Print books and ebooks and audiobooks, oh my!

So you’ve written a book and you’re ready to figure out all you need to do for self-publishing. Something you’ll need to figure out right at the beginning of that process is HOW you’re going to self-publish: ebook, print, audiobook, or some combination of these three? (Large-print is another format to consider, but I’m not going to touch on that in this post.)

How do you figure out your strategy for publishing your book in these formats? Here’s what you need to know:


Know your audience

What sells in your genre? Romance readers love their print books, but ebooks have a pretty decent share of readers, and audiobooks are on the rise. According to a study commissioned by the Romance Writers of America in 2017, romance readers read widely across formats:

  • Print readers: 92% 
  • E-book readers: 64%
  • Audiobook users: 35%

So you’ll want to do research that breaks things down even further for your book – for example, who you’re selling to (a younger crowd that’s all about reading on their phones vs an older generation that might hate ereaders but really love audiobooks), and what’s selling in your sub-genre. Do historical romance readers read more print books over digital books, making a print edition as well as a digital edition a good idea? Some readers LOVE audiobooks and it’s a growing segment, so you and your book might find a totally new readership if you branch out and market the audiobook well. If you’re in a super niche sub-genre where the audience is small and the possibility of making money is even smaller, do you want to put in the money for a print book when an ebook is all that’s expected? Erotica tends to do better as ebooks, so is it ever worth releasing an erotica book in print? Maybe it is! But this is why you have to know your audience and research, research, research what they want and what the market is trending towards.

iPad bed

Another thing to consider in terms of your audience is where they get their books from and if they can access your work given the format. Is your readership full of KU subscribers? Why do print if the bulk of them will be reading digitally through Amazon only? But if your readers tend to get their books in hard copies from the library, do you want to put all your eggs in the digital basket and miss those readers?

Also think about reviewers; some will only read print books, so you might be missing out on an influential reviewer reading your book if you don’t have it in the right format.

You'll want to find comparable books to yours and see what formats they’re available in. If you have a group of readers on social media or on your email list, ask them directly what format they read the most and try to get a big enough sample to draw some conclusions. Set up a survey via Google Forms or SurveyMonkey and drive as many of your current and potential readers to it to get a big-picture overview of how your readers read. Collect as much information as you can so you know how to approach choosing your formats.

Know your numbers

Now we talk money - both what you put into your books for publication in each format and what you’ll get out of them in sales. (We’ll leave the pre-publication costs – like editing, ahem – aside because you are definitely getting some kind of editing done on your book, right??)

Ebooks are obviously the lowest-cost option here – you might pay for formatting, you’ll almost certainly pay for a cover (unless you are an actual designer, please get a professional cover!), and you can pay for marketing materials (banners, etc.), but it’s not too bad, really. You’ll have to figure out what the sweet spot is for pricing your ebook and where to set it so that you won’t turn off buyers because it’s too high but not too low so you’ll be able to make some money from it.

Print no longer means boxes of books languishing in your basement, but you do have to think about things like formatting (which you can do yourself but it is frustratingly finicky, especially for print) and both a front and back cover. You also have to consider what you’ll make on print books and how you’ll have to price the book to make sure you get a decent return on investment for it.


Audiobooks are where the real pricing conundrums come in because it’s not cheap to make an audiobook and there are a variety of other factors to consider. Most likely, you’ll be hiring a narrator to read (again, this is not something I’d DIY, especially for a fiction book, unless you’re properly trained in voice acting and production AND you have the proper equipment and a soundproof room to record), so you might offer them a Pay for Production contract where you pay them a flat fee to produce the audiobook, and you assume the full cost of the audiobook production. This cost can be anywhere from $100-300/hour, and depending on how long your book is, that can add up quickly.

You could offer them a Royalty Share instead, but this is a tricky proposition. It’s a lot of risk for a narrator to assume and they’d have to be very certain that your audiobook would make them enough in royalties that they’d be willing to enter into that kind of arrangement.

There’s also the possibility of doing a Hybrid royalties-upfront fee split where both of you bet on the success of the book with a smaller risk.

Look at the sales of your previous books and the ebook/print sales of the book you want to release in audio and see what would be the best move for you and your narrator.


To sum up, to make an informed decision about your options for the format(s) you’ll publish in, you’ll want to determine:

  • industry and genre/sub-genre trends
  • reader preferences (for current and potential audiences)
  • your budget and your expected ROI in each format
  • the amount of work and risk you’re willing to take on a new or different format
  • pricing strategy

It's a lot to think about for what seems to be a simple question about format! But be willing to experiment with a different mix of formats. Maybe your latest book happens to be really on trend for audiobook listeners, or maybe it’ll have more appeal for an ebook audience only, rather than an ebook+print audience. There's no hard and fast rule for what's going to work for everyone, so building in some flexibility to test options will help you figure out what works best for you and your book.


*Thanks to Beau North for letting me bounce some questions off her for this post! Her first audiobook, for her IPPY award-winning novella Modern Love, comes out later this summer.


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