Friday, May 13, 2011

10 Things I've Learned from Self-Publishing, Part Deux

It seemed fitting to complete this post after meeting another aspiring author for iced tea on this sunny day. She's still interested in going the traditional route, which is fabulous, and--given how hot the YA market is, her willingness to persevere, and her just-graduated-from-college poverty--a good choice for her at this point.

Speaking of money, I promised to talk about that in this post. So hard to think about such details when I'm on the beach sipping Mai Tais off my royalties. Fortunately for you, I don't happen to be in that situation.

(If you missed Learnings #1-5, click here.)

 6. Self-publishing print books does not necessarily mean you'll end up with an empty bank account and a garage full of books. In the old days, such consequences were almost guaranteed. If you go with a vanity publisher who charges you $10,000 to print a few hundred copies of your book, you might still face this reality. How do you recognize a vanity publisher? They want $10,000 to print a few hundred copies. Printing a few hundred copies of your shorter-than-Gone-With-the-Wind novel should run you about $3000 (including cover and text design). Probably under $3000 if your book is about as long as The Help. Short-run printers can also run tiny numbers of books--hence only clogging a couple shelves in your garage. And if you market, market, the clogging is temporary.

7. Print-on-Demand keeps your physical book alive forever. Sure, the quality isn't as nice, but it's decent. Just fine for a non-illustrated novel. As inventory gets low, rather than print up another few hundred, I move to Amazon's POD service CreateSpace to handle the one-offs. With my first two books, I participated in Amazon Advantage, where I shipped books to them to ship to buyers. With Everliving I decided that wasn't worth it. After all, Advantage takes a whopping 55% cut, plus you pay shipping to send them the books. Why not just have CreateSpace handle the minority non-local print readers? And, as long as I continue to pay the $5/yr per-book fee, the book never goes out of print!

8. You can self-publish fast enough that you still remember what the story was about. During the tea I mentioned earlier, I told Aspiring Author how Dori Jones Yang clocked eight years from first draft to published YA novel, causing Aspiring Author's bloom of youth to blanch slightly. AA's topic is timely and compelling, which might result in faster time-to-market, but since her novel wasn't about Osama Bin Laden or Wills & Kate, she's probably looking at a two-year process, even in a best-case scenario. To a self-publisher, two years are like dog years--enough time to spit out at least two more books--possibly four, if you skip the print editions...

9. Only a small percentage of writers can quit their day job. About the same percentage of people as those who make a living as an actor or professional athlete. You just might be the George Clooney or the A-Rod of writers, but odds are more likely you're the Herman Kugelhopper. The who? Exactly.

10. Nevertheless, money can be made self-publishing. Less in print books--far less. One of my print books costs anywhere from $6.50-$14.70 to produce, depending on format, # of the printing, and how many I print. I tend to write fat, expensive books (the novels) or short, expensive books (the hardback children's picture book). First runs cost more because design and layout costs are included. On the other hand, first runs also sell more because the book is new. If you sell through a bookstore or other retailer, standard discount is 40%. Amazon Advantage, as I mentioned, takes a 55% cut. To recoup the cost of a new book, I must sell about half the books directly, or about 2/3 of the books if I give the retailers a cut. (For the hardback picture book we had to sell nearly ALL the books. Total labor of love.) Ebooks subsidize print books nicely. They piggyback off the cover design costs and Amazon Kindle lets you keep 70% of the price, if you sell for $2.99 or more. (Barnes & Noble Nook is less. In the 60s, I believe. I sell so few Nook copies that I don't pay much attention.) Ebooks have a longer tail than print books as well. Meaning they continue to sell for much longer, and the audience is continually expanding. All my books--thank God--are in the black, with the exception of Everliving, for which my goal is to be in the black by September.

So, not getting rich, but if you consider how much time I spend at it, at least I'm not in the red. To paraphrase a friend, "I tell my husband, 'Some women buy shoes. I write books.'" Write on.


  1. OK, Christina, I'm sold! I'm self-publishing two books this month. One is a reprint of my out-of-print children's book, The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang, with a fresh cover by K Campbell. The other is Voices of the Second Wave, oral histories of 35 Chinese Americans. It's MUCH QUICKER! and you retain more control over the content and timing.

  2. Dori, that is awesome! Did I mention my daughter really enjoyed DAUGHTER OF XANADU. She said, "But you were wrong--there wasn't any sex scene at the end." Ha ha.

  3. Hi Christina! I just stumbled upon your book, Mourning Becomes Cassandra, and LOVED it! I immediately downloaded and read the sequel and can honestly say that I can't remember when I've enjoyed a book as much as I did those two. I can't wait to read Everliving!

    I'm still hoping there will be a third book in the series, after Littlest Doubts. Would love to see what happened to Cass and Daniel.

    Thanks for writing Christian fiction with REAL characters!

  4. J--thank you so, so much, for reading the books and taking the time to let me know you enjoyed them. It means the world!

    EVERLIVING isn't Christian fic, but hope you'll enjoy it nevertheless...