I write about Vim – a modal text editor – a lot. In fact, in early 2018 I was approached by Packt Publishing – what I’ve later learned to be a “quantity over quality” publishing house. Over the next 6 to 9 months I wrote a 300-page “Mastering Vim”.

It was a stressful endeavour, with a publisher rushing to meet internal deadlines and eventually sending an unfinished draft to print. There were many highlights too, like actually cranking out 300 pages of material, or getting to work with Bram Moolenaar – the creator of Vim himself. Now that a few years have passed and the book is at its 3rd edition, complete, and re-released – I’m a lot more happy with the result.

I can write a whole other essay about my experience working with the publisher, but that’s a horror story for another time.

I didn’t write to make money, but it’s nice seeing a couple of hundred dollars trickling in every quarter. Putting together spreadhseets is my favorite past time, so here’s a breakdown of my earnings from the time I wrote a book with Packt.

A screenshot of "Mastering Vim" on Amazon.com.

As of April 2021, the English version of my book has 14 reviews on Amazon averaging at 5 stars (that’s more than I would hope for), which likely helps keep the sales at a somewhat of a steady level.

I was signed into a default “16% of net receipts” contract, with a $2,000 advance given out to me. The advance was split into 5 milestone-based installments: the first preliminary draft, 6 preliminary drafts, the remaining preliminary drafts, the final drafts, and the publication. Although I didn’t urgently need the money, and the publisher may have just sent it as a bulk $2,000 payment after the publication.

Eventually I received a PDF for the first quarter of my book being sold… And here are the financials for Q4 2018:

Print # Print $ E-books # E-books $
10 $55.50 274 $307.70

A whopping 363 dollars and 20 cents in royalties! I didn’t really think anyone would be interested to read the book, so seeing 284 copies sold I was pretty ecstatic!

Selling printed books seems to pay $5.55 per copy, while e-books only bring me $1.12.

Now I didn’t see any of that money, since I would have to “pay back” the advance. I know it’s called “the advance”, and I knew that I won’t be getting that first check in the mail – but it sucked a bit nonetheless.

After that I received some great news – my book was going to get translated to Japanese! During my last trip to Tokyo I made some friends who were interested in Vim as much as I was, and one of them - Masafumi Okura - decided to translate “Mastering Vim” into his native language. The legend found close to three dozen mistakes in my book too, and is solely responsible for the third edition of Mastering Vim!

Turns out the translation rights are expensive, and I’m getting my cut as well – $1,586.26! That’s more than the first quarter of sales!

Packt advertised my book for a few months or so, but they seemed to have quickly lost interest. I received my first 5 star review on Amazon though, which was great! I spent the next month refreshing Amazon reviews daily, after realizing that to be a path to acquiring a mental illness.

2019 came, and here are my next 4 quarterly statements:

Quarter Print # Print $ E-books # E-books $
2019 Q1 29 $141.89 202 $337.49
2019 Q2 15 $77.53 71 $194.26
2019 Q3 19 $100.09 57 $207.68
2019 Q4 23 $118.55 117 $255.17

I sold 86 print books and 447 e-books in 2019. You can see the higher numbers correspond to seasonal sales. Notice the prices for Q3 and Q4. E-books sold in Q3 pay me as much as $3.64 per copy, while in Q1 it’s a meager $1.67 per book. Print edition payout stays much more consistent.

Altogether, I earned $1432.66 from my first full year of selling “Mastering Vim”.

Here are my 2020 earnings:

Quarter Print # Print $ E-books # E-books $
2020 Q1 26 $131.61 112 $414.12
2020 Q2 22 $106.67 77 $379.61
2020 Q3 26 $141.17 74 $325.97
2020 Q4 45 $236.69 166 $458.07

That’s $1,533.38, a $100 more than in 2019. The patterns seem rather predictable, with Q2 and Q3 being slow, and Q1 and Q4 displaying a noticeable spike.

Finally, Packt offers service subscriptions – I believe the subscription is for the courses they offer, but I can’t say for sure. Payout per subscription is small, and I’ve earned $158.10 over the 9 quarters since publishing “Mastering Vim”.

Across $3,329.24 in book sales, $1,586.26 in translation fees, and $158.10 in subscriptions, this adds up to $5,073.60 over the 2+ years the book has been in print. Looks like it can make for a decent supplemental income if you write enough books, but I’m saying that based on a sample size of one.

Throughout this time, my earnings per copy average at $5.16 for a print, and $1.93 for an e-book (using weighted averages for quarterly sales).

And here’s the last number in this post – this one purely for fun. Based on the 16% royalty rate, Packt probably earned $31,710 from “Mastering Vim” so far.