SELF-PUBLISHING IN 2021? – How Many Book Sales Needed to Recoup Your Investment?

SELF-PUBLISHING IN 2021? – How Many Book Sales Needed to Recoup Your Investment?

UPDATED: 03/04/2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: Please also see the 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 – 250 COPIES (setup fees: $1,990)
  • Westbow Press – 289 COPIES (setup fees: $1,299)
  • Balboa Press – 326 COPIES (setup fees: $1,299)
  • Xulon Press – 370 COPIES (setup fees: $3,545)
  • Mill City Press – 449 COPIES (setup fees: $3,690)
  • Archway Publishing – 463 COPIES (setup fees: $2,199)
  • Trafford – 489 COPIES (setup fees: $1,948)
  • AuthorHouse – 515 COPIES (setup fees: $2,053)
  • Xlibris – 526 COPIES (setup fees: $2,097)
  • iUniverse – 531 COPIES (setup fees: $2,118)
  • Outskirts Press – 541 COPIES (setup fees: $3,795)
  • Fast Pencil / Opyrus / Infinity Publishing – 542 COPIES (setup fees: $2,595)
  • Wheatmark Publishing – 627 COPIES (setup fees: $2500-$6000)
  • Breezeway Books – 652 COPIES (setup fees: $2,598)
  • Amazon KDP/CreateSpace no longer offers publishing services to authors.
  • Lulu now refers authors to Limelight Publishing, an Australian firm that charges authors $1,400 U.S. in setup fees.

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

  • BookLocker is rated “Outstanding” by Mark Levine, attorney and author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing.
  • This is the fastest publisher on this page! BookLocker gets black-and-white-interior books on the market in only a month at no extra charge.
  • Also offers an expedited 2-week package for an additional fee, as well as a Payment Plan Program, and a D.I.Y. program.
  • No hidden fees.
  • Ebook formatting/conversion/distribution includes mobi (for Amazon’s Kindle) and epub (for Barnes and Noble’s Nook, Apple’s iPad, iPod and iPhone, Kobo – Canada’s popular ebook retailer, and Overdrive, which sells ebooks to more than 40K libraries and schools in 70 countries).
  • No extra charge to include graphics (up to 50), tables, footnotes, etc. in print books.
  • Returning authors are only charged $267 for print setup fees on their second and subsequent books (cover design is extra).
  • No extra charge for production files!  The 2-week rush publishing service is only $1199 (which is still less than all of the firms below charge for publication in several weeks to several months). BookLocker offers a paperback/hardcover/ebook combo as well. Read more HERE.
  • BookLocker is recommended by the Alliance of Independent Authors.
  • 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.
  • According to Attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing: “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.”

Read unsolicited testimonials from numerous BookLocker authors RIGHT HERE.


BookBaby – 50 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN. (Setup fees: $1,990.00)

  • Better Business Bureau Rating: F
  • Their customer rating is only 1 OUT OF 5 STARS.

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.

BookBaby is the only publisher on this list that requires authors to sign an exclusive contract, which is ridiculous for self-publishing. Authors should NOT give exclusive rights to their book to a firm that THE AUTHOR PAID to publish their book!

Also, see: 9 Reasons NOT to Use BookBaby to Publish Your Book


Westbow Press – 289 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $1,299.00)

This is an Author Solutions company. 

  • Better Business Bureau Rating: A+
  • BUT, their customer rating is only 1.3 OUT OF 5 STARS.
  • There have been 198 COMPLAINTS in just the past 3 years. 

Read complaints about Westbow Press HERE, and HERE, and HERE.

NOTE: Westbow is is owned by Author Solutions. Read more about that in the Balboa Press listing below. There are 198 complaints about their parent company, Author Solutions, HERE.

The Alliance of Independent Authors has issued a “watchdog advisory” about Westbow Press.


Balboa Press – 326 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $1,299.00)

This is another Author Solutions company. 

  • Better Business Bureau Rating: A+
  • BUT, their customer rating is only 1.3 OUT OF 5 STARS.
  • There have been 198 COMPLAINTS in just the past 3 years. 

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 also 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. And, there are 198 complaints about their parent company, Author Solutions, HERE.

The Alliance of Independent Authors has issued a “watchdog advisory” about Balboa Press.

One author was so upset with an Author Solutions company that she wrote a book about it.

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


Xulon Press – 370 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees $3,545.00)

  • Better Business Bureau Rating: A+
  • However, their customer rating is only 1 OUT OF 5 STARS.
  • There have been 27 COMPLAINTS in just the past 3 years. 

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.

Xulon Press has been issued a “caution” rating by the Alliance of Independent Authors.

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


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

Better Business Bureau Rating: N/A (It says they are out of business but that’s not true. Their website is still operating.) Read complaints at the link below.

Mill City Press has been issued a “caution” rating by the Alliance of Independent Authors.

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.


Archway Publishing – 463 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $2,199.00)

This is another Author Solutions company. 

  • Better Business Bureau Rating: A+
  • BUT, their customer rating is only 1.3 OUT OF 5 STARS.
  • There have been 198 COMPLAINTS in just the past 3 years. 

There are several links to complaints about Archway Publishing HERE. And, the Alliance of Independent Authors issued a WARNING about Archway Publishing.


Trafford – 489 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $1,948.00)

This is another Author Solutions company. 

  • Better Business Bureau Rating: A+
  • BUT, their customer rating is only 1.3 OUT OF 5 STARS.
  • There have been 198 COMPLAINTS in just the past 3 years. 

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. Read more about that in the Balboa Press listing above. There are 198 complaints about their parent company, Author Solutions, HERE.

See several complaints about Trafford HERE and HERE.

The Alliance of Independent Authors has issued a “watchdog advisory” about Trafford. 


AuthorHouse – 515 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $2,053.00)

This is another Author Solutions company. 

  • Better Business Bureau Rating: A+
  • BUT, their customer rating is only 1.3 OUT OF 5 STARS.
  • There have been 198 COMPLAINTS in just the past 3 years. 

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 is owned by Author Solutions. Read more about that in the Balboa Press listing above. There are 198 complaints about their parent company, Author Solutions, HERE.

Numerous complaints about AuthorHouse are published HEREHERE, and HERE.

The Alliance of Independent Authors has issued a “watchdog advisory” about AuthorHouse.


Xlibris – 526 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $2,097.00)

This is another Author Solutions company. 

  • Better Business Bureau Rating: A+
  • BUT, their customer rating is only 1.3 OUT OF 5 STARS.
  • There have been 198 COMPLAINTS in just the past 3 years. 

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 is owned by Author Solutions. Read more about that in the Balboa Press listing above. There are 198 complaints about their parent company, Author Solutions, HERE.

See several complaints about Xlibris HERE and HERE.

The Alliance of Independent Authors has issued a “watchdog advisory” about Xlibris.


iUniverse – 531 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $2,118.00)

This is another Author Solutions company. 

  • Better Business Bureau Rating: A+
  • BUT, their customer rating is only 1.3 OUT OF 5 STARS.
  • There have been 198 COMPLAINTS in just the past 3 years.

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 is owned by Author Solutions. Read more about that in the Balboa Press listing above. There are 198 complaints about their parent company, Author Solutions, HERE.

Read several complaints about iUniverse HEREHERE, and HERE.

The Alliance of Independent Authors has issued a “watchdog advisory”  about iUniverse.


Outskirts Press – 541 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $3,795.00)

  • Better Business Bureau Rating: A+
  • However, their customer rating is only 3.3 OUT OF 5 STARS.
  • There have been 20 COMPLAINTS in just the past 3 years. 

Outskirts Press has been issued a “caution” rating by the Alliance of Independent Authors.

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.


Fast Pencil / Opyrus / Infinity Publishing – 542 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $2,595.00)

  • Better Business Bureau Rating: F
  • Their customer rating is only 1.22 OUT OF 5 STARS.
  • There have been 53 COMPLAINTS in just the past 3 years. 

Infinity Publishing merged with Fast Pencil. They have since launched Opyrus. 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.

Fast Pencil and Infinity Publishing have been issued a “caution” rating by the Alliance of Independent Authors.


Wheatmark – 627 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN. This is assuming the $2,500 quote (no editing) they gave us for setup fees is correct. Their website says $4,000-$6,000 to publish a book! 

You might get upsold for more because their website states: “The investment for a typical publishing project with us is between $4,000 and $6,000.” That’s ridiculous!!

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.”


Breezeway books (previously Llumina Press) – 652 COPIES NEED TO SELL TO BREAK EVEN (setup fees: $2,598.00)

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.”

Breezeway Books has been issued a “caution” rating by the Alliance of Independent Authors.

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


OTHER

Lulu now refers authors to Limelight Publishing for services, which is located in Australia. They charge $1,800 AU (that’s around $1,400 US).

Lulu will still print and list your book, of course, but…

  • Better Business Bureau Rating: A+
  • However, their customer rating is only 1.64 OUT OF 5 STARS.
  • There have been 90 COMPLAINTS in just the past 3 years. 

We’re not sure what’s going on at Lulu but there are a lot of angry authors out there.

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

Lulu has been given a “mixed rating” by the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Rated “Just Okay” by Mark Levine, attorney and author of The Fine Print of Self-Publishing. 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 and HERE. No expedite/rush publishing option is mentioned on their website.


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. 

No longer offers publishing services to authors. Also, does not print hardcover books at all. See complaints about Amazon KDP (previously called CreateSpace, and other names as well) HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.



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.