Publishing Publishing Math

The Math Publishers Don’t Want Authors to Know! (Part 1)

We have all heard stories about authors who receive million-dollar advances. Unfortunately, the author deals with huge advances are extremely rare. Around 300,000 books are published by the better-known publishers each year in America. Few become best sellers, some never get carried by bookstores.

Typically, an author makes only 7–10% net from the sale of a book. Net sales are the actual profit from the book after wholesaler discounts, distributor fees, and retailer fees. Retailers typically take 40–50% of the cover price. So 7% net is not 7% of the cover price.

Your Royalty from a Publisher

Let’s say, for example, you spend a year writing a book and a publisher agrees to publish it for you. The cover price is $19.99. The publisher prints and sells 4,000 copies over a period of four years before no longer promoting the book. The publisher sells 1200 copies the first year, 2000 copies the second year, 600 copies the third year, and 200 copies the fourth year. Sales peak the 2nd year and then sharply decline the following two years. After the fourth year, the book is old news. The publisher is focused on selling new titles and, if your book is reprinted soon (unlikely), it is only selling a few copies per year—small pocket change with regard to royalties. Bear in mind that small publishers are more likely to print 2,000–4,000 books, rather than 10,000 or more.

When the books are sold the distributor/retailers will usually take 40–50% of the cover price. The publisher is then left with the remaining 50%. Of that 50%, the publisher pays out a royalty to the author of 7%. How does this add up?

4000 copies sold at $19.99 = $79,960 gross profit (profit before publisher expenses)

Distributors/retailers take 50%, leaving $39,980

Your royalty is 7% of $39,980 = $2798.60

The publisher has expenses, but likely netted around $30,000–35,000, while the author only got $2798.60. This is why publishers who publish many books with short print runs can still make a worthwhile profit, whereas most authors never make enough to cover their time.

A 7% return is on average, $699 per year over the course of the four years. This assumes the publisher didn’t offer any discounts on the cover price that reduce the profits and royalties further, as often happens. In total, the author makes $2798.60. With only 200 copies selling in the last year, the publishers doesn’t have enough demand to justify a new print run. The publisher controls the license agreement and will hold on to the book until there is an opportunity or enough demand to print more copies or the publisher may decide to sell the license agreement to another publisher.

In comparison, the total return on the same quantity independently published by the author and sold directly by the author at the full cover price ($19.99) is $54,576.40 (the profit after basic expenses). Which would you rather have: $2798.60 or publish it yourself and get $54,576.40?

Here’s another way to look at this: The publisher sells around 4,000 books and you get $2798.60 or on average $699 per year for four years. You personally sell only 35 books and you already get $699 minus your own publishing expenses.

Your Royalty if You’re the Publisher

Let’s take a closer look. Assume you have a simple book that is 6″x9″, 250 page, B&W interior, full-color cover.

You could do it yourself—the editing, cover design, and just flow the texts onto the pages with no regard for layout problems. Instead, you decide to follow publishing best practices. You hire a skilled editor for $1500. You hire a creative and skilled book designer for $2280 to do the cover and interior design, plus typesetting and professional press-ready files. You use print-on-demand (POD) to only print and ship 100 copies at a time, shipped directly to your home office. Just counting printing and shipping, the unit costs (cost per book) is $5.40. Let’s now scale this up to match the publisher who published 4000 copies.

The total unit costs for 4000 books is:

Editor                         $1,500

Pre-press               $2,280 (Cover, interior design, page layout, and professional press-ready files)

Printing                 $21,600 (printing 100 at a time, including shipping and handling)

Total                         $25,380 (editing, design, pre-press production, press-ready files, and printing)

Remember, you don’t have to write a huge check for $21,600. You only print 100 books at a time, so the costs are more likely around $540 each time.

These are average prices that could vary depending on the book’s complexity and print method used. (In this scenario, I’m using print-on-demand. I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages, best uses, and when not to use POD in another blog post.)

Based on these estimated costs, the total investment is $25,380. The per book costs (unit costs) including editing, design, and printing is $6.34, and the cover price is $19.99, so the profit is $13.65 per book. This means the maximum possible net profit is $54,600 (meaning profit after editing, design and print costs are deducted).


Cost per unit book                        $25,380 /4000 = $6.34

Net profit per unit book            $19.99 – 6.34 = $13.65


Therefore for a 4000 print run

Gross Income                        4000 x $19.99 = $79,960

Total Cost                               4000 x $6.34 = $25,360

Total Net Profit                    $79,960 – $25,360 = $54,600

A note on shipping costs: In this scenario, the assumption is that you, the publisher, are selling the books directly at workshops, seminars, and events and not through bookstores. If any copies are sold online, you are doing the order processing (known as “fulfillment”) and the buyer is paying for the shipping from your warehouse (which might be your home office). If, however, you were doing all the sales through your own website, you could eliminate all up-front printing cost and the costs of shipping books to your home office and just allow the POD provider to do the order fulfillment and print the book “on demand” as orders are made by buyers.

Be sure to read Part 2 of The Math Publishers Don’t Want Authors to Know! to find out how quickly independent publishing can become profitable.

Publishing Publishing best practices

The Most Important Thing to Do When Publishing

For anyone who wants to benefit from publishing, and especially for businesses, it is critically important to follow publishing best practices to ensure quality and control costs. Get an editor who understands proofreading and a designer who is experienced with books and knows how to prepare reliable press-ready files. The same is true with printers. Only use a printer who understands books.

This advice is true even if you plan to sell your books directly through your own business or website. Even if you don’t need a win over distributors, book reviewers, or store owners, printing a book with embarrassing mistakes or paying for files that don’t work correctly is just bad business practice.

If you do want a book distributor, and book reviewers and store owners do matter to you, then it becomes even more critical to make sure your book is trade quality, meets retail requirements, and meets industry expectations. Find someone experienced who knows the process and can guide you through each step.

The old low-quality vanity publishing business model has given way to a new low-quality model that cuts costs and quality to sell authors printing services—usually print on demand (POD). To avoid the pit falls of these companies, find a book service that doesn’t profit from printing. You should be able to send your book files to any printer of your choice.

When you look at the costs outlined in my post The Math Publishers Don’t Want Authors to Know!, you’ll notice that cutting out quality production and quality controls—such as professional editing, design, and typesetting—doesn’t save much money, certainly not enough for the increased difficulty of selling a less attractive and less professional product.

For businesses, a DIY book is an especially high risk that can involve embarrassments and brand damage. I know a guy who self-published without using a professional editor or book designer. The largest American membership-only warehouse club was ready to carry his photo book until the buyer saw that the foreword in the book was spelled “Forward.” Seeing that one error, they suspected the DIY quality and dropped the offer. All it took was one word to undo the deal—an error spell checker software would not catch. Quality matters! He came back with a second book project done professionally, and they carried it, agreeing to start by taking 1700 copies. Persistence and a new commitment to quality paid off.

Remember, you may only have to sell around 280 copies to cover your costs for B&W books and around 550 for color books. His book was a hardback picture book, so he needed to sell slightly more. Of course, if you are not confident that you can sell more than 300–600 copies, using print-on-demand and/or publish ebook editions may be safer strategies for you. To learn more watch for my forthcoming post, Picking the Right Publishing Strategy.

Back Cover Texts Publishing

Tips for Writing the Best Back Cover Copy

Authors put a lot of creative energy into writing stories and instructions, so writing a few paragraphs of texts for a back cover might seem easy. But is it? Normally, the back cover copy is written by marketing specialists—sometimes a person who only does that one task. If you’re an author who is now publishing independently, you must hire someone with the right skills or do it yourself. Before you attempt to do it yourself, here are some marketing basics to consider.

The foremost purpose of the back cover texts is to influence the purchase decision.

To achieve this goal we want to focus on

(1) The texts: persuading people to buy the book;
(2) keyword strength: using the right keywords;
(3) shelving category: making it easy for readers to find the book;
(4) retail requirements: making the checkout process as easy as possible;
(5) and design: having an attractive easy-to-read design that is coordinated with the front cover.

The back cover of your book is too important and valuable to waste or treat lightly. Writing a great story has little value if no one reads or buys the book. So let’s take a closer look at these five aspects of the back cover.

  1. The back cover texts

The back cover texts can be divided into three main parts: 1) Endorsements, 2) description or benefits, and 3) author bio.

Endorsements: The presence of endorsements lets potential buyers know that people like the book. Endorsements are actually more important than a book description because endorsements already contain some descriptive content or mention of the book’s benefits. This is why it is sufficient to put endorsements on the back cover of a hardback and the author bio and book description on the inside flaps of the jacket. This, of course, requires evaluating the strength of the endorsements against the strength of a book’s description or benefit list. See my post on How To Get Quality Book Endorsements

Book Description: Short book descriptions are easier to read. It can help if what you write in the book description connects with the message of the front cover title and/or subtitle, which is often what caused the person to become interested in the book.

For fiction, a book description should include content that speaks to the expected audience and category strengths, such as historical, social, or cultural interests. If the book, for example, offers a strong message about personal freedom, make sure this is not lost in the back cover description. The description should ideally say something that draws the reader into the story concept, but ends with a reason for the reader to want more. This is called a “cliffhanger.”

For “how-to,” self-help, and instructional books the focus needs to be on writing a good value proposition and pointing out how the book is unique. That is, why is the content in this book valuable and how is this particular book unique from other books on the topic? For some books, a description can include a list (3–5 short bullet points) that outline the book’s benefits to the reader. It is also good to utilize descriptive words, such as “practical,” “cost-saving,” “life-saving,” etc. Ideally, each point in a bullet list should be limited to one line.

Beyond describing the actual advice or instruction in the book, don’t forget that the book itself has values worth stressing in a competitive category, such as whether the book is full color, has instructional illustrations and maps, useful tips, charts, diagrams, resource guides, a foreword by someone important, etc.

Whatever you say in a book description, put the focus on the value the book has to the reader.

Author Bio: When you write your author biography keep in mind the same rule—the author bio text is there to influence the purchase decision. It not there to inform the reader about the author’s personal life. Making it short will make it more readable. Three to five sentences is usually all it takes. The focus should be on credentials and/or experiences that indicate that you have qualifications for writing the book. If the book is not about dogs, there is no need to mention your dog. Relevant awards, memberships or previous books are valuable to mentioned.

If you include an author photo be sure that it makes you look credible. If the photo can include a setting that fits the book’s theme, that can be helpful. If you are, for example, a mountain climber, an author photo with appropriate mountain gear in a mountain setting is convincing. If you are a financial adviser, be sure to look successful. Photos can be powerful tools of persuasion, which is why some authors place photos of themselves on the front cover. For public speakers, an author photo on the cover is a way of advertising the author and building the speaker’s brand.

  1. Keyword strength

When you write your back cover text, use high-value keyword phrases. Knowing the best keywords depends on your market research. Your book’s chances of success are increased if you develop a marketing strategy early. Ideally, this strategy should occur before developmental editing and design so that every aspect of the book, not just the back cover, support the strategy.

One aspect of developing a strategy involves keyword research. Having strong keywords on the book’s cover text will help the book turn up in more online searches. The more popular the keyword combinations, the more often the book will show up.

If, for example, you are a life coach for women and do workshops, the phrases “workshops for women” and “life coach for women” only get 260 searches each (monthly average), but “women’s empowerment” gets 135,000 searches. While this works in the women’s category, the male equivalent is different. For example, let’s say you are a life coach who helps men with health issues, careers, and relationships. The phrase “men’s life coach” turns up 50 searches (monthly average), “men’s empowerment” only turns up 90, and “life coach for men” turns up 140. However, “men’s health” gets 246,000. The point is that you don’t have to guess. Do the research and use real data to pick the word phrases that help your message reach your audience.

  1. Include a shelving heading

You can help bookstores shelve your book where it should be found by including an appropriate BISAC category. The BISAC Subject Heading list “is an industry-approved list of subject descriptors.” These descriptors are often placed on the upper left of the back cover, such as “SELF-HELP / Personal Growth / Success.”

  1. Retail requirements

A book cover needs to meet basic retail requirements so that it can be easily tracked and purchased. This includes an ISBN, which allows book retailers to track book sales and inventory. The ISBN also allow people to look up information about available editions (print and ebook). The barcode allows the ISBN to be easily read with a scanner at checkout and for inventory and tracking purposes. It is recommended that the barcode also contains the price. To learn more about ISBNs, see my blog post about ISBNs (

You may also want to include other currencies listed next to the barcode (such as the UK, CAN, EU, depending on the language and intended audience). And finally, the back cover should have the publisher identity and location (preferably the publisher web location) so more can be learned about the book and to help convey that the book has been produced professionally.

  1. Design considerations

Avoid having a large block of text in small type on the back cover. If the text appears too small, you probably gave the designer too many words. Consider shortening it. Make the three separate sections (endorsements, description, and author bio) easy to recognize and easy to read. Consider emphasizing words that communicate value, such as “practical,” “easy,” and “comprehensive.” If it is a self-help book, consider arranging the stated benefits in a bullet list.

Be sure that the designer coordinates the back cover—colors, images, font choices—with the front cover. Also, be sure the design does not hinder the functionality of the barcode.

Book Endorsements Publishing

How To Get Quality Book Endorsements (Part 2)

Always manage the message

When you ask people to endorse your book, they will likely invest time into reading the book and writing a response. Once they have done that, they will not want to write another endorsement if you think their comments are superficial, tangential to the point of your book, or are somehow useless. To avoid or reduce the chances of getting low-value endorsements, you need to manage the process.

The endorsement process begins with you, the publisher or author. It begins by first determining your mission statement as an author, the value proposition and unique selling point of your book, and finally the hoped-for reader experience. Put simply, ask yourself: What do you aim to achieve as an author? What is the value of your book to readers? What makes your book unique or better than other books on the subject? And finally, will readers find your book easy to use and desirable as a book (this is partly a content development and book design issue).

DO NOT ask the endorsers to figure out what value your book has or how it is unique. Point out these facts and ask them to comment on them. Make the process easy for them.

The answers to these questions can form the basis of your endorsement strategy. If the endorsements speak to these qualities, then you will have high-quality endorsements. Ask the people you select to give endorsements that mention these qualities. If they are agreeing to endorse your book, they already understand that the purpose is to help you promote the book. Most readers will not object to receiving guidance. It actually makes the process easier for them.

Start with a general checklist. The checklist is only for your own privately use when you are making endorsement requests. The checklist can include the following:

  1. The book’s main value proposition: How the book is useful, beneficial, or desirable to readers.
  2. The book’s unique selling point: How the book is different from other books—such as, more up to date, only illustrated book on the subject, more comprehensive, more concise, whatever.
  3. The book product qualities: Developmental and design qualities can include organization, readability, helpful illustrations and maps, useful tables and resource lists, etc. Also, print features and qualities if applicable, such as recycled paper, foldout maps, beautiful photographs, etc.
  4. The Book’s value to readers: Value for money is different than expense compared to other books. Your book may have a higher price than other competing books due to a shorter print run or better print quality. Even when this doesn’t happen, it is good to understand any qualities that make your book better value for the reader. Compete on value first.
  5. Literary quality: Ability to transport the reader, or be easily read and answer questions, change and inspire lives, etc. Comments about the literary quality will depend on the genre of the book and intended readership.

When you request an endorsement consider the endorser’s qualifications and then ask that person to speak about those aspects of the book that they are most qualified to consider. If several endorsers have praised how well you have written about the subjects, ask other endorsers to speak about other aspects of the book such as a particular sub-theme, the book’s personal impact on them, or utility for certain types of readers. If the book is creative, an illustrated guide or coffee-table book, ask them to speak about the design and print quality. By managing the process you will be able to collect a range of endorsements that will convince readers of your book’s value.

To learn more about endorsement strategies, read my post How to use endorsements.

Book Endorsements Publishing

How to Get Quality Book Endorsements (Part 1)

The purpose and importance of book endorsements

When you start the process of looking for people to endorse your book, you first need to understand the difference between an endorsement and a book review. A book endorsement is a statement from someone other than the author that recommends the book to readers. Ideally, it is a statement of praise that affirms, supports, and backs your book, even if it doesn’t agree with your message or claims. The purpose of an endorsement is to persuade readers to buy and/or read the book. Endorsements, also called “testimonials,” are the most valuable feature of the back cover copy of your book, because the mere presence of endorsements is instantly perceived as evidence of reader satisfaction, even if the endorsements are never read.

Book endorsements are often confused with book reviews. A book review is different from an endorsement in that a review is an analysis of a book that usually purports to be objective and can include comments about a book’s content, style, or merits that are both positive and negative.

Make your intentions clear

When you set out to get endorsements, let it be known you are not looking for “reviews.” You want positive statements. You also want the selected readers to know you are looking for an endorsement so they understand how their words will be used. If you ask for a review, the reader may assume that his or her words will be used only privately for the purpose of improving the book. When you ask for an endorsement, you should be clear that the reader’s words will be used in the published book and/or in promotions for the book.

If you ask for an endorsement and a person reviews your book instead, you may be able to excerpt just the positive portion for use as a book endorsement.

Getting endorsements is a process that yields the best results if it is managed carefully. Even if you ask someone to “review” your book, make it clear that you are looking for an endorsement, not a review and not a critique. Even if you welcome critical comments and would like to get advice for improving your book, make it clear that your aim is to get a positive endorsement that can be used when promoting the book.

Endorsements are mutually beneficial

People often want to give endorsements. If the endorsers are leaders, experts, or authors they benefit by having their names appear in public, even if only as a credit next to an endorsement for someone else’s work. Whenever their names appear, it is a form of publicity for them and a recognition that they are respected and that their opinions matter. Usually, their credentials and accomplishments, are listed next to their names under the endorsements.

Be sure to ask the endorser to specify how they want to be credited.

To learn about how to manage the endorsement message, read my post How to Get Quality Book Endorsements (Part 2).

Book Endorsements Publishing

How to use endorsements

An endorsement has value even if the endorser has no credentials or fame. Any reader who provides an endorsement has at least one presumed qualification: He or she has read the book and liked it. That has value for buyers. Nevertheless, the goal is to get high-value endorsements and this means some endorsements are temporary placeholders for future endorsements that have more persuasive power.

There will always be a hierarchy of value for endorsements, just as there is a hierarchy for positioning endorsements. To better understand these value ranges, it is helpful to divided endorsements and endorsers into value categories so you can identify priorities and placement strategies.

Three types of endorsements

Book endorsements: These are endorsements about the book’s merits. In most cases, these endorsements require that readers have time to read the book or somehow evaluate the manuscript or publication.

Author endorsements: These are endorsements about the author and refer to the author’s credentials, expertise, accomplishments, speaking or teaching abilities, the effect on the lives of other people, etc. This type of endorsement doesn’t require that people know about the book or have time to read it.

Subject endorsements: These are what I call “Power quotes.” They are technically not endorsements at all, but rather quoted statements from authoritative or recognized sources that are related to the book’s subject matter. Quotes that engage readers are particularly effective if they are predictive statements or statement that underscore the subject matter’s urgency. In some cases, the quote is merely from an authoritative voice, such as a John Muir quote on the back of a book about the Wilderness Adventure. Always be sure that the statement is in the public domain or fits within editorial or “fair use” criteria.

In most cases, book endorsements are more valuable than the others. However, it may be easier or quicker to get author endorsements or to research and find power quotes. Sometimes a combination of two or more types is effective. Your strategy will often be determined by circumstantial considerations, such as whether the endorsers deliver usable endorsements or whether you have sufficient time to get endorsements before publication, etc.

Three types of endorsers

Just as these are different types of endorsements, there are different types of endorsers.

“Opinion-shaper” endorsers: Anyone who is famous (authors, bloggers, vloggers), well known, and trusted, such as celebrities, industry or thought leaders, athletes, etc.

Qualified endorsers: Any readers with relevant credentials, such as clients, experts, scholars, business professionals, other authors, etc.

Reader endorsers: Any readers, including friends and acquaintances. Consider the value the person offers with regard to relatableness with your target audience.

Endorsers with obvious qualifications are more valuable than unknown persons without qualifications. Opinion-shapers, however, tend to be more valuable than even qualified experts. Never use an opinion-shaper, however, that is incompatible with your publisher brand or readership. Because endorsements will have different levels of persuasiveness, you will want to give position preference to the best ones.

Endorsement placement strategy

As you acquire endorsements you can begin to identify where to place them. You may likely want to use endorsements on a variety of resources before the book is published, such as web pages, social media, banner ads, etc. The many places endorsements can be used is one reason why it is good to continually collect as many favorable statements as you can.

Generally speaking, 1–5 endorsements work well on the back cover. Three short endorsements is a good number. Excerpt the strongest statements for the back cover and use complete versions of the same endorsements, along with additional ones, on pages the front-matter pages of the book (before the title page). These front-matter endorsements are optional but highly recommended. Front-matter endorsements can fill as many pages as you want, one or even twenty pages.

If you have the good fortune of getting an opinion-shaper to endorse your book, consider putting that endorsement on the front cover of the book.

For paperbacks, the front cover is the premium position (only for use with opinion-shaper and expert endorsements), followed by the back cover and then inside front-matter pages. For hardcover jackets, place the endorsements on the back cover where they are most visible and not the inside flaps.

To learn more about how to manage an endorsement schedule, read my post Book Endorsement Planning: Creating a Schedule Strategy