Building a book, part II

Well hello! It’s been a little longer than I had planned, mostly because you would not believe how many endless little details need your attention when you’re publishing your own book. Meaning that – yes – my book is now out!! Also, I now have an Amazon Author Page. Huzzah!

So, this will be my third post in a row about the publishing of my book and I promise it will be the last [in a row]. I know I could go on ad infinitum about how amazing and wonderful I think it is that authors no longer have to grovel at the feet of the gatekeepers to have their voices heard, and that “vanity publishing” is outgrowing its stigma, and “indie publishing” is morphing into something respectable and even hot, and that the publishing world has changed for ever and for good, and all the other things that make up this exciting new world of book publishing.

But I won’t. 

Last time I talked about Writing, Editing, Publishing, Formatting and Cover. This time: Pricing and royalties, ISBN numbers and Distribution.

PRICING AND ROYALTIES

When I published my first eBook, it was priced at USD 24.99. Some people felt that was really steep for an eBook. In fact, a reviewer for a certain English-language publication here in Iceland spent literally half the review sounding off about the price [even though he seemed to like the book]. In his view, if I’d kept the price lower, I would have sold more copies. I begged to differ. From my perspective, I had to factor in the hours I spent working on the book, and the size of the market I was likely to reach. The first figure was large, the latter figure small. I would have had to reach a very large market to break even, and I didn’t see that that was going to happen. And so far, I haven’t, even though the book served its purpose – it provided much needed information, taught me a helluva lot about eBook creation and publishing, covered the cost of distribution via e-Junkie, and allowed me to buy myself a few cups of coffee.

My second eBook carried the same price as the first. It has sold quite well, and was eventually picked up by a traditional publisher, where it has continued to sell well. The price was no detriment to the success of the eBook – but even with exposure far greater than my first book, I very much doubt that the eSales have covered the cost of the hours put into creating it. The combined eSales and traditional sales might, though.

This time I have decided to take a different approach and publish Unraveled on the Amazon Kindle platform, and also as a printed book through CreateSpace. As before, I don’t expect to reach a huge audience. It would be nice if I did, but I’m realistic.

When you publish with Amazon for Kindle, you get a choice of pricing your book between USD 2.99 and 9.99 and keeping 70% of the royalties, or charging more and keeping 35% of the royalties. I have chosen the former option, hence my book is priced at USD 9.99 even though it is approximately four times longer than my last eBook and therefore took me about four times as many hours to create. In other words, from a purely commercial perspective it is highly unlikely that I will come close to recouping my investment – and yet I look at this as an experiment, and definitely something I wanted to try.The Kindle platform is in many ways an interesting platform, and I am curious to see how the book performs.

As for pricing the printed book, the great thing about CreateSpace is that there are no costs up front. They simply take a cut of your royalties. There is a calculator on their site where you can see how much you will make from each sale – it is subject primarily to the length of the book, i.e. how many pages they have to print. In my case it looks like I’ll earn around 30- 40% on each sale, which is considerably more than I would earn with a traditional publisher.

In the end, though, if I was only in it for the money, I would have picked something else on which to spend my time. Meaning that the amount of royalties I get isn’t my ultimate concern. Enjoying the creative process and getting my book out there is.

ISBN NUMBERS

Publishing on a platform like Kindle or CreateSpace, you come up against the question whether you want to a) have an ISBN number b) and in the case of CreateSpace, provide your own or use an ISBN provided by them [because for a printed book you must have one]. Reading up a bit I learned that if you choose the CreateSpace ISBN, which note bene is free, you are effectively tied to their platform, meaning if you wanted to take your title elsewhere at a later date, you would run into problems. A title with two separate ISBNs can be a pain in the ass, it seems, and is not popular with booksellers, for example, as it makes it more difficult for them to track sales.

In the US you have to purchase your own ISBN numbers [and, incidentally, each version of a book needs its own ISBN – the Kindle version needs one, the printed version one, and so on]. Here in Iceland [as well as in some other countries] they supply them for free. Obviously, then, it was a no-brainer for me whether or not to supply my own ISBN. I sent an online application form to my local ISBN agency one evening, and the following morning I got a call from a very nice lady who was incredibly helpful. An hour later, I had my ISBNs. It ran incredibly smoothly and was definitely one of the high points of this whole endeavour!

DISTRIBUTION

As everyone knows, the great thing about eBooks is that you can easily reach an audience all over the globe. The world is your oyster, and in the oyster, Amazon rulez. This is the first time my books have been available via Amazon, so as I said before I’m really curious to see what happens with that. CreateSpace is an Amazon company, so as orders for the printed book come in, they are sent out via Amazon. [Actually I believe Amazon always keeps a few copies in stock.] That applies to all the Amazon online stores across the world, from the USA to India and Japan. This is important, obviously, since if the books were only sent out from the US they would carry hefty shipping charges, plus tariffs, taxes, etc. if they were sent to other countries. The fact that they are printed and shipped locally [or semi-locally] is AWESOME.

CreateSpace also offers something called Expanded Distribution. That means that your title is not only sold to individuals through the online Amazon platform, it is also available for bulk orders from brick-and-mortar book retailers in the US. Again, I have no expectations that a real book store in the USA will ever order my book … but never say never. Expanded distribution costs USD 25 up front, whether any orders come in or not. Also, the royalties are quite a bit lower, since retailers are given a wholesale price from CreateSpace. Even so, I think it’s AMAZING that anyone – even little ol’me, who sits and writes books on the edge of the inhabitable world, has the opportunity of having her title distributed by the largest book distributor in the US to thousands of retail outlets in that country. In theory, at least.

So that’s it! If you have any question or comments, feel free to ask.

Posted in Publishing.

16 Comments

  1. Congratulations! I look forwad to buying the book. And to reading it.

    Pricing is always difficult. There is in theory an optimal price above which total revenues actually fall. I have five of my old financial thrillers published on Kindle, and by fiddling with the prices, I have tried to discover where that price actually is. It sounds as if this should be easy to do, but it is difficult, because each book has one-off factors that either help or hinder it. So far I have concluded that this perfect price is between $6.50 and $11.00 – not very accurate, but your $9.99 is in there.

    There is an argument for reducing the price below this optimal price: you sell more books and get more readers, which gets the book up the amazon rankings, and you will get more written reviews. But, as you say, whatever price you set it at, you will probably not earn enough to make the whole process financially worthwhile. Unless … Perhaps it will become a word-of-mouth bestseller. I hope so!

    Another thing is tags. Any readers of the book should `tag’ it: this will help amazon search engines find it. And of course if readers like it they should review it.

  2. Thank you Michael! Glad to hear that my price isn’t totally out of the ballpark. I know a lot of books on Amazon are priced in the lower range of the scale, but I also know that a lot of them are considerably shorter than my book.

  3. Hi Alda

    Well done!
    I have found your posts instructive and am still following up
    on the leads you have provided.

    I have read of several cases where someone has obtained a book in file form
    and then blithely gone on to publish it again under their own name,
    thus stealing the author’s work. In the case of your recent book
    it took you years to write it. I can’t help wondering
    if there is some way to prevent this happening.

    (I realise someone using OCR software could do exactly the same thing
    with a printed book.)

    I’m not trying to alarm you, just thinking out loud.

    rod

  4. Thanks for sharing all this Alda. You’re very fortunate with the ISBN situation in Iceland…I just went through the process of buying ISBNs in the US. And great info about the distribution option through CreateSpace…was not aware of that!

    I have a few questions about CreateSpace and was curious your thoughts. I haven’t held a CreateSpace book in my hands yet, so I’m just wondering about the final product. Are you happy with the quality of the printed book? Also, I notice they don’t ask for a spine design…how does the spine look?

    Congrats on the book, and thanks for sharing your journey with us!

  5. Rod – Actually I’m not too worried about the situation you describe – if it’s the same book, then it wouldn’t be too hard to prove a copyright infringement, provided I was able to find out about it. Of greater concern is pirated versions of the book. These are electronic files, and whoever gets their hands on one could conceivably send it out to a million people, or post it on a pirate site. There is something called DRM (Digital Rights Management) which “locks” a book so it can’t be passed on, but it’s problematic. For one thing, I understand that it’s not too hard to crack the code for anyone who wants to, and for another, with DRM enabled you would then not be able to read the book on another device. When you publish electronically on the Kindle platform, they offer you the option of using DRM but from what I’ve read, most people advise not to bother because the problems can outweigh the benefits. In the end, you have to expect that there may be several pirated copies for each copy you manage to sell, and accept it. And also trust most people to be honest.

    Matthew – Overall I am very pleased with the quality of the CreateSpace book. I’ve received two proofs now – on the first one I found the lettering in the interior to be a little too faint for my taste, but figured out it was because of the font I was using (Garamond). I then changed to Times New Roman and it was a lot better. The only thing I could fault on that second book is that on some pages the printing is SLIGHTLY more faint than on other pages. I’m betting most people wouldn’t notice, though.

    As for the spine, I didn’t realize they don’t ask you for one. My husband designed the cover using a template downloaded from the CreateSpace site and he designed a spine with my name and the title of the book. On the first proof, the lettering on the spine was just a tiny bit off kilter, but on the latter proof it was absolutely perfect.

    So on the whole I’ve been extremely satisfied with CreateSpace. I posted in a forum about the lettering in the first proof (before I figured out the problem was the font) and a few people urged me to contact CS and let them know, that they would make good on it. They’re very concerned about turning out a high quality product, from what I understand.

  6. Hi Alda

    Thanks a lot for your reply – for some reason I hadn’t thought of pirate copies,
    but these are the times we live in it seems. Your information regarding DRM
    is very useful.

    I now have a copy of your book.

    Best wishes

    rod

  7. Hi Alda

    I have read the kindle edition and spotted a few minor format errors, but being Kindle I couldn’t note them by page number. A couple of things that I hope will help you.

    3% into the book there is a separated phrase ‘everything went black.’
    33% into the book there is an error: ‘the ladder that leaned against at the side of the house’

    I’m assuming these are easily fixed in the ebook. Since the physical book is print on demand, maybe the same applies there.

    I hope this is helpful.
    If it’s just annoying, I’m sorry.

  8. Rod – not annoying in the least. VERY helpful. Thank you.

    It amazes me that even when at least eight different people read the mss before publishing there are still minor errors that slip through.

    Incidentally, the separated phrase was separated on purpose. It looks better in the printed book because of line spacing and such. But I’ve added an ellipsis in the eBook for clarity.

    Thanks again!

  9. It is – you can change the text, but not the size or format of the book. It’s no problem, except that it takes up to 24 hours for them to review your new mss and your book isn’t available for sale during that time. But unless you’re selling like 100 copies a day or something that’s not a huge issue.

  10. Hi Alda

    A delayed question. You tried Garamond, it was too faint and switched to Times New Roman. I can’t see that font as a choice in the drop-down menu.

    Anyway, my question. Which point size did you choose and does it look good in your print copy?

    As you may tell, I’m going down your route though still a fair way behind you.

  11. I’m sorry Alda to tell you this but I do agree with the critique made by the journalist concerning the price. I purchased the online version of the little book of Icelanders for about £17 (!), but since I liked your blog and insight into the Icelandic society I thought it would make for an interesting read. I was however disappointed. Sure you do have some points, but it was very short and felt like a selection of blog posts. To be honest I could have probably come up with a similar content by selecting some articles from blogs about Iceland, or the daily life reviews by some people from the Iceland review website. While it was a nice read you certainly charged too much for the actual amount of work that went into it.

  12. Rod – I used Times New Roman, 11 pt. And yes, it looks fine in the printed copy.

    Gary – I’m sorry you feel that way. I’ve explained the reasons for my pricing in several different places. You say you bought the book because you liked my blog, but that I charged far too much for the work that I put into it. My question to you: for how many years did you enjoy the work I put into my blog without paying a cent for that enjoyment?

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