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How Big Should My First Printing Be? Advice for Self-Publishing Start-ups

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How Big Should My First
Printing Be? Advice for Self-Publishing Start-ups


by Ron Pramschufer


To pick a first printing
number intelligently, you need information about unit costs, and you also need
to take a good look in the mirror and have an honest talk with the person you
see there.


A standard 256-page book costs
about $6 per copy with an order of 100 copies, printed digitally. For 500
copies of the same book, the unit cost would be about $5.50, and the printing
process would be offset. Then the pricing starts to get interesting. At 750
copies, the unit cost drops to $3.91; at 1,000 copies it’s $3.15; at 1,500
copies it’s $2.38; at 2,000 copies it’s $2; and at 3,000 copies—the industry
average—it’s $1.39. The beat goes on: $1.27 per copy if the print order is for
5,000; $1.05 per copy if it’s for 10,000. A first printing on the industry
average of 3,000 with a cover price of $14.95 allows for virtually every
wholesale discount plan.


But you have to be realistic with
yourself. People whose main goal is simply “being published” should order 100
to 200 copies—enough for family and friends, and—with an additional expenditure
of slightly less than $70—enough to get a book listed on major Web sites such
as Amazon.com and bn.com.


Of course, if you print only a
couple of hundred at a time, you will not be able to sell through most
wholesale channels and make any money. In his New Book Model, Dan Poynter
suggests starting with 500 to 700 copies if you are serious about selling
books. Looking at the costs above you can see why. With printings smaller than
that, you will be forced either to raise the retail price well above the market
price or forget about the bookstore market.


With a nonfiction book by an
authority on the subject, especially one who teaches or does workshops, I would
not be afraid of a bigger first printing. And the same goes for a book whose
publisher and/or author will go the extra mile to generate sales. In fact, if
you expect sales of 500 copies, I’d probably recommend ordering 1,000—double the
number of books for only 13 percent more cash in the example above. I rarely
suggest first printings over 3,000 unless the publisher has presold copies in


You should get unit-cost
breakdowns for your book’s specifications from several printers before you
decide on a first-printing quantity, and remember that it may make sense to
start with low hundreds, use books in promotion, and go back to press as orders
come in.


After all, a small first printing
makes it easy to fix glitches, and the fact that you start small doesn’t
necessarily mean you’ll end that way. As an example, consider the
self-publisher I served on a panel with recently. He reported ordering 100
copies to start with, coming back for a reprint of 300 copies the next day,
ordering 20,000 more the next week, and later getting an advance of more than
$300,000 from a major publisher for a future book.


Ron Pramschufer is
co-author of Publishing
Basics: A Guide for the Small Press and Independent Self-Publisher

and Publishing Basics for
Children’s Books
, as well as organizer of the monthly <span
class=8StoneSans>Publishing Basics Newsletter
He reports that his RJ Communications has helped thousands of customers print
more than 105 million books. To learn more, visit www.BooksJustBooks.com and




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