Last July, I started republishing ebook versions of my out of print short stories. I still have fifty-nine to go, but sold Silence, and added a book to my deadline plate. Since I publish the short stories, I am unlikely to seriously tick me off if I let things slide.
I promised I would have a print version of Memory of Stone and Other Stories for my print readers. I’m grateful for the many years of support print readers have given me. This doesn’t mean that I’m less grateful for the support ebook readers give me now, but I started writing and publishing in a time when the only medium was print, and many of you have been with me since I started. Also: I have an iPad, but I still prefer reading physical books. I have two different special editions of the Lord of the Rings. I am a not-so-closet bibliophile. If I had started out reading on-line and on-screen, it might be different: I didn’t. I’m a technophile, but I’m a child of the analog age.
Lulu.com is a print-on-demand service, so the book looks, physically, like a print-on-demand book, and it’s a trade paperback. Lulu has a distribution agreement with Ingram, which means the book will propagate out to on-line retailers like Amazon.com or B&N.com within “six to eight weeks”.
And now, I want to talk a bit about the process. Many authors who have chosen to self-publish avoid offering print editions of their books. As a print reader, I didn’t completely understand why; having now completed one book, I do. I want to be clear that I don’t resent the work in this case, and I am happy with the finished book – but I understand why many authors don’t choose the print option.
One of the considerations in creating a book that looked like a book (to me) was not the money I could make from it. Because for the most part, there is no money in it. I will make money from each sale of the print version – but I doubt I’ll make enough to cover the costs of producing the book. In this case, the ebook sales are paying for the print version.
Let me explain.
Because I love physical books and because I read them a lot, and because I work in a bookstore, I expect certain things from the printed page. I spent several days worth of hours wrestling with MS Word, and I got more and more frustrated and felt more and more incompetent. Struggling with MS Word – for me – did not produce the results of a similar learning curve for epubs.
When my frustration had reached epic proportions, my long-suffering husband suggested that if it was important enough to me, I hire someone to typeset the book. I told him what I thought it would cost, and he pointed out that I had made that much from the sales of the short stories as ebooks. Since work in the household is not expected to be entirely revenue neutral, I considered this unfair – to the household.
But: ulcers. Despair. Various shredded printouts. And: super-stressed Michelle. >.>
I gave up on typesetting the book myself because I am not a professional typesetter and anything I did looked bad to me. I hired a typesetter. Typesetters charge by the page. It’s not a matter of simply dumping the contents of a word processing file into InDesign; they have to look at each page and at the top and bottom lines of each page for widows, orphans, hyphenation, every time the text is reflowed. They add small design elements (the title page, the front page, subtitle pages, scene breaks). If I ask to increase the font size, they have to go through the book in the same way, because the text falls differently on the page.
It’s hard to get an ebook wrong. I mean, it’s not hard to have errors, typos, etc., but it’s hard to get it wrong in terms of formatting and flow. There’s not as much choice in layout, etc.
It’s much easier to get a print book wrong. I imagine, in twenty years, it will be just as hard to do a professional job with an ebook. I’m not a typesetter, and have no visual artistic sensibility at all; I’m not a graphic designer. But elements of both skill sets are required for a print book. Or required for a book that looks – to my possibly jaundiced bookstore eye – as if it’s professional.
If you have ever wondered why authors who epublish don’t also offer print-on-demand options, this is pretty much why. It’s more work, and often that work can’t be done by the author in question; they have to hire – and therefore incur the expense of paying – someone else.
This isn’t meant as a complaint; it’s just a statement of fact. When a writer says “it is not worth my time” they mean that literally. I had the resources to afford to do a book that did not make me whimper when I attempted to read the printed page, because I have readers who were very supportive of the ebooks when they were published. Not all authors start out with my wonderful readers.
Covers for print-on-demand cost more than covers for ebooks (the designers also have to design a back cover and a spine for print-on-demand). In my case, the typsetting was 2.00 a printed page, and the cover, 300.00 for both print and ebook. I’m unlikely to sell enough print books to cover the costs of a print version. The ebook sales support the print-on-demand costs.
The print version therefore takes more time, costs more money, and brings in a lot less than an ebook version. If authors are self-publishing, it makes financial sense to concentrate on the ebooks.
Print readers often expect to go into bookstores to find books. If mine – self-published – can’t be found, they don’t buy it. Ebook readers expect to go to Amazon or B&N or Smashwords or iTunes from the comfort of their home, where my book – side-by-side with traditionally offered books – can be found easily.
This is the big advantage of going with print publishers if you want a printed book: they have a distribution system in place. They have sales reps and warehouses and shipping contracts; they can get print books into stores and grocery stores and department stores, depending. Their cost to print a mass market might be 1.00; my cost to print the trade paperback is closer to 11.00. So they have economies of scale, distribution, etc., as a way of recouping the initial investment.
These are things I can’t achieve on my own. I can possibly approach a few specialty stores and ask if they would like to carry copies – but that then leads into the question of returns, no returns, etc., etc. Publishers have this down to an arcane art.
Publishers will also have to typeset, to hire graphic designers and artists for covers, and to edit, copy-edit, proof-read. These parts of the process are parts that self-publishers are now responsible for.
If one is doing only epubs – or at least if I am – the editorial costs remain the same. The graphic designers & typesetters, however, disappear.
I looked at a bunch of different print-on-demand services, and decided I would try Lulu.com because other writers I know had used it for a variety of things (often home-done ARCs).
And then, of course, there was a problem with the formatting, a problem with the very first choices I made in how the book would be offered (so I had to delete my first attempt after several iterations and start from the beginning) and a problem with the barcode, which I didn’t realize I was responsible for, and, and, and. First time is often the most fraught.
It’s a trade paperback; it’s 300 pages long. The price is set at 17.50, because if it’s not, there’s no margin for companies like Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. They won’t carry it in-store (B&N; Amazon has no store front), but you should be able to order the book from them on-line in the next six to eight weeks. Six to eight weeks is the propagation time from Lulu to whichever company they use for Ingram fulfillment (I’m assuming it’s Lightning Source, but I could be wrong).
The Lulu.com link is here. If you order the book from Lulu, it will be cheaper, because there’s no retailer margin to worry about. But they charge shipping. I’m not sure if Amazon, etc., will charge shipping or allow the book to be ordered in the “ship for free” groupings.
ETA: Walter, in the comments thread, points out that I haven’t mentioned which stories are in the actual collection. This was not intentional on my part, and he’s absolutely right: that information should be somewhere other than just the table of contents.
The book contains the six published short pieces that take place in the universe of the West novels: Echoes, Huntbrother, Warlord, The Weapon, The Black Ospreys and Memory of Stone. They’re stories numbered 1 – 6 in the ebooks I self-published in 2011.