What price print? by Ali Bacon

Solid books, Krakow style
Like most authors of e-books, I also publish in print. Well to be precise, in the case of A Kettle of Fish, I had a publisher for the e-book but published the paperback copy myself using a POD (Print on Demand) publisher Feedaread. My AE colleagues will know all about the different options for going into print so this is just a rough guide for anyone else who is interested in how we get our books - the solid kind - out to our readers. 

POD costs more per copy (around £5.70 for me) than asking a local printer to do a print run,  but the advantage is the author needn't fork out the money up front. If you can cope with the fairly basic mechanics of uploading a Word file and cover image to the POD website, the only start-up costs are cover design, usually £200- £300 although there are cheaper options. (And if you have e-published, that part might already be in hand with just some tweaking required for print quality images). Feedaread asks the author to buy a proof copy and charges steeply for changes to the final version, so it's best to get your proofreading sorted out well before this stage!

There are of course, alternatives, with reputable companies like Silverwood Books of Bristol or the long-standing Matador providing self-publishing packages with varying service-levels from manuscript editing through typesetting and cover design.
'The Bristol Suffragettes' Walking Tour
If your book needs professional layout (Lucienne Boyce's The Bristol Suffragetes is an example - stunningly designed with a fold-out map)  or you just don't want to go the DIY route, you might feel the investment is worth it, but you could be looking at over £1000 in upfront costs. Not much, you might say, for what might be the result of a life-time's work and ambition, but probably too much if you've written a novel, or series of novels, and want to start making a profit asap.

So is that it? Set up on Feedaread, Lulu or another POD company and start selling books? Well not quite. You could of course just order up a few hundred copies, sell them from  your own front room, hawk them around local bookshops and take stands at writers' fairs (which many of us do anyway) but if you want your book to be available through book wholesalers (which is where bookshops place orders) or 'major online retailers' (no prizes for guessing who that is!) you have to pay for distribution of the printed book. This was £88 when I set up with Feedaread, and I would have to pay the same again for any subsequent books. (There's an annual renewal fee, but that's fairly modest). 

Of course, as I told myself at the time, lots of people still don't hold with e-books, and I dearly wanted to be able to say that my paperback was 'available from most bookshops'. And I did at least in the first year or two sell in sufficient numbers (my royalties come via Feedaread so it's easy to see the figures) to justify the distribution fee. Libraries are also significant players, because although your local branch may buy direct from you, many are compelled to use centralised purchasing systems, i.e. book wholesalers. This matters because as well as the ego trip of seeing my book in libraries,  I can also earn modest PLR payments generated by loans.

However, now that the first flush of business has died down, I wonder how many print copies I'm likely to sell out there in the big wide world, especially as the online retailers charge £8.99 a copy, sometimes with postage on top. I can charge less than this even with UK postage included. (I'm also my own worst enemy in this respect, since I often remind customers how much cheaper it is to buy the e-book!)

In fact I realised this week that through some inattention on my part, my distribution agreement with Feedaread lapsed last October.  Aagh! No wonder my paperback sales have dropped off!  In fact Kettle is still listed in paperback on Amazon (who perhaps haven't yet latched on) but Waterstones and Blackwells are offering only 'used copies'. Not good! I have written to Feedaread asking to renew my distribution package (£10 for another year) but in view of everything I've just said, perhaps it won't make a huge difference if the option is no longer available. Or if they take this as a chance to hike up the price, I'll certainly think carefully before going ahead. 

So don't forget that printing is only the beginning of getting your books out there. And if anyone is interested in a paperback copy of A Kettle of Fish at less than £8.99, please contact me, or if you're anywhere near Bristol, drop in to the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival this Thursday where I'll be reading and selling my wares along with lots of local authors. 

'Published and distributed by the author' doesn't sound so bad.  And of course there's always good old Kindle!


Chris Longmuir said…
I'm afraid my jaw dropped when I saw Feedaread's charges. When selling to readers or supplying to distributors average postage is £2.80 per book, so once you add on the £5.70, that makes £8.50 which gives you a profit of 20p. Createspace gives a far better deal. I buy my own ISBNs and provide copies of my book to distributors with a 30% discount, and hand deliver to Waterstones who need a 50% discount. Naturally I have to post to the distributors, but even with that I still turn a profit. My books sell at £9.99. Check out this link https://www.createspace.com/Products/Book/#content6 when you get to it click the tab below - 'Buying Copies- - it will take you to a ready reckoner where you can put in the size of your book and the number of pages including front and back matter, and it will tell you how much each copy costs. If you take the Createspace ISBN you cannot print books elsewhere, but if you buy your own ISBNs from Nielsen you can get them printed by Createspace for the Amazon market, and anywhere else you like in conjunction with that for other markets eg a UK printer.
AliB said…
Hi Chris, not sure I quite follow your calculations (I get decent royalty from Feedaread for distributed books too and don't pay postage) but I'm ready to admit I went for the 'easy' option' at the time which I think is often the case for newbie self-publishers. Feedaread were also recommended by my e-book publisher and I've found them fine to deal with. But I might well do it differently if/when I have another book to get out there.
re ISBNs I though you had to buy them in batches - or does Create-space do them singly?
Cheers, Ali
Lydia Bennet said…
Interesting and helpful round-up of some options, thanks! also interesting to read Chris' comment.
Susan Price said…
Chris, how do you get around the fact that book distributers don't want to deal with books forwarded to them from CreateSpace? - I keep being asked for copies of Wolf's Footprint by educational book sellers. - And I haven't been able to find a local printer who was interested in doing perfect bind - or, frankly, interested in my business at all.
Chris Longmuir said…
Ali, it was because you said you had to pay Feedaread £5.70 for each book when you bought it from them so I assumed you were talking about author's copies. Createspace would probably work out at almost half that amount. Plus you have to pay £88 for distribution, Createspace stopped charging for extended distribution, although currently the extended distribution is only in the US.

The second point is the ISBNs, you can get a free ISBN from Createspace, but that means you can't get copies printed elsewhere and they become a Createspace published book.

If you buy ISBNs, they are sold in batches of 10, you can print your books anywhere, by anyone, and they are not a Createspace book, you are only using Createspace as a POD printer. For example, I use Createspace for all my Amazon sales plus extended distribution in the US. I have a local printer in the UK who prints books for me and I sell them to Waterstones, Bertrams and Gardners, I've even supplied Foyles on one occasion. I also sell them at any events I do.

Susan, you are right that distributors don't want to deal with Createspace, but they will deal with the author, because when you buy your ISBNs you become a publisher. Plus, if you can't find a local publisher you can buy the books at the author's copy price from Createspace but they have to be shipped from the US, and the shipping charges are comparable to postage here. If you order in amounts of over 50 books and take the 30 day shipping option I think it costs round about 60p per book for shipping.

Hope these comments answer all your questions.
Chris Longmuir said…
Oops, Susan, when I commented on finding a local publisher, of course I meant printer.
Dennis Hamley said…
Susan, if you want high quality perfect-bound paperbacks at reasonable price by a printer anxious to do good stuff professionally, try Berforts Information Press. They've done brilliantly for me. Julia recommended them and she was dead right.

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