Studio Musings

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Economics of Self-Publishing

Since last week's post, I've received several emails asking about what it actually cost to self-publish my book Freeform Peyote Beading.

I think everyone remembers the 'old days' when self-publishing meant shelling out bookoo bucks and ending up with a thousand or so copies of your book, which then lived in stacks in your garage or basement and substituted as end tables in your living room while you tried to sell copies to everyone you knew.

With today's print-on-demand publishing, it's a whole new ballgame; books can now be printed economically in print runs as small as a single copy.  Many of the online print-on-demand publishers, including Winkflash, Apple and even Lulu focus primarily on the momento and memory market, printing on glossy stock for around $16-25 per book.  This is perfect if you want a coffee table book of your recent backpacking tour through Europe.  Not so great if you're hoping to reach a larger market. 

That's where publishers such as Createspace come in.  Their up-front costs are minimal to nonexistent because they're banking on recouping their costs through royalties and wholesale purchases by the author.  Setting up an account and starting a book project is free.  

Upfront Costs, using myself as a case study:
As mentioned in my earlier post, I paid Createspace $199 for a package deal special on a supported interior and cover because I wanted the extra hand-holdings.  What I received:
  • Free phone and text support through the publishing process.  
  • They reviewed both of my pdfs for errors that would affect the printing
  • Free physical proof of my book (including free shipping). 
  • Free upgrade to the Pro Plan (normally a $39 cost) which increased my royalties from Amazon sales significantly and lowered the wholesale price when I purchase books directly.
I used the phone support several times through the publishing process.  When I had a question, I'd send them an online text requesting a call and specifying a time (I usually opted for 5 minutes later).  A tech support person always called me back right on time and if they didn't know the answer to my question, they would find it.  The same with their email support. 

I wasn't as impressed with their review of my book.  It was not a proof-reading, but rather checking things like whether the page numbering was consistent, and that all my images displayed correctly and had sufficient resolution for printing, and that everything fit properly on the pages.  It added several weeks to the publishing process and they didn't find any errors or make any suggested corrections, likely because I'd spent so much time with tech support clarifying their printing specifications and requirements during production.

Receiving the physical proof was incredible!  Simply holding it in my hands and seeing a book rather than a sheaf of papers was amazing - I don't think it was truly real before that.  And the proof let me know exactly what a potential purchaser would see.  This prompted me to make a few changes, requiring a second physical proof (which they also sent me for free due to the package I'd purchased). 
    Other out-of-pocket expenses included:
    • New camera: $350 to replace the one I knocked off of a table while setting up a photo shoot. 
    • Printer inks and paper.  I printed reams of proof pages as I worked, and figure I spent between $50-100 on printer inks and paper (mostly ink).
    • Thumb drive to back up my files at the end of each work session. I also backed up to CD once to twice per month during the project. 
    • I already had all of the computer software I needed, so they're not included in my cost figures, but they could definitely add a chunk of change if you needed to purchase them for your project. 
    Time was the primary 'expense'.In my experience, your primary "expense" with self-publishing will be your time.   After I'd stitched and photographed all of my designs, written the text, and created the illustrations I found that it took me a minimum of 4-6 hours, often considerably more, to finalize the layout for each two-page spread. 

    Getting everything to fit on the page in an aesthetically pleasing manner is rather like working an especially challenging puzzle.  Nothing ever seems to want to fit properly on the first go-round.  Or the second for that matter.  Text too long or too short, too many, too few or not quite the right images, or the images were too large or too small.  All told, I put over 500 hours on photo editing, page layout and design as a conservative estimate. Adding in the time to create and stitch all of my designs, write the text, create the illustrations and photograph my work, and all of the other associated aspects of this project the total time commitment for this project soars considerably north of 1000 hours. 

    I seriously considered abandoning the project at least once a month over the course of the nine months I actively worked on the project, especially as my initial enthusiasm waned and I began to wonder if I could possibly recoup my labor costs.  One distinct disadvantage of self-publishing is no royalty advance.  Of the $24.95 list price for Freeform Peyote, I receive $8.10 from each Amazon sale.  Doing the math, this means I'll need to sell over 1000 copies to make somewhere near minimum wage. (I hate doing the math!)  I finally decided that completing the project, simply to prove to myself that I could, was more important than worrying about whether it was 'worth my time'. 

    Will I do it again?  Definitely.

    Projected Budget for my next project:
    • Pdf submission:              Free
    • Physical proof copy:    ~$10-15 with shipping
    • Upgrade to the Pro Plan $39
    • Office supplies:              $100
    • So my total publishing expenses should be under $200 unless I decide to upgrade my software
    • Time - 600 to 900 hours

    1 comment:

    1. Glad I found your blog through the BSBP. I found this article very interesting. I'm not really thinking about a book now, but the detail you provided definitely helps me understand the process. Thanks.