The question left hanging at last Tuesday’s discussion of self-publishing, from a panel discussion by Sandy Steen, James Gaskin, LaReeBryant and Susan May at the recent Southwest Chapter of Mystery Writers ofAmerica, was: how does an author determine how much to charge for her (or his) book? And the still more urgent question of how to induce customers to buy those books, no matter what the price? Because writing a book and preparing it for publication is only part of the story.
The CreateSpace option at Amazon for paper copies of self-published books informs the author of the print cost (which will be primarily for paper). According to the panelists, all veterans of both traditional and self-publishing, this cost typically runs from $7-$8. Without taking into account the author’s time in writing the book and preparing it for publication, any price of more than $8 a copy should be gravy, right?
Except “you won’t sell many paperbacks,” May said, “because most people who read voraciously use e-readers.” (She prints a few paper copies of her books for signings, which she can buy at a, yes, discounted price from Amazon.)
Or say you’re publishing your work as an e-book on Amazon’s Kindle, with the 70 percent royalty option. Although Amazon’s maximum price for most e-books is $9.99, “Amazon can discount the price without asking you,” May said, with royalties based on the sales price, not your list price.
“The good news is, as a self-published author, you have total control,” May said. “The bad news is, you have total control.” And in most cases, that means total control of the marketing of books. (Relative newcomer to self-publishing, Booktrope, offers a team model of publishing, including a marketer as well as editor, cover designer and proofreader in addition to the author, with royalties being divided between all team members.)
How much time should a self-published author expect to spend on marketing, compared to writing?
“Probably 50-50,” Bryan said, “if you’re really doing it well. If you’re going to do it yourself, you need to be sure you’ve got the aptitude to do it.”
“You’ve got to brand yourself,” Steen said, remembering “to add blogging, tweeting, and all that in your time budget for marketing.” May, for instance, guest blogs regularly, multiple times per month, at three separate sites.
What other marketing venues are available to self-publishers beyond Internet sales and limited personal signings, an audience member asked. Although panel members warned that self-published books had no chance of gaining a foothold in most brick and mortar bookstores, is there a way, an audience member asked, to get self-published books into libraries?
Basically, Gaskin said, only by donating them, and even then libraries may refuse to accept them for shelving. Besides continuing prejudice about the writing quality of self-published books, “Many self-published books,” he said, “are not ‘libraryized’ – not tough enough to hold up to repeated lendings.”
What about crowd-funding, an audience member asked, both to raise money to pay the cost of editing, cover design, and publishing? Won’t such funding not only save the author out of pocket costs but also provide a guaranteed audience?
Gaskin’s opinion is that most such efforts actually are under-subscribed, but “I can give you some good news. There’s a formula, that if you have a thousand fanatic fans, you can make a living as a creative artist, because they will buy your book and proselytize for you.”
However, once the market for one book has become saturated, fans will require the author to keep writing more books. “The more books you have, the more presence you have,” Steen said. “The basic problem is, you have to write the book, and you have to write a good book.”