Thursday, July 31, 2008

Choosing A Publisher

Bottom Line It For Me, Baby Version (200 Words Or Less):
The series based on content from my how-to reference book on self-publishing, The IndieAuthor Guide, herewith continues. I can't just copy and paste everything from the manuscript, because the thing is 300pp long and heavily illustrated besides. But I will present topics from the book to the extent of detail possible in a blog post. Note that I'm not covering editing, designing your own book cover, creating your brand or publishing to the Kindle here, since those topics are already presented on my website in the form of free pdf guides. I’ll include links to previous posts in the series here in the Bottom Line It section. So far, I've posted topics on Publishing Options, Rights, Royalties and Advances, and What's the Deal With ISBNs And Bookstores? Today's post is about choosing a publisher.

Go On An' Run Yo Mouth, I Ain't Got Nuthin' But Time Version (Can't Promise It Won't Go On Forever):

Choosing A Publisher
Your choice of publisher depends on your goals as an indie author and the resources you’re prepared to expend in the endeavor—not just money, but time and skills as well. As with so many things, the best way to find a good publisher is on the basis of a recommendation from a trusted third party. If you know any self-published authors, get their input.
If you don’t know any self-published authors, or the ones you know recommend against the publishers they used, do an internet search on “self publish” or “POD” to find publishers and what people are saying about them. Narrow the field to just two or three candidates, then review each one’s Terms of Service (sometimes called a Membership Agreement), submission guidelines and FAQ sections to determine which will be the easiest for you to work with, according to your specific needs and priorities.

For example, if you intend to minimize costs by doing as much as possible by yourself, it doesn’t make sense to go with a publisher whose most basic package charges upfront fees for providing services you don’t need. On the other hand, if you know you’ll need to pay for certain professional services, such as editing or book cover design, it doesn’t make sense to go with a publisher that doesn’t offer those services. With respect to related services however, such as cover design, editing and layout, don’t think that the only way to get a quality result in the published book is to pay for professional services. The IndieAuthor Guide can take you through the entire process in easy to follow, step-by-step instructions that assume you are an ordinary person, not a professional editor, artist, publicist or anything else related to publishing. Much of the Guide’s content will be covered in this series, and some of it is available for online viewing or download at my website. If you’ve got decent computer skills and a do-it-yourselfer spirit, you can probably accomplish most or all of the tasks involved in bringing your book to print by yourself.

Crunch The Numbers To Forecast Profit Possibilities
If you’re hoping to make a profit selling your books, crunch the numbers for various publishers. Compare the setup costs, production costs and publisher fees for production of the same book, and don’t forget to include the cost for an ISBN where the publisher doesn’t provide one. Production costs for POD books are usually based on the size and format of the book, plus the page count. In order to determine your break-even point—how many copies you must sell in order to earn back your up-front investment—, you will need to do some ‘what-if’ calculations based on different possible list prices for your book.

Look at the list prices of current, mainstream books in the same genre, format, and rough page count as yours, making note of the lowest, highest, and most common prices you find. Working with the most common list price for a book like yours, use the following calculation to see what you will earn per book for sales through booksellers and through each publisher’s online store (if applicable):

[List Price] – [Per-Copy Production Cost] – [Bookseller Fee]

The standard bookseller fee is 40% of the book’s list price, but it may be significantly less for books sold through your publisher’s own online bookstore. Let’s look at some examples based on a 6x9, perfect-bound trade paperback with 320pp. Publisher A charges a base production cost of $1.50 per book plus $.02 per page, making the total production cost per book $1.50 + (.02 x 320), or $7.90. Publisher B charges a flat production cost of $10.53 per copy. Working with a list price of $14, which is currently common for a comparable mainstream book, the standard bookseller fee is $14 x .40, or $5.60. Here’s your profit per copy sold for each publisher:
A: $14 - $7.90 – $5.60 -= $.50
B: $14 - $10.53 - $5.60 = -$2.13

As you can see, you can’t break even with Publisher B unless you raise the list price of your book. In fact, you’d need to set the list price at a little over $17.50 just to cover production costs, and at $18.50 to earn the same $.50 per copy profit you’ll get with Publisher A. But suppose Publisher B offers an upgrade plan which will reduce your per-copy production costs to $6.53 in exchange for a one-time, flat $50 fee, and publisher A’s upgrade program will reduce per-copy costs to $.85 per book + $.01 per page ($4.05 per book, total) for a flat $100 fee:
A: $14 - $4.05 - $5.60 = $4.35
B: $14 - $6.53 - $5.60 = $1.87

At first glance it appears you’ll need to sell about 23 copies of your Publisher A book and 40 copies of your Publisher B book to earn back each publisher’s respective upgrade fee, but take author copies into account as well. Most publishers sell copies of POD books to the books’ authors at production cost. If you were intending to buy 25 author copies for family, friends, and to send to reviewers, before the upgrade you would’ve paid Publisher A $7.90 per copy, or $197.50 total, and Publisher B $10.53 per copy, or $263.25 total. After the upgrade, you’d pay Publisher A $4.05 per copy, or $101.25 total, and Publisher B $6.53 per copy, or $163.25 total. With Publisher A’s upgrade, you’d save $96.25 on author copies and with Publisher B’s upgrade you’d save $100 on author copies. In both cases the savings on author copies alone are enough to justify the upgrade expense, but with Publisher A, your ongoing royalties will be more than twice as much as you’d get with Publisher B. But wait, there are still more factors to consider.

Let’s say Publisher B will charge you an extra $85 for ISBN assignment, but Publisher A will throw in an ISBN for free. Now think about how you intend to make your book available to buyers online: primarily through big retailers like Amazon™ and Barnes & Noble™, or via direct links from your website or blog to your publisher’s online store? Assume Publisher A only takes a 15% bookseller fee for copies sold through its online store, but charges a flat fee of $65 per listing plus $.50 per copy sold for Amazon™ and Barnes & Noble™ online listings. Assume Publisher B takes a 25% bookseller fee in its online store, but will automatically get your book listed on Amazon™ and/or Barnes & Noble™ online at no additional cost. Personally, I feel that an Amazon™ store listing is critical if you hope to turn a profit on your self-published books, not only due to Amazon™’s huge market share but also due to the greater promotional opportunities available for products listed on Amazon™ (to be covered later in this series). If an Amazon™ listing is important to you, verify that the publishers you’re considering can get one and the cost isn’t prohibitive. As you can see, it’s very important to take every possible fee and factor into account when doing your calculations.

Publisher Tradeoffs
Look at the tradeoffs for each publisher, but always keep production costs and eventual list price in mind. One publisher may offer excellent tech support and customer service through the setup and publication process, but with steep production costs. In contrast, a different publisher may offer tech support and customer service via email only, but charge much lower fees. Remember that the eventual buyers of your book won’t care how easy or hard your publisher was to work with, they only care about the physical quality of the book, the quality of the writing, and the price. In the final analysis it won’t matter how great the publisher’s customer service or tech support are: if your book is priced significantly higher than a typical mainstream book of the same type and dimensions, it will be hard to sell.

However, while it’s often worthwhile to accept a certain amount of inconvenience in exchange for much lower production costs, it is never worthwhile to accept poor production quality, no matter how low the production costs. Your eventual buyers not only expect to pay about the same price for your book as they would for a comparable mainstream book, they expect to receive a book of comparable quality. Cheap paper, spotty quality control and pages that spill from a poorly-glued binding won’t cut it. You can’t be absolutely sure of the publisher’s quality of workmanship until you can inspect a proof copy of your book, but some industrious Googling on [publisher’s name] + “quality” should turn up some helpful insights from other self-published authors.

Finally, note that for some books, it’s not truly feasible to self-publish via POD for a profit. Recall that in publishing, as the number of books in a print run goes up, the production cost per copy goes down. If your intended book must have an unusual binding, full-color pages, specialty paper or any other attributes that will drive its per-copy production cost up to the point that you’d have to price it 2 – 3 times as high as a comparable mainstream book, self-publishing via POD is not likely to work for you. In that case you may want to consider a subsidy or vanity publisher, which is a publishing path outside the scope of The IndieAuthor Guide and this series.

If You’re Publishing To Attract Attention, Not For Profit
Rights will be a primary concern if your goal is to attract a mainstream publisher. You won’t be able to negotiate with any other publishers if you’ve already locked up publishing rights with a subsidy or vanity publisher. But since subsidy and vanity publishing don’t offer any advantages over POD publishing where typical books are concerned, there’s no reason for an indie author to sign away his publication rights in the first place. See the prior entry in this series on Publishing Options for more details about the different types of publishers.

Coming Up Next Time: Getting Organized

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