Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.

Can You Imagine?

Self-publishing is an entrepreneurial activity. You are completely in control of the product from R&D (writing and editing) to manufacturing (digital, audio, and/or print copies), distribution channels (again, digital, audio, and/or print) to marketing (online and retail stores, as well as all social media endeavors).

If you are going to go the self-publishing route, spend some time doing research on Amazon’s website. If you are considering printing copies of your books and not just selling digital copies, spend some time on CreateSpace or a similar site to figure out what printing and shipping costs. This is important; if you product costs more to print than you list it to sell, you will lose money, not make money. While I want a copy of my book on every nightstand, I need to keep Sweetpea in diapers too.

I’m going to do a quick and dirty comparison to show you what I mean:

You write a 75,000 word book at 250 words per page = 300 page book.  You decide to go to conventions and order 200 copies.  Each book is $4.45 to produce.  To ship 200 copies to your house is $83.00.  $973 divided by 200 units is $4.87.  Based on this math, you would need to sell your book for $5.00 or more to make a profit.

Let’s add your convention costs to the equation, say $500 for hotel, food, and convention fees.  You are now spending $1473 divided by 200 units = $7.37.  If you had sold this book for $5.00 as I suggested above, you would have lost money,  $2.37 x 200 = $474.00 in fact.  You need to sell your book to con-goers for $7.50 in order to make a profit.

Now let’s say your book is only 50,000 words = 200 page book.  Each book is $3.25 for produce, so 200 units is $650.  Shipping is the same at $83.00, so your investment is $733.00.  Adding $500 for convention costs, you are $1233 in the red.  Divide by 200 units = $6.17 per book.  If you sell for $6.25, you’ll make a profit.

Point to note: People don’t buy books based on the number of pages it has.  If the story is good, 200 vs. 300 pages doesn’t factor into it.  If you sell both books at the same price point, say $7.50, then you will make more margin per unit with the shorter book.  You would make $26 on the 300-page book, or $226 for the 200-page book.

I am not saying short books are good and long books are bad, but if you are in charge of your own production, you need to be aware of these operational cost elements.

 Also, go read this book by Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath titled Be the Monkey.  The title comes from videos of a monkey taking advantage of an amphibian, but the message is that the relationship between legacy publishers and authors is like the monkey and the frog — someone is going to take advantage of someone. If you find yourself, and you will because you’re writing a book, in that situation, which animal would you like to be?  Their book is free, and the advise is sound, but don’t click on those links.  You’ll know which ones those are.  Just thought I should warn you.

I got so inspired by this TED Talks video from entrepreneur and wool goddess Laura Zander, founder of Jimmy Beans Wool, that I was motivated to share it. I have so many ideas rattling around in my head, but I’ve probably only talked about my writing ones. There are also lots of business ideas floating around in my cranial stratosphere too.

I like to knit, and I like coffee, and I’m gonna be an entrepreneur one day. Laura, will you adopt me?

8 comments on “Can You Imagine?

  1. Michael Allan Leonard
    February 17, 2013

    Great post. This is pretty much the path I’m setting on, because I like the idea of being able to create something and not spend years getting it through channels during which no one sees it aside from a handful of editors and assistants / readers. (And I think the submission requirements are ridiculous, basically giving a potential publisher six months or more where you agree to not do anything else with the work.)

    CreateSpace seems very ideal and I’ve heard many good things from people who are using it — my artist / collaborator and I actually turned down a deal from a small publisher because we crunched the numbers and figured out we’d be better to just self-publish because of their admitted lack of experience with graphic novels and an emphasis on getting the book into academic markets rather than commercial. Call me crazy but I’m a little less interested in ten people reading my book for free in a library than ten people buying it. The contract was just horrible and would make it impossible to buy copies for ourselves and try to promote it on our own via signings and store visits and not lose money, as you said. We wouldn’t have to learn all the ropes if we’d signed with them but we’d almost guarantee we didn’t cash in, either.

    Under the deal we were offered, we’d have maybe brought in a dollar in royalties (to split!) for a book that would probably retail for $15, as opposed to CreateSpace, where we can actually offer the book from Amazon for a lower cover price and make five times that in profit per copy, and buy copies at essentially cost to resell at cons and do consignments from local stores, which nets us maybe $7 if not more.

    I don’t think self-publishing is for everyone, because it’s a lot to learn if you’re just planning on doing one project — but if you’re going to get multiple things in the pipeline and can divide the time and expense it takes to learn promotions and so on between them, I think that makes it doable.

    • tracycembor
      February 17, 2013

      I first want to say that I didn’t mention sales tax. If you sell something, the government wants their cut. Make sure your margin includes a piece for Uncle Sam.

      Legacy (or the Big Five) Publishers have everything stacked in their favor. They think that they have the advantage in distribution, and in brick and mortar stores they do, but the internet has made us equal in the digital marketplace. That is where companies like Amazon shine because they have your history and buying habits and can recommend “more books like this.”

      As for libraries, I’m not sure what the future will be for them. Like many institutions, they will need to change as technology changes or become obsolete, which is sad because I love libraries.

      I agree that self-publishing is not for everyone, but I need to be in control of my creative content, so this is what makes sense for me. It is a lot of work, and I have a longs ways to go down this road. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences.

  2. Gus Sanchez
    February 17, 2013

    I had a conversation with a publishing adviser from CreateSpace last week about a couple of projects I’m working on. CreateSpace essentially gives me the print flexibility I need in order to market and advertise my work, and therefore dictate just how profitable my writing can be.

    I don’t mind doing my own publicity – hell, I’m actually looking forward to it – but I’d rather invest my own time and find more creative outlets for doing so than

    However, I’m still holding out hope of going the traditional publishing route. It’s what every writer wants, deep down inside, but without all the horror stories attached to it.

    • tracycembor
      February 17, 2013

      If anyone gets a traditional publishing deal that works for him, I’m super happy for him. We are at a time in publishing history where those deals are few and far between. Dark times indeed. I want to be successful badly enough to not hang my hat on the Legacy Publishers’ star though. But if you get a chance at the royal treatment, take it.

      How is the customer support at CreateSpace? I have not worked with them, and I don’t recommend them per se. They just have a easy-to-use cost calculator.

      The trade off between time and everything else — marketing, networking, researching, um, blogging, and let’s not forget writing — is the biggest challenge for the do-it-yourselfer. I’m not sure I want to do the digital formating myself. As I get closer to D-day (digital release day), I may enlist the help of professionals. I am certainly hiring a copyeditor.

      • Gus Sanchez
        February 17, 2013

        I suppose I’m harboring the same fantasy a writer has just like a musician has with signing with Atlantic or Columbia. Just a fantasy, I guess.

        I’m going with CreateSpace to publish a blog anthology, just to get it out there, but really so I can flex my marketing muscles. I will say the publishing adviser answered a lot of questions I had, but didn’t give me any of the sales pitch I’d been getting from other DIY publishers. In fact, he was very encouraging of me taking the DIY approach, just from the pure profit perspective. I told him I was really more interested in cover design and marketing. CreateSpace so far gives me the outlets I need in order for me to effectively sell and market my anthology, both in paperback and ebook format. And they’re more than happy to get the hell out of my way.

        Additionally, I’m hoping to make enough of a profit to afford, just like you, professionals. A professional-grade book cover, and not something that looks like it was done in a few hours using PhotoShop Essentials, and a copy editor that will offer more than just advice on where to properly place a comma. I know where to place one, thank you.

        When it comes to my novel, whenever the hell that gets done, I’m still going the old fashioned route, but it’s dawning on me that self-publishing may be my best solution.

      • tracycembor
        February 19, 2013

        I have also heard of some authors using crowdsourcing to create their book covers. I don’t know much about it, but 99Designs seems to be popular. Looks like you hold a contest, pray, then pay for the design ($299+) that you want to keep.

        Since people are as likely to buy a book based on the cover as the blurb beside it, I don’t think it is the worst use of money. Make sure you select a cover that looks good when it is the size of a thumbnail. Of course, you could always scan Deviantart, Pinterest, or Etsy, contact the artist, and hopefully settle for less money than the monthly grocery bill.

  3. Gus Sanchez
    February 20, 2013

    Wow. That’s an amazing idea! Thank you for the recommendation; that’s certainly something I’m going to explore when the novel’s ready for publication.

    I was also toying with the idea of Kickstarter; a friend had used it to help pay for a lot of the production costs – editing, cover design, marketing, promotion, etc. – and had enough left over to do book readings out of town, as a thank you for several of his sponsors who helped cover the costs.

  4. katemsparkes
    April 5, 2013

    Thanks, I’m downloading “Be the Monkey” now. :)

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on February 15, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , .

Posting Schedule for 2014-15

Monday through Friday I will be posting about writing as business and craft, the science of creativity, all things steampunk, and progress on The Dreamless City.

Weekends are reserved for my Music Playlist.

Writers of the Future Honorable Mention

About the Author

Tracy Cembor attempts to juggle a preschooler and a baby, a full-time job, random geekery, and the writing life. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a steampunk urban fantasy novel. Come join the adventure.
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