-09-05T13:49:58+00:00 August 27th, 2013|Novel Writing|2 Comments

About the Author:

Sophie Playle of Liminal Pages is a professional fiction editor. She worked at the largest publishing company in the world before gallivanting off to do a Creative Writing MA at Royal Holloway, University of London. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders, and she trained with The Publishing Training Centre. Every now and then, she slips her laptop into her rucksack and works from a different country for a few weeks.


  1. Lee Walsh December 27, 2017 at 8:00 pm - Reply

    Hi, thank you for this post, very helpful indeed.

    I’ve written two books, one of which I’m quite proud of. It isn’t a masterpiece as of yet but I’m hoping it can be and soon. I’m a novice in this though. The genre of the main book I’ve written is fantasy, with a bit of humour, sometimes dark, mixed in. I’ve been updating the book every few days for the past year or so and changing one or two things every so often. As the progress is being made, and I feel as though I have done as much as I possibly can, I’ve been torn between self-publishing and the traditional route. I would really like to go for the traditional route but self-publishing in some essence seems, well easier. It’ll be out there, it’s just whether it will sell or not. This article has been helpful for me.

    I do have one question, however. Is it advisable to try the traditional route first and if I get rejected too many times, to do the self-publishing route? I know litrary agents have their work cut out for them but know what they’re talking about. But is there any possibility they could just not fancy one book and miss the boat with it and reject it?

    Lee Walsh

    • Sophie Playle January 8, 2018 at 10:56 am - Reply

      Hi Lee,

      If you’d rather be traditionally published, then I would absolutely encourage you to submit your novel to agents first. You’re right in thinking that all agents have personal tastes. What might appeal to one agent might not appeal to another! It’s not unusual to pitch twenty or thirty (or more!) agents before finding one that connects with you and your novel.

      I recommend the website AgentHunter ( to help you search for agents that could be a good fit. Alternatively, a lot of small presses accept manuscripts from authors who don’t have agents. Mslexia has published an excellent resource listing many of the small presses in the UK (

      Good luck!

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