where the writers are
Christopher Meeks's first novel and most recent book
My first collection of short fiction

A few years ago when I first used Lulu.com to publish and distribute my first book, a collection of short stories called The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea, I happened to go into the Barnes and Noble store in Union Square in New York City and found my book for sale there. I was ecstatic. I later called Barnes and Noble's Small Press Department in New York to find out if my book was in any other stores. It wasn't. Odd how I found the only B&N in the country that had it.

I asked why. I said, "The book received great reviews and even a great mention in Entertainment Weekly." I learned the book wasn't on shelves first because of the pricing. The book sold for $12.95, but B&N's price from the distributor was $11.

"Eleven dollars?" I asked. "How can that be? I'm only making a dollar per copy?"

That's because Lulu received a share of the profit, and so did the distributor, and I couldn't control the discounting. I also learned then that to get one's book in bookstores, you have to meet two criteria:

1) The bookstore needs at least a 40% discount from the list price.

2) The book has to be returnable.

This is the way bookstores work, so by moving the printing to Lightning Source, I could control the pricing and match those criteria. This brings up, however, the dilemma first-time authors have. Nobody knows you. If you want to make your book inexpensive to seduce buyers, the costs are such that you can't. It simply costs to make a book.

To be specific, at Lulu, the author's cost for printing is $4.53 plus two cents a page. Thus, a short, 200-page book would cost $8.53. If that book was to be available through Ingram for bookstore ordering, with a mere $1 profit, the book would have to be priced at $16.70 (which I came to using Lulu's retail price calculator). That's a bit much if you're trying to seduce buyers and build your name. If you took only a 33-cent profit, the book would be priced at $15.24. People won't flock to Amazon at that price, either. (Lulu doesn't allow books to be returnable, so the book won't be in any stores.)

Another example: a friend with a new fantasy book who uses Lulu told me his book will be at least 700 pages in a 6 x 9 format (trade paperback). That means his cost will be at least $18.53 per book. If he wants to make a $4 profit on a book that large, the book will need to be priced at $42.20 retail. Almost no one will buy a paperback for that price.

If this author only took 33 cents of profit, the book would still retail for $33.24. That's still too much. With a large book, you aren't even on the playing field. This same author, however, could take his book to Kindle and sell the massive tome for 99 cents to earn the same 33 cents, or sell it or $12.00 to earn a four-dollar profit.

When I worked for a publisher years ago, our 400-page trade paperbacks cost $1 a copy, which we retailed at $10.95. Self-publishers don't have the cost advantage that a big publisher does. Kindle, though, evens that out. Kindle, as I mentioned in two earlier articles, is a lightweight reading device from Amazon. You order books wirelessly on the Kindle and they magically show up in your unit.

To try out Kindle, I set the price of The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea at only $1.95. Guess what - it's selling. For that little, people are taking a chance with me. In fact, it reached a short-story collection bestseller list earlier this week.

A Kindle user explains Kindle marketing this way: "Some e-books are free, some are inexpensively priced, and others are at a fair market value. The combination not only gets the word out about these books, but also it makes it more of a sustaining effort. I know, even with some of the unknown authors I've read through free or discounted e-books that I have become fond of more authors.

"I know they won't profit directly from selling that inexpensive/free version, but I am definitely more apt to purchase higher-priced books in the future. It's the number of other books put out by the author that make it more profitable."

Author R.J. Keller, who wrote the fabulous Waiting for Spring, points out, "It isn't about presenting myself as an amateur vs. professional; it's about being realistic. I could not, and did not, expect people to shell out $9.99 for an e-book on an unknown, self-published author. I am extremely confident in my talent, almost obnoxiously so, and don't feel any great lack by not having a degree, but since I write literary fiction, I'm aware that other people do.

"The stigma surrounding self-publishing makes that battle even harder. It's not fair, but neither is life and it's a reality I have to deal with. Fortunately, the web has opened up so many avenues to get around that--IF writers are willing to take a chance on trying unconventional methods to get themselves and their work noticed. I am."

Her novel Waiting for Spring takes readers beyond the Maine tourists know, beyond lighthouses and lobster and rocky beaches, and drops them instead into a rural town whose citizens struggle with poverty and loss, yet push onward with stubbornness and humor. To see how she's drawn over 1700 readers to her thread on Kindleboards.com, click here: http://www.kindleboards.com/index.php/topic,10124.0.html

So these are the realities. If you're a first-time author self-publishing, believe me, lightning is not going to strike. It's highly unlikely you'll make more than the cost of a pair of shoes. Still, people do it. To quote the end of Annie Hall, "We need the eggs."

5 Comment count
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Very helpful. Thanks for

Very helpful. Thanks for taking the trouble to set this out.

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You're Welcome

You're welcome, Bob, and your note reminds me about your group of like-minded authors. I hope that's going well.

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There are many options

There are many options for print on demand beyond Lulu and Lightning Source, many that could be more cost-effective. Check out the listings at http://www.bookmarket.com/ondemand.htm

In addition, you can print a limited edition of 500 to 1,000 copies at better prices via offset printers. The upfront cost is higher, but the per unit costs are much lower.

Many self-publishers have been very successful even before Kindle and other such ebook programs. I list many of them at http://www.bookmarket.com/selfpublish.html

You don't have to be a marketing wizard or constant promoter to sell books. Relationships are the key to selling books.

John Kremer, editor, Book Marketing Tip of the Week
and author, 1001 Ways to Market Your Books
Open Horizons, P O Box 2887, Taos, New Mexico 87571
575-751-3398; Email: johnkremer@bookmarket.com
Web site: http://www.bookmarket.com

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Thank you, John

Thank you, John, for finding this posting. You're the guru of book promotion, so the links you provide will be most helpful. I'm assuming readers will understand how to find and forge relationships in 1001 Ways to Market Your Books.

I like the idea of not having to be a constant promoter. I've been on Kindleboards.com a lot over the last two weeks because I introduced my books there recently and because I have two weeks of vacation--and being so visible has helped the books. Yet when I didn't do anything last month to promote, I saw the sales for my new novel, The Brightest Moon of the Century, tumble.

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It also sounds if one will be assured of, say, a few hundred sales that printing books offset and sending them to Ingram or another distributor can be less expensive per unit. I've liked using Lightning Source because I don't have to store or ship anything. Madelyn Cain, author of Laffit: Anatomy of a Winner, which is the authorized biography of jockey Pincay Laffit, used Lightning Source's offset press to print in hardback, and it's worked very well for her--and sales have been strong.