Admit it. As a debut author, you’ve dreamed of walking into a Barnes & Noble and seeing your book on the front table luring readers over to buy it. Dreamy sigh. Am I right?
It’s not until you’ve been in the business that you understand the chances of that are fairly low, unless your book was selected to receive a generous marketing budget from your publishing house. In reality, those spots are paid placements from coop funding between publishers and bookstores, and can run upwards to the 10s of thousands of dollars. Nonetheless, whether an author is published traditionally, hybrid, or indie, many still have the dream of physical representation in bookstores and libraries. A place where people can see and touch their books, not just look at a thumbnail on Amazon. I know I did.
Yet, as much as we all hunger for print, what I’ve found is many debut authors don’t understand the deep nuances around the economics involved. The topic has spurred many a discussion between me and some of my closest author friends. Just like the dream of being in bookstores is universal among authors of every publication pathway, so are the drawbacks. It’s just that when you are in a traditional situation, it’s masked by royalty systems, but it feeds into why a large percentage of debut authors never see a dime beyond their advances.
Let’s start with the basics and some averages.
Let’s pause to do some math. I know! It’s the wrong side of the brain. But just stick with me here.
Retail Price = $16.00
Manufacturing cost = $4.00
How the Biz works for Indies (if you are traditionally published, after publisher and agent fees, you’ll see $0.60 – $0.85 per book in this example. Hopefully, you’re making it up in volume):
Retail Price (GROSS) $16.00
Minus Trade Discount of 55% (8.80)
Wholesale Price $7.20
Minus Manufacturing Cost (4.00)
Net Profit to Author $3.20 / book
Remember that math?
You’ll need to sell more than 1 book to make up for the loss of that returned hurt as an indie. As traditionally published author? Yup, you guessed it. You need to sell 3-5 more books to make up for the single loss. If 30-50% of books are returned, remember that royalty check with all those sales? That’s why they withheld 25-30% of your last royalty check as a ‘reserve’– to cover future returns. Keep in mind, the average traditionally published author sells 2,000 books, and 10,000 if they are doing really well. For indie authors, it's 150 books and 1,500 for a ‘respectable' number. Of course there are the outliers–I've met some of them–but comparing yourself to them would be like a movie extra comparing himself to Brad Pitt.
Are you starting to see the economics of print coming back to bite you in the arsenal?
It used to be that if a bookstore asked you to sign some copies of your book to leave behind after an event, they couldn’t return them. Well, not anymore from what I understand. They can return them, and guess where they can end up? Your hurt pile as unsellable stock. So, think twice about signing those 30 extra copies…
The general flow of royalty checks looks something like this (at least from my publisher who pays quarterly with no upfront advance), first two checks are high, and then slowly decline in the next two quarters when all the returns come home to roost.
At the end of the day, I’ll still offer print on all the books I indie publish using print-on-demand technology. Nothing compares to the actual feel of the book in your hands. Also, I enjoy in person events and signing books. As far as bookstores are concerned? I will continue to form relationships with bookstore owners and nurture them, but if you’re looking for my books in Walmart, chances are you won’t find them there.
However, my eyes are open to the impact these sales have on my overall economics, and I've made the choice to take that potential hit. With Ingram, I can always turn off the distribution machine with the toggle of a button. Honestly? Without the benefit of an Ingram Sales Rep pushing my book, the chances that I will have to are slim to none.
One more thing to consider: offer print through Createspace for Amazon-based print sales. You'll make more on those sales, and let Ingram distribute the rest. Best of both worlds.
What about you? What are your experiences with print and your thoughts on how this contributes to your sales?
L.G. O'Connor is the author of the urban fantasy / angel paranormal romance series, The Angelorum Twelve Chronicles. For more information, go to www.lgoconnor.com and check under “Books.”
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