Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Indepedent Publishing

The answer to where I've been is: in bed. Apparently starting your own publishing company while being a full time student and having two other jobs can cause your body to like, collapse for a week. Or two.

Which brings us to our topic, which is self-publishing. Yes, the much-maligned business of publishing your own books using either a digital printer or a POD service. There are three reasons to self-publish:

(1) You have written a body of work intended for a small audience (under 100 people) and just want it bound so that it's easier to read and this audience is willing to spend a lot of money to get it.

(2) You want to reprint a public domain book that has not been printed in a very long time and is very hard to get for a niche audience that you know will buy it like mad, but generally have no plans for mass market.

(3) You are an idiot or a terrible writer with lots of money to blow.

I fell into category number two. I discovered that this book that a group of people (a few hundred) wanted had gone horribly out of print to the point that the New York Public Library only had one copy in the reading room and they wouldn't let me take it out. After some investigation I also discovered that the book had fallen into public domain in the 70's with a lot of other books published between 1932 and 1950 because the original publishers had never renewed the copyright. I decided to reprint it by scanning it in to my computer after photocopying it at the reading room, writing an introduction, and start collecting quotes from digital printers. I would (or will) probably make back the money I invested in the project (roughly $500) and then maybe a few thousand on top of that, much of which would go to charity. The real intent was to get the book back in print. As someone who loves books and collects them, I feel it's sort of a public responsibility to make sure literature doesn't disappear because of circumstance and time.

I decided not to go with a POD press, which would have been really easy in that they would have done stuff like layout and promotion and generally managing the project. They also would have taken most of the profits, and I decided I didn't want that,. Since I work in publishing, I should probably have some idea how to do layout myself anyway, so instead I looked into digital printers, who are willing to do print runs in the 100-300 range for about $5 a book. I charge for shipping and handling, and the everything in between on the cover price (in the $15 range) is profit.

Other than causing a physical collapse from exhaustion, this little (and still ongoing) exercise taught me a thing or two about how much it takes to actually create a book. It's true that the amount an author makes on a book is low. Most of it goes to the publishing company, because no matter how altruistic they are, they still have to pay their employees and they still have to make a profit. And boy, are there a lot of little jobs to pay people for. There's layout, copy-editing, proof reading, buying the ISBN, cover art, deciding on various types of binding, and last but not least, making sure the book does not look like crap or fall apart in anybody's hands. Companies have choices beyond hardcover and softcover. There's paper weight, thickness, and quality. There's the size of the book, which lowers page count but increases the price of binding. There's things like what font to use and how much of the page to leave blank (more white space makes the book look more professional, but raises page count). And then, at the very end, there's me, trying to make sense of all of the options the digital printer's website is giving me. (matte instead of gloss costs more but looks better. How much more? Can I get a new quote for 300 versus 200 copies?)

Oh, and publicity. The biggest job and the one I'm totally unequipped to do, being one person. Thank G-d I'm only doing this for a niche market that I already am in contact with. There's more to it than posting your book on Amazon. In fact, you don't really want to post your book on Amazon. Amazon takes a high commission - higher than bookstores, in fact, which is how it can afford to offer you, the buyer, all of those discounts. Bookstores generally take 50% off the cover price for themselves, while Amazon.com and other websites will take 55%, a very significant difference. It's quite brilliant, actually. They offer discounts and then offer super shipper savings so that you'll buy more books than you originally planned to do, knowing that they'll make it up in bulk shipping as opposed to individual purchases. Also, they take most of the money from the used market. There's a flat rate of $3.49 for shipping on a used book sold through Amazon - Amazon will take half of that, and then a percentage from the price the book is actually being sold for, to the point where the sellers might actually be losing money if the book is very heavy and media mail goes over $2.00.

So, it has all been kind of insane, and will continue to be until I get over the initial hump of selling off my first run (if there even is a second run; I could care less), but now at least I'm back on my feet. Today was a much easier day for me in terms of working at the office because I felt better. It didn't result in more maybes - lots of auto-rejects instead. We're in the middle of an inspirational self-help craze the way we were in a Da Vinci Code-type thriller phase about a year ago, and it's just as annoying, but in a different way.


Richard said...

There was a very interesting (for me at any rate) read in the March/April 2007 issue of Writers' Journal called Bitter Fruit: The Confessions of a Self-Published Novelist by Mark Munger.

Do you hate that magazine as much as Writers' Digest?

The Rejecter said...

I basically stay away from anything that starts with "Writers'" in the title. I find this to be a good blanket policy.

Dave Fragments said...

Before I retired, I had to be "Printing and Publishing Officer" for about 18 months. Most of my job was glorified clerk but it was all time consuming detail work.
We had graphics illustrators to typeset the stuff and then we sent it to the Government Printing Office for printing. I had no idea of paper weights and bindings AND (CUSS) DID I LEARN FAST!... I had to shepherd the proofs through the technical people and printers (that's a riot!) and then arrange for shipping.
How do you take delivery ot two pallets of 10,000 magazine like books when your office is 8 ft by 8 ft?
It's daunting to see just how many details there are.

Don't feel bad. You are not alone.

You'll enjoy this:
I once asked a CD printer (all of our conference proceedings were "printed" onto CD) if they prefered MAcintosh or PC generated files. They told me that they didn't care if the cover I supplied was in crayon, they would make it work graphically. And then, they backed it up with good work.
I used them a lot.

Anonymous said...

Just think: you will have all the material you need to write a book on self-publishing for real. Not using a pod service, etc. The real deal.

That might actually be a huge service to a great number of writers who are interested in going this route.

Anonymous said...

Would you be interested in publishing it in e-book format at the same time?

Anonymous said...

"We're in the middle of an inspirational self-help craze the way we were in a Da Vinci Code-type thriller phase about a year ago, and it's just as annoying, but in a different way."

Do you think this is because of the success of The Secret?

Anonymous said...

"Bookstores generally take 50% off the cover price for themselves, while Amazon.com and other websites will take 55%, a very significant difference."

Really you mean that most retailers pay the publishers about half the cover price and then take whatever they charge above that (which is half the cover price if they charge full price, less if they discount). Amazon pays less for the books initially, but they'll only make 55% of the cover price if they charge full price, which they rarely do for trade editions. This can lead to extremes like Amazon charging the public less for a title than an indie publisher had to pay the publisher for it, or Amazon discounting so low on a big title that even they barely make money on it.

Anonymous said...

People really collapse into bed with exhaustion? What the he** am I waiting for?? I worked 80+ hours a week for an entire year, with no days off, raising 2 kids as a single mom. Now I'm running a business full-time while trying to meet all of my obligations. Every day I think I just need to sleep for a month. I don't get to.

I don't get how other people get to, either. I mean, no workee, no payee, and I ain't got no monee.

Anonymous said...

The answer: all your work (aka not being a student) lets you buy better drugs.

Perpetual Beginner said...

Anon at 12:07 - some people's bodies don't take exhaustion and physically collapse - as in won't go another step no matter how they feel about it collapse. Others of us are blessed with sturdier sorts that we can abuse for years before we hit that sort of kickback.

I switched from a to b recently and my sympathy levels just ratcheted way up. No money sucks, and it sucks all the more when no income is matched with medical outlay.

Anonymous said...

I think most authors understand the amount of overhead that goes into publishing a book. I'll happily take my 10 percent ($2.50) per book going up to 15 percent after 10,000 are sold. I'm happy that part of the publisher's share is going towards a national sales force, a pr and a marketing department, and my wonderful editor.

And if I sell 100,000 copies, I can quit my day drive and drive a harder bargain for my second book.

Something to dream on.

Anonymous said...

How does someone find out what books are in the public domain?


Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, what was the book you reprinted and what was its niche market?

Anonymous said...

Public domain: everything at gutenberg.org is in the public domain, but not every public domain book is at gutenberg.org.

Anonymous said...

Actually, there are more than 3 reasons to self-publish POD.

I did it because I wrote a non-fiction book for a niche market (not less than 100 people) and I wanted to retain all rights.


I would not choose to self-publish fiction, which is why I'm going the traditional find-an-agent route for my current novel. But if wrote another non-fiction, I would do the POD all over again.

Anonymous said...

I agree there are more than three reasons to self-publish. I once worked on a large construction project in Thailand. There were people from the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, the UK, and Italy. During the project I wrote some short stories for entertainment but was working on a novel at the same time. A lot of people wanted to buy the book when it was finished.

Well, the project was finished before the novel but I returned to the US with about 250 pre-orders. I finished it off, cleaned it up, designed a cover, and printed as many copies as I could with the money in hand. It amounted to about 900 books (not POD).

I fulfilled my orders and then worked my @ss off to sell the rest. By the time I got burned out on promotions, I had sold all but 200 copies. About 150 of those sells were through two bookstores in Thailand.

A small publisher in Bangkok saw the book and wanted to put it into distribution in Thailand for the tourists and ex-pats. By now they have sold nearly 10,000 copies, which is better than I would have ever done on my own. Better yet, they just recently published my last two books for for distribution in that same limited market.

With the really wonderful comments I've had from readers, I decided to try the US market. Understanding the power of distribution versus self-promotion, I elected to not self publish in the US. Instead I'm trying to find an agent. It is the most frustrating thing I have ever done, and I've done a lot of frustrating things in my life.

The fiction book business reminds me of the music business. Someone will lucky enough (and good enough) to have a song or an album published and it will become a hit. It is followed by every garage band in the country hoping they can grab a piece of the action. Before long everything on the radio sounds the same.

Fiction is the same. I think agents tend to look for what is perceived as popular instead of what is innovative and different. Ordinary Romance is a staple, and the closer it gets to erotica the better. Christian romance works for those with puritanical views. Then there is Science Fiction, Westerns, Mysteries, etc. but only once in a while does a really good novel get published. It is not because they are not worthy, it is because of the business model of the industry, which involves trying to ride a wave instead of being a trend setter. The model is seriously flawed.

JF Gump
"Even Thai Girls Cry"
"The Farang Affair"
"One High Season"

The Rejecter said...

Thanks for the obvious plug to your own work.