The Business of Publishing

Just a short post to say how blessed we are to have been serving authors and publishers for more than sixteen years. What started as a freelance gig when I was in high school (26 years ago!) went full time as a legitimate business in December of 1997. Our work and designers have grown so much and we’re beyond blessed as the TLC Graphics family grows each week. Each of you clients — past, present, and future — is a treasured part of this family.

Thank you and may God bless you richly!


Hi, guys! Today’s post was written by book publishing consultant Marion Gropen. Marion has been in book publishing for more than 20 years, both as a financial executive in-house, and as a financial and management consultant. For the last few years, she has been offering advice and solutions on a By-The-Question basis, as well as ebooks and tools in the Profitable Publisher series. Find out more at

I read this as her response to a thread on about the stigma of self-publishing and someone complaining that everyone but the author gets money. So many people wonder where their money does (or will) go when producing and promoting their books. Here are Marion’s insights on this topic.


Authors get more from most trade books than anyone else in the pipeline. You may not be aware of the typical figures for a mid-level trade book, but here’s how it breaks down:

Let’s take a novel, in trade paperback, with a list price of $14.95, which I will call $15 out of sheer laziness.

The bookstore buys it for $$9. Out of their $6, they may keep $0.60 in profit. If they’re doing well. The rest goes to pay the store clerks, rent, utilities, and so on and on. They may also need to discount the book in order to compete, if it’s a “big book.”

The wholesaler buys the book for $6.75, and resells it at $9. Out of that $2.25, they’re keeping something like $0.02 or at most, $0.05.

The distributor is paid a commission of about $2.25, and keeps about the same 2 to 5 cents. If they’re very lucky. (NB: large publishers have their distribution in-house, and save about 20 to 40 cents per copy on the deal.)

So, the publisher’s revenue, on a $15 book is $4.50.
From this comes:
PPB — about $1.50
Marketing — about $0.25
and Royalties — about $1.13 to $1.50 per copy.
After these per-copy costs are subtracted, there’s $1.62 to $1.25 per copy.

But wait!! Also coming from that revenue are the fixed costs of producing the book (those where the total isn’t related to the number of copies printed or sold). These include editing, line editing, copyediting, proofreading, layout of the text and design of the cover, and often many more.

The total for the fixed direct expenses usually runs between $3,500 and $5,000. To cover these costs, the publisher must sell a minimum of 2160 to 4,000 copies.

Oh, but we’re still not done. None of the overhead (rent, utilities, office supplies, salaries for back office staff, etc) has been covered!

Let’s say that the company is quite small. Say that the overhead runs a TINY $100,000 per year, and that the company is producing with that overhead, and ASTRONOMICAL 20 titles per year. Each one must cover another $5,000 in overhead before there’s a dime in profit.

Now it has to sell a total of 5,250 to 8,000 copies before it makes ANY profit.

So let’s say that this book sells a nice 12,000 copies. The author (and maybe agent) are making $15,000. The publisher is making at most, $10,940.

The staff are making less. Consider: an editor at a company like this is probably making $1,750 per book.

The cover designer is probably making $1,000.

The marketing director/publicist might make $2000 per title.

The agent probably made $2250, and the author got the rest of the $15k, or $12,750.

It’s easy to feel gypped when you realize that you’re getting a dollar and change out of the $15. But when you realize where the rest goes, you realize that it’s not that someone is ripping off authors, it’s that our society doesn’t value the mid-list very much, and we’re ALL doing this because we care.

Many of the bestsellers look like drek to most of us here because we’re all a little off the popular paths. But if they didn’t meet their readers’ needs, they wouldn’t sell well enough to BE bestsellers. And if the quirky, “interesting” books really were interesting to most people, then THOSE would be the bestsellers.

Bookselling isn’t a “push” industry. It’s a “pull” one. We can put drek on the shelves, or even literary gold, but it won’t move to the cash register, no matter what we do, unless we convince the readers that they’re going to be getting what they’re looking for from the time and money spent. And there are literally millions of other titles out there in direct, head-to-head competition for those eyeballs.

Unmet needs are harder to find than hens’ teeth.

That’s not to say that we’re in a perfect world, or that there aren’t opportunities. But if you’re going to compete with a mainstream publisher, you need to know what they’re putting into the books you’re taking on.

You need to come up with some strategy to make your books as easy to buy as the ones on the bookshelves (and no matter how big Amazon is, it’s still not most of the sales to be made, in most market segments).

Your investment in preparing the manuscript has to be at least as good as what those mainstream publishers are able to get for their $3,500 to 5,000.

And you need to think long and hard about why your readers will want your books, and how to show them that your books deliver the benefits that they’re trying to get. But that’s for another post.


Thank you, Marion, for sharing!



Hi, everyone! Today’s guest post is written by Emma Taylor, a freelance writer and blogger who regularly writes for I found her analysis of the potential scams from these companies spot-on. One comment I’d like to add is that many of these companies call themselves self-publishers, but that’s really a misnomer. They are either assisting you in truly publishing yourself or they become your publisher. Each is a different role and can cause you to think differently about what you are doing.

Thanks so much for sharing, Emma!


For many writers who’ve faced rejection after rejection from publishing houses, self-publishing can start to look like a pretty good idea. While there are writers out there who’ve managed to make self-publishing work for them, there are risks involved with self-publishing that every writer should know about. Namely that some self-publishing companies may be pretty shady and could cost you extra time and money if you’re not aware of the kinds of scams they run. Here are some of the most common scams that happen in self-publishing, a list that anyone even considering self-publication should read before entering into any kind of agreement or paying any fees associated with self-publishing.

  1. Excessively flattering offers

    Who doesn’t like to have their ego stroked now and then? While it can be a great self-esteem boost, when it’s coming from a publisher you might want to beware. Unscrupulous publishers may be using this as a method to manipulate you and are trying to butter you up in order to gain your business. While your writing may indeed by great and you may really deserve to be published, legit publishers won’t bother with all the flattery. Regard excessive flattery as a red flag and avoid companies that try to compliment you into doing business with them.

  2. Promises that are too good to be true.

    If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” is an adage that holds as true for self-publishing as it does for other aspects of life. Some self-publishers may promise you that they can get your book into every bookstore in America, which sounds great and may prompt you to pay more to go with this company. The thing is, this promise doesn’t mean much of anything. Your book won’t be stocked on the shelves of most bookstores but will merely be available to order should customers request it. Not so great now, huh?

  3. Copyrighting tricks

    Is your self-publisher harping on how hard and expensive it is to get an ISBN number for your book and a copyright? They’re probably scamming you if they offer to help you with those details for a fee. In fact, it’s actually quite simple to get both of these and shouldn’t cost more than $160 for both. You can purchase an ISBN from the agency directly (and depending on the type of book you’re writing, you may not even need an ISBN at all) and you automatically own the copyright to your work, but you can register it with the Library of Congress for a mere $35.

  4. Crazy contracts

    If you can’t understand the contract a self-publishing company is presenting you with, there’s probably a reason they don’t want to make it easy for you. Never sign anything without understanding what it is you’re doing first. You may need to get a lawyer to look it over. Additionally, never be afraid to ask how and how much you’ll be paid before signing anything.

  5. Suspect marketing

    If you’ve done any shopping around for self-publishers, you’ve probably come across a variety of all-inclusive packages that include editing, proofreading, sales, publicity, and shipping. Yet these extra materials and services may not do much for you at all and are often things you could easily do yourself for a fraction of the cost (or for free). These marketing materials very often include little other than press releases (which will likely end up in the garbage as they’re sent out en masse by just about every publisher) and a listing in a book catalog. You’d be better off contacting local papers, libraries, book clubs, and bookstores on your own and penning your own press release.

  1. Vanity publishing

    Many self-publishers are what are referred to as “vanity publishers.” They offer authors a chance to get their books in print for a fee and often advertise that they “need” more authors. Any legitimate company will never “need” more authors, as should be clear to anyone who’s ever tried to write a book. These companies charge unsuspecting authors to publish their work, often producing works that are poorly written, aren’t proofread, have terrible covers, and for all intents and purposes are virtually worthless. That is, to everyone except the publisher, who makes thousands of dollars from the author.

  2. Guaranteeing success

    There is never a way to guarantee that a book will be successful, and you can assume anyone claiming otherwise is totally full of it. There is no way to get instant success, become an overnight star, or ensure that you’ll take this book to the top. It’s a risk, and it takes a lot of hard work and determination, no matter what a publisher will tell you. Real, legitimate publishers will never promise that your book will be a best-seller or will achieve any level of success. No one can promise that, and anyone who does is just looking to take your money.

  3. Promises to make your book “available.”

    While it might sound great that your book will be listed on Amazon and will be available to distributors, this is pretty much meaningless when it comes to your success as an author. First, anyone can list a book on Amazon. Secondly, most bookstores won’t touch publish-on-demand books. Why? Because they can’t be returned if they don’t sell. Most scammy self-publishing companies won’t offer distribution services, which usually means your book is pretty much dead in the water short of a miracle. Choose a publisher that will serve you well and can actually help you to get your work into a bookstore.

  4. Editor services and referrals.

    If a self-publisher offers to edit your book for a fee or refers you to a specific (and often very expensive) editor, then you should be quite cautious that you might be getting scammed. Often, editing services provided by unscrupulous publishers are little more than spell check, and you can likely get editing services for far less money somewhere else. If you feel like you’re being ripped off, get a second opinion.

  5. Offering discounts to authors for resale.

    It might seem great that a publisher would offer discounts on your books so that you can purchase them yourself and resell them, but this is usually a sign that a publisher is working you over for more money. Chances are pretty good that in most cases, you won’t be able to sell those books because they’ll be low quality or bookstores just won’t carry them. Additionally, these discounts aren’t available to retailers who might want to purchase the books, lowering their incentive to purchase the books as they won’t be able to make enough of a profit.

Emma loves to write blogging, writing, education related articles and can be reached at:

Publishing your own book—no stigma needed!

Even as nontraditional publishing continues to grow—there is still a stigma attached to self-publishing. I’ve read the articles, I’ve seen the tweets. There is still a pervasive belief that self-publishing is somehow “settling”—and probably your only option because you were rejected by all the traditional publishers.

That, of course, is nonsense. For many authors, self-publishing—independent publishing—makes the most sense creatively and financially. These are the authors who have done their homework. These are the authors who are original and creative—and who know what it takes to run a successful publishing business. The quality of their books—both the way the work is written and edited, and the way it looks physically—matches that of those put out by large traditional houses.

Potential readers pick up their books not knowing—and not caring—who the publisher is. (Do you know who Stephen King’s publisher is? Do you care?) I’ve been criticized for saying that a well-done self-published book should not be identifiable as such; apparently it’s somehow “immoral” or “misleading” to put out a quality, top-notch piece of work. Eh. Whatever.

Indie publishing is here to stay, and I hope as more authors do it “right,” any remnant stigmas ultimately fall to the wayside.

Meanwhile, though, how do you make sure your book does not scream SELF-PUBLISHED and is judged by its cover and its content? Assuming you have a unique, compelling manuscript in the first place, here are some tips:

  • Have your own publishing company imprint and your own ISBN prefix. Head over to Bowker and buy a set of ten numbers—or a hundred if you have more than a few titles planned. If you are truly self-publishing (ie, not going the subsidy route), your publishing company must be listed as the publisher of record. If you’ve got Outskirts or Author Solutions or others of their ilk listed, they are the publisher—and you haven’t actually self-published. (Reference the subsidy link, above.)
  • Get your manuscript edited by a professional. Regardless of how good a writer you are, you probably cannot effectively edit your own work. I know I can’t—and I’ve been an editor of other people’s work for more decades than I care to remember. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back to read something I’ve written only to be shocked by some glaring error I overlooked.
  • Hire a professional to design your book cover. There are a lot of very inexpensive self-publishing options available today, most of which offer templated cover designs. They are all pretty awful and amateurish.
  • I recommend most authors hire a typesetter to design and layout their book’s interiors as well. If you are pretty tech savvy and can work a program such as InDesign, however, you can probably get away with formatting the interior yourself.

Don’t expect indie publishing to be easy. But do expect it to be rewarding—especially if you do it right.
Self-publishing expert SUE COLLIER is coauthor of The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 5th Edition, and the forthcoming Jump Start Your Books Sales, 2nd Edition. Her expertise has been featured on such places as, Martha Stewart Living Radio, and Bottom Line Personal. Visit her blog at Self-Publishing Resources.

As I wrap up a short trip to Kansas City and sit at their small airport, I’m reminded of how each of us in business represent so much more than our own job or company.

The trip has been just short of two days of exploring the area with Erin, my friend and one of our designers, and helping her look for houses as her family prepares to move from the Minneapolis area. We met so many people across the KC area and each one has been incredibly warm, inviting, and friendly. The most surprising was the young girl working the McDonald’s drive-thru. Despite my unusual order (food allergies often demand that) and the fact that their computer system in the kitchen had just crashed causing near chaos, she had a radiant smile and provided welcoming customer service. I commented on what a shock this was and Erin just said, “That’s Kansas City for you”.

Similar scenarios played out each time we visited a school, store, restaurant, or viewed a home for sale. What a friendly, inviting place! Except for the airport. Perhaps it’s just what they’ve been ordered, but the security personnel will barely crack a smile, much less talk with you. This is not the case in most airports I’ve been through lately. I tried several times to have light conversations or at least to wish each one a lovely day and cheerfully thank them for doing a good job. NONE would do more than grunt. Wow.

For many, the airport is their first encounter with a wonderful city. Every person working here needs to be aware that they are part of a greater environment and can influence each visitor’s perception of the place they live and work. Not only that, but they represent the greater community of airport security and we all know that industry could use some good PR.

As authors and service providers in the publishing industry, we should each take on the responsibility of representing ourselves, our companies, and small/independent publishing in general. Each time we interact with others—whether outside of publishing or within—we have the opportunity to influence their perception of us, both individually and as a whole. I not only represent myself, but my company (TLC Graphics) my service industry (book design and publishing development) and publishing in general. On another level, I am also a representative for my family, the Christian community, Austin, Texas, and the United States.

Let’s do our best, each and every encounter, to be welcoming and genuinely proud to be right where we are — in an incredible industry teeming with vibrant, encouraging people ready to share ideas and experiences with each and every person who may be interested. Thank you!

Tami Dever