On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Book Pricing and Subsidy or Vanity Book Publishing

This past week my attention has been requested/drawn to three separate incidences of new books coming out since the new year that are w a a a y overpriced. Friend, ask yourself: do you think anyone besides your mother will pay $20 or even $30 for your 250 page book, especially if you are an unknown author? I didn't think so.

These books I saw were all published by subsidy presses. No surprise there. Let me give you the five cent lecture for why using a subsidy press is probably not your best choice if you want to publish a book.

First, what is a subsidy or vanity press? These companies offer service packages for editing, publishing, and marketing your book. You select what best balances your desires and budget, and voila! a finished book.

The hallmark of the subsidy company is that YOU PAY THEM MONEY to produce your book. If you pay money, it is a subsidy no matter how prettily they try to convince you that you are working with literary agents or becoming traditionally published. DO NOT EVER PAY MONEY to ANYONE in the publishing field until you are darned clear you know exactly what you're getting, and recognize this is NOT traditional publishing.

Subsidy companies make the vast majority (usually all) of their profits from hopeful authors paying to publish books through them. Subsidy companies may mark up multiple services such as cover design, typesetting, printing, and so forth, that are usually much more than what the self-publisher pays. For example, let's look at printing costs for that 250 page book. Lightning Source, an outstanding print-on-demand book printing company in Tennessee, charges $0.015 cents per page plus $0.90 cents for a cover to print a single book. A 250 page book will cost the publisher $4.65. Since Lightning is a subsidiary of Ingram book distributor it automatically gives the book that same "national distribution" that all the subsidy companies brag about. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if many of them actually USE Lightning. Lightning also lists the book on all the online bookstores such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, so you don't have to do anything for sales, and are not out for shipping, unless you purchase some books to keep in your closet for personal contacts. Lightning's shipping costs are standard freight charges.

Designing covers, typesetting etc. can be done for free (if you're talented) or low cost by directly hiring contractors who do these things. The ISBNs can be bought for $25 each -- a block of ten runs $250 at Bowker, the only distribution center for ISBNs in USA -- all other ISBNs trace back to the company and not to you.

So do you still think your 250 page book should be listed for $22.95, a price the average person won't pay? Do you think it's fair that if you wish to purchase your own books to sell, you get a whopping 50% discount on the subsidy's printing charges so you're paying $11.50 per book when it costs just $4.65 to print? Remember that you've also paid (probably overpaid) for the cover and other doodahs so that amount isn't rolled into printing costs. Do you think it's fair that you're only paid a percentage for each book sale (royalty) when you've already paid for ALL the production? Is it fair that, if you want to leave that subsidy company for whatever reasons, you will probably not be able to take your cover and text typeset files with you unless you pay EVEN MORE money for these? Remember YOU'VE ALREADY PAID THE COMPANY to produce the book for you!

Sorry, don't mean to rant. It just makes me so angry to see someone's dream of being an author destroyed like this. Because make no mistake: if you publish through one of these subsidy companies, you've just multiplied by ten the difficulty that you will EVER be able to be taken seriously as a writer or even just sell copies of your book. Not only are your books overpriced, but the professionals (editors, literary agents, booksellers) in the industry know the subsidies, and given the generally poor quality of self-published titles will not touch your book with a ten foot pole.

I believe subsidy may be a good choice if you want your book available for a limited purpose -- say a collection of stories for a small organization, church, or extended family -- but if you want to be a *real* author then run, don't walk, from subsidy publishers. The only subsidy company I'm aware of that doesn't do this massive overcharging for book production and might work for someone trying to *break into* book sales is a small one that my friend Chris runs: Yav Publications. Create Space out of Amazon, with its DIY format, is also not a bad way to go. And there may be others, so check. I also always recommend reading Mark Levine's book The Fine Print of Self Publishing if you are considering going this route -- but please, be careful. Subsidies have perfected their sales pitches to aspiring authors so read them with a grain of salt.

If you don't want to go traditional then I recommend you do the research to learn how to hire your own people to self publish on your own terms. Don't be intimidated. Some good self publishing gurus with informational websites with which you can start are John Kremer, Ron Pramschufer, Dan Poynter, and Morris Rosenthal.

Remember that, however you publish, the hard part is marketing the book: getting it known, and then getting it to sell. There are no shortcuts, even for traditionally published books. Just because you have a book available on amazon and in bookstores does not mean anyone will buy it. The social marketing and so forth is good if you want to do it, but frankly I see for new authors too much emphasis on this stuff. Social marketing takes an enormous amount of time, and if your book isn't good anyway it won't matter.

CAUTION: if you feel the need to self publish, make darned sure your book is good enough to be published in the first place. Seriously. Most self-published books are terrible, or at the minimum would benefit from good editing and another run through. Very few are as well written as traditionally published books. If you're getting too many turn downs from agents or editors, take the hint and keep learning the craft of writing.

The best way to become a successful author is to do the following:

1. Write quality stuff that people want to read. Don't emote or tell personal journeys -- READERS AREN'T INTERESTED IN YOU. They want to hear about themselves.

2. Keep writing and finishing projects.

3. Be patient. If you have enough stuff, and it's good, you will eventually catch on.

'nuff said.

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