Making money on books

One person wrote me :one thing you haven’t specified, and it sounds like you may be “hiding it”, is that when you describe yourself as a self-publisher (who allows the author to keep all the profits) rather than a traditional publisher (who only pay the author part of the profits), you’re not mentioning that a traditional publisher will lay out all the costs (printing, editing, marketing, etc. = 1000’s of dollars), while a self-publisher will demand the author pay for everything up front, and then – in the unlikely event that a self-published book sold well – the author will keep all the profits!


I replied: Very true. many seforim are not financially worthwhile. I do not hide that in the least. I tell authors that upfront.

However here is the flip side (an email I just received): “Sorry I can’t use your services, Moshe. Too many publishers signed contracts with me and never honored them, stole money that belonged to me, etc. It soured me on writing and I stopped writing 5 years ago…”

I.e. when a writer is working with a publisher usually the setup is that the publisher is taking the risks and the writer is – in essence – their employee, providing them with content. If it does not work out, which happens, as you point out, the publisher often cannot pay out and everyone loses – and the writer feels that the publisher “stole money that belonged to me” etc.
The entire affair – I think – is unnatural. What ought to be is that one person produces something and sells it. The “publisher” is merely a service provider. Why in the world ought they I take on the risks?
Instead all I do is assist people, And you know what? Most people writing certainly want the money, but that is not the main reason for writing. They do not write for parnassah. I am currently working on a number of seforim/books. Here are some of them; a book on Gerim, written by a Ger. (I pointed out the very limited market this would have, and he said “No matter, I need to write a sefer on Gerim”). A sefer on Taharos, to be given out at an event. A businessman who has a chaburah of people that meet each week to hear a chaburah given by one of them. A moneymaker? A sefer of drashos given by a rav that no longer is in rabbannus. And so on.
And finally, in today’s world of POD, authors can print what they need, no money upfront. The cost per volume is slightly more, but there is no initial outlay. I just published a two-volume set, available on Amazon and elsewhere that is entirely print-on-demand. In such a scenario the odds that the authors will make money rises. I am involved presently in several books of this type.