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Monday, February 14, 2011

Beyond the pilot test:: Upfront costs

When I started this blog series last week, it seemed to catch the attention of people who never noticed me before. This is a good thing. One of the people who noticed was Paul Biba, whose website is the go-to place for information on the e-book industry. He asked permission to reprint my first entry in this series, which I granted. Apparently, plenty of people get their news from Teleread, because a quick self-google showed me that a number of other sites have picked up the blog. In other words, I'm now syndicated.

Paul reprinted some of my other articles during the week then, on Friday, he included my blog as an Editor's Pick of the Week, for which I'm ever grateful. Paul and his readers like facts, figures, dollars, and cents. So do I...hence, today's column.

I'm an engineer, so I considered the first few months of my e-book enterprise to be a pilot test. I created the e-books and made them available for sale, presuming I was working on a small scale. I kept the production costs minimal, doing the book design and cover design myself. Then I dropped into data gathering mode, doing a little promotion but spending more of my time watching how other people promoted, before I invested large quantities of time and money in things that didn't work.

Last month, I decided the pilot test had been successful. I'd sold some books and learned a great deal. It was time to invest more time and money. I hired a professional book designer to do a new layout for my frontlist title, Wounded Earth. (I used Hitch at . She does fabulous work and so does her subcontractor, Rickhardt Capodimente. They both get my highest recommendation.) This cost me the princely sum of $100. I had made it back within two weeks, just in time to drop some change on advertising. (Which I'll be reporting on later.)

As for the $300 print book design, I make $2.04 per full-price copy of Wounded Earth, so 50 copies will pay for the redesign. I don't expect to ever have to do a full redesign again, so that seems like a reasonable payoff period.

About this time, it occurred to me that, as an author with a track record of six paper books, I have a following that includes a certain percentage of people who are just not into e-books. When Amazon's CreateSpace offers the opportunity to make a book available in print for very little upfront cost, taking their payment as a cut of sales instead, it just makes very little sense for me not to publish a print version of Wounded Earth. So I did.

CreateSpace's site claims to have a user-friendly template to help you lay out your own book's interior. I found it impossible to use, so I got back in touch with Hitch. I also asked her if Booknook could design a cover for me, because I just wasn't sure that my homemade graphics would stand up to being printed on a book cover measuring 5.5x8.5. I also had no idea how to calculate the width of the book's spine or how to insert the text on the back cover or...well, I needed professional help. For $300, I got a professionally designed book and a professionally designed cover. I think this is an eminently fair price.

I can also use the new cover for the ebook edition. Bonus! It poses an accounting difficulty, though, in terms of how to look at the costs on this blog. Should I charge some of the $300 book design to the ebook? Or should I set a goal of paying off the print book design through sales of print books only? I decided to go with the second option and make the print book pay for all of its own design. The print book should be available for sale within a few weeks, and the new e-book cover will be visible on all the internet sales portals within days.

I'll make varying degrees of royalties from the print book, depending on where they're sold, but let's presume most of them will be sold on Amazon. I'll make $4.55 on each book, so it'll take 66 books to pay off the redesign. I spent a few bucks with CreateSpace on things like an ISBN and expanded distribution. Rather than chase every last one of those pennies, let's just say that selling 75 books will put the print book in the black. I've got two bookselling events scheduled this month. If the books arrive in time, I can knock out a big chunk of those seventy-five books. And after I alert my e-newsletter subscribers and other interested parties, I may be nearly there. We shall see.

Because everybody likes pictures, I thought I'd close by posting the new cover. I think it's just gorgeous. What do you people think?

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