I recently got an interesting email from someone in a Linkedin writers’ group. He asked met about the value of self-publishing:
I am of two minds about self-publishing. On the one hand, I can’t get away from the idea of the “vanity press,” which meant little more than a bindery service, where you ended up with a garage full of books you had to market (usually to unsuspecting friends and family). And the idea of paying someone to publish me, instead of the other way around, is also a tough pill to swallow.
On the other hand, members of this and other groups praise the idea highly. And the writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in her blog, has done a complete 180-degree turnaround on the issue in about a year, and now sees it as the next wave of publishing and distribution. So I don’t know what to think.
Have you made a profit, or at least earned back your initial investment? Are your ideas getting exposure? How much of your own publicity have you had to do?
I really liked this. I used to also not be a fan of self-publishing, not because it was bad somehow, but there was a ton of work to be done with it and I didn’t see how to do the marketing and distribution. But thankfully, the Internet has changed all that.
As with almost everything else I do with writing and publishing, my reasons for self-publishing the current book are economic: I stand to make a bunch more money doing the book myself.
The current book is technical, dealing with a software product. If I went with a standard publisher of this kind of technical book, I’d need to show them that this book was likely to generate at least 8-10K sales in 18-24 months. I can’t do that; I’m thinking that I’ll probably sell 2000 copies in that time (based on the marketing information, the phase of the moon, and that Seven of Clubs you have in your hand). That’s just not worth it to a standard publisher. But even if I *COULD* generate that many sales (and I’d be glad to be wrong), the economics wouldn’t be worth it for me: I’d make, oh, $1.50-$2.00/copy for a potential total of $15,000-$20,000. That’s not a lot of money for the 4 months of work getting this out, even assuming I was able to sell that many copies.
Now, let’s look at self-publishing. For this particular book, I’m going to be handling the printing myself with a standard printer, rather than POD through Lulu or the like. (I’m also looking at ebook options, but go with me on the idea of printing because it’s a fixed cost.) Quotes that I’ve received are $6900 delivered for 2000 copies of a standard 9″ x 7″ trade paperback. Adding in all the other costs I’m incurring and my cost of goods will probably be about $5/copy. My sales price for this book is going to be $39.95 initially and $49.95 six months down the road.
If I sell all 2000 copies at the initial price, I’ll make $80,000, less the $10K this is all going to cost me to set everything up, for a gross revenue of $70,000 for four months work. In addition, part of my effort has been setting up a publishing company, Double Tall Press, to go along with all of this, so I’ll have a publishing venue of my very own with website, logos, brand, and so on. (The website has a placeholder at http://doubletallpress.com. With luck, I’ll have a draft of my new website there very soon.)
Marketing for this book will be something handled largely through the company whose product I’m writing about, as it inures massively to their benefit to have this book out there. Future scheduled books have different marketing requirements that I’m addressing appropriately for each one.
Vanity presses are vanity presses, without a doubt, whether they’re classic printers or they’re online POD houses. But self-publishing can definitely work out for you.