Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Going to Print?

There has been a lot of demand to put Nobody into print. That has been my intent all along, but printing a book is a very expensive proposition. In order for me to actually be able to afford to go to print, I need to sell 15,000–20,000 copies of the ebook version of Nobody.
Anyone with a calculator can figure out what those numbers mean in terms of money. While it seems like a lot of income, one should remember to remove 30% off the top for distributor commission, then from the resulting number take 40% for income taxes. What is left over is what I have to live on until the next book comes out. I can take out the cost of printing from the business side of things, so it becomes an expense before income taxes are taken out, but it still means less money to live on for the rest of the year.
Hardcover books still outsell ebooks. It’s going to stay that way for a while.
Everyone talks about what consumers are buying, which makes sense when marketeers are trying to decide where to put resources. But I haven’t seen much discussion about the other side of the issue: supply.
Self-published authors are growing in numbers very quickly. As printing books is very expensive for an independent writer with limited resources, the vast majority of them are going to turn to publishing their books digitally as ebooks. While readers may prefer hardcover books over ebooks, they may find in a few years they have little choice but to buy the ebook version of the latest novel first, because that may be all that exists.
How much does it cost to print a book?
Nobody is over 104,000 words long. If printed in a U.S. Trade (6-in. x 9-in.) book format, with letter sizing set to 12 points, it takes up 350 pages.
According to the cost calculator on one of the popular self-publishing web sites, to print 1,500 copies of Nobody in a 6x9 hardcover book, it would cost almost $25,000. This is essentially for Print On Demand (POD) printing of a book. For those of you without a calculator handy, that means each book would cost me $16.67 per book. I would have to jack the price up to nearly $30—for an unautographed copy—per book for the list price. I don’t think I’d be selling too many copies at such a price.
Now, $17 per book for printing sounds like a lot—and it is—but you have to remember that essentially that is a wholesale price to the author, not a manufacturing price. The printer is taking on the printing and inventory costs.
There is an advantage to POD printing through a self-publishing  service instead, such as CreateSpace. I don’t have to deal with Point-of-Sale (POS), inventory or shipping. That all gets taken care of by Amazon, owner of CreateSpace. All  I have to worry about is… Well, nothing really. The books get sold, then I get a check at the end of the month. (Hah! If it was only that simple! Your biggest job as an independent writer—outside of writing—is to promote!)
The alternative is to take it all on yourself and go with a real printer. Not just the local printing service, but hire a book manufacturer
The advantage of using a real book manufacturer is your cost per book will be less—up to half—the cost of POD printing of your book. That’s a significant savings.
The disadvantage is you have to print in volume, such as a thousand copies per run. That means you have to have a place to stick tons of books. Literally. That many books could weigh as much as two tons.
Where do you store a couple tons of books? You don’t want to pile them up in your house. You could crack the floor joists—even a bathtub needs extra support in the structure of the house. Would you drop your car in the living room? It’s about the same weight. How about a storage locker? Good choice, but you run the risk of rodent damage. Books make excellent nesting material and absorb urine. I know a few authors who lost thousands because of rodents chewing and tunneling into the books they had stored in a locker. Your basement or your garage are probably the two best choices—as long as you don’t have rodent problems. (And consider that customers don’t want their books smelling like car exhaust.) Storage is a logistical pain in the ass.
Then you have to consider shipping. Orders for books coming in? You have to take the time to package and label the books, then get them to your shipper of choice. Boxes for the books, postage, and the gasoline your car burns driving them to the drop off all cost you money. And don’t forget time. Time you aren’t writing is time you aren’t earning money. That’s why businesses charge you “shipping and handling.” It’s not free money, it really covers a business cost!
Why would you want to do the printing yourself instead of POD?
Profit.
Remember, writing is a business! If you want to make a living as a writer, you have to treat that living as a business. And if you want income as a writer, you have to approach it like a business. And a business exists to make a profit.
When taking on the printing directly, your primary cost is the up front manufacturing cost. That means the entire margin between cost of manufacturing and your chosen list price is all yours. And that means a lot of profit going into your pocket. Not someone else’s. Shipping costs can be passed on to the consumer. (Our old friend, ‘Shipping & Handling.’)
The important thing to remember is you will not see an instant profit. You only make money when you sell a book. This is the advantage of POD printing. The books get printed when they are ordered.
When you print up a run of a thousand books, your money will sit in each book until it is sold. It could be a year or two before you sell all those books. Can you afford to spend $15,000–$18,000 on a print run and then wait over a year until your profits are realized?
I’ve had enough requests about going to print that I now have to seriously consider this as an option. For now, more people buy hardcover books than ebooks. Ebook sales are growing, but most people want print.
The first move will be to make Nobody available as a softcover on Amazon through CreateSpace and their POD service. Yes, I’ve made it clear in the past my opinion on POD, but improvements in quality have me rethinking my stance. One thing I thought about is that people have been buying POD books for years now. They know what they are buying and are satisfied with that. The quality improvements have reached a point where I think it is adequate for this.
The second move is a little harder to implement. That is doing an actual printing run of hardcover books. Real books. Pigment soaked into the fibers of the paper, high quality paper and covers. The kind of books you find on someone’s library shelf. The kind of books that you pull off the bookshelf in your den/library to show to your great-grandchildren and say, “I actually met the author and he signed this book for me!”
Books I bring with me to conventions and book signings. Books with the proverbial “This page intentially left blank” in them. That’s where my signature will go.
Those kinds of books.
I really need to hunt around and see how much demand I can get for hardcover books. I certainly need them for doing book signings. I need to line up at least 50 bookstores willing to carry a dozen copies each for at least six months before the buyback clause kicks in.
But I really need to find a way to raise money for the initial printing.
Sales proceeds from the POD books will go toward doing the offset printing of the hardcover books.
I’m preparing to try a Kickstarter campaign to raise the bulk of the funds I’ll need for the printing. There are also other fund raising sites that have sprung to life in the wake of Kickstarter, I may give those a look, too.
Kickstarter has been very successful in raising money for independent authors to cover the expense of bringing their books to print. I’m just hoping that I’m not too late to the party; that Kickstarter supporters aren’t going to look and think, “Oh, another book… <yawn>” Hence, the reason I should also consider other fund raising sites.
So what is my decision?
I know enough to know I don’t know enough. But I am moving forward with the project anyway.
The quotes are in and I’ve chosen a printer with whom I’d like to do business. Their response to my request for quote was enthusiastic and they have done work for many independent authors over the years. They understand the issues and problems I’m facing, they also understand where I need to be educated a bit on the process.
The only issue now is I must raise the money somehow to actually do the printing. Considering I only have $2.64 left in my savings account, that’s going to be a tall order.
But if the Kickstarter campaign works, then I’ll be going to print as soon as possible. If not, then it will be delayed while I pursue other possible options. The Kickstarter campaign will begin as soon as I have the final price quotes for printing in hand. (Only then can I accurately fix my costs and pricing.)
For earlier printing, I am starting up CreateSpace to sell POD books through Amazon. That might happen far sooner than I can say. More on that later when I’m ready to announce it. But that will help raise capital I need to go to print for real.
Here’s hoping it all comes together.
So, keep your fingers crossed, folks.

Nobody is coming to print, hopefully soon.