The INDIE FILES: Continuous Marketing and Selling Costs

By William C. Tracy

Editorial note: This is the second in a two-part series from William C. Tracy. Part 1 focused on publishing and release costs, comparing traditional and indie publishing. Part 2 will present marketing resources, including a Google Sheets template, to help authors calculate their book costs.


Welcome back! If you read last month’s article, you know about the costs associated with publishing a book. Now, let’s figure out if you’re making money!

Assume your book’s been out for 3–6 months, but you want to keep selling it. Maybe you want to try selling your book by hand? How about social media posts? Paid ads?

Paid ads are unfortunately becoming required for people to see your works online. There are many different types, such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google ads. Regardless, it’s vital to record how much you spent in a certain period (say, a month) and how much you made from selling books online in that same period. It’s incredibly hard to match a person clicking on an ad with an actual sale of your book. Simply put, it’s best to ensure you’re not losing money on ads, which is very easy to do.

If you want to sell your book by hand, it’s easier to see the net profit. First, you’ll have to order copies. If you’ve self-published, print-on-demand will run somewhere around $5–$8 per book, depending on shipping, taxes, number of books, etc. If you’re trad published, the price will be variable, based on your contract, but will likely be $11–$14 per book.

What price do you sell your books at? Say they’re $20 on Amazon. Will you sell at the same price in person? Higher? Lower? Let’s say you pick $20 for hand sales as well. Now for each book you sell, you’re actually making between $6-$9 each on trad books and $12-$15 each on self-pub books (sell price minus purchase cost).

But where are you selling? Probably not out on a street corner. You might be at a local market or convention, selling at a table. You can share the space with other authors, but then eyes are on books that aren’t yours. You could also pay a higher rate for your own table. Whichever you do, you’re likely paying anywhere from $50–$300 or more for the chance to sell your books. To calculate whether you’re making money, you’ll have to factor in the net profit on each book (sell price minus purchase, tax, shipping, and any other costs), then add up all the net costs, and see whether it’s more than what you paid to be there.

Except you had to get there, didn’t you? Did you factor in gas? The food you ate while you were there? A hotel room? Time away from a job? All these things can be included in the full calculation to see if you came out positive or negative at the market.

That means it’s finally time to haul out the spreadsheets! I can hear groaning from here. But I’m here to help. I have a handy sample spreadsheet already created to help you figure out costs. All you have to do is fill in the numbers. If you want to make money while selling books, it’s vital to record all your costs, all your profits, and finally calculate your ROI (return on investment). An ROI greater than 1 means you’ve made money overall, while an ROI less than 1 means you’re losing money.

For the more math-oriented, the equation is: profit divided by cost. If you’ve spent $1,000 publishing and buying books, and made $1,200, then your ROI is 1200/1000 = 1.2%. This is more than 1, which means you’re making money.

All those other costs

Try to account for every cost, even the ones you don’t normally think of. We’ve talked about the costs of publishing, buying copies, travel, and conventions, but wait, there’s more!

  • Taxes: You’ll have to pay based on what your profit is. This is another expense, even if you’re traditionally published.
  • Associated publishing costs: Do you have a website? A newsletter service? What’s the upkeep per month? Have you paid for any promotions? How about sending books out for reviews? If you drop the price of your books for a sale, make sure you’re calculating the correct profit during the sale. Do you use any book services, such as BookFunnel, StoryOrigin, and NetGalley? They usually have a monthly expense. Have you given out free books? Mark that down, too. You’ll want to write in the cost to buy the “free” book in the first place as an expense. (There are spaces for all of these on the spreadsheet.)

Numbers, numbers!

Look at the linked spreadsheet. There’s a lot to take in, but all the spaces for your information are colored green. Fill them in manually, including a “0” if that number is zero. The rest of the spaces will automatically calculate the result. This sheet tracks publishing costs and gives a sample of one month of selling online and at markets. You can copy the monthly section to record subsequent months, then add that month’s total to the summary (under “Lifetime Book Profit”) at the top. Eventually, you’ll have to expand this sheet, but this should give you a good head start.


Whew! That was a lot of information—and probably not very heartening to think of all the costs involved with selling books. But on the bright side, recording all these costs is the best way to see if you’re making money with your writing. You’re running a business. You must learn how to go from losing money to making money.

You can also use this spreadsheet to help adjust book pricing, figure out if a market or convention is worth attending, and decide whether you want to pursue self-publishing, the traditional market, or something in between.

One other factor always matters: are you having fun writing books? Is it something you want to do? Likely the answer is yes, if you’re anything like me. If you can have fun writing stories people want to read and make some money at it while you do, then you’ve got a dream job, as far as I’m concerned.

William C Tracy in a top hatWilliam C. Tracy writes and publishes queer science fiction and fantasy through his indie press Space Wizard Science Fantasy ( His largest work is the “Dissolutionverse,” a space opera with music-based magic, including ten books and an RPG. He also has a standalone epic fantasy with seasonal fruit-based magic, a nonfiction book about body mechanics and correct posture, and a hard sci-fi trilogy with generational colony ships and a planet covered by a sentient fungal entity.

William is a North Carolina native and a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy. He has a master’s in mechanical engineering and has both designed and operated heavy construction machinery. He’s worked as a data analyst and in cost/benefit analysis for almost twenty years, which is where his love of spreadsheets comes from. He has also trained in Wado-Ryu karate since 2003 and runs his own dojo. He is an avid video and board gamer, a beekeeper, a reader, and of course, a writer.

You can get a free “Dissolutionverse” novelette by signing up for William’s mailing list at or follow him on BlueSky, on Mastodon, and @wctracy on Twitter for writing updates, cat and bee pictures, and thoughts on martial arts.