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Making Money As An Author: New Stock Of Books Coming In

It’s not all about direct sales.

Ghost Cities of China book
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ASTORIA, NYC- I spent $700 yesterday on 50 copies of my own book.

My own book.

I realized that I only had like two copies left, and what author doesn’t have their own book? So I took more than half of my Trump money, threw up my arms, and made the order with the University of Chicago. $700 is a lot of money. 50 copies of a book is not that many.

Ghost Cities of China lists for $21.95. With my 40 percent discount + shipping I pay $14 per book. I can sell them for $20 each, giving a $1.95 discount to the buyer while making $6 per sale. While the investment seems sizable, I stand to make $300 from this batch of books.

I ordered this stock of books to sell at my speaking engagements. For years, I’ve been showing up to these empty handed, missing out on what is probably the best opportunity to sell books. I’ve sold over 35 books in one go at these talks before. I’d take an extra $100 to $200 per speaking engagement.

However, I have this nagging thought in the back of my mind that says that if I just self-published then I could sell my books for less, make far more money per sale, and probably sell just as many copies — the onus is generally on the author to make sales no matter what way you publish.

To compound this matter, the publisher of Ghost Cities was recently acquired by a larger publishing company (good news) and the previous publisher is refusing to pay my royalties from last year (bad news). So all of those books that were purchased between September 2018 and March 2020, yeah, I’m apparently not being paid for those.

Last week, I went back and forth with the former publisher — who doesn’t really exist anymore — and they told me that if I wanted payment for the first book that I would need to return my advance for the second book. I’m currently completing that second book with the new publisher and have already signed over the project to them, so this doesn’t make much sense. I also need to question the legality of an individual demanding payment on behalf of a company that he doesn’t represent. Basically, it seems as if the guy was just trying to say something to keep me from demanding the payment that I’m owed — a threat to keep me at bay.

Not really worth the time to fight. I will just sell the books myself and collect $6 per copy, as I should have been doing regularly from day one.

Even after this, I am still hesitant to go the self-publishing route. Why? Because even though you write books to make money the focus isn’t on direct sales or royalties — anything you make this way is a little extra on the top.

The reason for writing a book for an established publishing company is largely to gain authority. To be able to be “the dude who wrote the book on …”

While you could gain such authority from self-publishing it’s definitely not guaranteed. The publisher gives you authority because it’s implied that there is a vetting process and you are essentially taken under the wing of their reputation: i.e. Penguin thought this book worthy enough to put their name on it. This authority, in turn, can lead to other opportunities that pay well, such as speaking engagements that can pay over $10,000 in one go. I know that I can make way more money giving talks than I could ever imagine making from selling books, no matter how I publish them.

I recently wrote a post about how to make money selling books, where I discussed where I left some cash on the table with Ghost Cities and outlined ways that I will improve this when Silk Road comes out. What I didn’t mention was the main reason for this:

I decided to travel and do a new project rather than have a solid based of operations from where I could store books. I’m not fitting 500 books into a backpack. I’m not lugging around a computer than can edit 6k video in a suitcase. I’m not perpetually hauling a case full of hard drives.

It’s a strange feeling when you realize that in order for you to pursue a career as a traveler you need to hold back on the travel. I didn’t come to NYC to settle down; I came to NYC to keep going. I was getting too bogged down the way I was going, cracks in my systems were revealing themselves, and my methodologies began falling apart.

I have a corner of in my Astoria apartment, right next to my work station, where I can pile books up to the ceiling. When I go out on research trips or to give talks I can grab a couple stacks, spread them out in the bottom of my suitcase, and peddle them in person. I have a high-powered computing system that can edit super high res video. I know where I’m based so I can commit to speak at conferences and and universities six-months down the line.

I feel all set and ready to go — the plan is in place, the pieces are aligned, the strategy legitimized … but there’s nowhere to go to. #globallockdown So I will keep preparing, continue strengthening my offerings, keep developing new projects and streams of revenue. This is an odd moment in time where the world is stopping for a moment to allow us all to catch up.

If any of you would like a signed copy of Ghost Cities, just click the Paypal button below I will send one out to you when the incoming stock comes in.

Thank you.


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Filed under: Authorship, Books, New York City

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Support VBJ’s writing on this blog:

VBJ is currently in: New York City

17 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

  • Lawrence April 20, 2020, 5:16 pm

    Do you get paid if someone orders a copy to the library?

    Link Reply
    • Wade Shepard April 20, 2020, 8:43 pm

      Like an inter-library loan? No, probably not. But if the library purchases a copy, then yes. Can you order it to a library in Australia? That would be cool if it was available.

      Link Reply
  • Lawrence April 20, 2020, 10:07 pm

    Yes, there is a copy here. You want me to take a photo of your book in front of a koala? I can legit make that happen.

    Yea I was curious, because since I move around a lot I just order new books to the library and another author friend told me they get paid MORE when a library purchases the book.

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    • Wade Shepard April 21, 2020, 8:11 am

      Yes, definitely! My book in front of a koala? That’s bonkers!

      Cool about library order. I imagine if they buy it they will get the hardcover version, which sells for something crazy like $90. So that would definitely be cool. Thanks for this!

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      • Trevor Warman April 21, 2020, 10:45 am

        Ghost Cities of China, available in a library near you.

        You need a post about ‘gaining authority’ ;)))

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        • Wade Shepard April 21, 2020, 2:16 pm

          Many libraries in the USA do have it, which I think is pretty neat. Cool that it’s being spread to Australia. Thanks Lawrence!

          A post about gaining authority? It’s pretty simple: find out all about a topic that people are interested in but nobody really knows anything about. Gain direct experience. Share what you know everywhere. But maybe a new post would be better!

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          • Trevor Warman April 22, 2020, 12:38 am

            So if i order a kindle version of Ghost Cities via amazon UK , do u get anything from my purchase?

            I can send the same amount via DONATE, and you me the e book personally? By passing the middle man..

            Link Reply
            • Wade Shepard April 22, 2020, 9:15 am

              Hello Trevor, yes, I will get a little in royalties from the Kindle version. I actually get more from ebooks than physical books. It would be better to order through Amazon because then you can leave a verified review … if you want 🙂 Thanks, man!

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              • Trevor Warman April 22, 2020, 9:22 am

                I heard so many stories where the author gets shafted and gets nothing. Some thing is not right.
                It lists for 10£ on amazon uk.

                Crazy busy via twitter. Up dates from the commissioner her self re evacs and getting tests done. But even if i am not as stuck as i was at the start of the proceedings, i am still staying, like a true road warrior..

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                • Wade Shepard April 22, 2020, 11:19 am

                  It’s true. It’s a dirty business. Hopefully things with the new publisher goes a little better in terms of payment. But, then again, direct pay isn’t what you do this for. Then again, money is needed to write books.

                  Yeah, man, stay put … then we can keep getting updates on this story haha.

                  Too bad we all can’t just go to Taiwan right now like the other guy commenting on this blog did. That’s really the place to be.

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                  • Trevor Warman April 22, 2020, 11:28 am

                    Stinky tofu, dt mention the girls. Omg they r cute. I like rice. Can get a bit sticky in summer… .. yeah Taiwan is a good place initials TW like mine lmao

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                    • Wade Shepard April 22, 2020, 2:00 pm

                      Dude, it’s a sign! Your light at the end of the travel tunnel. TW in TW!

                  • Trevor Warman April 22, 2020, 11:50 am

                    The 3rd installment was going well, i re read what i wrote in part 2, and it seemed 3/4 of it was repeated which wouldnt be worthy for VBJ, so i posted it on NBP.
                    Sorry about that.

                    And all the ‘details’ were render out of date within hours as up dates re obstacles were coming through.


                    ended up like a LIVE news feed haha but it was fun though
                    Created nice conversation too.

                    This story is far from over.. there will be more developments.

                    Any other GUESTS forthcoming with Corona stories.? The Taiwan one will be good. As will MRPs

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                    • Wade Shepard April 22, 2020, 1:59 pm

                      No problem!

                      Why not go around and talk to some people about what they’re thinking and feeling for part 3? Ask how they’re living and how they feel about China.

                      Looking forward to it!

  • Trevor Warman April 23, 2020, 2:18 am

    TW my ultimate destiny.

    Ok i will give it a go. Asking people is a whole new ball game for me.

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  • Jack April 25, 2020, 2:51 pm

    Self publisher is a kiss of no authority. Before Amazon morphed it into KDP, they had Create Space. If you used their ISBNs you had the Create Space publisher in your info. Ouch! Now with KDP, they call it independently published, not much better.

    If you can’t find a publisher or don’t want then at least form a publishing company and buy your own ISBNs. At least it will appear you are writing for a small publishing company.

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    • Wade Shepard April 25, 2020, 6:14 pm

      Very true. Unless you’re putting out a how-to guide or something uber practical that’s designed to solve a problem and make money, self publishing isn’t really the way to go. The reason why you write most books is for the authority that comes from being vetted.

      On the other hand, if you have an established audience then you don’t really need that authority as much. if you know that you can ship 5,000+ copies then there’s not as much of a need for the middlemen. However, very, very few authors can sell that many books on their own.

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