Friday, January 7, 2011

Are Indie Author Book Tours Worthwhile?

As anyone who follows this blog or reads Publetariat regularly already knows, my financial circumstances have been precarious lately. Because of this, I've concluded I simply can't afford to do the self-financed book tour I had planned to support the release of The Indie Author Guide. "But April," you may ask, "how can you afford not to be out there, promoting your new book? Isn't that what all us indie authors are supposed to do?" The answer, as per usual, is, "It depends."

First, let me break down the realities of small-time author book signings for you. By "small-time", I mean pretty much anyone who isn't such a household name that velvet ropes and barricades will be required for crowd control at the event. Having spoken to numerous local bookstore managers, I've learned they consider a small-time author event that sells 25 books to be a huge success. On average, ten copies is more typical, and isn't considered a disappointment. Given that the author is only earning about a dollar, maybe less, on each of those sales, even if the event makes it over the "huge success" bar of 25 copies sold the author's eventual profit from the event will be $25 or less. Remember, the author won't see dime one of that $25 for many, many months---and maybe not at all, if the book doesn't earn back the author's advance (on a mainstream-published book).

Let's go even further, and say every person who bought one of the 25 copies convinces two friends to buy copies, also. Net cumulative profit for the author is still just $75 or less, and this is under ideal, maximum-sales circumstances. Now subtract what you spent on gasoline traveling to and from the event, plus the cost of any snacks or drinks you purchased en route or while there. Your eventual profit probably stands somewhere around $60 for six to ten hours of your time. And again, this is a maximum-sales scenario we're talking about. It's far more likely you'll sell ten or fewer copies, in which case all your royalty proceeds will be consumed by expenses.

If that time would've been spent watching TV, napping, or otherwise devoted to leisurely pursuits, then a signing event can still be a worthwhile alternative for you. Even if it's not super-successful, it's getting you out of the house, giving you more practice in meeting with the public, and providing an opportunity to win over a few fans. It may also provide fodder for pictures and video to post to your website or blog.

But most indie authors have (and need!) day jobs, and mine is freelancing as an author services provider (e.g., editing, formatting, ebook conversions, etc.). I don't work a nine-to-five, Monday through Friday schedule. Since I still have young children at home who require my attention and supervision whenever they're not in school, I get quite a bit of my work done in the evenings and on weekends when they're on visitation with their father---in other words, during the hours when store managers like to schedule signing events. For me, the choice on a given Saturday isn't between burning through a few more titles on my Netflix queue or spending that time promoting my book instead, it's between earning hundreds of dollars or spending that time promoting my book instead.

Right now, I simply can't afford not to be working.

I'm going to honor my commitment for the first date that was set, at the
Montclair Plaza Borders from 2-6pm tomorrow, 1/8/11, but that's it as far as my book tour is concerned.

I'm also already set to speak at the Writer's Digest Conference in Manhattan the weekend of 1/21-1/23/11, where I'll be on a couple of discussion panels and will also be presenting a Kindle publishing workshop. My travel expenses are paid, but I'm on the hook for my own meals, parking at the airport, and any other incidentals. I've decided it's still worthwhile for me to do this because of the opportunity to meet up with not only my fellow indie authors, but also with the other speakers. The latter group includes several whom I've "known" through online interaction over a period of years, but have never met face-to-face. I'll be losing money on that weekend, most definitely. But it's hard to put a pricetag on the value of maintaining relationships in the business, or on the value of an opportunity to give more of my fellow indies some of the information or how-tos that can help them realize their dreams of publication. It's also a better promotion opportunity for me than a book signing because of all the national promotion Writer's Digest is doing for the event.

So when deciding whether or not to do a signing or speaking event, you have to weigh not only the matter of how much you stand to earn financially and in intangibles, but how much you will be required to give up in exchange. Sometimes, it's worth it. Sometimes, it's not.

*UPDATE* I did my stint at Borders yesterday, all four hours of it. I spoke to exactly five store patrons, and sold exactly one copy of my book in the store. It's interesting to note that three of the five patrons said they planned to buy my book online, where its price would be lower. Given that I enjoy talking shop and can burn through four hours in a bookstore without even trying any day of the week (and twice on Sundays), it wasn't a bad way to spend an afternoon. Still, it was obviously not a profitable event in terms of book sales, and for me, that time would've been much better spent doing freelance work.


Carla said...

I just bought your book. The first part on the history of publishing is interesting. I needed to add a book like this to my library. Thanks.

April L. Hamilton said...

Thanks, Carla. =') I hope you find my book useful and informative.

Bounder said...

The low payout on each book is a reflection of the technology you chose. POD (print-on-demand, digital) presses are far more costly per unit to use. They appeal to people because the initial investment is so low.

However, saving and waiting until you have enough money to publish offset, with say, 500, 1000 or 2000 books printed all at one time, will see your profits rise several 100 percent.

So, the low profits are not a reflection of self-publishing or independent publishing, but rather the business profile chosen to do so.

April L. Hamilton said...

Bounder -
You are incorrect, for a couple of reasons.

First, the experience I describe here is with a mainstrea-published book, The Indie Author Guide, which was published by Writer's Digest Books and is already stocked in bookstores.

Second, offset is only economically advantageous to today's POD when you're talking about full-color books, or ordering a large quantity of books for which you know there is already a demand and market (and therefore you know you will have no difficulty selling them).

I earn at least $3.72 per copy sold on my self-published, POD books. This is more than twice as much as the $1.79 or so I earn in royalties for each copy sold of my mainstream-published book. On top of this, there is no "holdback against returns" on my selfpub books, and no percentage being taken out upfront to pay an agent.

I earn FAR more on my selfpub, POD books than I do on my mainstream book, and FAR more than if I'd gone the offset print run route and had to pay for bookstore listings, hand-sell every copy, or even do my own order fulfillment. Offset is not the promised land it once was.

Bounder said...

You can't be both POD and offset in the way you're describing it. You can use both methods to publish the same book, but they're two different ways of printing. They're different models, different presses, different technology. Offset is the opposite of POD.

Depending on the size of your print run and the book (and definitely not just color, which is probably better printed overseas) your book could be printed for $2 or less, by an American printer. If you print 3,000 copies of a 100 page book, say, the price is probably going to be around $1 per unit for offset.

This is if you're self-publishing. I'm not talking about royalties, and forgive me, I thought we were talking about self-publishing.

So, you've self-published using POD/digital printing and published traditionally for royalties, but not offset as a self-publisher. The latter is the best way to make money self-publishing.

However, as you've pointed out, it requires more hands-on efforts and selling. That's something many authors/business people enjoy though, but I understand it's not for everyone.

I don't think $3.72 per unit for your self-published book is very good, at all. If you did an offset run, you could very easily double that and then some (depending on how much of the distribution and other aspects you hire others to do, that effects your bottom line) and still keep the price of your book competitive.

If you don't want to handle distribution, there are companies who will work with self-publishers.

Lots of self-published authors have been quite successful, at least in terms of making money, this way.

Also I'd like to point out that one of the biggest driving engines behind book sales is word-of-mouth. There was a study done in the UK that strongly suggested that was the case. So, signing events will probably cost you out of pocket, particularly using the two printing/publishing models you've described, but it is a time-versus-money advertising investment. I happen to think advertising is still an effective way to move almost any product in the beginning. Once the product is out there, word-of-mouth and momentum help greatly.

Our misunderstanding lies in the fact I was comparing self-publishing and digital/POD printing with self-publishing using offset printing and you were comparing self-publishing using digital/POD printing with traditional publishing and a royalty scheme.

April L. Hamilton said...

No, Bounder. I was not *only* comparing POD to mainstream, and I am well aware you generally will not have an offset print run AND a POD edition of the same book at the same time---although it IS possible, if you still control your rights.

RE: my POD book royalties, the thing about this is, most authors who are very pro-offset for a selfpub book and talk very positively about their 'royalty' on each copy sold aren't really crunching ALL the numbers. With offset, there's a huge upfront investment of money. There's shipping expense, from the print service to the author, from the author to resellers, and from the author to purchasers who buy directly from the author (e.g., website sales). Then there's the expense of setting up reseller acocunts with various online outlets, like Amazon, or the fees to be paid per copy sold. I could go on and on, but I think you'd find that if you're REALLY accounting for EVERY expense along the way, your profit on an offset selfpub book is no more than maybe thirty cents or so more per copy sold than I'm earning on my POD selfpub books (I have done extensive number crunching on this very subject in the process of doing research for The Indie Author Guide), and given the huge upfront investment, an offset book won't even earn back the author's upfront investment for months, or even years in some cases. Please see this blog post I wrote, in which I break the numbers down in great detail, using a specific, real-life example:

My POD selfpub books were "in the black" from day one, and I was earning pure profit on each sale from the very first sale. I haven't had to invest thousands of dollars upfront on them, and I haven't had to store, ship or handsell them.

Even if, in the final analysis, someone could come up with a scenario in which an selfpub offset book comparable to one of my selfpub POD books was netting say, eighty cents more per copy sold than my POD books do, I'd STILL feel POD is the superior way to go because of the hassle and upfront expense factors.

Most indie authors who go offset never turn a profit on their books. While I'm not saying an author who goes POD will necessarily be raking in the dough, at least he won't be sitting on a deficit until or unless he sells enough copies to earn back his upfront investment and all the expenses (storage, shipping, fees for seller accounts, setup of website that can accept book orders and payments, etc.) incurred since the book's release.

There are specific circumstances under which I think offset is the better way to go, but for the vast majority of indie authors, I advise going POD and ebook.

jeffbennington said...

Hi April, I agree 100% about passing on the book signing thing. I sold about 10 of my first book in 2009 at a Borders and the manager was beaming!
I am, however, publishing my next thriller through Lightning Source for the sole purpose of getting my books in local chains and doing book signing in those locations only. The reasons are as follows:

#1 Most chains won't order your book if its not returnable anyway - LS allows you to offer a full 40-55% wholesale discount and returns, even if you are the publisher - CreateSpace does not, even if you have the Expanded Distribution.

#2 Like any artist, you have to be an anomoly to get national attention, or make such a loud noise in your own backyard that you can't help but get national attention. Therefore, I am willing to cater to my local audience (friends and neighbors) who want to buy my books and say Hi and get a signed copy. Other than that, I'm not even that concerned about print (well maybe just a little).

#3 Many book reviewers require ARC's (advanced release copies) - another reason for print.

#4 I have scheduled a month and a half blog tour nearly 30 stops, reaching nearly 10,000 readers in my genre between April 1 - May 15. I wrote an review pitch and sent it to over 60 reviewers and scheduled them myself. It took a lot of work BUT IT COST ME NOTHING! On top of that, there will be an additional 15 reviewers reviewing who don't blog. All you have to do is ask.

#5 As a result of my "asking", I'm starting to get unsolicited review requests even before the tour starts!

#6 Another FREE idea is to solicit "Book Blurbs" from successful and mildly successful authors in your genre. In doing so, I've snagged 3 bestselling authors (Joe Moore, Scott Nicholson, and Kait Nolan) who have written "Blurbs", and a video blurb in an upcoming Ghost Guys Video show. ALL FOR FREE - with the exception of about 50 hours of my time.

Thanks for the great post!
Jeff Bennington
Author of REUNION - a supernatural thriller.