In my regular, every day job (I am a sales manager at a car dealership but, please, don’t hold that against me if you don’t know me) I meet a wide variety of people. It’s happening more and more often lately that I meet fellow writers, so there are either more people writing or there’s something to that law of attraction (or maybe authors simply have to buy cars, too, just like regular folk).
The other day, I met a woman who had written and self-published her memoir. She did it as a kind of history for her family and was only going to print a few copies, but someone told her it was good and she decided to take it a bit further. Now, I’m not here to say whether or not her book was worthy of an expanded print run — I haven’t read it, though she gave one of my colleagues a copy — I only want to relate how this woman was going about things.
She did a modest print run of 250 books (I’m not sure which vanity press she used) and said it cost her, including editing and printing — are you ready for this? — $9000.
Yup. 9 grand.
She claimed that each book cost her over $27 to produce (I know, I couldn’t quite get the math to go, either) and she planned to sell them for $25 each. However, if she got her book into a book store, they would take half the cover price for their profit. I’m not sure if that meant she would lose even more money per book or if the bookstore would sell her memoir for the unlikely price of $50 (for a trade paperback).
Admittedly, I’m neither a mathematician (the beads on my abacus are in need of some lubrication) or a business man (I had to look the word up to make sure it wasn’t spelled ‘bizness’), so I’m not the best judge of these sorts of things, but it sounds to me like her little history project has become a money-losing proposition. A loss of $500 minimum, plus whatever she comps and any sold at bookstores. My other question for this woman: how would she get her book into these bookstores? Would she drive around to each one, talk them into carrying it, and supply them with books? Sounds limiting and time-consuming.
And none of it makes sense to me.
When Cemetery Moon published my story “Another Man’s Shoes“, they paid one contributor’s copy. Since it was my first work published, I purchased twenty more to give to family and friends at a cost of $3 each, meaning the publication of my story in someone else’s mag cost me $60. The magazine only had a distribution of about 250 copies, I got 21, leaving 229 issues potentially out there for people to be exposed to my story, decide they love my work and determine to read everything I write thereafter. But wait! I bought nearly 10%, and there were a number of other stories in the issue, so is it possible that every copy was purchased by one author or other featured in the mag? Did anyone other than the authors buy it? No way to know. All the copies could be sitting in trunks or on book shelves, waiting to be sent to Grandma in Romania. Some of mine still are (though neither Granny nor anyone else in my family lives anywhere near Romania).
I haven’t submitted another story to a magazine since. Instead, I give my stories away. Free. It costs me nothing and more people read them. “Darkness Stalks the Night” has been downloaded close to 1900 on Smashwords. I don’t worry about printing, distribution or having to buy copies for my friends. It’s quick, efficient, and my stories are available to anyone who has a computer, smart phone or e-book reader.
“But what about the traditionalists? What about the readers who like the feel and smell of paper, Bruce? Don’t you like them?”
Of course I do. I love all readers, so a collection of my short stories is available through lulu.com where it’s print-on-demand. Again, costs me nothing and available to anybody, and the book retails for under $10 plus shipping. Not $27, not $50.
In talking with this woman, I suggested she look into some of these possibilities for her book, but she either didn’t understand or the idea of technology scared her (she looked to be in her mid-sixties, so the latter is a possibility — anyone in their mid-sixties, please don’t call me out on that comment, I’m not generalizing, simply saying it’s possible).
Through my research and reading over the past year or so, I’ve become convinced I will self-publish my novels electronically and through venues like Lulu and CreateSpace. Bookstores and publishers continue to struggle while e-book sales rise. The world is changing. It’s time for writers to educate themselves and look for alternate paths to get their works in the hands of readers.
My thanks to this woman and her $9000 spent in order to lose money. Her story may be the last nail needed in the coffin I’ve been building around any kind of traditional publishing.
I’m sorry for the trouble and loss she will endure, but we can all learn something from it. As a famous philosopher once said… “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” Thank you, Mr. Spock.