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Self-Publishing Journey & Perspective

Paul M
October 11, 2023
4k

Self-Publishing Journey & Perspective

Paul M

October 11, 2023
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  1. Playing The
    Self-Publishing Game
    A super biased argument to bet on yourself
    and self-publish your next book

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  2. My Goal
    I want to inspire more internet-native writers
    to publish their own books earlier in their
    journeys and see the upsides of self-publishing

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  3. Who I am?
    👋 Hey, I’m Paul Millerd
    I’ve been a solopreneur since 2017,
    sharing my ideas and thoughts online,
    playing a long game I want to keep playing
    In 2021 I decided to self-publish my book,
    The Pathless Path. Along the way, I
    figured out everything on my own.
    It wasn’t easy but it wasn’t that hard
    either. What follows is my way of making
    sense of what I experienced as well as why
    I ended up turning down a big fancy
    publishing deal after my book started to
    succeed.

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  4. How I see the world…
    People are underestimating digital scale & distribution via owned audiences
    Self-publishing tools & capabilities will continue to improve globally
    I believe there will be increased opportunities to repackage books in new audio & digital
    formats that we can’t predict
    I value creative control much more than most people
    I like figuring things out and sharing them with people

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  5. I explored for three years, with increased attention in
    2020 from everyone working from home…
    2017 - 2020
    Writing About Work
    Had hundreds of
    conversations with
    people about my ideas
    Wrote 100+ essays and
    newsletters on the topic
    Thousands of tweets
    Made friends curious
    about similar themes
    At end of 2020, had three
    people in one week say:
    “If you wrote a book, I would
    read it”

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  6. So, I decided to write a book
    2017 - 2020
    Writing About Work
    Had hundreds of
    conversations with
    people about my ideas
    Wrote 100+ essays and
    newsletters on the topic
    Thousands of tweets
    Made friends curious
    about similar themes
    2021 2022
    Book was #1 priority
    entire year
    Continued doing all the
    same things
    Launched book when
    done after 14 months

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  7. Decide to
    Write Book
    = 3,328
    followers
    I had a very engaged, but not a massive
    audience in Dec 2020 when I decided to write

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  8. Published
    Book
    And it continued to grow throughout the
    writing process as I shared what I was doing
    = 7,491
    followers

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  9. 0
    1000
    2000
    3000
    4000
    5000
    6000
    Jan Feb March April May June July August Sept Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb March April May June
    Book Sales By Month
    I quietly launched the book to my existing subscribers and
    was ecstatic at my early success
    Read More: “I accidentally launched my book”: https://boundless.substack.com/p/i-accidentally-launched-my-book-a
    “I broke even!” 5k books!

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  10. The early
    response
    were a VERY
    strong
    indicator of
    potential
    success

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  11. And they kept coming…I “felt” something
    good might emerge but I honestly didn’t
    know…

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  12. 0
    1000
    2000
    3000
    4000
    5000
    6000
    Jan Feb March April May June July August Sept Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb March April May June
    Book Sales By Month
    …and underestimated that the book might still have a
    much bigger audience!
    Read More: “I accidentally launched my book”: https://boundless.substack.com/p/i-accidentally-launched-my-book-a
    28k Books!

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  13. Why (I think) It Took Off
    • Wrote a book people liked and wanted to share
    • Had cultivated real relationships with hundreds of people
    around my ideas for years
    • I poured my heart into the book and didn’t compromise
    anything creatively or editorially: it is easier to share
    something your heart is 100% behind
    • I had book-lifestyle fit: I approached the book similar to
    how I approached my life, learning everything myself,
    sharing along the way, avoiding chasing vanity metrics (best
    seller) and gifting generously once launched

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  14. Genuine Sharing From Other People
    With Audiences
    (I’m sort of crazy and didn’t ask anyone to share or review)

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  15. My book topic & my personality were
    perfectly wired for long games
    • Not “done” with the topic: My curiosity has not waned on exploring how
    people live unconventional lives
    • I want to keep going: I have a ton of fun writing a weekly newsletter, talking
    to people, and sharing on Twitter
    • Giving is easier & cheaper: I have practiced generosity for years and am
    delighted to give my book away for free. This was made easier by the low
    cost to print & ship on Amazon KDP ($4.50 a book)
    • Timing & speed: Getting to market early was an advantage. I caught the
    early waves of the zeitgeist (Covid WFH, Tech Layoffs, Creator Economy)
    that emerged in 2020 by publishing in early 2021.

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  16. My original belief: launches matter
    Reality: launches matter but long games can win too
    Launch Energy 🚀 Long Game Energy 🚶‍♂️
    I’m wired to play
    this game
    (I hate launches)

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  17. What do you have?
    Launch Energy 🚀 Long Game Energy 🚶‍♂️
    “By the time the book came out, I had already recorded 75
    podcast interviews and had asked all of them to release
    within the first two weeks of the book coming out. Then I had
    another 25 that I recorded the month the book launched. We
    had 100 podcast interviews come out within the first month
    of the book being out - but you need to reach out to 300 to
    get on 100”

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  18. Lessons Learned
    1. I underestimated the potential for books for
    internet-native writers that are playing long
    games and plan to continue to share around ideas
    they care about
    2. I underestimated the intrinsic rewards: it raised
    my personal ambitions, helped me be a better
    writer, and gave others a clear token to show
    their support

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  19. Is the book you want to write in
    the flow of your natural curiosity
    & sharing?
    (then what are you waiting for?)

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  20. Traditional vs. Self-Publishing is a falsechoice
    that keeps too many from actually writing
    Traditional Self-Publishing
    VS.

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  21. The reality is there is a spectrum of
    options & models
    Traditional Self-Publishing
    Hybrid
    “Standard Deal”
    100% DIY
    50/50 Royalty Split
    No Advance
    Pay-for-services
    100% Royalties
    Fixed fee ($2-5k)
    90% Royalties
    By Submission
    15-20% Fees

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  22. While you can buy back rights from publisher, it rarely
    happens. Self-publishing preserves optionality
    Traditional
    Self-Publishing
    Publisher Owns
    Lifetime Rights
    Sell to publisher
    Stay self-published
    Sell global rights only
    Future creative options

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  23. A top publisher offered me a two-book
    deal 15 months after I self-published
    I turned it down
    because I could
    see the value of
    my book and the
    economics &
    trade-offs didn’t
    make sense
    Source: Paul Millerd : "Last month, Portfolio (part of 🐧) reached out and ended up offering
    $200k for the rights to The Pathless Path and a 2nd book I said no

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  24. People were shocked by $200k but the math often
    doesn’t make sense no matter the number once its selling
    Case example: Hal Elrod
    Hal: “I think we were up to 10,000 copies a month, so
    it was earning like, I don't even know, $40,000 a
    month, or something. I did the math and I'm like, "All
    right, love you, it would be a really great check to get
    in the mail," and then I would regret it for the rest of
    my life, right?”
    Hal: “We met with 13 New York publishers. We got
    nine offers. I'll be very transparent, so the top two
    offers were for $250,000 advances.”

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  25. After Penguin reached out, I explored a couple of
    other options, I was surprised at the leverage I had
    in the market
    More negotiating power: A Top UK publisher offered to
    republish print-only in Non-North American Regions (they
    take all printing and cost risk) for a 50/50 royalty split. I
    decided to say no to this as well
    Global Opportunities: I signed a global rights agent to sell
    Indian English rights and global translations. Foreign
    rights agents typically are happy to represent self-
    published authors with good sales trajectories. They only
    take 20% of commissions and royalties. This is typically
    seen as “found money”

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  26. Five Key Considerations
    #1 Prestige
    #2 Process
    #3 Creative Control
    #4 Distribution
    #5 Royalties

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  27. #1 Prestige: Does it (still) matter?
    How to accurately price the glow of prestige

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  28. Prestige is a mental model for what
    other people care about
    This is a hidden force that shapes the modern
    world more than we like to admit
    But when it comes to publishing, I believe the
    value of this prestige is overpriced

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  29. The most powerful way traditional publishers “sell” prestige is
    promising to send your book to other authors they publish
    Famous
    Author
    Influencer
    Famous
    Author
    Famous
    Author
    Famous
    Author
    Media
    Representative
    Your book Publisher’s network
    Thoughts
    • This can be amazing, but a
    lot of this isn’t going to
    magically help your book
    succeed
    • You have to put in a lot of
    effort to pursue these
    relationships and even still,
    this will only help with a big
    launch
    • People will always share
    what they think is good, you
    don’t NEED a publisher to
    access big names

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  30. My experience: Ali Abdaal posted a video about my book
    Almost 500k views drove a
    spike of about 10k books (all
    channels) over 90 days.
    Reflection: People with large, high-trust audiences that are aligned on
    topics & interests can sell a lot of books
    Also, I think people overrate channels like radio, media articles versus
    YouTube – these relationships with audience are highly personal

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  31. Traditional Publishing
    ✓ Reputation (but weaker than
    its apex)
    ✓ Take upfront cost &
    inventory risks
    ✓ Up-front payment
    ✓ Clear timeline and process
    ✓ Understanding of mass
    market
    ✓ Retail & global relationships
    Self-Publishing
    ✓ Absolute creative control
    ✓ Royalty long-term upside &
    incentives
    ✓ Rapidly growing market &
    new opportunities
    ✓ Can make updates &
    improvements without
    permission
    ✓ Cheaper gifting of books

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  32. Traditional publishers used to
    have distribution edge with retail
    But retail has declining sales… …despite increasing print sales
    Source: U.S. print book sales 2022 | Statista
    Source: U.S. book store sales 2022 | Statista

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  33. I sense the prestige and stigma will continue to fade as
    established writers pursue alternative paths
    Steven Pressfield Self-
    Published His Memoir

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  34. #2 Process & Timeline
    Are self-published books crappier? (They can be)

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  35. With a traditional publisher, you get access to an editor, but
    you are also competing with hundreds of books in production
    We publish over 1,500 titles every year across a
    wide range of categories and genres, including
    fiction and non-fiction, adult and children’s, and
    commercial bestsellers and literary classics.
    Your attention within a publishing house will be
    directly correlated to the size of your advance

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  36. The traditional timeline is needlessly slow because of a
    fixed process, lots of books, and too many meetings
    Book proposal
    3-6 Months
    Writing & Approval
    9-15 Months
    Pre-Production & Launch
    6-9 months
    1 year 2 year
    Writing, Editing & Design Upload & Approval
    3-5 days
    Traditional
    Self-Published
    Published Chooses
    Launch Date

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  37. But, self-Publishing can be overwhelming
    because you make all the decisions
    Traditional Self-Publishing
    You
    Editor
    Publishing
    Staff
    Writing
    Everything
    Else
    Editing
    Design
    Marketing
    & Pricing
    Strategy
    Distribution

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  38. Case Example: I did a 99 designs contest and was not
    quite happy with any of the covers

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  39. Lesson Learned: I hired a pro designer on 99 designs
    who’s work I liked and ended up getting two covers

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  40. I made lots of little mistakes (so I could share!), like not
    knowing you could pre-sale a kindle on amazon up to a year
    before launch (oops)
    Source: I (accidentally) launched my book a year ago and then it magically sold 10,000 copies (substack.com)

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  41. Recommended self-publishing steps
    ❑ Just start writing before thinking about publishing options
    ❑ See how you feel about the book before making any major decisions
    ❑ When you are 40-60% done with a solid draft, start thinking about
    exploring hybrid and self-publishing options
    ❑ Hire an editor
    ❑ Acquire your own ISBNs via Bowker (or other)
    ❑ Hire a designer and have them format documents to upload to
    various sites (most will provide templates)
    ❑ Put book on Amazon Kindle pre-sale (can’t pre-sale printed copies)
    ❑ Work with editor to finish book
    ❑ Work with proofreader and typesetter (or use Reedsy) to finish book
    ❑ Upload to Amazon and send yourself a proof copy

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  42. #3 Creative Control
    Are self-published books crappier? (They can be)

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  43. In traditional publishing there is a playbook.
    This may include:
    ❑ Certain page count minimums (60-80k typical)
    ❑ Will cut parts that you want to keep
    ❑ Will insist on titles and cover design
    ❑ Decisions made as part of committees
    ❑ Launch date
    At an institutional level, this may make sense for a big publishing house.
    But they are maximizing shareholder value, not your creative spirit.

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  44. Process & creative control drives most of the
    dissatisfaction: anonymous complaints I’ve heard
    “My editor is great but the staff
    they are working with is not
    very good.”
    “The process is painfully slow”
    “I have to fight them on too
    many trivial things, it is sucking
    my creative energy”
    “(Top publishing imprint) asked me to
    blurb a borderline MLM scheme”
    “I feel like I can’t tell people about my
    real experience because I need to be a
    ‘good author’”
    “I stopped promoting my book because
    the royalties are too low and I won’t
    earn out my advance.”

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  45. I had fun making tiny decisions that delighted me
    like choosing block paragraphs
    This is what
    95% of
    published books
    seem to be
    I couldn’t find a
    good reason
    other than “this
    is the way it’s
    done”
    This is what I
    chose in my
    book
    Why?
    I liked it

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  46. I did different paperback and hardcovers
    Why not?!

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  47. Hybrid Example: Jenny Blake worked with a hybrid publisher
    because she wanted to create a very high-quality hardcover
    Her first two books were
    with traditional
    publishers, but she
    worked with a hybrid
    publisher for her third
    because she wanted to
    control the creative
    process and create
    something that delighted
    her
    Cost ~$10/copy with
    Ideapress
    Source: 162: Should You Self-Publish? (Part One) — Free Time with Jenny Blake — Book & Podcast for Heart-Based
    Business (itsfreetime.com)

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  48. People do judge self-
    published books
    Embarrassingly, I'll admit I was blown away from the
    book quality. Not because you hadn't done a great job
    in your previous writings, but I guess I was thinking a
    self-published book would somehow be lesser
    - A reader to me, in an email

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  49. But self-publishing just has a wider
    variance. There are great looking self-
    published books
    Don’t do this

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  50. Taking yourself seriously is what matters
    most. Spend on design & editing
    Spend Before Launch
    Production Costs
    Editing $3,400 2 Editors
    Coaching $500 1 Coach
    99Designs Contest $275 Failed!
    99 Designs Pro $67 Success
    Publishing $250 IngramSpark
    Audiobook $1,280 Mastering of audio
    Total Spend $6,172
    Marketing Spend
    Gifted Books $5,000 ~1000-1200 books
    Ads $5,200 Mostly amazon
    Marketing Consultant $325
    Total Spend ~$10,325
    Spend After Launch

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  51. Going from text to book is easier than people think
    This is a free book
    editor that exports to
    print-ready PDF, MOBI,
    and EPUB

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  52. …and you can level up using additional cheap or
    free tools
    Better
    Formatting
    More Printing &
    Binding Options
    Better Covers
    Freelance
    designers &
    editors
    Book Printing &
    Fulfilment

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  53. Key creative control decision points
    ❑ Don’t worry too much about anything until 30-50% through (just write!)
    ❑ Start noticing other people’s books in bookstores, including sizes, paper,
    print, and colors
    ❑ Start previewing designers on sites like 99 designs (I recommend
    spending at least $300)
    ❑ With self-publishing you can make changes AFTER launch
    ❑ Don’t settle for a cover that you don’t LOVE
    ❑ Use reedsy and Amazon’s portal to print proof copies of different sizes
    and page counts. Try matted vs. glossy., white vs. crème paper – see what
    you like!

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  54. #4 Distribution
    How much do you make? (It depends)

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  55. Traditionally published does not guarantee
    bookstores
    “For the authors whose primary
    goal is getting into bookstores,
    you may sign over lifetime
    ownership of your art for a mere
    three months of spine-out
    visibility.”
    Hugh Howey

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  56. Book stores aren’t stupid: they’ll stock stuff people
    want (Like David Goggins book)
    “I wanted to own all of Can’t Hurt
    Me, and I wanted to own all of my
    own life story”
    David Goggins
    5+ Millions Sold
    Published with Scribe in 2018

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  57. Some people have been playing long-games with
    self-publishing (and winning!)
    Hugh Howey has been self-
    publishing for years, with one of
    his books becoming an Apple TV
    series in 2023

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  58. You can get into local and indie bookstores (but it
    requires a lot of manual work)
    Selling my book at
    BookPeople in Austin
    (recently sold out and
    they requested more)

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  59. One of my favorite things to do has been to give
    away my book for free and leave it around Austin

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  60. You can also pitch places like Barnes & Noble and
    Hudson Booksellers

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  61. Seth Godin has published 140+ books and has self-
    published and published
    “What we're left with is this if you're willing to
    do the work and show up and show up and
    show up with generosity for years at a time,
    people are going to read your book.
    And if people read your book and they don't
    like it, you should write another book. Because
    this act of putting it down in writing clearly for
    people who want to learn about you, who want
    to learn from you, is fun and generous and
    ultimately productive for everybody”
    The “easy” but
    ultimately, hard
    approach

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  62. Seth has a great podcast episode talking about WHY you
    should self-publish and how to think about it
    1. Start talking about the book 3+ years before publishing
    (fit with my experience of writing about the same topic
    for 4+ years)
    2. People WILL judge it – Do a great cover, hire a copy
    editor, proofread – take it serious
    3. Don’t sell to everyone: The best-selling book in any one
    year only reached 2% of the population
    4. Books that are shareable are the most valuable: Write
    a book people want to share more than 2+ at a time
    5. The bestseller list is a scam (see link)
    Great podcast episode: Akimbo: Publish Yourself

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  63. #5 Royalties & Pricing
    How much do you make? (It depends)

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  64. Royalty Comparison
    Jenny Blake: Penguin
    Advance: $150k
    Type Sold Royalties
    Per
    Book
    Hardcover 13,500 $37,000 $2.74
    Paperback 21,200 $19,800 $0.93
    eBook 10,000 $23,400 $2.34
    Plus $40k Foreign Rights
    Total Books = 44,700
    “Earned out” = $120k
    Source: 164: Let’s Talk Royalties re: Publishing Options (Part Two) — Free Time with Jenny Blake — Book & Podcast for Heart-Based Business (itsfreetime.com)
    Type Sold Royalties
    Per
    Book
    Hardcover 425 $3,040 $7.15
    Paperback 7,631 $53,716 $7.04
    eBook 12,523 $58,981 $2.34
    Paul Millerd: Self-Published
    Upfront Costs: $6k
    VS.
    Total Books = 20,579
    Total Royalties = $115k

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  65. Traditional Publishing Has A Standard Deal
    This is my offer from Penguin

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  66. Royalties can be confusing because of sales, discounts,
    and global pricing. But this calculator is helpful
    To “earn” out the 70k
    they were offering me
    for my book, I would
    have had to sell> 25k
    books
    On my own I could sell
    10k paperbacks on
    Amazon

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  67. My Detailed Self-Publishing Royalties
    29k sold, $142k total royalties, Avg $5.08 a book
    Channel Units Avg Royalty Type Units %
    Kindle 10,707 $ 4.61 Ebook 12,750 45%
    Audiobook (ACX) 6,795 $ 3.87 Print 8,492 30%
    AMZN Paperback 6,394 $ 7.82 Audio* 6,795 24%
    IngramSpark ebook 1,153 $ 2.67 *25% since July release
    India Publishing (Pothi) 894 $ 0.02
    IngramSpark Paperback 764 $ 5.14 Channel Units %
    Gumroad 392 $ 8.70 Amazon 17,358 62%
    Apple iBook 374 $ 6.71 ACX 6,795 24%
    AMZN Hardcover 257 $ 8.77 Ingram 2,230 8%
    IngramSpark Hardcover 183 $ 4.29 Other 1,654 6%
    Google Books 124 $ 6.24

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  68. You can’t compare royalties 1:1 because
    they are different games
    Jenny’s book got a massive order into
    Target, which is much harder AND
    lowered the average royalties

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  69. Traditional Publishers price eBooks Inefficiently

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  70. Publishers used Apples entrance into eBooks to literally
    fix prices for eBooks at $14.99
    Source: The 2010s were supposed to bring the ebook revolution. It never quite came. - Vox

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  71. Authors should care about this because research on book sales
    from 2014 showed that $14.99 is NOT a sweet spot for eBook
    sales
    Source: Data Guy on Price Points - Hugh Howey

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  72. Amazon is the most
    important player
    because they own
    the customer BUT
    big authors will
    likely leverage tools
    like Shopify and
    Kickstarter for pre-
    sales and special
    edition

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  73. Opportunity: Brandon Sanderson did a Kickstarter pre-
    sale and found that bundles drive more sales
    Source: Some FAQs You Might Enjoy | Brandon Sanderson

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  74. Reach Out
    I want to inspire more internet-native writers to publish
    their own books earlier in their journeys and see the
    upsides of self-publishing
    [email protected]
    @p_millerd

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