Thursday, September 8, 2011

Boring blog for authors

20,000 books

I was reading an author blog today and the writer made the statement that, after a traditional printing of a book, the most expensive part is editing. My experience is otherwise.

Several years ago I worked for a non-profit organization that promoted a cancer treatment that involved, among other things, coffee up the butt (but that's not the story). The founder of the organization forever looking for income streams decided to write a book a out her experiences with the therapy and it was my job to make it happen.

The professional editing and formatting for the 300 page book cost $3,500. The cover art and design, including photography was $500 (a steal and probably not a good amount to go by). Printing for the book in hardcover was $2.10 per book. But here's the catch. That $2.10 price point was for a minimum run of 20,000 copies. At the time a Print On Demand book would have been about $9 and the quality of covers and print is not what they are today for POD options.

The math works out to be $46,000 out of pocket, up-front expenses. This isn't counting what I was paid which, I assure you, was minimal. Months went by and we get notified that the book printing will be finished in two weeks and I was asked what I'd like them to do with them. Crap. How much space does that many books take? The printer recommended some shipping companies and I looked around on my own. Cost for delivery $1,800. Oh, you want help unloading the truck? $500. Storage unit. $150 a month. By the way, 20,000 books take up a HUGE amount of space. Think two car garage.

The books were delivered on wooden palettes for easy movement with a forklift... which I did not have. The books had to be moved by hand-truck (2 @$40). Several of the books were damaged in the process of getting them from printer A to storage unit B but the printer through in a few hundred extra copies ahead of time to cover for this eventuality. At the shutting of the storage door the total cost is up to $48,500 before a single book is sold. Not counting what I was paid.. which seemed like a lot less.

The book was set to retail at $25.00 so the margin is there to still be profitable and if you have the funds and a hand-truck (I can't over stress the value of a hand-truck) this may be the way to go for you. I'm merely stating some of the expense involved.

It was another month after the delivery date when sales started coming through the website. The Author/Executive Director decided she'd like a palette of the books at her home to make it easier for her to sign her books for buyers. No problem. Hire movers and a truck we can do it in an afternoon. When she realized I wasn't going to offer up the shock absorbers of my own vehicle in sacrifice it was decided that, as long as we were paying movers, two palettes of books was better. Roughly 400 books. Movers cost $300 including truck.

Books are heavy. Think about it, they're as solid and dense as the tree trunks they came from. This translated into the Author/Exec Dir. not wanting to carry her signed books to the office to be shipped. It also translated into bringing someone in to move books from the straining and bowed hardwood floors of her home office to the main office. $300 for the movers including truck.

The book had no agent (conspiracy!) so there wasn't much chance getting them into bookstores. The idea was this stack of 20,000 books would be sold through the company website and back of room sales. That equals a lot of shipping, a lot of packing materials and a person dedicated to doing that shipping (not me but someone equally underpaid).

The lecture circuit went like this. Speaking engagement in Toledo. Ship 100 books to Toledo. If the there were books left over (there are always books leftover) those are shipped back. It wasn't unusual to spend a total of $100 to ship, out and back, The tough part was finding someone in Toledo to accept and store the shipment. Usually the hotel hosting the event was fine with this, however, larger book shipments and less amiable staff would sometimes make us get a room to store the boxes. Sometimes the hotel was paid by the convention organizer and didn't effect our bottom line.

The shipping and re-shipping of books is hard on the covers and we lose a few. At least at full price. Books are not being sold at discounted prices. Meanwhile back in CA the books at the storage unit are safe and sound ticking away $150 a month. In the shipping department of the home office the mice find the books delicious.

Mice only like parts of books. Corners, covers... a little off the bindings. I could see sacrificing a book to the wildlife but not a small part of over thirty books. As a result fewer books were stored at the office meaning more trips to the storage unit for the poor, in-house, shipping guy.

The out of pocket now is above $50,000 making the break even point after the sale of 2,000 books at full price... plus shipping.. plus storage.

The books that cost us $2.10 to print was now costing closer to $6.00 and that amount was going up every month with loss, damage and storage. Years later the niche market for these books is probably about saturated and, from what I hear from former co-workers, there are still quite a few palettes left (though they've been moved to the Authors garage so no storage is paid).

This all started in 1997 and a LOT of things have changed in the industry. In retrospect I would have advised holding out for an agent and a more traditional publishing route. As you can see the printing and editing were just a small portion of the expense taken on by a traditional publisher.


  1. Wow, that's quite a journey! Of course as you said, a lot has changed as now we have ebooks and those don't need two garages to hold them.

  2. *phew* I got tired just reading this! Thank God for POD and e-book publishing!


    Join me in the Trick or Treat Spooktacular! Could you help make the Grand Prize a brand new Kindle Touch?

  3. Egads, my man! Dare I sayeth unto thee, MY infinite number of blogOramas arN'T bore-ing, my just and worthy liege!! God bless you --- Nevertheless, If God knows everything and can see all, then God must know the End of Forever… ?? If I don’t know everything and you certainly don’t, why don’t you follow us Home to Heaven where we’ll know as much as possible? --- I put that icon precisely because I’m not part of this world; I’m part of the Great Beyond. Meet me in Heaven Above. God bless you. -1 Corinthians 11:1