SELF-PUBLISHING IN 2019? – How Many Book Sales Needed to Recoup Your Investment?

UPDATED: 1/15/2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Please also see the 2019 Self-Publishing Price Comparison HERE.

Considering self-publishing? Are you wondering how many books you will need to sell to recoup your investment?

LISTED IN ORDER OF BREAK-EVEN STATUS:

  • BookLocker – Only 156 COPIES (setup fees: $875)

  • BookBaby – 238 COPIES (setup fees: $1,699)
  • Lulu – 295 COPIES (setup fees: $1,738)
  • Xulon Press – 312 COPIES (setup fees $2,995)
  • Balboa Press – 323 COPIES (setup fees $1,299)
  • Trafford – 370 COPIES (setup fees: $1,948)
  • Dog Ear Publishing – 425 COPIES (setup fees $2,099)
  • Xlibris – 432 COPIES (setup fees: $1,723)
  • Mill City Press – 449 COPIES (setup fees $3,690)
  • Outskirts Press – 470 COPIES (setup fees: $3,295)
  • Fast Pencil / Infinity Publishing – 470 COPIES (setup fees: $2,247)
  • iUniverse – 476 COPIES (setup fees: $3,199)
  • Westbow Press – 489 COPIES (setup fees: $2,195)
  • Breezeway Books (previously Llumina Press) – 526 COPIES (setup fees: $2,098)
  • Wheatmark – 627 COPIES (setup fees: $2,500)
  • AuthorHouse – 590 COPIES (setup fees: $2,353)
  • Amazon KDP/CreateSpace – N/A: No longer offers publishing services to authors.

Sample Book Used for Comparison:

Black and white interior paperback with full-color cover

6 x 9

Approx. 248 pages


The Calculation:

List Price x Royalty Rate (for books sold through the publisher’s website) = Royalty amount per book

Setup fees divided by Royalty amount per book

= Number of copies needed to sell to break even on setup fees

Fees are based on the least expensive package offering similar services. Details are below.


Sometimes, starry-eyed authors look at the loud bells and silver whistles on some Print on Demand (POD) publishing company websites, and get caught up in the hype. Spending up to $1,000 or more is never a good idea when you can get essentially the same book for much less (most POD publishers use the same printer). Saving money up front means you’ll recoup the money you’ve invested in your book much faster!

How many print books do you need to sell to recoup the money you’ve paid to self-publish your your book with the most popular POD publishers?

Prices above are based on the least expensive package offered by each publisher on similar offers targeting U.S. authors. Fees include black-and-white-interior print formatting (based on a 200-page book) with up to 50 interior photos/graphics, original color cover design (some firms above only offer template covers with these packages) with up to 5 images (some above charge extra for more than one cover image – BookLocker does NOT), print proof, basic ebook formatting and distribution to the top four ebook retailers (some firms, like Amazon KDP/CreateSpace, have distribution limitations, and some may charge more for ebooks with complex formatting), Espresso edition (not all above offer this), an ISBN for all editions, barcode, a listing on the publisher’s website, distribution by Ingram, and feedback on your cover if submitting your own (some above don’t offer this, or won’t give you a discount if you are submitting your own cover), all within 6 weeks.

IMPORTANT: Many of the firms above don’t offer rush/expedited publishing services. BookLocker usually publishes within a month – at no additional charge. BookLocker also offers a rush 2-week print publishing program for only $1199, which is still less than all of the other firms’ “regular” programs above.

NOTE: Many companies offer perks that others don’t and some try to upsell authors on extraneous services during the publishing process. Study each publisher and contract carefully before making your choice.

Prices also now include the cost of production files for those publishers who offer that. Some don’t give, or even sell, production files to authors when those authors leave their service. Other POD publishers charge authors extra for copies of files they already PAID the publisher to produce! Ridiculous and extremely greedy! BookLocker gives production files to authors on request at no extra charge. Some other publishers either charge hundreds for them, or flat refuse to give or sell them to authors at all. This essentially forces the author to stay with that publisher unless they want to pay publishing/formatting/design fees all over again to someone else if they are unhappy with their publisher. We call this a forced marriage.

NOTE: Many companies offer perks that others don’t and some try to upsell authors on extraneous services during the publishing process. Study each publisher and contract carefully before making your choice.

Print book sales figures below are calculated as coming directly from the publisher’s website (royalties are usually lower for sales through retailers/wholesalers). Some publishers don’t sell their authors’ books through their own website.

LISTED IN ORDER OF BREAK-EVEN STATUS

For a 248-page, 6 x 9, full-color cover, black-and-white interior paperback book:


BookLocker – ONLY 156 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $875) – (D.I.Y. program available for only $78, which includes an ISBN and initial file verification by a real human. Deduct $200 from the full-service, $875 package if submitting your own cover. Allows unlimited cover images and up to 50 interior images in the print book at no additional charge.)  

IMPORTANT: WritersWeekly readers get a $150 discount off this price! You can sign up with BookLocker RIGHT HERE, and use this discount code when checking out to get your $150 discount: WritersWeeklyReader

Rated “Outstanding” by Mark Levine, attorney and author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing.

Better Business Bureau Rating: A+

BookLocker also offers a D.I.Y. Program, a Payment Plan Program, and an EXPEDITED publishing program (2-week publishing package).

BOOKLOCKER REVIEWS:

According to The Independent Publishing Magazine, “Overall, BookLocker offers a very particular kind of POD publishing service, honest, upfront, a quality product, but no unnecessary frills. This model may not suit all authors, but their personalized approach and focus on book sales is worth all the value alone.

“As close to perfection as you’re going to find in the world of ebook and POD publishing. The ebook royalties are the highest I’ve ever seen, and the print royalties are better than average. BookLocker understands what new authors experience, and has put together a package that is the best in the business. You can’t go wrong here. Plus, they’re selective and won’t publish any manuscript just because it’s accompanied by a check. Also, the web site is well trafficked. If you can find a POD or epublisher with as much integrity and dedication to selling authors’ books, but with lower POD publishing fees, please let me know.”
Attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing


BookBaby – 238 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $1,699.00)

There are complaints about Bookbaby HEREHERE and HERE. Bookbaby’s ebook program was rated 7.4 out of 10 by The Independent Publishing Magazine. Their print program was only rated 6.9-7.0 out of 10.


Lulu – 295 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $1,738.00)

Rated “Just Okay” by Mark Levine, attorney and author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing. 

Lulu is in partnership with Author Solutions. (See the listing above for more about that firm.)

LIMITATIONS: Lulu has had customer service and quality problems. Lulu does not mention production files on their site, and never responded to our email about that so it appears they don’t give or sell those to authors. We will post an update if we ever hear from them. Read THIS and THIS to learn more about Lulu’s ongoing problems from unhappy authors. More complaints are HERE. No expedite/rush publishing option is mentioned on their website.


Xulon Press – 312 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees $2,995.00)

Better Business Bureau Rating: NR (No Rating) – Read complaints at the links below. 

Publishes Christian materials only.

Rated “Outstanding” by Mark Levine, attorney and author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing BUT READ THE COMPLAINTS at the links below. 

Xulon is yet another firm that claims to pay “100% royalties” but you are NOT getting 100% of the list price, which is what some authors assume when they read that type of marketing verbiage…not even close. The author simply gets what’s left over after everybody else takes their cut, which is what everybody does! Read more about those silly “100% royalty” claims HERE.

There are some pretty scathing comments about Xulon Press HERE. Read another complaint HERE.


Balboa Press – 323 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $1,299.00)

Better Business Bureau Rating: A+ … but read the complaints at the links below. 

Victoria Strauss writes: “I generally advise authors to avoid the Author Solutions self-publishing services (iUniverse, Xlibris, Trafford, AuthorHouse, BookTango, and the self-pub services Author Solutions runs for major publishers, including Thomas Nelson’s WestBow Press and Hay House’s Balboa Press), since I’ve received many complaints about quality, price, and high-pressure sales tactics.”

NOTE: Balbao Press is in partnership with Author Solutions, which owns AuthorHouse, Xlibris, iUniverse (all featured here), WordClay, Palibrio, Booktango, and others, and is in partnership with Archway Publishing, Balboa Press, LifeRich Publishing, GABAL, Partridge, and Alliant Press. Two class-action lawsuits have been filed against Author Solutions in the past. You can read complaints about Balboa Press HERE and HERE. There’s even a “Balboa Press Survivors” Facebook page HERE.

Other firms in partnership with Author Solutions, but not mentioned on this list, include: Archway Publishing, Palibrio, PatridgeIndia, Abbott Press, Inspiring Voices, Booktango, CrossBooks, and DellArte Press.


Trafford – 370 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $1,948.00)

Better Business Bureau Rating: A+ despite having received 201 customer complaints for their parent company, Author Solutions! Look at the additional complaints in the links below.  

Rated “Publisher to Avoid” by Mark Levine, attorney and author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing. Warning: Has a variety of “extra” charges like $2 per page (included in price above) if your manuscript is submitted with incorrect headers/footers, page breaks, line and paragraph formatting, etc. Charges $5 extra per image (included in price above). Expedited service (“rapid release”) is $349 (included above).

NOTE: Trafford is is owned by Author Solutions, which owns AuthorHouse, Xlibris, iUniverse (all featured here), WordClay, Palibrio, Booktango, and others, and is in partnership with Archway Publishing, Balboa Press, LifeRich Publishing, GABAL, Partridge, Booktango, and Alliant Press. Two class-action lawsuits have been filed against Author Solutions in the past. See several complaints about Trafford HERE and HERE, and 201 complaints about their parent company, Author Solutions, HERE.

Victoria Strauss writes: “I generally advise authors to avoid the Author Solutions self-publishing services (iUniverse, Xlibris, Trafford, AuthorHouse, BookTango, and the self-pub services Author Solutions runs for major publishers, including Thomas Nelson’s WestBow Press and Hay House’s Balboa Press), since I’ve received many complaints about quality, price, and high-pressure sales tactics.”

Other firms in partnership with Author Solutions, but not mentioned on this list, include: Archway Publishing, Palibrio, PatridgeIndia, Abbott Press, Inspiring Voices, Booktango, CrossBooks, and DellArte Press.


Dog Ear Publishing – 425 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees $2,099.00)

Better Business Bureau Rating: A- … but read the complaints at the links below. 

Rated “Outstanding” by Mark Levine, attorney and author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing. Despite the claims on their website about their competitive prices, they’re very expensive…and, on their site, they left BookLocker out of their price comparison (because BookLocker’s price is so much lower). For print publishing within a month + ebook publishing, they do NOT have the lowest price. Not even close. Without the expedited option, their price is still too high. Dog Ear DOES give production files to authors. Read complaints about Dog Ear publishing HEREHERE, and at the Better Business Bureau HERE. Those contain numerous allegations of late/missing royalty payments, and a variety of excuses by the publisher reported by authors on that site – from blaming the retailers/distributor, to having a computer system that can’t handle their growth, to switching bank accounts and not having new checks yet, to running out of stamps, and even a broken stamp machine.


Xlibris – 286 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $1,573.00)

Better Business Bureau Rating: A+ despite having received 201 customer complaints for their parent company, Author Solutions! Look at the additional complaints in the links below.  

Victoria Strauss writes: “I generally advise authors to avoid the Author Solutions self-publishing services (iUniverse, Xlibris, Trafford, AuthorHouse, BookTango, and the self-pub services Author Solutions runs for major publishers, including Thomas Nelson’s WestBow Press and Hay House’s Balboa Press), since I’ve received many complaints about quality, price, and high-pressure sales tactics.”

Rated “Publisher to Avoid” by Mark Levine, attorney and author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing.

Charges expedite fee of $349 (included above) for publication in 2 months instead of 3-4 months. Charges $10 per image (included above) and $20 per table. LIMITATIONS: Limit of 1 cover image. Claims ownership of files you paid them to create. You have to pay them $150 more for those.

NOTE: Xlibris is owned by Author Solutions, which owns AuthorHouse, Xlibris, Trafford (all featured here) WordClay, Palibrio, Booktango, and others, and is in partnership with Archway Publishing, Balboa Press, LifeRich Publishing, GABAL, Partridge, Booktango, and Alliant Press. Two class-action lawsuits have been filed against Author Solutions in the past. See several complaints about Xlibris HEREHERE, and 201 complaints about their parent company, Author Solutions, HERE.

Other firms in partnership with Author Solutions, but not mentioned on this list, include: Archway Publishing, Palibrio, PatridgeIndia, Abbott Press, Inspiring Voices, Booktango, CrossBooks, and DellArte Press.


Mill City Press – 449 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $3,690.00)

Better Business Bureau Rating: N/A (Says they are out of business but that’s not exactly true.) Read complaints at the link below. 

This firm was sold to the owners of Xulon Press (Salem Authors Press), which also appears on this list. They also own MCP Books and XP Books. Read complaints about Mill City Press HERE.


Outskirts Press – 470 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $3,295.00)

Better Business Bureau Rating: A+ … but read the complaints at the links below. 

Rated “Pretty Good” by Mark Levine, attorney and author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing. Outskirts used to charge authors an additional $998 for their production files but we can no longer find that option on their website. Their rush service costs $99 extra and takes 7-10 weeks instead of 13-17 weeks! What?! BookLocker can get your book on the market in only 2 weeks for a LOT less! You can read detailed Better Business Bureau complaints about Outskirts Press HERE. Author Michael Marcus wrote a book about Outskirts Press called: Stupid, Sloppy, Sleazy: The Strange Story of Vanity Publisher Outskirts Press. How Do They Stay in Business? You can see that HERE. More complaints about Outskirts Press are HEREHERE, and HERE.

Outskirts is yet another firm that claims to pay “100% royalties” but you are NOT getting 100% of the list price, which is what some authors assume when they read that type of marketing verbiage…not even close. The author simply gets what’s left over after everybody else takes their cut, which is what everybody does! Read more about those silly “100% royalty” claims HERE.


Fast Pencil / Infinity Publishing – 470 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $2,247.00)

Better Business Bureau Rating: F

Infinity Publishing merged with Fast Pencil. There are several complaints listed HEREHEREHEREHERE, and HERE. No mention of an expedited or rush option on their website. Their contract does not specify who owns the rights to production files.


iUniverse – 476 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $3,199.00)

Better Business Bureau Rating: A+ despite having received 201 customer complaints for their parent company, Author Solutions! Look at the additional complaints in the links below.  

Rated “Publisher to Avoid” by Mark Levine, attorney and author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing. Has a variety of “extra” charges like $2 per page if your manuscript is submitted with incorrect headers/footers, page breaks, line and paragraph formatting (included in price above), more than 25 photos/graphics, more than 2 images on your cover, tables, etc. LIMITATIONS: They claim ownership of files you already paid them to create and they will NOT GIVE YOU COPIES. $500 “express service.” Otherwise, turnaround is 3-4 months. NOTE: iUniverse is owned by Author Solutions, which owns AuthorHouse, Xlibris, Trafford (all featured here), WordClay, Palibrio, Booktango, and others, and is in partnership with Archway Publishing, Balboa Press, LifeRich Publishing, GABAL, Partridge, Booktango, and Alliant Press. Two class-action lawsuits have been filed against Author Solutions in the past. Read several complaints about iUniverse HEREHERE, and HERE, and 201 complaints about their parent company, Author Solutions, HERE.

Victoria Strauss writes: “I generally advise authors to avoid the Author Solutions self-publishing services (iUniverse, Xlibris, Trafford, AuthorHouse, BookTango, and the self-pub services Author Solutions runs for major publishers, including Thomas Nelson’s WestBow Press and Hay House’s Balboa Press), since I’ve received many complaints about quality, price, and high-pressure sales tactics.”

Other firms in partnership with Author Solutions, but not mentioned on this list, include: Archway Publishing, Palibrio, PatridgeIndia, Abbott Press, Inspiring Voices, Booktango, CrossBooks, and DellArte Press.


Westbow Press – 489 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $2,195.00)

Better Business Bureau Rating: A+ despite having received 201 customer complaints for their parent company, Author Solutions! Look at the additional complaints in the links below.  

If the high price at Westbow Press doesn’t scare you, the complaints HERE, and HERE, and HERE might. Westbow is in partnership with Author Solutions, which owns AuthorHouse, Xlibris, iUniverse, Trafford (all featured here), WordClay, Palibrio, Booktango, and others, and is in partnership with Archway Publishing, Balboa Press, LifeRich Publishing, GABAL, Partridge, Booktango, and Alliant Press. Two class-action lawsuits have been filed against Author Solutions in the past. Read 201 complaints about their parent company, Author Solutions, HERE.

Victoria Strauss writes: “I generally advise authors to avoid the Author Solutions self-publishing services (iUniverse, Xlibris, Trafford, AuthorHouse, BookTango, and the self-pub services Author Solutions runs for major publishers, including Thomas Nelson’s WestBow Press and Hay House’s Balboa Press), since I’ve received many complaints about quality, price, and high-pressure sales tactics.”

Other firms in partnership with Author Solutions, but not mentioned on this list, include: Archway Publishing, Palibrio, PatridgeIndia, Abbott Press, Inspiring Voices, Booktango, CrossBooks, and DellArte Press.


Breezeway books (previously Llumina Press) – 526 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $2,098.00)

Breezeway Books was previously Llumina Press, which had numerous complaints posted about it online. The publisher then canned that name, and started a “new” company. In a press release, they called it “rebranding.”

Read an eye-opening review of this publisher HERE. Read several more complaints about this publisher HERE and HERE.


AuthorHouse – 590 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $2,353.00)

Better Business Bureau Rating: A+ despite having received 201 customer complaints for their parent company, Author Solutions! Look at the additional complaints in the links below.  

Rated “Publisher to Avoid” by Mark Levine, attorney and author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing. Charges extra for photos/graphics ($5 per image after the first 25. Expedite fee ($500) is for publication in 45 days instead of 4-6 months (included above). LIMITATIONS: Claims ownership of files you already paid them to create. You have to pay them extra for copies – $250 for interior and $250 for cover (included above). NOTE: AuthorHouse is owned by Author Solutions, which owns iUniverse, Xlibris, Trafford (all featured here), WordClay, Palibrio, Booktango, and others, and is in partnership with Archway Publishing, Balboa Press, LifeRich Publishing, GABAL, Partridge, Booktango, and Alliant Press. Two class-action lawsuits have been filed against Author Solutions in the past. Numerous complaints about AuthorHouse are published HEREHERE, and HERE, and 201 complaints about their parent company, Author Solutions, HERE.

Victoria Strauss writes: “I generally advise authors to avoid the Author Solutions self-publishing services (iUniverse, Xlibris, Trafford, AuthorHouse, BookTango, and the self-pub services Author Solutions runs for major publishers, including Thomas Nelson’s WestBow Press and Hay House’s Balboa Press), since I’ve received many complaints about quality, price, and high-pressure sales tactics.”

Other firms in partnership with Author Solutions, but not mentioned on this list, include: Archway Publishing, Palibrio, PatridgeIndia, Abbott Press, Inspiring Voices, Booktango, CrossBooks, and DellArte Press.


Wheatmark – 627 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $2,500.00)

You might get upsold for more because their website states that a realistic budget for properly publishing most books is between $4,000 and $6,000! That’s ridiculous!!

If you want them to simply talk to you about your book, you’ll need to first purchase a Book Publishing Blueprint for $97, a Book Marketing Blueprint for $97, or both for $147. Again, RIDICULOUS! We call that a submission fee.

We had an author go undercover to get their prices from them via email. For paperback and ebook, it’s an astounding $2,500. They specifically stated that does not include editing.

You have to fill out a long form online so they can then contact you with their sales pitch. According to the Independent Publishing Magazine, “authors must pay for initial consultation and they don’t publish their prices on their website.” Also: “Royalties are low when compared to some self-publishing services.”


Amazon KDP/CreateSpace – N/A – No longer offers publishing services to authors. If you need publishing services, you’ll need to hire a third party to format/design your book. 

For ebook publishing, does NOT offer epub (which everyone else uses). Only lists/sells ebooks on Amazon. Does not sell ebooks on Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, or anywhere else. Does NOT publish hardcover books (most others here do). IMPORTANT: Amazon KDP/CreateSpace was previously called BookSurge. Read more about BookSurge’s problems HERE. We ordered some BookSurge books and one looked so bad they inserted an apology note inside, saying it was the best they could get from their supplier. They ARE their own supplier! Another one arrived with the interior pages appearing upside-down. Read numerous complaints about CreateSpace (now called Amazon KDP), posted to their own forum, HERE. Pictures from one angry author are HERE. Other complaints are HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE. No expedite/rush service is mentioned on their website.


When comparing royalties, you should look at royalty percentages, not flat dollar amounts, when shopping for a POD publisher because most allow you to price your book higher than the minimum list price anyway. And, you should demand to know what that royalty is based on. Some POD publishers appear to pay a high royalty, but only pay it based on their net profit, not on the list price. You only learn what you’ll really earn if you read the fine print, and whip out your calculator. And, even then it can be tricky to figure out. Xulon Press’ website says: “If all of this seems overwhelming, don’t worry. The great news about tracking book sales and royalties is we do all the work.” Why don’t they just give real numbers based on the list price of each book so it’s not “overwhelming” for authors?!

BookLocker’s print royalties are ALWAYS based on the list price of the book the author chose so authors always know exactly how much they’ll earn for each print book sale.

To read more about the fees charged by these companies, click HERE.

To see the complaints about some of these companies, click HERE.