(Lydia) A very good blog on this topic is J.A. Konrath's, but he's quite biased in favor of self-publishing. A fantastic commentator to look up is Jane Friedman. And: Jane recently partnered with Manjula Martin to create an electronic magazine called "Scratch," which is about "the intersection of writing and money" and is awesome. http://scratchmag.net/
A pretty standard deal is 15% royalties, but that's off what the publisher sees, not the list price. The publisher usually sells a book to bookstores at a 50% discount. So, really, your royalties are more like 7.5%. You'll be making about $1 off of the sale of a $15 book.
(Lydia) Actually, the standard deals I've seen are more like 5%-10%. :) But it depends on what you mean by standard.... It really is all about your bargaining power. If you have unique expertise or you are an established author, then your royalty rates from a traditional publisher will be higher.
These may seem good, but they're a crappy deal for pricier books, like technical and reference books (which have high royalties for paperbacks due to their higher list price).
(Lydia) Note that Kindle Royalties are also 35% if your books are priced lower than $2.99.
Additionally, there are many countries where Kindle royalties are 35% by default, but they go up to 70% if you join KDP Select. (KDP Select is a program Amazon runs that tries to incentivize indie authors to give Amazon exclusivity over their titles. If you join KDP Select, then you get a couple of neat features, and you get higher royalties in some places, but you also lock yourself into giving Amazon the exclusive right to distribute your book for at least 3 months. If you aren't planning to self-publish elsewhere, then this is a great deal! If you are, then you should think about it carefully.)
Note also that Amazon reserves the right to change your price. This means they will lower your price if they think your book will be more successful at a lower price. Your royalties will be calculated at the lower price.
Royalties vary on other platforms. Smashwords is a good place to look if you want to reach a bunch of platforms at once, because buyers can get the book on Smashwords itself and Smashwords also syndicates to many other platforms (such as the Barnes & Noble Nook). Base royalties on Smashwords are 85% for buyers who buy directly through Smashwords, and they are lower for book purchases coming from other platforms.
For most writers, most sales come through Amazon Kindle. But that's not true for everyone, and sometimes other platforms will run promotions or interesting programs in an attempt to attract talented writers.
Is Self-Publishing For You?
To do self-publishing right takes a small financial investment ($1000 - $2000), but a whole lot of time.
(Lydia) With respect, I strongly disagree that doing it "right" demands $1000-2000. You can do it for a lot less if you're willing to do more of the nitty-gritty yourself. However, the process can become extremely time-consuming and probably will not be attractive to most people, especially if they have a professional job that pays decent money. However, if you're someone who's interested in the business and makes very little money (like a full-time writer at the beginning of their career) then it may be in your interest to learn how to do some of the things that would cost that money (like ebook formatting).
To clarify my experience here, I was a full-time writer for several years. I made over $5000 on my self-publishing royalties last year, and most of those books had been published before 2013 (i.e., I did very little marketing and promotion of those books in 2013). This may not strike some professionals as significant money :), but it made a difference to me last year. I made a bit more money in 2012, when I was still writing full-time, and it was a REALLY big deal to me back then.
When I was a full-time writer, I did all the formatting on my books myself. I crowdsourced editing from my fan base. I paid for cover design on most of my books, but that was the only thing I paid for. One of my fans offered to do my covers for free, but I decided not to take him up on it.
You can also investigate services like Booktrope to see if someone is willing to help you with these services in exchange for a percentage of the royalties, rather than a flat rate.
You won't just be submitting a manuscript to a publisher and then wiping your hands clean of it. You are producing a product -- your book -- and running a business around it. Are you prepared for that?
Gayle MBut, here's the thing: if you self-publish and your book is successful, you probably won't want to do with a traditional published. If you self-publish and you're not successful, publishers may be wary of picking up your book.
99Designs is also great for logo design and website design.
Gayle M[From Arthur Bradley] I have had good luck with using ODesk (https://www.odesk.com/) to find graphic artists, print specialists, and web designers. The rates are very inexpensive, perhaps $6-$10 per hour. New users should be forewarned, however, that it is a trial and error process finding a skilled, reliable provider. You'll probably have to kiss a few frogs before finding the right person. But once you do, it is so wonderful to have this kind of professional support. I have a fantastic print specialist do my books, another expert keep my website up and going (http://disasterpreparer.com), and yet a third expert design my book covers and graphics.
That said, although piracy is a huge issue internationally, it's not that big of a deal in the US. Most people who would buy your books won't take the time to pirate.
(Lydia) I had a speaking engagement scheduled by someone who later admitted to me that he had pirated my book. At the speaking engagement, I sold several physical copies of my book. So... there's that ;)
Tip -- if you're a student (or know a student who can hook you up), the Adobe Creative Suite is only about $300 on the student edition (student edition != academic edition) and includes Photoshop, InDesign, Acrobat, and some other stuff.
There are a number of services that have been emerging to make this easier. I don't know a whole lot about them, but examples include LeanPub and Creatavist.
Having short, memorable links is particularly important if you wrote a Kindle or epub book and have an "other books by this author" page: people are not going to copy long links with nonsensical letters and numbers from their Kindle into their PC's web browser.
Getting Positive Amazon Reviews
Note that offering something in exchange for a review is against Amazon's rules. It also gets into a potentially unethical area, as people might take it to mean that it has to be a good review.
[From Judith Meyer:] I have also read advice to seek out people who have an interest in reviewing your book and personally asking them. For example, do a Google search to find the top Amazon reviewers for your field, look at related books' reviewers, or ask bloggers who are writing about this topic. Even big companies do so; I recently got a bunch of books for learning Japanese from Tuttle Publishing with a hint that I might write a review if I wanted to.
[From Arthur Bradley] Selling books on your website can offer better commissions and help you to receive positive reviews. I typically follow up with buyers about a month after they buy my handbook to see if they are enjoying it. I offer an unconditional money back guarantee. If they say they don't like it, I refund their money and ask them to pass it along to a loved one who might find it useful. Far more often, the buyer will say that they are enjoying the book. I then ask if they'd be so kind as to post a positive review. This personal contact also helps to create great friendships with people who have similar interests.
There are lots of different services for creating an online storefront -- it's worth doing some research to pick the right one. If you don't want to spend much time on research, Gumroad is well-reviewed.
It is possible to get a self-published book into Barnes and Noble, but it's not easy. Very few self-published books manage to do this. You'll have to make a very strong case for your book (sales numbers, etc). And if you are rejected, they won't tell you why (even if the issue is something fixable, like the book wasn't marked as returnable!).
Getting into indie bookstores can be a bit of a hassle, because you have to negotiate separately with each. It can be fun though! The split is typically 60-40 (author-store).
The affiliate program also provides nice little widget, like the ones you see on the side of www.technologywoman.com.