Writing Is An Art ...Publishing Is A Business

By Mack E. Smith and Sara Freeman Smith

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There are numerous reasons we write. Some of us write to relieve stress or to relax. It is soothing to the mind and spirit. Others write to stimulate our intellect. We want to keep our mind sharp and skills in check. We also write to assure our points are understood or to solicit a responsive action. In others words, we want someone to do something for us. This may be simply to say: I changed my mind, give me my money back. We may also write because we are can't say it to someone in person. The old "Dear John Letter" comes to mind. Finally, some of us write for more economic reasons. We want to make money. If you are one of these entrepreneur- minded individuals, this article is written for you.

Most of this article will concentrate on writers who elect to publish their own book. Today self-publishing or becoming a literary entrepreneur is a more realistic option. For one thing, publishing houses pick up only about 1% of manuscripts. There are literally millions of manuscripts written that will never get published unless the authors do it themselves. When a publisher decides to publish your manuscript, they are betting that they will at least recover the costs of publishing and promoting your book. A publisher is like a bank making a loan. They look at your application or in this case your manuscript. They evaluate your credit risks, i.e., what are the odds that the loan will be paid back on time. The publisher is deciding on whether they will get their royalty advance back, how many books to invest in, and how much of a profit they can expect. In other words, they are in business to make a profit. They know they will have some losses, but they want to make a profit overall. They publish book because they think it will make a profit. If they are wrong too many times, they go out of business or bankrupt. What does all this mean? It means that the odds are excellent that your book will be rejected. Publishers can only afford to publish a few of the manuscripts that are sent to them. Have you ever had a bank say they would lend you the money if you used cash as collateral? The same run applies to publishers. They want to minimize their risks and bet on sure things. The good news for us is that they are often wrong. When they realize they are wrong, they sometimes come back to apologize. Their apology comes in the form of a book contract to buy the rights to your book. How do they discover they are wrong? That's where your passion and entrepreneurial spirit come in.

We said earlier that publishing your own book may be a better option today. One reason for this is because there are more manuscripts being written, increasing your chances of being rejected. The other reason is that more people are learning how to publish their own books and the costs of such are declining. We demonstrate this in more details in our seminars and in our book, How to Self-Publish and Market Your Own Book. If you are passionate about what you have to say in your book and are determined to get it in print, you will most likely publish it yourself. You will spend much of your spare time promoting that book. That passion and spirit will result in book sales. If you are selling most of your books in bookstores that are on bestseller lists, you may get noticed by a publisher. That's when you get the chance to decide whether you want to sell your rights or continue to publish your book yourself. Regardless of which decision you make, you will still have to promote your book yourself. You may the help of a publicist, but you still have to do book signings, talk shows, etc.

What if I Want to Publish My Own Book?

Let's start by telling an all too common story. We were conducting a free mini-seminar at Barnes and Noble. After the seminar ended, an author came up to us and stated she was in trouble. She had printed over 2,000 books that were being sold in independent bookstores, but she was not making any money. We asked her to explain how she decided on the price of her book. She said she picked $12.00 because that priced seemed reasonable. She was then asked how much did each book cost to print. She said about $6.00. She was then advised not to expect to earn a profit, because she had to give at least a 40% discount to the bookstores. Consequently, she was grossing $7.20 and paying $6.00 for each book. That only left her $1.20 for each book before paying any other expenses. She also failed to take into account the other costs she paid before the book was printed, such as book cover design, editing, and book layout. She could earn more by thinking of ways she her book without giving a discount, such as to friends, in special events, as corporate giveaways, and etc. However, she will have to focus on doing it right the next time.

Doing It Right the First Time

Before you extend valuable time writing your manuscript or spend precious money in some manner on your book, remember publishing is a business. If you want to earn a profit from your business, first start out by asking yourself some of the following questions:

  • Why do I want to write a book?
  • Do I know how much my book will cost to produce?
  • Who will buy my book?
  • How much do I think they will be willing to pay for my book?
  • Do I have a passion for my work and will others feel my passion?
  • Can I wear the many hats of an entrepreneur?
  • Can I engage others to help me produce and sell my books?
  • Am I too proud to ask for help?
  • Am I willing to spend years promoting my book?
  • How can I make my book different from others already published on my subject?
  • Can I set clear goals and follow a plan?

The purpose of these questions is to get you to think seriously about why you want to have your own book published. Perhaps you just want to impress others or leave a legacy for your family. There is nothing wrong with this purpose. If this is your only purpose, you really don't have to devote as much time to your book project. Many vanity publishers will be happy to publish your book for a fee. However, if your purpose is to earn more money, you need to do your homework. We recommend you develop a marketing plan. The questions above will help you develop your plan.

Taking Care of Business - Setting A Price

Setting a price for your book should not be taken lightly. It is one of the most important decisions you will make. The price of your book should not be determined simply by what you want to earn from each book. Rather, it is the price your target audience (buyer) is willing to pay for your book. If you plan to sell to a professional market, you may be able to set a price of $30 or more for your book. However, if you plan to sell to a low or fixed income group, don't expect to get a lot of buyers willing to pay $30. The traditional way to set a price for you book is a two-step process. First, you set a price that is preferably at least eight times the cost to produce your book. You should include things like cover design, editing, book layout, and initial freight charges in the total cost of your book. For example, let's say you have 1,000 books and the total production cost is $2,000. Therefore, the cost of each book is $2.00. You would then try to set a price of $16.00 for your book. However, you still have to do some more homework.

Next, you must look at the prices of books similar to yours. You want to look at books on the same subject, with a similar number of pages, similar binding (softcover or hardcover), and similar types of buyers. In other words, look at your competition. If they are selling for $16.00, then you can set a similar price. However, if they are selling for $8.00, you may have a problem. You must justify to your target audience why they should pay twice as much for your book. Sometimes a higher priced book will have a higher perceived value, resulting in greater sales. However, the only way to really know is to test your price. If you are wrong, it can be an expensive mistake. A safer road is to price your book at a price your potential buyer has grown to expect. Your competition already knows the answer to the price question.

After you have completed the two-step process, your price hopefully will be eight times the cost to produce your book. If it is lower, it should not be lower than five times. If you are not selling your books to parties that require a discount, you can afford a lower mark up. However, you should assume a good part of your sales will be done in bookstores that require a discount. Therefore, you should try to adhere to this formula. Otherwise, you may find yourself in the same position as the author that I mentioned earlier.

You should be able to improve your mark up in your next production run, because you will have paid for some fixed costs in your first run. You can also increase the number of books you have printed, resulting in lower costs per book. In other words, the more books you print, the lower the price. However, you should use common sense here. You must be relatively sure you can sell all the books you print in a reasonable length of time. It does not make sense to print up a five-year supply of books just to cut production costs. A six-month to one-year supply of books is more reasonable.

New Technology Means Good News for Minorities and Women

The major hurdle for many minorities and women is to have the financial means to produce 1,000 books or more in perfect binding. Chain bookstores and book wholesalers usually require this type of binding, because the title is printed on the spine allowing it to be read from a bookshelf.

We have focused much of our discussion on traditional ways to publish your books. However, new technology is bringing down the costs to print a book. Processes such as Print on Demand, Print Quantity Needed, and E-Books, have emerged and are undergoing further improvements. Such innovations make it possible to deliver your books faster, in smaller minimum quantities, and in multiple formats, i.e., soft cover, hard cover, and electronic. Therefore, instead of spending $2,000 to $5,000 for your first run of books, it is possible to spend as little as $500 to produce your own book. Furthermore, you can spend as little as $100 if you sell the rights to some of the digital publishing companies. We will have more on this exciting new technology in our next article. You can also visit our new resource website at www.writershelpdesk.com. Do You Have the Passion?

Once you get your book published, the real fun begins. You get to do book signings, radio and television talk shows, conferences, trade shows, speaking events, etc. You get to show off your new baby, i.e., your book. The level of passion you display will have a direct impact on your book sales. So, get ready! If you need help with the publicity, there are many resources for you. We do a motivational speaker seminar that can help you and there are many other venues listed on our resource site.

If you have a manuscript that has been rejected by one too many publishers, dust it off and publish it yourself or use one of the digital publishers listed on the resource site. We know you can do it. You will face obstacles on your journey, but you are not alone. There is a whole network of writers, book clubs, books, associations, and online resources that provide a wealth of information for you. Maintain your passion and turn your dream into reality.

"I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which one has overcome while trying to succeed."
--Booker T. Washington

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