Do My Margins Look Big In This?

If there is one thing that encouraged me to take the plunge into self-publishing then it is POD (print-on-demand). The no (or little) risk involved seemed to make the whole thing a no-brainer … and yet the further I travel down this jolly-old road, the further POD seems to recede into the distance. What happened?

If you read last week’s post (Is There Life Without Amazon), you’ll know that a gloss cover put me off createspace – but I still have IngramSpark, right? Well, yes.

But I’ve also ordered 200 copies through a printer.

From the start I’ve always had the idea of going down the offset digital printing route, but didn’t think it would be this soon. It was more of an ‘if things go well’ kind of option, but there are two things that have encouraged me to pull the plug now. Except it’s only one reason really … just bear with me.

Reason 1: although I have yet to receive a matte cover proof from IngramSpark (don’t ask!) I feel that no matter how much better it looks, a POD book is never going to look like a regular paperback. Maybe the whole point of POD is exactly that – it’s an alternative to traditional publishing rather than a substitute. People who do well through POD not only print in a non-trad way, they also sell through non-trad routes. And yet, here I am, matchstick girl-like gazing through the high street (book)shop window and hoping to get in. I do know getting stocked by Waterstones is a slim hope but (as with the rest) I want to give it my best shot. I could be wrong here but, in my mind, that means having a book that stands out in positive ways (hopefully), rather than in ways that define it as being self-published (size, paper type). Partly it’s a confidence thing. Probably big-partly.

Reason 2: Margins. Waterstones state they are keen to support small, independent publishers and stock through Gardners (the UK’s biggest book distributor). In fact, they have a special ‘programme’ for indie publishers. The process is that you fill out a handy little form to sign up with Gardners, which takes about three weeks, and once that is done you can send your book to Waterstones who will consider stocking it in (probably only some) bookshops. The thing is, your best chance of having your book accepted is to match industry standard retail discounts. That means giving Gardners/Waterstones a 60% discount off the retail price. Six-ty per-cent!!! So, here is the maths: my book retails at £6.99. 60% of 6.99 is (a stonking) £4.19. My POD print costs are around £3, which means … oops! That would put me £0.20 in the red per sale. And that’s not taking into account any delivery costs, which little problem I haven’t even factored in yet. By having 200 copies offset printed, my per book print costs go down to around £2.30, which means a net per book revenue of a stellar £0.50 per (hypothetical!) book sold via Waterstones (not taking into account delivery). Now I haven’t lost sight of the fact that getting into Waterstones is not that likely but, let’s face it, even if that never happens I’m still increasing my per book revenue by £0.70. So long as I sell those 200 copies! And one way or another I always wanted a stash at home to take round to independent bookshops and sell through schools (if possible).

So my two reasons are really only one: getting into high street bookshops. It’s a long shot, but I seem to be giving everything a go …

For anyone interested in the nuts and bolts I found the printer while snooping typesetting info on the back of books’ title pages. Not all, but some will state the printer used. I went with Clays because they are huge and print all my favourite books. They have a dedicated department for independent publishers (doesn’t everyone?) and have proved to be very helpful.

The lead-time for offset printing is something like three weeks … so now I’m waiting for my (200!!) books to arrive. As soon as they are here, I will go for ‘launch’, which should be sometime next week. Finally.

In my next post I will report back on how ‘launch’ went and then will change gear to look at marketing and whatever happens once the book is ‘out there’. By now I’m really looking forward to this next bit!

If you want to be amongst the first to hear about launch then either Friend me on Facebook (Larisa Villar Hauser), like the FB book page (Uma & Imp) or follow Uma & Imp on twitter (Uma_Imp).

Thanks for reading!


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Waits and Measures

It’s over a year since I kicked off my self-publishing project. Er, yes – even though it can take as little as a few hours to get a book onto a Print-On-Demand platform. Guess it’s safe to assume that ‘Swift’ isn’t my middle name …

So where’s the time gone? “Ha!” says one part of my brain … that’ll be working, finding new work, being a mum, living, breathing – and all squeezed in around a school day/calendar. That aside, in writing terms, over a year has been gobbled by consulting with an (awesome) editor, working on rewrites and doing another round of submitting to agents and … waiting. It’s hard work, that waiting business. Positively exhausting.

And once again, my waiting has come to nought. So here I stand – agentless and publisherless. [CURIOUSITY: my spell check doesn’t recognise the word ‘publisherless’, but is totally fine with ‘agentless’ … make of that what you will!]. Oddly, I’m not that disappointed. Probably because the decision to self-publish has remained firm, ‘if all else fails’, and although I’ve seen plenty of SCBWIs get agents and contracts around me, I know an equal number of talented writers who aren’t getting the breaks.

So here I am, just starting on final, final edits and hoping to get published in October some time. Freaky.

Inevitably, the final move to go-it-alone has lead to a fair dollop of navel-gazing along the lines of: ‘Why bother?’ ‘What’s the point?’ and ‘What am I trying to achieve?’ When the average self-published book sells around 100 copies, it can’t really be touted as a Business Decision. And I’ve moved on from my original “nothing to lose” point of view because even if you discount the money spent on professional editing, there is still an outlay for book cover design, printing a certain amount of copies to hand flog, ISBN registration, etc. As someone who is particularly brassic, the choice to front cash that I might never see again isn’t one taken lightly. Bringing me back to ‘WHY?’

Over the last months I’ve read many different answers to that question, all valid and as different as the author moving into the self-pub market. For me it’s mostly about closing the circle. I have a HUGE attachment to this particular story and simply don’t want to leave it languishing in a virtual drawer.

The other question is: what I am hoping to achieve, and how will I measure success? By book sales? If I sell 100 copies then I’ve done as well as the average. That would be OK. If I sell 300 copies that gets me Associate membership of the Society of Authors, which would be great – a tiny taste of peer recognition. 1,000 copies is a regular first print run for a traditionally published debut author … what is the magic number?

Thing is, my preconceptions aren’t terribly high in terms of book sales. But I do really want to end this experience knowing I gave it my best shot – whatever that amounts to. And I really, really would like to get out there, into schools, interacting with ‘middle grade kids’. Because it will help my writing, inform what I do next and, yes, complete the circle.

Thank you for reading! Self-publishing has got to be the lonely road in what is already the lonely business of writing (imaginary people don’t count, guys!). In lieu of an agent, publisher, editor, marketing people, etc. it’s just great to know that fellow SCBWIs are out there, listening and giving openhearted support.

Larisa x


I did scantly glance over the sums when I first checked out Print on Demand (honest), and my general impression wasn’t particularly rosy. More a sense of unease, immediately pushed to one side, along the lines of ‘how does ANYONE make money in publishing’? And I mean anyone, including traditional publishers. Maybe even traditional publishers top of the list – after all, they’re the ones to fork out advances to authors, and money for whatever marketing and promotion is going to happen.

Without beating around the bush, the sums for createspace break down as follows:

– For a 250-page book, printed in black and white (interior) with a trim size of 5.25”x8”, cover price set at £5.99, the per book author royalty works out to £0.39. That’s selling direct through amazon – the figure drops into the red if you use distributors who take a higher share (and they all do!).

– If you push the cover price to £6.99 (ouch), the per book author royalty goes up to £0.99.

The question is: does ANYONE pay full price on amazon books? Isn’t the whole point to walk away with a discount? The choice seems to be: either promote your book in such a way (how?) that people don’t mind paying full whack on amazon or … you guessed it – take a hit.

There is a third choice for anyone writing YA or otherwise able to use the e-book format, because the per book author royalty jumps to $3.34 (with a retail price of $8.99) … now that sounds like business … when you ignore the fact that – you guessed it! – e-books are usually heavily discounted.

[In case you think I’m really clever being able to work those sums out, createspace have a handy little ‘royalty calculator’ …

If your insides are churning (and mine are) then stop reading now or reach for a double Scotch, because it does get worse …

For a start, you’re not actually in profit until you’ve covered your upfront costs. Assuming (and I think this is a real feat) your book cover, editing, proofing, marketing and platform costs come in around £500 as Diana Kimpton managed to do (see last week’s post “The Colour of Grass”), then at £0.39 per book, you would have to sell 1,282 books before you made your first 39p profit. You may want to read that piece of information a few times and take a few slugs of Scotch.

The other point at which it gets worse is once you start selling through bookstores (assuming they’re willing to stock your wonderful work). They expect anything between 35-60% discount off the cover price (their margin, of course). Go on – knock it back and refill your glass.

Suddenly I grasp why publishers have such a reputation for being into the booze … and I TRULY UNDERSTAND the difference between vanity (or self, or indie) and traditional publishing. Traditional publishing is a business, trying to stay afloat and make money. Vanity publishing is about getting your work out there, whether or not that involves making money or, in fact, throwing some cash after it …

Is there any hope? Honest answer: I don’t know. E-publishing seems like it could be profitable (you know, in the long run, with lots of hard work and a string of titles). But what about middle-grade writers still dependent on paper books? Well, I’m hoping for a little ray when I check out offset publishing next week … but I’m not holding my breath.



More like Kerplunk.

Larisa x

PS: next week will be my last post until September, as I’m heading off on holiday (via the Duty Free Scotch aisle, of course)