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!

Larisa

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Is there Life without Amazon?

For the most part, everyone createspace-published that I have read or spoken to, has been happy with the final product. Really sadly, I’m not one of these people.

When the proof copy of my book arrived last week, I was big-time disappointed. By now the world knows I’m a horrible perfectionist, so maybe this isn’t a surprise. Mostly the problem was the cover. Createspace only offer a gloss laminate, and for the cover I have this doesn’t seem to work well at all. Combined with paper that is nothing like the kind you would normally find in a paperback, and the US (rather than UK) standard size I was, well, gutted actually.

Obviously, the non-standard size was something I knew about when setting up the account. Neither createspace nor IngramSpark offer UK standard children’s novel trim size in cream paper. Using white paper for fiction screams self-published I’m told, so trim size was a compromise I had to get my head around. But the glossy cover? Not possible. And createspace don’t offer the option of matte laminate.

So I’ve closed my createspace account, and won’t be printing through them.

Not such a radical choice when you know that IngramSpark distribute through Amazon – and also have the option of a matte cover. IngramSpark paper is less shiny, more paperback-ish too (by a touch). But I have yet to receive a matte cover proof, so my mind has gone to what would happen if I published only through a regular (non POD) printer without a direct route into Amazon – ?

As an indie author the lines to readers are pretty limited. Independent bookshops MIGHT stock your book, the biggies are unlikely to do so unless there is prior, established readership interest. People buy books either online or in store and although indie authors often sell through their own website that only works if people know where to find you. Everyone knows where to find Amazon.

Realistically, there is no Life without Amazon – not being available through them would be instant sales (and exposure) suicide.

So is there another way? Well, you could sell direct. The process itself sounds pretty straightforward: you put your book on the site, someone buys it, Amazon passes on the order, you ship the book and get paid via Amazon. But what about the sums?

Without going into what all the different charges are (‘cos whatever they are called each charge boils down to money off revenue), on a kids’ book priced at 6.99 it goes approximately like this:

Credit on Item Sale
Item Sale Price £6.99
Domestic Shipping Credit £1.65 (my estimate)
Total Credit on Sale £8.64
Amazon Fees
Referral Fee – £1.00 (this is 15% of item price)
Per-item Fee – £0.75
Variable Closing Fee – £0.43
Total Amazon Fees – £2.18
VAT (15%) – £0.33
Total Credited to your account £6.13

From this £6.13 you need to pay book production costs and p&p, which in my reckoning come to somewhere between £4.15 – £4.85, depending on your printing costs (more in next week’s post) and based on 1st class postage. This would leave between £1.28 – £1.98 revenue, which is pretty healthy compared to the £0.81 left from a POD sale. And super healthy compared to what you’d get through a bookseller.

If you’re an optimist (and you would probably need to be in order to go down this road) then you could also pay a £25 monthly fee instead of the £0.43 per-item cost. The first 3 months are currently being offered free

Amazon also have a service where you supply stock and they ship on your behalf, but I’m not going to get into that option because it doesn’t seem cost-effective unless you are doing major sales. But if you want details, check out http://services.amazon.co.uk/services/fulfilment-by-amazon/features-benefits.htm.

So – is anyone else’s head spinning?

Yeah, I thought so.

For now, I’m still waiting for a matte cover proof from IngramSpark – and hoping for the best. Although the sums for selling direct via Amazon seem good, selling POD via IngramSpark gives you distribution via Amazon as well as giving your readers the option to order a book direct from their local bookstore. And selling direct through Amazon would be either a lot of work if selling lots of books, or a waste of time if not selling many.

For now, I’ve put off ‘book launch’ until November. Next week I’ll be looking at getting books via a regular offset printer.

Maybe next time take an aspirin before starting to read this blog!

LarisaScreen Shot 2014-10-02 at 11.49.49

 

Platforms – but not the 70s kind.

This week I’ve taken my print-ready cover and interior files and headed onto the IngramSpark and createspace websites to finally get my book printed. Or a couple of proof versions, anyway.

Last year, in pretty much everything I read about POD platforms, the general consensus was that Amazon offers much greater speed to market than IngramSpark; as well as a much more customer-friendly service, with excellent customer support, easy-to-use templates, file fixes and so on. The general impression was that there was no real reason to go with IngramSpark – unless you wanted to get books into stores rather than only sell online.

Although that is probably still true, fast-forward a year and the playing field seems to have evened out – a lot. IngramSpark have a customer service centre with a phone number and helpful staff, they have a cover template, fix files (for a $10 fee) and tell you what file problems exist so that you can get them sorted DIY.

I’ve been really surprised how much IngramSpark have adapted and taken on customer feedback. Createspace might be the pace-setters, but IngramSpark seem to be keeping up. Still, somewhere my mind hadn’t really processed the latest information about IngramSpark so I was expecting a rocky ride.

As it turns out, so far, the IngramSpark vs. createspace experience has been pretty similar. I had glitches uploading my files onto both sites – though for different reasons. Createspace didn’t like my ISBN – found it too small – and warned about a low-resolution interior image. IngramSpark needed me to adjust the spine width and save the illustrations in a different format. And when I say ‘me’, I mean Amanda Ashton, the graphic designer. Frankly, I wouldn’t have known where to start.

Both sets of changes ended up informing the final product in what I imagine (hope?) will be a positive way. I’m really pleased createspace flagged the resolution issue – and just as happy to have been warned about the layered illustration file.

In terms of speed, IngramSpark came back within minutes to set out the problem issues, while createspace took around 24 hours. But they both got the files through final review and ready for print in about the same time – something like 48 hours.

I haven’t yet received a book from either company. Am nervously waiting. This is the pudding moment – will the hard copy live up to the expectation?

Once the hard proof is approved, I imagine that createspace will have the book available on Amazon within no time (a couple of days?), whereas IngramSpark apparently take 6-8 weeks to fully get the title into their distribution network.

And that, to me, sums up a central point in the debate around whether to use IngramSpark or createspace. Turns out it may be a moot argument. The reason behind my (unoriginal) master plan of using both IngramSpark and createspace is that, especially for self-publishers outside the US market, they fulfil very different needs. And because they are such close competitors (and sometimes don’t play nice) you seem to need both. Printing solely through IngramSpark would mean a long wait for my book to appear on Amazon – more importantly, I’ve heard that a couple of times a year IngramSpark titles show up as unavailable on the Amazon list. Not funny when you’re trying to run with the big boys.

Conversely, many independent bookshops won’t stock titles printed only through Amazon. And another huge factor against sticking only with Amazon is that for some reason they print and ship author copies from the US so that the cost of buying copies for ‘self distribution’ becomes uninteresting.

So here I am – waiting for my proof copies to arrive, wondering what the quality difference between the two will be. And feeling very worried about how the colours come up ‘in real life’. It could be a dog’s dinner … turquoise isn’t a good colour when it goes wrong!

Still, if all goes well, then book launch is in sight – and I use the term “launch” in the loosest possible way. This is going to be a long haul rather than a big bang.

Let’s face it – getting the book printed is a big (and exciting) milestone but just the beginning of the journey.

Thanks for reading!

LarisaUma&ImpCover

 

The Colour of Grass

So on Tuesday I went to the talk “Self-Publishing: Author’s in Control?”

Guess I shouldn’t have been surprised really – it was a Society of Authors event and to be a member of SoA you need to have been published, so EVEN THOUGH the talk was on self-publishing, as far as I could tell, pretty much everyone there was an already published author.

Curious.

The event was chaired by the fabulous Nicola Morgan – known to many of us as the author of “How to Write a Synopsis” (I never go anywhere near a synopsis without it). There was a panel of three speakers:

Neil Baber – co-founder of Inky Sprat, a newly set up e-picture-book publisher that also has Babette Cole as a co-founder. The idea behind Inky Sprat is to develop e-picture books that parents will want to share with their children – or that children can enjoy on their own as they have a video feature with the author reading the story. Neil anticipates that tablet use will grow and hopes to be there when it happens. Personally, I’m a stick-in-the-mud traditionalist when it comes to picture (and all?) books, but Neil showed us the e-book of ‘The Trouble with Dad’ and I was impressed enough to change my view on e-picture books: I’m now all about ‘why not?’ – it’s a story, beautifully illustrated, what’s the difference? [though it’s gotta be alongside ‘real’ books, of course … !!]

Martin West – Founder of “authorization!” set up to group indie-publishers together in order to get the best services for sales and distribution. The company also offers sales and editorial support. Something to look at if you want to self-publish but with a helping hand.

Diana Kimpton – successful author of traditionally published “Pony Mad Princess” series and now semi-finalist of the Kindle Book Review Best Indie Book.

Most relevant to me was Diana’s publishing experiences. Both traditional and indie.  Initially, Diana started self-publishing as a way to keep her backlist alive. She found it FUN and EMPOWERING. Topped with disappointments over not having enough editorial/book cover control, Diana decided to go it alone with her latest title. She set herself a budget of £2,000, an amount she was comfortable losing then spent less than £500 producing “There Must be Horses”– and things seem to be going well: semi-finalist of the Kindle Book Review for Best Indie Book, is pretty impressive.

Diana brought along two versions of “There Must be Horses”: one that was produced by Print On Demand through createspace (see last week’s blog ‘The Science Bit’ for more on this) and another printed digitally through a small printers called Matador (highly recommended by Diana). The quality difference between the two books was small, which was reassuring. But I did find myself lingering over the paper of the book printed by Matador – much better quality, the soft, velvety kind of paper that makes you want to eat a book with a spoon (well, ok, maybe that’s just me). Diana said that she went for offset printing rather than sticking to only createspace’s Print on Demand because of UK distribution issues … and because the per-book return is higher for offset printed books. And frankly, that thought (and the soft, velvety, eat with a spoon paper) have thrown a spanner into my works. It may be time to sit down, be sensible, and do some number crunching … has it really come to this? Well, guess that’s something for next week …

In the meantime … why would already-published authors (on a beautifully sunny evening no less) go to an event on self-publishing?

Well, languishing (or even out of print) backlists seems to be part of the answer. And not getting the desired support from publishers the other.

As the experiences of one author I chatted to after the talk showed me: What do you do if you’re two books into a series and sales are good, but not good enough for your publisher to be convinced about printing the next book in the series? Consider going it alone, that’s what.

So getting a publishing contract isn’t enough to keep authors “safe” from the self-publishing route … it seems that maybe the grass on the traditional-publishing side isn’t, after all, that much greener …

Larisa x

The Science Bit

Sometimes I think this blog is just a hair flick away from a L’Oreal ad (self-publishing: because I’m worth it!). So on that note, ‘here comes the science bit’ …

Checking out which platform to use for Print On Demand feels a lot like wading through glue. For a start, there are many options: the big guns like Createspace and Lightning Source; the medium guns like Lulu.com; and the relatively new-to-the-market handguns like Completely Novel.

My starting point with all this was Karen Inglis’ very helpful webpage at http://kareninglis.wordpress.com/print-on-demand/ (thanks again Lorraine Gregory for feeding back on the talk Karen Inglis gave; lifesaver!) From there I looked into all the gun-size options (above) and probably stumbled through a couple more. I quite soon realised that the safest choices for someone wanting to seriously give self-publishing a go, are Createspace (run by Amazon) and Lightning Source (run by Ingram). It was a relief to come across a Huffington Post article that backed up this impression – and also beautifully sums up the considerations in an easily digestible graph. Check out: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/terri-giuliano-long/self-publishing-platforms_b_2810092.html

So … when faced with deciding between two strong and similar options, I did what any sensible person does … and opted for both!

My thinking around why I will go for Createspace AND Lightning Source goes like this:

– Createspace and Lightning Source both provide the best trim (or book) size currently available for a children’s book on cream (the paper colour of choice for all fiction) [Lulu.com don’t, which is why, for my purposes, I discounted what is a great platform].

– Createspace is easy to use, supplies the self-published author with loads of tools, templates and information, customer support as well as a brilliant user forum where you can find the answer to any question.

– Setting up with Lightning Source is wield-y to manage for a novice publisher.

– Using Createspace has low set-up fees and offers a better author price per book (i.e. a better profit margin).

HOWEVER (and these are potential biggies):

– Lightning Source allows the publisher to set the wholesale discount

and,

– Lightning Source distributes direct to UK bookstores

All this means that my plan is to set up on Createspace, then (additionally) move onto Lightning Source when I’m ready to tackle the UK bookstore market (and I don’t know when this will be, could be at launch, could be months post launch, could be … never?).

So far so good – ? Well, yes … except that in the meantime Ingram have launched Ingram Spark as an aimed-at-small-publishers alternative to Lightning Source. Well, I had been warned that this was a rapidly evolving market!

The theory is that Ingram Spark has all the advantages of Lightning Source but is more user-friendly. The only downside that I’ve seen in my reading so far is that Ingram Spark sets the retailer discount at 55% (industry standard) whereas one of the joys of Lightning Source is that the publisher can set its own retailer discount. Well – I’m not losing any sleep over this right now because I’ve got setting up on Createspace to worry about first – and once I get to the point of needing to distribute to UK retailers, I’ll look into the Lightning Source vs. Ingram Spark thing again. In the meantime there will presumably be a lot more information out there. After all, Ingram Spark is only 11 days old at the moment … a mere new-born.

Before winding up, I should say one thing about all these musings – my budget didn’t allow for considering the many companies out there that offer a “don’t worry, we’ll do it all for you” option (from printing, to marketing, to PR). If you’re flush – there’s a whole other box of fish to look into.

SO: if you’re really clever, have read all the above and now feel “oh right, I get it” then MAJOR congratulations. But if you’re like me and your brain is still thinking “oooh, pretty, shiny hair” while the ‘the science bit’ is on, don’t worry. You just need to re-read this post, the Karen Inglis’ post, any articles or comments you can find, the stuff on Createspace, Lightning Source, etc. etc. over and over. And over.

After the 384th reading it will all be clear as windows after a dust-storm. I promise …

Tuesday I’m heading off to a CWIG talk titled “Children’s Self-Publishing: Authors in Control?” so next week I’ll be reporting back any pearls of wisdom I manage to glean.

Until then,

Larisa x

WEEK 3

Avoiding Ankle Sprain and Letting Go

Using a photograph on the front cover of a middle-grade children’s book is a bit like jogging in stilettos – it can be done, but isn’t generally recommended. Certainly, you wouldn’t expect to win the London Marathon. And much like challenging Priscah Jeptoo whilst sporting Manolo Blahnik, I wouldn’t want to be the first to try … so I’ve found myself an illustrator.

There are, I’m sure, gazillions of ways to find an illustrator: through SCBWI – both British Isles and International; through friends; agencies; by checking out illustrators on already-published books; through illustrator or other sites like deviantART and Elance. I was completely overawed by the amazing talent out there … and ended up having a surreal moment of experiencing what it might feel like to be an agent. Really.

It happened after I posted a job on Elance and found myself going through proposals from 66 illustrators in places as diverse as Kazakhstan and Costa Rica. And after the first 20 there I was, scanning and declining submissions in a matter of seconds – like the best of ‘em! Turns out that what I’ve always heard is true: the high level of competition meant I considered only the illustrators whose style reflected EXACTLY what I was looking for … and once I already had a few strong contenders, I was looking for reasons NOT to like something. To top it off, when really inspired, I found myself writing the occasional email along the lines of “I really loved your work but it’s not what I’m looking for right now” … er … anyone heard THAT before??? It felt freaky to be on the other side of that message and has definitely got me looking at my (many) rejection letters in a new and more positive light. Every cloud, eh?

The main benefit of checking out lots and lots of illustrators’ work is that it gave me clues about what I did and didn’t want. A few times I sloped off to Waterstones or headed online to look at the different styles that are out there, trying to work out what I wanted to achieve, and whether what appealed to me would appeal to middle-grade readers. You could say that, for the first time, I really properly looked at book covers … and some way into this process it dawned on me that a book cover needs different skill-sets, and I had, wait for it …

OBVIOUS (to anyone else) REALISATION NO. 2:

A kids’ book cover needs an illustrator AND a designer.

Of course. Because the illustrator does the … yes, the illustration … but you need a designer to decide on fonts, where the blurb goes, how the title and author name will be laid out, etc., etc. In fact, a very kind SCBWI BI member informed me that in publishing houses, the designer will first make all the decisions on layout and fonts, then get the illustrator to provide artwork to fit around the design.

I’ve been lucky enough to find an illustrator who can also do book design. For a novice this seemed like a good choice, because it means I have one less person to factor into my incoherent ramblings about what I’m looking for … which brings me to the other thing: communication. As the person commissioning and instructing the illustrator, the challenge is to convey a strong, clear sense of the book and characters, because this informs the illustrator’s work. So unless you speak fluent Kazakh, that illustrator in Astana whose work you liked, well … he might not work out.

SO, for anyone who has wondered what could possibly be the upside of going-it-alone to publication, setting the ball rolling towards getting a cover for my book will likely be one of the highs (and yes, it may be the one and only upside).

Usually authors don’t have much input into how their book ends up looking, which is in some ways very sensible, because we’re writers, not visual artists (apart from you lucky and brilliant lot who do both). And bearing in mind we all absolutely do judge a book by its cover, The Book Cover is second in importance after The Manuscript on a list of ‘bits you really need (at least try) to get right’.

Speaking of which: as well as signing up an illustrator, I’ve also commissioned an editor to advise on the state of my ms. This means I’m now facing a new challenge – letting go … letting go while trying not to imagine what is happening to my ‘baby’. To take my mind of it, I may take up jogging … in trainers.

Thanks for reading. Next week I’ll be looking at the different platforms for Print On Demand. Hope to see you then.

Larisa x