But as I discussed on a recent guest post for bang2write, I consider myself an independent author. As such, I need a physical book to take to schools, festivals and bookshops. When I presented at The Hay Festival this week, it would have been tricky to sign a kindle when a child wanted me to write in their book. And in all honesty, when I imagined being an author, seeing my book downloaded on an iPad wasn’t really the dream.
There are so many factors that will govern whether a physical book is right for you and how you should go about it. I preface everything I say here with my golden ‘casino’ rule for self-publishers – only spend what you can afford to lose. Think of your pennies like children leaving home – assume you’ll never see them again, then it will be a pleasant surprise when you do.
So here are some questions you should ask before you get physical with your book:
Who is my audience?
If you haven’t asked this about your book already, then shame on you – head straight to the naughty mat. It is crucial to every stage of your publishing journey and in this instance, will dictate whether a physical book is right for you.
Is your key audience likely to use an e-reader? As Who Let the Gods Out? is a children’s book, I predicted that I would sell more physical copies than ebooks – even at this early stage, that has proven overwhelmingly correct.
Does your book rely on a niche design concept (or would it be improved for being so)? Is it very graphic-heavy? Are you targeting a very crowded market (ie romance/crime)? Will you be able to sell your book at a higher price than e-selling will allow. Think very carefully about who will be buying your book - and which format they are most likely to buy.
Where am I selling?
If your marketing and sales strategy is essentially located online, then think very carefully before investing in print. Physical books are a hard sell online as they now look horribly expensive next to their e-cousins (and that’s before P&P). I will discuss the issues surrounding online selling in a later post, but if you are an unknown author, people are far less likely to take a gamble on physical book that costs pounds rather than an ebook that costs pennies.
But if you have an established direct sales platform, then physical books are a godsend. My novel is published under my Story Stew brand, the creative writing workshops I run for children at schools and literary festivals. Every time I present Story Stew, I teach audiences of hundreds of children who might also enjoy my book. I always arrange a signing after these sessions and can sell hundreds of books this way – my online sales at this early stage don’t hold a candle to these face-to-face sales. Plus I get to meet my gorgeous readers and write them a personal message to thank them. Beats the heck out of a dispatch note.
Shall I Print on Demand or order a print run?
The answer to this will depend very much on your answers to the above. Print on Demand (POD) is by far the safer option as your printer will only print a copy when one is ordered – although this bespoke arrangement can make for an expensive unit price. I go into this in more detail in my bang2write post.
Because my sales rely heavily on face-to-face sales, I elected to order a short print run of Who Let the Gods Out? with major printer Clays so that I had stock to take with me when I travel with Story Stew. This has worked really well for me and my margins are very attractive – at least 59% on every direct sale.
But I had to sell over 400 physical copies to break even, which is a lofty target for a brand new indie author. Again – think ‘casino’. I funded my book from my own money and assumed I’d never see it again. Through stubborn determination, it’s coming home again – but like the kids, it’s been a nerve-wracking journey.
There is of course a huge economy of scale when you commission your own print run. 100 books will cost a lot more per unit than 10,000 – but will prove a lot cheaper in the long run if you only sell 36.
Where am I going to store them/How will I distribute them?
Not the sexiest parts of the publishing journey, but these require careful thought if you’re not going to get caught out. Have you got somewhere dry and secure to keep boxes of physical books? And how many can you store? If not, what will the extra cost be to store them elsewhere? It’s cheaper to order more books – but you need somewhere to put them, possibly for years.
And how will you get them to your customers? This isn’t an issue if you POD, but my 304-page novel costs me £2.80 to send in the second class Royal Mail – I have to pass this cost onto my readers. My Aunty Ethel doesn’t mind, but will someone I’ve never met? If you have a larger/heavier book, bear in mind that you could price yourself out of the market. If you can get a mainstream distributor to take your book then they can take care of this, but at a hefty price – as much as 60% of your RRP.
If you list your book on Amazon, you can opt to have your orders fulfilled by Amazon, (ie, they will store and dispatch your order to customers, adding extra benefits such as Super Saver Delivery etc) which I will shortly be trialing, so will report back with news!
Should I get an ISBN?
For me, the simple – and only answer – is HELL YES! Many author and distribution services like Bookbaby will sell or give you an ISBN – an International Standard Book Number. This registers your work to the publisher (ie, Smashwords, Createspace, Lulu, Story Stew) and logs sales data. It is a requirement to sell on some sites (iBooks and Amazon require them, Amazon KDP does not). If you want to sell your book in a bookshop, you will have to have an ISBN and mine have paid for themselves several times over as bookshops can now contact me directly when they want to order my book – I don’t know if a third-party printer would pass this info on to me or not, but I prefer not to leave it up to chance.
If you choose an ISBN number from your service provider, the title is registered as published by them. Buy them yourself and you can register them to a publishing name of your choosing, as I have done with Story Stew.
In the UK, ISBNs are sold by Nielsen in batches of 10 (£132), 100 (£318) or 1,000 (£846). In the US, Bowker is the place to go, where single ISBNs start at $125. You need an ISBN for every edition of your book – paperback/hardback/Kindle format (.mobi) and Epub (iBook/Nook/Kobo etc) so if you’re planning several titles in the near future, you’ll need plenty of ISBNs.
As I will always insist to anyone self-publishing, think with your business brain, not your writer’s vanity. Think big by all means, but start small. Unless you are incredibly lucky, you are not going to sell thousands of copies overnight however you publish your book. But as a self-publisher you don’t have to. You’ve got the rest of your life to sell your book – it’s a marathon not a sprint. So pace yourself – and your money – along the way.