The publishing world is changing. It's becoming more difficult for first time authors to break in as fewer titles are published by the major publishing houses. Literary agents are reluctant to take on new authors and prefer to concentrate on authors who have been previously published with a successful track record. Are there any options for writers?
Yes. Self publishing is a viable option for many authors. Self publishing means the author has the control of and the responsibility for the entire publishing process from writing the book to generating sales.
The book must be edited and formatted. The cover must be designed, as well as the book's interior. An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) needs to be acquired for each format of the book. The same book in hardcover, electronic version and trade paperback will have 3 unique ISBNs. That way someone ordering the book gets exactly the format they wanted.
If the book is meant for retail sales the back cover must have a barcode. The barcode is a series of bars that can read be through a scanner. The bars identify the book and price.
Finally the book has to be made available in a format that the public can access. Usually this means a hard copy. The hard copy can be printed using an offset printer or using the print on demand (POD) technology. Print on demand allows the book to be printed one book at a time at a higher per copy cost, where offset printing is more economical with a print run of more than 500 copies. Most print on demand books are in the trade paperback format, rather than mass market paperback or hard cover.
A 250 page trade paperback with a four color glossy front and back cover with no interior color images costs about $5.00 a copy when using POD. An offset print run of 2000 copies would cost about $2.25 each, a significant cost savings. The downside is storing all those copies until they're sold and the investment in paying for all 2000 before they're printed.
Pricing the book is critical to the book's sales. A trade paperback nonfiction average price is about $15.00 retail. Fiction is slightly less. At first glance it seems that if the book costs $5.00 for a print on demand copy that there is lots of room, $10.00, for profit. And that would be true if the book was sold directly by the author to the final customer.
If the majority of the book's sales are expected to be through retail stores, or through online booksellers, that $10.00 profit shrinks quickly. Online booksellers, like Amazon.com, require an annual fee and a hefty 55% discount for books to be sold through their site.
Bookstores require a 40% discount from retail and most bookstores buy their books through wholesalers or distributors. Wholesalers and distributors require another 10% to 15% discount in addition to the discount that is passed through to the bookstore.
It is difficult, although not impossible, to convince a bookstore to order directly from an author. There are literally thousands of publishers and the tracking and accounting for all those different publishers is a bookstore's nightmare. Instead the stores buy from a few wholesalers/distributors, receive one invoice for all the books ordered from the publishers the wholesalers/distributors represent and pay one check.
So what's the bottom line for an author with a book retailing for $15? With the total of the 55% (40% for the store and 15% for the wholesaler/distributor) each sale would generate a profit of $6.75 less the $5.00 printing cost for a whopping $1.75.
So how do the mainstream publishers make enough of a profit to stay in business? While an individual author may be thrilled with sales of 500 copies of their book, most publishing houses wouldn't consider a print run of less than 5000 copies. Instead of a printing cost of $5.00 it's more like $1.50.
Self publishing, and print on demand, can be good alternatives for an author if they consider where the book is to be sold, the costs, and the pricing.