If you have ever considered self publishing a book, or wondered how much money a self published author actually ends up pocketing from your average self published book I found an interesting read. Most of the articles surrounding self publishing either discuss an amazing success story, or the thousands of titles which never sell a single copy. This may be why I found this article written by Keir Thomas very interesting. Keir Thomas is a technical writer who has written a number of books, which were published by various major publishers, about the Linux operating system; and this is his experience with self publishing.
In 2008 he had the idea to write the Ubuntu Pocket Guide and Reference (Ubuntu is a Linux operating system) but he was unable to print though his usual publishers because, as a pocket guide, the book would naturally have a fairly low price point. He understood where the publishers were coming from but still thought the book could be useful. So he decided to try a self-publishing experiment. I encourage you all to read the article in full as it's quite interesting, but here are the nuts and bolts of how he did:
Aside from writing the actual text and editing (Do you love how I am glossing over this huge task?) the first thing he had to do differently was find a way to promote the book with essentially no budget. To do this he gave the ebook version which did in fact net a bunch of publicity including reviews and recommendations from tech journalists and bloggers:
The eBook is hugely popular. I average around 400 visitors a day at http://ubuntupocketguide.com, peaking at 40-50,000 every now and again. The website advertises the print edition of the book, as does an advert within the PDF itself.
I’ve lost count how many people have downloaded the eBook but the last time I audited the figures, which was around six months after the book’s release, it’d seen around 500,000 downloads. I suspect that number has doubled since then. I encourage people to redistribute the PDF, including via BitTorrent, so auditing is practically impossible. (Redistribution is fine, but not modifying; the book uses a standard copyright.)
So his community knows about it, and it turns out people do find it quite useful, but how was the print edition selling?
Since going on sale at the start of 2009, the book has made me $9,000. Bearing in mind the book took three months to produce, that’s a salary of $3,000 per month, although costs such as hosting have to be deducted, and I also spent quite a few days marketing the book once published.
I’ve had worse salaries in my life, and I’m very grateful, but I know total royalties would probably have been higher had I gone through the traditional route of working with a mainstream publisher.
Thomas finishes by suggesting that self-publishing might not be the best option for you if you really want to make money, but it can be a great way to get your ideas out there if you only need to cover your costs.