Thursday, November 18, 2010

Payback: a little self-publishing math

A client reports that in the first two months after delivery, about 700 books have sold. While most of these were sold “at the back of the room” (the client is a speaker), let’s value those sales at the wholesale (discounted) price. The reason for this is that any margin between the wholesale price and the retail price really belongs to the retailer, even if that retailer is the speaker. (There are costs associated with shlepping books around, setting up a table, staffing the table, etc.; and those costs are paid by the author-as-retailer, not by the author-as-publisher.)

At a wholesale value of $15 a book, that means that the publisher has recouped $10,500 in two months. The total cost of producing the book (except for the author’s time writing it) and printing 1,600 copies was about $11,000. So at this point, my client has 900 books in inventory and has recovered all but about $500 of the original investment. If those 900 books sell in the next six months (as is likely), my client will be $13,000 ahead. That’s still not much compensation for writing the book, but it represents a doubling of the original investment in less than a year. And the client expects to order more printings and continue selling the book for several more years, with no further outlay except manufacturing costs of less than $3.00 a book. In addition, the client reports that the presence of the book on the sales table (where it is the high-price item at $25) has significantly boosted the sales of older items that were already in inventory and that can also be reprinted cheaply.

Is it a living? No. It is rare for a single book to be anyone’s sole source of income. But if a single book can add ten or fifteen or twenty thousand dollars a year to a speaker’s income, don’t you think it’s worth the effort?

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