Understanding the numbers

To publish your book using the traditional printing route, you would typically bear two types of costs: Fixed and Variable. Fixed costs would include upfront costs like illustration, editing and book designing. These costs will not change whether you print 100 copies or 5,000 copies. Variable costs on the other hand, will change based on the size of your print order - the cost of printing each copy reduces significantly as you increase the number of copies getting printed. On the flip side, if you make a very large print order, you have to find the space to store them (which might add to your cost)​ and you have to bear the (very real) risk of sitting with a garage full of unsold boxes of books.


Since I did not use the services of any other professional, my fixed costs were mainly those incurred for scanning, designing, getting digital color proofs and getting a copyright registration. If you use an editor, an illustrator or a book designer, their fees would also get added to your fixed cost. My variable cost was simply the cost of printing each book. Other variable costs to consider are cost of storage (if applicable) and shipping (after the book is sold). 

Tien Wan Press only accepted orders of 1,000 books or more. They showed me all the different options (sizes, dimensions, paper quality and finish) for printing my book. I had already decided the dimensions (24cm X 24cm) for the book and I wanted to choose a good quality paper which would best show my art. After I narrowed down to two different paper options, they got back to me with quotes based on:

Two Pens on Notebook

1. hardcover vs paperback > a hardcover costs more to print than a paperback

2. the paper type > the better the paper quality, the higher my cost per book

3. 1,000 or 1,500 or 2,000 copies > the greater the quantity printed, the lower my cost per book

I decided to 'splurge' on the quality of the print - I chose the hardcover version and used a high quality ‘140gsm Tauro (FSC) woodfree’ paper. For the print run, I chose the minimum number of 1,000 copies which was already quite a daunting number for me to think about selling. 


Total Cost = (Scanning + Designing + Proofs) + (Printing Cost per book x1,000)

I planned to raise this money using Crowdfunding. To allow people to pre-order copies of my book, I had to first decide it's Sale Price, which I did by browsing through local bookstores and checking the prices of similar (Hardcover with good quality paper). With my Total Cost and Sale Price known, I then found my Break Even Point: 

Break Even Point = Total Cost / Retail Sale Price


Your break-even point is the point where you recover all your costs and start making money. This number for me was 200. Which meant I would need to sell 200 books to cover my cost of making 1,000 books. With this target in mind, I went about setting up my Crowdfunding campaign. While calculating this Break Even Point, I had not considered the Shipping Cost per book - that would have moved my Break Even Point a little higher.

The above costs were what I incurred because I chose to use a traditional printing company. If you decide to use a Print on Demand service, your fixed upfront costs will be significantly lower but the cost of printing each book would be much higher. As I explore my POD options for the future, I will update this section on costs to be expected down that route.

Go back to reading about How I self-published my book.