December 23 2012 Editor Assistance Newsletter
Many of you are gearing up to start a self-publishing project in 2013. I just finished a set of research on this. Let me know if you have any questions or comments on my notes!
First, a few basics.
According to Publishers Weekly, the average self-published book sells 150 copies over its lifetime. It’s an industry-wide trend – the average *regularly* published book is now only selling 200 copies. The competition in the book marketplace has skyrocketed. In general people are reading less books. The sales parity between self-publishing and published is in part because publishers are running out of money and cutting back on their marketing efforts, forcing the authors themselves to do most of that work. So having a publisher isn’t giving as much “boost” to a book’s sales as it used to.
This also highlights that a key thing a publishing house is now looking for. They want proof in that query letter that the author is top-notch in promotional, writing, and selling skills. After all, they expect that author to do most of the selling work for the book. A friend of mine who wrote a book about her penguin rescuing activities is constantly on the go promoting her books at readings, lectures, and seminars. So from the publisher's point of view if the author isn’t absolutely perfect, stunning, and convincing in how they “present their case” for their book, the publishing house will choose someone else. They get thousands of eager people writing to them and can easily choose to take only the very top entries. They only have X books they can release in a given year.
Children in particular are reading far less, which will make reading rates “worse” as they grow up and become the adult generation. In general, reading levels are dropping.
I just ran a report on CreateSpace for my Sangria Recipes book. It sold 140 copies this year in print, for a royalty of $189. That seems to be an average industry standard sales rate. My next highest seller is A Sense of Duty (one of my medieval novels) at 21 copies for $47.20. Less than industry standard :). Note that I sell a ton of romance ebooks where my 99 cent price is perfectly in line with my competition. So in the print world, it’s certainly fair to say that price is one area where big publishers have an advantage. They can do a large run and cut per-book prices down to something tiny. But they’re often only willing to make that investment for a sure-fire hit, with a known commodity.
So, with all that being said, let’s look at our print copy options.
CreateSpace, Amazon’s Print On Demand (POD) system is completely free to set up. For a given book, their user-price starts with a set “printing price”. CreateSpace then takes a share of the profit, whatever price you set above that mark. CreateSpace pays 40% of the profit. So again that’s after the “base printing cost” is accounted for. With my 230 page Knowing Yourself book, that base printing price is 6.05. When I set the sale price at $6.99, I get 40% of ($6.99 - $6.05 = 94 cents) which is about 40 cents per book. I can’t choose to price the book much higher and have it sell, with so many romance novels selling for $2.99 in stores. I am already trying to convince my readers to purchase an “expensive romance novel”. The price is a barrier to purchase. Here’s the details of the CreateSpace royalty system.
Lulu is also a free POD system. Lulu gives you 80% of the profit, which is higher than CreateSpace’s 40%. However, Lulu’s publishing costs are high. For example my 230 page medieval novel would be $8.50 in publishing costs per book on Lulu. So I couldn’t price it much over that and expect people to buy it. Heck, I don’t think I could price it *at* their $8.50 cost (and make no profit) and have any sales. They have a calculator to see amounts live here –
So for my books, in my sizes, CreateSpace by far makes the most sense. But as I’ve mentioned before, I go with Lulu for the large format full color Mused issues, because they have that option and handle it well. I also have a copy of my Sangria Recipes book on Lulu because they offer spiral-bound and CreateSpace does not. The version of Sangria Recipes on CreateSpace is standard paperback. So my readers can choose to buy the spiral-bound from Lulu or the paperback version from CreateSpace.
If I went with iUniverse, first I would pay the $899 fee. Then each book would give me a 20% royalty on the entire sale price. So let’s say I set my book price at $5.99 each to try to get closer to the range of other romance novels. I would earn $1.20 per book. So that’s more than I earn now. On the downside, I’d have to sell 749 print copies before I earned back the $899 fee. For my books, I don’t feel that’s likely.
Lightning Source has a base price of 0.015 per page + 0.90 for cover printing, so $4.35 base price for my 230 page book. You can set your commission rate on the profits from 80% and down. You’d reduce them to offer a discount to wholesalers and such – Lightning Source is set up expecting you are a “publisher” more than a “standalone author”. So in any case, let’s say you go with the maximum 80% of profits. If my book was the $6.99 I have on Amazon, I would make 80% of ($6.99-$4.35=$2.64) or $2.11 per book. That’s certainly higher than 40 cents. However, Lightning Source charges $75 setup, $30 for a proof fee, and $12/yr to be in their system. So that’s $117. So that’s 55 books to break even, at the sort-of-high $6.99 price. And that’s with a burden of having to pay for any changes. I like to fix typos and issues immediately when I find them, so I am changing my books at least a few times after first publishing. Even when I literally read the book through 100 times, there are always things a reader finds “for me”. Lightning Source would only make sense for me for the Sangria Recipes book, which I sold 140 copies of this year. However, I’ve been updating that and adding recipes as I go, to keep it competitive. So I would lose the cost benefit, I think, once I added in the change fees I’d be accruing.
So, to summarize, the system you choose to go with will depend on your book size and shape, the price the market will bear for your topic area, and the amount of work you’re willing to invest in going out and marketing it non-stop.
I know I covered a lot of ground in this message. Feel free to ask away with any questions!
Lisa Shea, owner
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