I wrote my first book, I Liked You At Ten… I’ll Like You Again, in late 1998, about parenting, treasured moments, and the struggles of growing up. Writing is a passion; publishing was a dream. Like many novice writers who believe they can, I simply wrote the book and then tried to get a publisher. Attempting to sell it via the usual channels, I was turned down by 15 traditional houses. Nevertheless, I was determined to see the project through to fruition. I believed in my book and knew it would do well given the chance.
However I was a writer not a publisher, and a new writer at that. What if the publishing houses were right to reject it and no one liked it? After careful consideration, I threw caution to the wind and took on the scary role of a “self-publisher.”
Plenty of Control Perks
Fortunately I had the savings and time to begin my publishing adventure. But where should I begin? There was so much to learn so fast.
The first thing I did was define my audience. What was my niche? Who fit into my target market? I gathered a diverse group of retailers and booklovers to help me answer these questions and decided that I had a “gift book” on my hands. Then I explored similar books to learn about favored sizes, layout styles, compatible prices, and appeal in general.
Because I realized how important illustrations would be for my book, I paid special attention to finding an artist ––someone in sync with me, someone who would be able to color in my words.I interviewed several illustrators before I found the talented Suzi Bliss Kyle. Not only was her art perfect for my project, she “got” what I wrote.
With the illustrations complete, I moved on to finding a designer.I looked for one who was not only skilled and able, but who could also explain the design process to this inexperienced publisher. Recommendations from those in the know led me to just the right person.
While finalizing the book, I enlisted friends, critics, and an English professor at the nearby college for proofreading. The last thing I wanted was to be humiliated by unfound typos or punctuation errors.
The next step was to print the book. I investigated printers and obtained bids from those I selected. Since it was important to me to be involved in the entire printing process, I chose a local, cost-competitive printer. This allowed me to approve the colors, endorse the final layout, and go to press checks. All the while, I was able to learn about printing and its methods. I soon realized that control is one of the many perks of independent publishing.
Now my book was ready to sell. Wrong! I hadn’t considered distribution. I thought I could sell the books directly, distribute them myself, and everyone would be happy. I soon learned that most bookstores and some gift stores require an outside distributor. I also learned independent bookstores prefer small distributors, chains prefer national distributors, and gift stores prefer gift distributorships (such as Cogan Books and Dot Gibson). The good news is that distributors offer marketing help along the way, and they have reps that reach various outlets nationwide. The bad news is that it’s costly. The standard split puts 55-60% of the retail price into the distributor’s pocket; a direct sale puts 50-60% of the retail price into my pocket.
Getting that Unit Cost Down
My book’s first press run–5,000 copies–cost $7.35 per book, including printing, illustrations, design, and miscellaneous expenses. The book is 56 pages, full-color, 5-3/4″ x 6-7/8″, hardcover, with a jacket. It retails for $14.95, which translates into $7.47-$8.97 wholesale. Obviously I didn’t make any money on that first printing.
I soon realized, though, that I could save money by printing elsewhere, and that I could save the most money by printing overseas. After lots of online searching, I found a U.S. print broker to represent me to the overseas firms. My second printing–also 5,000 copies–cost me $2.55 per copy. What a savings! Being a novice, I never considered the “rule” that the cover price must be eight times production costs to publish profitably.I used the “what similar books were selling for theory” to price my book and hoped I would sell enough to at least break even.
Marketing is the hardest part for me. It’s tough to open yourself up to rejection like that. I began by pitching my book on familiar turf. I introduced it to every fitting retail venue in our small town. Thankfully, I can report that it’s been embraced locally and that determination and word of mouth continue to increase its sales on a national level. The book is now available online through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. I continue to make myself easily available for book-signings, school appearances, and book fairs. I attend conferences and seek radio/TV/print interviews as much as possible. And I never miss an opportunity to present my book to a retailer in a community I might be visiting or a store I might hear about.
At this point, I’ve sold more than 9,000 copies of I Liked You At Ten… I’ll Like You Again, and the book is ready for a third printing.
Testing Two for Kids
Meanwhile I’ve written and published two children’s picture books. Production costs for Just You And Me (2,500 copies, full color, hardcover, jacket, 12″ x 9-1/4″, 28 pages, published 5/02), were $6.73 per copy, including overseas printing, shipping, illustrations, design, and miscellaneous expenses; it retails for $16.95. Costs for Let’s Make-Believe (2,500 copies, full color, hardcover, jacket, 9-1/4″ x 9-1/4″, 32 pages, published 11/02) were $6.05 per copy, and it also retails for $16.95.
Although I knew from experience that a larger print order offers greater opportunity for profit, I still opted for a smaller initial printing. Since children’s books are a new experience for me, I felt it necessary to test the market first. Now that I’ve sold more than 1,500 copies of each book in just a few months (most to established customers), I plan to print a larger volume soon.
As I write, publish, edit, grow distributor relationships, increase retail sales, continue to market, and act as my own publicist, I keep learning by doing. I wear two hats–one creative and one publisher/business owner. Am I glad I self-published my first book? Absolutely. Have I made money? Yes, but it has taken time. Do I continue to sell my books? Yes. Do I have any concerns? Yes, I have too little time to write!
The main lessons I’ve learned that warrant passing on are:
- Gift books get lost in bookstores; they sell better in gift stores.
- Print overseas.
- Make use of your distributor’s marketing and sales help and nurture your relationship.
- Promote, promote, promote…
And last, but most important, never give up on your dream!
P.“Pam” Taylor Copeland writes easy, simple verse from the heart. Inspired by her first grandchild and the success of her first book, she developed her publishing company, Grammy Time Books. For more information, visit www.Grammytimebooks.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.