Can Self-Publishing Be Profitable?


“Can self-publishing be profitable?” is one of the most frequently Googled questions on the topic of book publishing, and we’re going to answer it for you. Yes. Yes is the answer. Self-publishing can definitely be profitable. If that was all you needed to hear before buckling down and finishing that book you’ve been meaning to write, great—see you in a bit. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a more elaborate answer, keep reading.

Self-publishing: deconstructing some misconceptions

Despite ever-increasing evidence to the contrary, self-publishing tends to be seen as a less-respectable route to becoming an author. Even when self-published authors produce bestsellers like Still Alice, The Martian, or The Tale of Peter Rabbit, these are treated as exceptions in an otherwise talent-less field. However, this perspective can easily be applied to traditional publishing as well. Bestsellers are generally the exception – otherwise the term would be redundant.

For example, while every person on the planet has heard of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, we’re willing to wager that most of you probably haven’t heard of Red Sky at Night, Lovers’ DelightNevertheless, both of these books are published by Bloomsbury, a major publishing house. The fact of the matter is that there are far more Red Sky at Nightsthan there are Harry Potters, whether traditionally published or not.

Can traditional publishing be profitable?

Of course, we all know that traditional publishing can be profitable. Most people asking whether self-publishing can be profitable do so because they’re curious as to whether it could be a viable alternative to the traditional route. This begs the question: can traditional publishing be profitable?

At the end of the day, most traditionally published books don’t sell more than 2000 copies. In total. We’re talking long-term sales here. With the average price of a physical book in the UK hovering at around £7.50, and the average profit margin for authors being 10%-15% of the retail price, that doesn’t really amount to much. It’s still some nice pocket money, to be sure, but it means that even career writers struggle to live off their craft.

Also, while the publishing house will take care of the annoying bits like editing and printing, they’ll probably still do the bare minimum when it comes to marketing, which is one of the key success factors for any book. So, in the end, you’ll need to sell far fewer self-published books to make the same money as you would through a traditional publisher.

Additionally, traditional publishing will most likely require you to sell your copyright to the publisher. Meaning they’re the ones who get to decide where and how it gets printed, what adaptations are allowed to be made, and any other executive decisions about how your work gets to be used. For some people, this is perfectly fine, but if you want to maintain full financial and creative control over your writing, you might have some reservations about this.

The moral of the story? Signing a deal with a publisher doesn’t guarantee success by any means. While there are clear advantages to traditional publishing, they don’t have to be as decisive as you might think. Nor is traditional publishing inherently more profitable.