Forget about going to one of the big publishers. Put your work out yourself, pay for your own barcode and ISBN, and hire someone to sell it for a cut of the cover price. You’ll make far more money out of it than you’d earn in royalties.On a book-by-book basis, that’s probably true. A typical royalty for a commercially-published book is 10%, which equates to a per-unit rate of 90p on a book with a cover price of £9. With self-publishing you can set your own cover price, so it’s possible to earn far more per copy.
There are costs associated with those self-publishing sales, though: it would be difficult to hire anyone competent to sell your books on percentage, as each bookshop visit would barely cover the travelling costs incurred even if every bookshop approached took half a dozen copies each.
Even if you do the legwork yourself you’re still likely to end up losing money because of those travelling costs, and because you will only be able to cover a very small part of the country.
Commercial publishers have their own sales and distribution networks in place. Their sales representatives frequently visit every bookshop in the country, and discuss their new and forthcoming books.
Commercial publishers also have publicity departments which routinely send out stacks of review copies to TV programmes, newspapers and magazines, to ensure that potential readers will get to hear about each book as it is released.
The self-publisher simply cannot match this vast sales machine, and so is unlikely to sell anything like as many books: few self-published titles sell more than one hundred copies, while most commercially-published books sell more than a thousand.
And that’s why I almost always recommend mainstream publishing rather than self-publishing. It is likely that the royalty rate per book will be lower than with self-publishing: but the overall sales, and therefore the total amount earned, and the number of readers reached will be so much better that mainstream publication has to be the obvious first choice.