I received the most amazing book in the mail yesterday. It was witty and erudite, full of insightful anecdotal evidence, and is just an all-around must read for anyone. There are probably two reasons why authors shouldn’t be allowed to review their own books, and that’s the first one. The second would be the complete opposite reaction. Replace all the positive adjectives with the most negative ones you can think of, the more pertinent to defecation the better, and you’ll get the picture.
Okay so it was my own book that came in the mail yesterday. As I had explained, I think, at some point in time, in exchange for giving out free ISBNs to all and sundry, the National Library and Archives gets at least one of everything that is assigned a number. That’s no sweat for the big houses; they just lop off three copies from the first run and trundle them out the door to Ottawa.
But since I’m as far removed from them as possible, print on demand means never having to say your sorry for inflicting your tedious prose on an unsuspecting world as no copies are printed unless somebody buys one, and I won’t be doing an initial run of 10,000. But it does mean I was forced to shell out $18.20, including shipping and dollar conversion, for one of my own books. Before you ask, I didn’t collect a royalty payment out of that, that’s just the printing and mailing costs for one book mailed from the United States to Canada.
I hate to think how much this thing would cost if it was a regular sale. I’ve asked for $6.50 payment for each book, figuring I’d sell them for between five and ten dollars on my own. On top of that Lulu.com adds their percentage, the set-up fee and printing costs of $7.49, and of course you then have to pay the shipping costs as well.
The full price of my book before shipping comes to $15.50 in American dollars, which isn’t too bad for a trade paperback. Although the number of pages may not merit that cost, I thought I was being reasonable in what I wanted to charge. Unlike a regular book deal, where the author is paid an agreed amount up front then a percentage of sales, royalties, on top of that, I only get what I ask for.
There’s that age-old question which so many of us struggle with; how much am I worth? To be honest I think the $6.50 price I ended up with was more a result of wanting to keep the overall price under sixteen dollars before shipping than anything else, so that didn’t really end up being too much of an issue in this case.
But in other instances, I know I and others always seem to struggle with the question of what to charge. Part of it is the fact that since nobody really knows anything about the quality of my work, I shouldn’t expect anybody to pay any great amount. Sure, I’ve got someone to say something nice about it on the back cover, but how much influence does that really have? Hell, somebody is using a quote from one of my reviews on a back cover for goodness sakes, and that’s a professionally published book.
I had been considering selling the book for $10, but that would have made the final cost quite ridiculous, and I wasn’t prepared to have anyone pay over $20.00 for a book that’s less then 150 pages. I had come up with the $10.00 figure going by the size of the book, the nature of its content, and knowing what the market price for stuff is in the real world. These days you’d be hard-pressed to find even a mass-market paperback for less then $9.99 (slightly higher in Canada due to the exchange rate). Trade soft-covers can range in price from around $15.00 to as much as $30.00 depending on their page count and flamboyance.
The final edition of NaNoWriMo Notes is nicely bound, with original graphics for covers and of comfortable size. It’s geared towards a specialized market; people who are interested in what goes into writing a book, is reasonably well written, has enough humour to leaven the more serious elements, and is relatively easy to read without being simplistic.
Then there is the psychological aspect of the price. Ten dollars is an amount people are usually willing to spend when there is a risk involved concerning whether they’ll like what they’re paying for. If they were to come across an unknown author selling a book the size of NaNoWriMo Notes for $20.00 they would probably wonder something along the lines of “who does he think he is” or “where does he get off?”
Even $15.00 would raise some questions and cause hesitation; after all, you can buy a fairly decent DVD for that amount or a CD. But when you get down to $10.00 people begin to see it as something akin to a deal. There is also the ease of purchase factor that makes only having to use one bill much more conducive to impulse purchases than having to go to the trouble of fishing around in your wallet for change and second bills.
Now, even if I were to order a number of copies of the book to sell on my own, I wouldn’t be able to charge less then $15.00, and even than I might only be breaking even. Lulu does offer some sort of deal on bulk purchases, but if the cost of shipping one book were over seven dollars, imagine what ten books would cost.
To make any money now I have to sell each book for $19.00, and then I only earn about 80 cents. If I wanted to make my $6.50 the price becomes almost $25.00, an amount I wouldn’t pay for a book by an unknown author, so how can I expect anyone else to?
It doesn’t make life easier for someone to price their work when they have little control over what the price is actually going to be. Print on demand may give you the convenience of not having to pay for a whole run of books, but if you want to recoup anything close to the real value of your effort, you end up charging more then most people are prepared to pay.
The thrill of seeing my words in typeface bound between two covers and laid out in chapter format was mitigated by the fact that I won’t be able to sell it at an affordable price. I would love for people to be able to read NaNoWriMo Notes, but not at a price that is insulting to me or one that is more then its worth.