Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Publishing 101 - Various Print Options

Do you need an agent? Should you self-publish? Are small presses worth pursuing? There are a ton of options for authors these days and I thought I would outline some various thoughts on the subject in today's post.

This is looked on by most authors as the brass ring they are all reaching for. It is a very difficult achievement to realize. Most large publishers do not accept unsolicited works so it almost always requires obtaining an agent first. It is not uncommon to receive multiple rejections from agents then another pile of rejections as they submit to publishers. The process is extremely long. Probably a minimum of 3 years from book completion to printing and 5 years is not out of the question. The author will have little or no say in issues such as book title, cover design, price, distribution methods, or formats produced. On the positive side it will come with an advance (typically $5,000 - $12,000 for a first time author) and the likelihood of receiving attention by reviewers and bookstore shelf space. The downside is large publishers are driven by numbers and while they can produce “buy-in” (putting books on shelves) if there is not “sell through” these books come back to the publisher. If the author does not “earn out” the advance in what will seem like an extremely short time frame they may be quick to remainder (sell the bulk of books “by the pound”) to discount outlets and drop the author. This can mean a very short lived success. But if the book is good, and catches on, then it will probably produce the largest amounts sold and highest income for the author.

Today there are literally thousands of indies so much in fact that they have their own trade associations, awards, and the like. They are much easier for an author to get their foot in the door and are more willing to take on the risk of a new author. They accept unsolicited works (i.e. you don’t have to have an agent). While they can obtain reviews, it will be harder for them (Reviewers typically only critique 1-2% of the books submitted). They may be more willing to listen to authors in the areas of title and cover design, but still will remain ultimate deciding power over these and all marketing activities. They will generally have a “smaller press run” in the neighborhood of 2,000 to 5,000 books and utilize a wholesale distributor which will catalog and sell their titles along with a number of other independent publishers to bookstores. In most cases books will be “available” for order from any bookstore but only a few will actually carry them on their shelves and will probably only try 1 – 2 books. The good news is they have much longer time lines then large publishers and are willing to stick with an author while he grows a following. Success will be highly dependent on the author promoting his own book through time and energy but the publisher will bear the financial burden or copy edit, cover design, layout, and printing.

Here I am speaking of the typical “self-publishing” mainstays such as iUniverse, LuLu, BookSurge, Xliblis, and OutskirtPress. Because of the negative connotations of the term “vanity press” many market themselves as “subsidized publishers”, “supported self-publishers” etc. Here there is no editorial decision made on the “worth of a book” before producing, the author is paying to have their book produced. In almost all cases these companies utilize POD* (print on demand) technology.

They do offer services that most authors would be hard pressed to do on their own such as cover design and book layout (but at a pretty steep markup). In addition, they offer a wide range of services such as copy editing, and marketing assistance but these are ALWAYS overpriced. I highly recommend an author that uses these organizations look elsewhere for these services. For instance copy editing from iUniverse runs $0.022 per word ($2,200 for a typical sized novel) where a freelance editor would charge $350 - $800 for the same service.

As I mentioned these organizations utilize POD technology and once again your books will be available “for order” from a bookstore or on-line from companies such as Amazon when using them. However you will have virtually no success with reviewers (who generally won’t even look at a book with an ISBN from one of these organizations) and since there is no warehousing, bookstores will not carry them on the shelves since they loose the “return policy” aspect that their business is based on.

Now comes the “worst” part of using these organizations. While the author pays all the fees to produce the book they still receive only a royalty on sales!! This makes no financial sense for the author (although a great model for the publisher). What the author is receiving here is convenience. It is analogous to going to the grocery store and buying a shish-ka-bob in the meet section fully assembled. If you were to buy the meet, skewers, and vegetables separately and make them yourself you would save a bunch of money.

I personally do not recommend this method of publishing to anyone except those who have huge amounts of disposable income. There are so many less expensive ways of going about this that puts a higher percentage of the sale into the author’s pocket.

This is a fairly new business model. Many small independents that are wishing to “hedge their bets” on an author may utilize the same POD technology to reduce their initial investment costs. Once again there is no charge to the author, but there is also not an original press run. The publisher will provide editing, cover design, and layout services. This can result in a higher “per book” cost which may make the publisher price the book “above the market”. As a business person I can see the value in this model to both the publisher and the author. There are some downside in the areas of bookstore stocking – but given that even independents that print books have obstacles in this area I don’t think it is significant enough to make a huge impact on the overall success of the book. The biggest problem I have with this model is the publisher is not really doing much more than the author could do on their own. The only difference is they are “fronting” the money to produce the book in return for a bigger percentage of the profit.

This is actually an extremely attractive model for the person who is not afraid of rolling up their sleeves. It benefits from a relatively small “start up cost” and is definitely more financially lucrative than using the subsidized vanity presses. With this model the author has 100% control of everything: cover price, cover design, layout, distribution channels and the like. For exactly the same investment they would use for a POD vanity press they can receive 100% of the profits instead of a small royalty. If you have any graphic design experience you definitely should take this route as you will have virtually no start-up cost. If you don’t have these skills you can hire a free lancer do your design for $500 - $1000. NOTE: Art school students is a great resource to get good quality design at reasonable prices or use Craig’s list. You will want the cover done in something like Photoshop and should be given to you as a CMYK .tiff file at 300 dpi (at full size). The interior should be laid out in either Qurak Xpress or Adobe InDesign programs.

NOTE: Whether you are using the vanity or self-publishing I highly recommend hiring a professional editor to “polish the book”. Put an ad in Craig’s list and send a sample chapter to a number of the people who respond…you can get a good editor to do a novel sized book for between $350 - $1000). If you are extremely good at self-editing you can of course skip this cost.

Once you have a book in “print ready format” all you need is printing and distribution. This is remarkably easy you will receive the same quality as the vanity POD’s (because you will use the same companies). I suggest you setup both a CreateSpace account and a LightningSource account and sent the same print ready files to both of them. I could write a whole post on why you need to use two but to boil it down …. Lightning Source will get you distribution into bookstores (through Ingram typically 55% discount) and CreateSpace will get you distribution into Amazon (typically 40% discount).

Because it is POD you have a very small start-up cost ($75 for LightningSource and $40 for Amazon). The price of your books is directly related to number of pages (.85 + .012(pages)) for create space and .90 + .013(pages) for Lightning Source). As an example let’s assume you have a 300 page book selling for $15.00. The amount you would receive would be:

  • $10.55 for books sold directly by author
  • $4.55 for books sold on Amazon
  • $1.95 for books sold to the bookstore

The last choice which will potentially place the largest amount of money in the pocket of the author is true self publishing. In this option they basically become a small press. Only an author that really feels confident in their books success will want to go this route. But for instance it could be a good choice for an author that has already established a following through previously published works. The advantage of this over the POD route is a lower cost per book rate. But the downside is a higher up-front cost. I would suggest an initial run of 1,500 to 2,000 books and again for a 300 page novel this could result in unit prices of $2.00 to $2.30 a book. So again with a $15.00 list price the money to the author would be:

  • $13.00 for books sold directly by author
  • $4.75 for books sold to Amazon
  • $4.00 for books sold through the bookstores

There are many factors to consider when making your choice such as: patience, tolerance to rejection, need for control, desire for external validation, tolerance for risk, whether you are a self-starter or not and ultimately whether you want to just have a book printed for yourself and family or a widespread distribution plays more into the decision making process.

If an author places a high value on the opinions of others then they should definitely avoid any form of self or subsidized publishing. These books will always be thought of as “not making the grade” by many regardless of the number of units sold. There will always be a stigma that if the book was truly “good” then it would have been produced via a traditional publisher.

If the author values control then self-publishing is definitely the right choice for them. If they were a new author I would suggest self print on demand as the cost of full self-publishing makes it quite a gamble. If they already had a few books published I think going true self publishing is worth it as the higher per book profit is worth the up-front investment.

For myself, I would never use a vanity POD – as I think it is a bad call on straight business decision principals. But they do offer a tremendous convenience factor and many people are willing to pay exorbitant prices to have less that they have to do personally.

I will say for myself (in regards to my husband’s books) we have run the whole gambit. I started off by getting an agent and pursuing the large publisher. When we still were without a contract after 15 months I decided to submit to some smaller presses while I investigated self-publishing. I got to the state of actually printing up 300 “review copy” books when a small press offered a contract and we have now produced his first two books (The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha) through them.

*POD - many confuse this as a publishing format which it is not - it really is just a technology. With POD trade paperbacks are produced literally one at a time. This eliminates large press runs and warehousing of books altogether. When a purchase is made a book is printed and shipped usually within 24 – 48 hours of order. There are many disadvantages with using POD (will cover in more detail in a future post) but paramount is that they are usually not returnable and bookstores won't carry POD titles. Also some reviewers will not consider POD works (or self-published works) as they see these as "inferior products" because they did not have to go through the rigors of a third-party validation.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Show me the money – A bit about Royalties

Many people are confused by just how much an author can expect for each book they sell. The reality is “not too much”. And of course every contract is a bit different. I thought I would highlight a few aspects about royalties in today’s post.

The reason I bring up advances is you will not receive any royalties until you “earn out” your advance. An advance is exactly that “an advance” against future royalties. So if your contract has a $5,000 advance and you earn approximately $1.00 per book then you will receive no royalties until your 5,001st book is sold. Beware of multiple book contracts that do “joint”

So what happens if you only sell 2,000 books? Well you get no royalties but you also don’t have to give back $3,000 worth of the advance. That being said, an author that does not earn out his/her advance is likely not going to be offered a second book deal. Sometimes it is worth having a smaller advance as you have a short bar to hit.

Be wary of multiple book deals that specify the royalties as “joint”. For instance a 3-book deal with a $15,000 joint advance is significantly weaker than a 3-book deal with a $5,000 advance for each book. It may sound better because you get more money “right away” but think about the case where your first book passes the $5,000 threshold. It would start earning royalties at this point where in the “joint advance” situation you would have to sell 3 times the number of books before you get the first royalty check.

Usually your royalty is based on either net sales or book list price. NEVER sign a contract that bases a royalty on profit. Any company who writes a contract in such a manner probably has a number of ways to account for all kinds of expenses such that the book does not make a profit and hence they owe no royalty.

Royalties on list price are the easiest to calculate and typically run about 10%. So a $12.00 book will yield the author $1.20 for each book sold regardless of where it is sold or how much it sells for (For instance Amazon may discount it by 10 – 15% but that does not matter the “amount off” comes out of Amazon’s share not the authors).

Royalties based on net sales are usually higher and will vary depending on where the book is bought from. A typical royalty on net sales would be 25% and since most sales will be made by bookstores buying through the wholesale chain the royalty works out to the same as a 10% list price. But in the rare cases where the book is bought directly from the publisher, or from the wholesaler, or certain online venues it may be higher. For instance books sold by publisher would yield a $3.00 royalty, those sold by the wholesaler $1.80, Since bookstores pay typically 60% of list to the wholesaler the royalty on these would be $1.20.

Check very carefully what the royalty is based on. A contract that is written as 10% net sales is actually a very low percentage.

If you have an agent then you will usually have a 10% to 15% agent fee. So your $1.20 royalty will actually put $1.08 - $1.02 in your pocket while the agent gets $0.12 to $0.18.

I have never seen a contract where books sold by the author receive a royalty. What happens in this case is you buy your books at an author’s discount (typically 50% but can be as low as 25%) and the money you make is the difference between the price you sell an the price you bought the book for.

Many contracts will have different royalties for different formats. For instance mass market paperbacks typically only have a 6% - 7% of list price so for a $6.99 paperback the author gets $0.42 - $0.50). Royalties may be different for trade paperback verses hard cover. Royalties on e-books are typically very high, for instance 50% since the publisher has significantly reduced production costs on these formats.

It is also common to have different royalties based on quantities sold. For instance you could receive 10% List on the first 5,000, 12% on the next 5,000, and 13% for anything over 10,000 books sold.

This is another aspect that will be spelled out in the contract but the most common is quarterly. There is usually some amount of time between the end of the quarter and when the check comes (typically 30 – 45 days) while they tally up the sales and write the checks. Some publishers will pay twice a year but this is not standard. I have yet to see a contract that pays monthly as the accounting overhead would be pretty high.

I have yet to see a contract where the publisher lists the anticipated list price of the book in the contract so the reality is you are signing a contract with no clear idea what your actual payments will be. While they may not put it in writing you may wish to discuss with them “their plans” (not contractually binding of course) for production and suggested list price. I highly recommend you look at other books they carry and how they do most of their selling (online, through bookstores, through Amazon etc) and find “comparable” books (similar length and genre) to get a “ball park” so you can at least get a feel for your anticipated royalty.

If the publisher generally sells for a high price is that good for me? Absolutely not! On the surface of things you might think – ya I’ll make twice as much royalty on a book selling for $24 rather than $12. But ultimately it is the buyer (the invisible hand of the market) that determines the value of the book. A highly overpriced book will not sell well (or at all). Sales are inversely proportional to price. So you might only sell 200 books at $24.00 where you could sell 2,000 books at $12.00.

In fact this brings us to a subject that is the worst atrocity in the publishing business - PublishAmerica. (I’ll do a whole post on them at some time). They claim to be a “traditional printer” and in some respects they are in so far as they don’t ask the author any up-front money to get the book in print. But…they place their list price WAY beyond what the market will bear. A typical example is a 156 page paperback for $24.95. This book will NEVER sell to anyone except the author’s friends and families and at that price they only have to sell a few to make up the costs they put into the book for cover design and layout. Where they actually make their money is authors who buy copies from them to resell on their own (at a dismal author discount – I think 35% off). This means that if the author buys 100 books they get $1,746.50 which is more than most vanity press books would charge. The author ends up selling the books “at cost” so say $17.50 a book which is at least “fairly reasonable” and they make nothing. I even know some PublishAmerica authors that sell their books at a loss – For instance $15.00 while paying $17.47 to buy them just to get a “following” for a second book published through someone else.

So given what we have learned here, and assuming a book is sold through a bookstore who uses a wholesaler (most common) and the author has a agent with a10% commission, let’s examine where the money goes for a $12.00 book:

  • $4.80 – Bookstore (40% of list – buys book at 60% discount)
  • $2.40 – Wholesaler (20% of list – diff between 40% and 60%)
  • $3.60 – Publisher (30% of list – pays wholesaler and author)
  • $0.12 – Agent (10% of author’s 10%)
  • $1.08 – Author (90% of author’s 10%)

Of course the book store, or online retailer may receive less if they decide to put the book on sale etc. It is common for Amazon to discount books 10 – 20% do the consumer would get a bit of that money back in their pocket.

I hope this helps explain royalties at a very high level. If you have any questions please feel free to add comments below.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Marketing #1: Author Websites

In today's post I thought I would cover your website. I've already blogged on the #2 Marketing tool -- bookmarks so today I thought I should do #1 - Websites.

I was giving a seminar a few months back and one of the authors in the audience said ... you don't really need a website you needs a web presence. I'm afraid I'm going to have to respectfully disagree. Every author needs a website. Period.

The cost of websites is minimal. There are generally two aspects to the cost

  • Registering a URL (required) - the name of your site
  • Hosting (optional)
I use and to register a name it is $9.99 a year. And with that you can get free hosting. The hosting costs $4.74 for 12 months ($56.88 for the year). The only difference between free hosting and paying the $57 is that you will have a few adds at the top of your screen when you have a free account.

Here is an example of a website with ads (i.e. free hosting). Everything above the dark bar is put on automatically by GoDaddy. If you pay the $57/year that disappears. I personally think it is worth that small fee to be free of ads.

I personally recommend that you pick a URL based on your name not your book's name. Even if you have only one book now you might have more books in the future. If you really want to you can buy 2 URL's (your one for you and one for your book). I wouldn't recommend doing up separate pages for both - just have one website and "redirect" to the other. That way you have only one site to pay hosting on and only one site to maintain. To do the redirection make a file called .htaccess and place a line like the following in it:
Redirect /path-of-file-to-be-redirected URL-of-page-to-go-to
So if your names is Johnathan Strange the best URL I would recommend is Unfortunately there are several authors with Michael's name so we were not able to get that URL because it was already taken - we opted for When picking your URL remember that only letters, numbers, and hyphens are allowed.

In general I recommend you have pages for at least the following:
  • Books
  • Reviews
  • News
  • Author Bio
  • Contact

Above is a portion of the books page for Michael's website. The books page should have the following:

  • The cover of the book
  • Back of the book "blurb"
  • Reviews or testimonials
  • A link to buy the book (either direct from you or Amazon)
  • A sample chapter
  • Book Trailer (optional)
  • Your ISBN #'s

Of the list above - the most important (IMO) are your sample chapter, the "buy link" and your ISBN's. Having a place where people can "try before they buy" is important. When you meet a "resistant" buyer telling them to go read a sample chapter on-line is a great way to convert them to a sale. The reason you want your ISBN listed prominently is that only the most successful authors have their books sitting on the bookstore shelves. For most they will have to be special ordered and coming in armed with the ISBN will make that process easy.

Reviews sell...period. One of the things you need to do as an author is encourage those you talk to that enjoy your book to post reviews on-line. Then you need to repeat these testimonials on your website. After about 3 months after release Michael's site had 49 reviews (24 from Amazon, 19 from GoodReads, 6 from Shelfari). I made a table on the review page with the date of the review, its source (including a link so people could go to it) what the ranking was (5 star, 4 star etc) and either all or some of the posting. If the person made a long post - I took the "best paragraph" and posted a link to it so they could read the whole thing if they wanted.

This is an important page to show how active you are. If you are not currently doing press releases....start it is a way to generate some 'buzz' about your book and there are a lot of free sites to post your press releases to (again more in another post). Here use the table format like for reviews and list things such as:

  • Awards you were nominated for or won
  • Author interviews you did (with links to then of course)
  • Book Bloggers who reviewed your book (with links of course)
  • Upcoming Events - including Conventions, book clubs, and book signings
  • Recent News - A summary of all your press releases - did you expand your website, post a free chapter online, make a trailer, go to a conference - these are all things to highlight in your news area.
  • Previous Events - Especially important if you don't have any recent book events - this way people can see where you have been in the past and it helps to establish "legitimacy" to your book.
One thing to note - if you use BookTours (Again more on this in the future) - you can put a "widget" on your news page that will automatically list any book signings you have entered on that site. I have one running along the left side of Michael's News Page.

Always leave a way for readers, reviewers, or others to contact you. This can be as simple as listing your e-mail address or having a form where people can sign in and leave their information and notes. Encourage people to tell you how they liked (or didn't like) your book, or post typos etc. If filling out a form - make sure you store their email address and send them a personal thank you afterwards.

So that's about it for Websites - I encourage you to go out and look at Michael's Site to see how I did his - be sure to "steal" as necessary. I'll talk more in another post about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) but this should be a good amount to get you started.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Intro to Direct Selling

Every author should offer the ability for the readers to buy directly from them (unless your publisher strictly forbids it). If not self published make sure this is fine with your publisher but I've yet to hear of one that does not allow and all encourage this practice. Most publishers sell books to the authors at a discount with the expectation that they will sell them direct.

  • A good supply of your books (100 - 300)
  • A way to accept credit cards (PayPal or Google Payments)
  • A "buy now button"
  • A promotional offer
  • Shipping material (see post)
  • Sales Tax
If you are published through someone else. The "author discount" varies greatly from publisher to publisher. I think iUniverse has a 35% discount, Michael's publisher offers 50% discount and pays for the shipping. When signing a contract you should consider carefully what "your cost" to purchase one of your own books should be. Instance, Publish America is well known for high list prices and low author's discounts making it nearly impossible for an author to sell their own books directly (Publish America is a whole topic on itself that I will blog on at some point.

NOTE: if you are published by someone like iUniverse you might still be able to print yourself from what I can see their contract is "non exclusive" so if you can get a print ready .pdf from them no reason you can't have 100 - 300 books printed independent from them - or at least that what it looks like to me - I don't know I would never use one of these firms (we'll discuss that more in the future too).

If you are self-published and using CreateSpace and/or LightningSource to get your books into the distribution chain POD (print on demand) DO NOT buy your "direct sales copies from them. They are setup to do books one at a time and this model by its vary nature leads to a higher cost per book. You already have a digital file - all you need is a bunch of books printed. I highly recommend Apex Book Printing. Let's do a comparison. Let's say you have a 320 page book and you want 100 to sell directly (trust me you can sell this much EASILY). The choices are:
  • LightningSource = .90 + .013(320) = $5.06
  • CreateSpace = .85 + .012(320) = $4.69
  • Apex (from a recent quote) $411.36/100 = $4.11
You will save $0.95 - 0.58 on each book - enough to pay for credit card processing. If you increase the order to 300 (my recommendation) it gets even better:
  • LightningSource = .90 + .013(320) = $5.06
  • CreateSpace = .85 + .012(320) = $4.69
  • Apex (from a recent quote) $1,000.97/300 = $3.33
  • McNaughton & Gunn (from a recent quote ($4,356.33/2,000) = $2.18
A savings of $2.23 to $1.36 per book - that is much more than most royalty payments!!

Many people are intimidated by the complexities of setting up an "online store". There are many choices out there and the fees and costs seem intimidating. If you have investigated an "online store" you are over complicating things. I'll make this real easy on you...You don't need an online store - you need a "buy now button". These are as simple to implement as falling off a log. Don't be intimidated. Both PayPal and Google Payments offer "the little guys" access to credit card processing without all the hassles of setting up a merchant account. I've used both and I'm going to focus on PayPal only because it is what I currently use and am most familiar with.

Again if you had a "on-line store" there are all kinds of monthly fees and fees for getting a merchant account and so on. But if you use PayPal there is $0 setup and $0 monthly fees. This is HUGE! Yes their "per transaction fee" is a bit high - but if is more than worth it to have a way for people to buy right away. They don't need to have a PayPal account - they can use any credit card to buy from you.

Okay so what are the transaction fees? If you sell less than $3,000 a month (a pretty safe bet) the fees are $0.30 + 2.9%. So if you sell your book for $15.00 you need to give PayPal $0.74. Not too bad - and trust me it is worth it - you WILL see the difference if you offer this option.

When you use the PayPaloption they have a really nice "merchant center" - you come in each morning see your orders and can print shipping labels right from there. It makes it easy to address your orders and you will can add tracking for $.018 and it does MEDIA MAIL labels - again worth the price of admission right there.

There is a way to use PayPal and have no transactions - basically both parties need to have a PayPal account and you transfer money between them -but you can't do that automatically like you can with the other method and it means a number of emails going back and forth between you and your buyer you'll waste more time than the $0.74 it is much more convenient to just check your PayPal account in the morning and find 3 - 10 orders just sitting there waiting for you to process.

Again I'll do a full step by step on this in a future post - but it really is very simple. You go into your PayPal account. Specify some simple settings like the price of the book, various options (signed/unsigned) additional fields for users to tell you more - like if you want to have it signed to someone in particular etc. This gives you a piece of .html code - you just copy and paste it into your site - and presto - people can buy from you immediately with any credit card and you'll get an email and have an order waiting for you to process in PayPal. See I told you it was easy!

People always like "getting a deal" and a special offer will bring in more sales then selling list price. The good news is that since you are selling direct you have much more margin to play with and still make a good profit. Plus you have something to offer them that they can't get anywhere else - your signature!

Two choices
Usually I recommend that you offer either free shipping or 20% off the cover price. Either one will work out well for you. If you charge shipping make sure it is not too high. I suggest $3.00 for standard shipping and $5.00 for express. Again see this post for full details on shipping costs.

Signed copies
By default you should "sweeten" your offer with a signed copy. This costs you nothing and adds significant value to the purchase. Some people have asked if they should charge more for a signed copy - I say no. It sends the wrong impression, after all most people here are not household names and they want to create a relationship with their customers. Asking for an extra $1.00 or so just makes you look cheap and "self-important". Take the high road and give it for free.

That being should also offer the ability not to sign. Some people are "funny" about having stuff in their books so give them the option either way. Also add a field (easy with PayPal button) where they can specify "who" to make it out to so they can buy a signed copy for their friends and family - it makes a great gift.

This is covered pretty thoroughly in this post. The bottom line is budget $0.27 for shipping materials.

You only have to pay sales tax when people from your state buy your books - out of state sales do not have sales tax. Again PayPal will do this automatically for you (i.e. add it to the order and charge the customer) you just pass this money directly to your states revenue department so there is no effect on the overall profitability - it is just a "pass through" expense.

Okay let's take some examples. I'll start with Michael's book which has a 50% author discount and sells for $11.99. When a copy is sold Michael receives a royalty of 25% of the net price paid to the publisher. Since most distribution chains have a 40 - 55% discount this means he gets a royalty of $1.80 to $1.34. (Another common royalty model is 10% of list price or $1.20)

20% discount option + $3.00 shipping
In this option the customer pays $9.60 + $3.00 = $12.60 - just a tad higher then getting in the bookstore but it is signed. Michael's costs would be:
  • $6.00 for book (paid to publisher)
  • $0.67 for Credit Card Processing
  • $2.58 for Media Mail
  • $0.18 for Confirmation tracking
  • $0.27 for shipping materials
His profit is $12.60 - $9.70 = $2.90 which is 160% - 220% more than his royalty.

Free shipping option
In this option the customer pays $11.99 - exactly what they would pay if they went to the bookstore and a little less than if they did Amazon and had to pay the $3.99 for shipping. The credit card charges change from $0.67 to $0.65 all else remains the same. His profit is $11.99 - $9.68 = $2.31 which is 128% - 172% more than his royalty.

Self published options
If we would have gone the "self publishing" route the equation gets even better. The price per book goes down from $6.00 to $3.33 so the 20% discount option would have a profit of $5.57 and the free shopping $4.98 which is potentially more than four times the royalty.

Selling direct
When selling direct - for instance to friends, co-workers, people at book clubs, people at book fairs the equation gets even better because you usually take cash and don't have the shipping fees etc. I usually recommend a 20% discount when selling direct. For Michael's book I make it an even $10.00 (when selling in state I make it $9.52 so with tax it comes to an even $10.00) this means he pockets $3.52 for each book he sells and would have pocketed $6.19 if self published.

Direct selling is the most profitable way for an author to get money in his pocket he receives much more than sales done through bookstores and Amazon where his royalty is a small in comparison. With PayPal there is no setup fees or monthly fees and there is more than enough profit to account for their transaction fees. It is simple to setup and easy to process the sales - simply click to print a label, stick it in a bag, and drop it in a mailbox. If you are not direct mail selling make sure to get this on your to do list right away.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Packaging - Mailers

Since I covered the various mailing options in a recent post I thought I would finish out the topic with recommendations about "what" to ship your books in. Generally you have the following choices:
  • Box
  • Rigid Mailer
  • Padded Mailers
  • Bubble Wrap Mailers

There are plenty of expensive ways to get these materials - going to the office supply store is one that I don't recommend. The best thing to do is buy them from a packaging wholesaler. I did a bit of research and I recommend ULINE they are a large supplier with a wide selection and had the best prices I could find.

When considering a mailing material - to me the #1 concern should be weight. You don't want to artificially increase the cost of your book because you have crossed the line to a new weight category. If you have a book that ways about 1 lb. This might not be so big of a concern because all of the options will keep you under 2 lb (next level) but if you are at 1 lb 12 oz then you are really going to care.

Making sure your book arrives in good condition is also a consideration. You want a mailer that will protect it from water...what if it sits outside on a step in the rain before the person gets it? Also protection of the "corners" is a concern you don't want them bent or crushed etc.

In general any cost you incur is either passed on to the consumer or taken from your profit. The shipping material therefore should be as economical as possible it's just not a thing worth spending a lot on this and artificially increase your price or decrease your profit. The best way to control this cost is "buy in bulk" and use free options from the USPS. More on this in a minute.

I would not recommend Boxes. Their problems:

  • Hard to get one that fits the right height of your book
  • Expensive (relative to other options)
  • Difficult to store
  • Takes time to "assemble"
  • Not self-sealing
  • Not waterproof
  • Heaviest option

ULINE does offer a nice "variable height folding box that accommodates 1/2", 1", 1 1/2", 2" but at $0.53 each they are costly

With boxes eliminated mailers are your next choice. The biggest issue with them is determining the "right" size. ULINE does a really good job listing both interior and exterior sizes. I recommend you choose a few options and ask for "samples" they will gladly mail these at no charge . Find the one where you book fits snugly but not too tight (don't want to damage the book getting it in or out then buy them by the case (Usually 50 or 100 per).

I personally like "bubble wrap mailers" - they are light, inexpensive and provide good protection both on edges and weather. I did here from one customer that one of his corners was a bit damaged but that may have been a fluke - I might do some "rigid mailers" in the future. I don't recommend the "padded" I don't think there is enough protection and I don't trusts them against weather.

The following chart shows the various costs for mailers that fit my husband's book "The Crown Conspiracy" well. His is a 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" book with about 3/4" of a spine. I use Hefty #S-996 mailers which are 7 1/4" x 12" outside dimension.

TypePart # per Case Cost per case Unit cost
Brown Bubble wrapS-9986 100$26$0.26
White Bubble wrapS-5632100$28$0.28
Brown PaddedS-1413100$21$0.21
White Poly PaddedS-7544100$27$0.27
Brown PaddedS-227100$24$0.24
White PaddedS-7530100$30$0.30

I ordered 200 and have just cracked my second box. I will probably shift to a "poly bubble" for my next order because the paper ones sometimes have been "punctured" although not a problem for protection - it just doesn't "look" as good to the customer.

Don't forget if you mail priority that the USPS provides free mailing materials. If I'm sending a single book - I put it inside a bubble wrap bag then inside the priority envelope because otherwise the book would slide around a bit and might get "scratched". When doing 2 I can put both of them in a priority envelope side by side very snugly so no extra material is needed. If I have an order of 3 or more I use a priority box.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Demystifying the Amazon Sales Rank

I’ve been asked this many times, most notably today on a Shelfari Writer’s Group. How can I tell how many books I’ve sold on Amazon from my sales rank? The answer is simple – you can’t. The formula is a proprietary and a highly guarded secret of Amazon. There are many minds larger than mine who have spent months and sometimes years studying this subject and they can’t tell you either. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find out some good information from your sales rank.

The picture to the left was taken from my husband’s book “The Crown Conspiracy”. The arrow indicates the current sales rank is 57,194 which means quite simply that at this point in time there are 57,193 books that are “better” selling then his at this point in time. Sounds pretty bad huh? Not really when you consider the number of books on Amazon (The worst rank I have seen is 6,958,847 (and I’m sure there are larger ones) which means his book sells better than at least 6,901,653. Not too bad in that context. The number really has the most to do with how long it has been since your last sale.

It means that you have not sold a single book through Amazon yet. As soon as you buy one book you'll get a rank.

Now keep in mind that the rank is “at that point in time” and the numbers are updated regularly (I did some experimentation and it seems to change once an hour). The best rank I’ve ever seen for him is 27,873 the worst is 527,890. The number can vary wildly even over the period of a single day for instance on Feb 8th the ranking varied from 70,891 - 321,204).

Remember to take seasons into account when assessing your sales rank. Students buying for the upcoming semester can clog the top spots with textbooks and paperback classics in the late summer and midwinter seasons. Likewise, books without gift appeal will probably see a significant drop in the holiday months.

As mentioned earlier, as soon as a single book is sold you get a ranking. Then the clock starts ticking. For each hour that goes by without a sale you climb a bit higher in the ranking (remember low rank = good, high rank = bad - you would rather be ranked 100 then 10,000). This change in ranking indicates that while you had no sales other people that were higher than you sold and they filled in the spots pushing you further up in the ranking. Then comes the time when you make a sale. When this happens there will be a dramatic change in the ranking. How far you fall depends on your past sales history and "rate" of sales. (How often you sell). Then the process begins again. This forms a series of peaks and valleys and it is the numbers on these extremes that really give you an idea of your sales. Any number "inbetween" is really just an indicator that it has been awhile since your last sale.

As mentioned earlier, when your rank falls dramatically a sale has been made. What is more difficult to determine is was that a single sale or multiple copies. Presumably if you sold multiple books you would fall lower than if you sold one but there are two many factors related to other books to look at a single drop and say - oh that was a 1 book drop and this was a two book drop. Just because you "fall far" does not mean that a bunch of books were sold.

So, by tracking your ranking often one thing you can do is see when a sales is made.

When your book is first published Amazon will, as a general rule, order 2 copies. When you look at your page it will show “In Stock” and below in red there will be a message” Only 2 left in stock--order soon (more on the way). If you watch your Amazon page frequently, as I do, every once in awhile you will see that message come back then go away which means Amazon just went to the distributor to buy more books. If that message comes back and does not go away…then your book is not selling well. Many “older” titles will have both this message and a high sales rank (say 1,000,000 or more) these books are probably selling only a few a year and Amazon will only be buying them in 1’s and 2’s as they sell.

While doing my research I ran across a fantastic site - Titlez (it is free) it shows the sales history for your book over time. From this I was able to determine for instance that I sold at least one book today (1/13/2009) and prior to that I sold at least one on (1/08/2009). I also can see there was a large period of time: 10/29/2008 - 11/20/2008 when I sold none ;-( I found this very interesting information. For comparison I tried this on a friend of mine book's Griffen's Daughter: Again it is quite clear when her sales are being made. 12/26/2008, 1/5/2009, 1/10,2009, 1/11/2009. This site even has the capability to compare your books to others. It is a great site.


Like search engines, who change their algorithms used to find content on web, I’m sure the calculation of Amazon Sales Ranks is revised from time to time so it is difficult to say which of the information I’m about to tell you about is “applicable” at the time of this blog. For instance, I found some data that was obviously old (for instance one post mentioned that rankings for books in the 100,000 – 500,000 range were only updated once a day but I personally saw this not be the case. In a 2008 post from Foner Books they state:

On October 14th, 2004
Amazon made the first major change to their ranking system
that I'd seen in five years. The new system is actually more transparent than
the old system. The new rank is preceded by a # and appears right on the sales
page for any book. There are two main differences between the old system and the
new system. First, the new system includes sales of both Marketplace books (used
and new) and e-books. Second, the new system is based almost entirely on "what have you done for me lately." Historical sales only have a small impact on the
decay rate.
The next few sections are taken not from my “personal” observations but from posts by others. I tried to indicate of the data when possible.


On August 10, 2006 the author of “Math You Can't Use: Patents, Copyright, and Software” (one of those “bigger minds” that I mentioned) wrote an automated script to take sales ranks every 20 minutes. After some analysis here is what he concluded:

1-10Oprah's latest picks
10-100The New York Times's picks
100-1,000topical rants by pundits/journalists,"classics"
1,000-500,000everything else (still selling)
500,000+everything else (technically in stock)


In a 2008 post from Foner Books they presented the author proposed a logrithmic chart that allows you to approximate the numbr of copies sold per week. If we use the sales rank of approximately 60,000 from the example above then this graph estimates about 10 copies per week are selling. He mentions: "I've seen ranks as low as the mid-three millions for books that have sold a single copy, the line would be completely vertical by around 4,000,000. I cannot stress enough that checking the rank twice and looking at this graph means nothing. You have to get an average rank for at least a week for it to have any meaning at all."


Whether good reviews and number of page hits have a direct effect on the sales rank formula is unclear. I have heard that adding tags can "temporarily" effect the ranking, again I'm not sure if this is true or not. My guess is that any effect of "tagging" is short lived and the momentarily spike of good ranking corrects itself.

The most important thing to remember about your sales rank is its temporary and relative nature. The Amazon rating is more like a popularity contest than the litmus test for a book’s success. The number you see on the page is merely how you’re selling compared to other titles in a very brief period. Two or three purchases of the same book within an hour can send a title skyrocketing up the rankings. Sure it’s exciting to leave a few thousand of your competitors in the dust, but unless the buying continues at a good pace, you can slip from the higher rankings fairly quickly.

But in the end, the sales rank is meant to be, in’s words, merely “interesting.” Don’t sweat it if you can’t figure out why your number is exactly where it is. Instead, focus your energy on making your product page as informative and consumer-friendly as possible.

The books is in the mail...

I was talking to another author today as we were planning a joint marketing direct mail. We were discussing how we would fulfill the orders and I was shocked to hear she had been mailing her books 7-day parcel post! This was costing her $4.55-$6.67 per book (depending on zone of the two addresses) when she could have been shipping them for $2.58!! So I thought today’s post should be about shipping options.

For people who sell books the USPS beats FedEx, UPS, and DHL hands down. Primarily because of Media Mail. Media mail is special discounted posted specifically for the printed word (You are using it when shipping manuscripts - right?). In general you will be using one of the following:
  • Media Mail – cheap shipping anywhere in the US
  • Priority Mail fixed price envelope – inexpensive 1 – 2 day delivery service
  • International Fixed price envelope – best alternative for foreign countries
  • Priority fixed priced boxes – best alternative for 3 - 10 books
Media Mail is used for books, film, manuscripts, printed music, printed test materials, sound recordings, play scripts, printed educational charts, loose-leaf pages and binders consisting of medical information, videotapes, and computer-recorded media like CDs and diskettes. Media Mail cannot contain advertising.

Media mail does take longer to arrive, 7 – 10 days is what is listed on the USPS website but my experience is sometimes it arrives in 2 – 5 days. To get the Media Mail postage you must clearly place MEDIA MAIL on the outside of the envelope, or use a printed Media Mail label (more on this is a minute). If you are shipping a large number of books in one order – there is some limitations on the size of the box that can be used for Media Mail (The maximum size is 108 inches in combined length and distance around the thickest part). In most cases you only have to worry about the weight. The current prices as of the date of this post are:

Weight Price
1 lb or less $2.23
1 lb 1 oz 2 lb $2.58
2 lb 1 oz 3 lb $2.93
3 lb 1 oz 4 lb $3.28
4 lb 1 oz 5 lb $3.63

For other weights or up to date postal costs click here. Most single book sales will fall into the $2.58 category. Be sure to you are accounting for the weight of packing material not just the book weight.

Fixed price envelope
What if your customer wants to pay for “faster delivery” – there is a great option for this as well – Priority Mail Fixed Price envelope. The nice thing about this is they give you free packing materials (the envelope), and free tracking costs $4.80 to send it anywhere in the US. The weight of the package does not matter just that your book fits and closes on its own – you can’t have extra tape sealing it because you put in too much. Depending on the size of your book you most certainly should be able to get one book in one of these envelopes. In the case of my husband’s book I can put two side by side and “just” get it closed. So whenever I get a 2 book order I send it priority mail (The customer gests it faster and I save $0.36).

Multiple book orders – Fixed priced boxes
If you are mailing several books you might want to consider the Priority standard sized box – again the shipping material (box) is free and it does not matter how much or what you put in it just as long as they fit. There are two sizes of “standard sized boxes” the costs are shown here”

12” x 12” x 5 ½”$13.50$32.95$53.95
11 7/8” x 3 3/8” x 13 5/8”$10.35$25.95$41.95

A good resource to keep handy is the USPS Calculator. If you are doing an unusally sized piece then this is a good link to calculate the postage for it.

INTERNATIONAL MAIL – Non Canada & Mexico
When shipping international the best choice is the “fixed priced” international envelope – you use the same fixed priced priority mail envelope mentioned above and the cost is $12.95 to send anywhere in the world. I used this to send a book to Romania once and it worked out quite well. (The book stores in Romania don’t carry all the US titles)

The reason I excluded Canada and Mexico above is there are lower priced alternatives for our close“neighbors”. The price for boxes is shown above. For the fixed price envelope it is $10.95. There is no support for media mail to any country other than the US so it is best to just take the package to the post office and have them do the postage for these countries. My experience that shipping to Canada for my weight of book is about $5.50.

Tracking Priority Mail
When you ship with the priority options you get tracking for free – IF you use software to generate the printing label (which is a good idea anyway since it will standardize and validate the address etc). The easiest way to do this is print the label directly from the USPS site. Accounts are free from the US Postal Service. You can simply print the labels or also buy the postage when you print the label via a credit card. You can even save the addresses in a database so you can remail in the future. NOTE: This CANNOT be used to print a label for Media Mail. I don’t know why the USPS has not added support for this yet. When it does I’ll update this post.

Tracking Media Mail
For media mail you can get tracking for $0.18 more. A bargain at twice the price when you get a buyer telling them they did not receive the book you can see the tracking. The only way I know to do this is to generate the Media Mail label from a shipping program. The good news is there is a free one associated with PayPal so if you use this for credit card processing you will have this capability.

In these post 911 times an important thing about mailing books should be mentioned – the 13 oz rule. In general if you are mailing something more than 13 oz (which almost all books with shipping materials will be) – you can’t just put a stamp on it and drop it in the postbox at the side of the street. You MUST go to the post office…but there is an exception. If you print your mailing labels, from either the USPS,, or Paypal then you can put them in any mailbox. The issue is traceability. When you use a printed label they can trace that back to you by how you paid for it (usually a credit card or PayPal account) if you sent a bomb or Anthrax they would be able to find you.

Bottom line – if you hand label and use a stamp – go to the post office. If you use labels and pay for postage online – mail them anywhere you like.

Well....that's all there is too it!! Much longer post then I would have thought but it does explain all the gorey details. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Guest Bloggers...coming soon

I network with a lot of authors and I'm going to ask a few of them to do some "guest blogging" to share their successes (and maybe failures). If you are an author reading this blog and want to share it with others please send me a email at robin.sullivan.dc@[nospam] (without the[nospam] of course.

Marketing #2: Bookmarks

Second only to your website, a good book mark is the single most important marketing tool at your disposal. Why are they so important? -- One word ROI (Return on Investment). These little gems cost you next to NOTHING and if you used properly can be tremendously successful. The reason the ROI is so good on a bookmark is they are so inexpensive.

First off if you are published through a vanity (iUniverse, Lulu, etc) there are usually "packages" that offer you bookmarks NEVER buy one of these. They usually offer something like 100 bookmarks, 100 postcards, 100 business cards for $149 or so. That is a ridiculous price to pay. I've used two sources for bookmarks in the past: GotPrint and one who I forget but will post later when I remember. Here are current (as of 1/11/2009) pricing for bookmarks from them:

  • 1,000 - $ 38.55 (3.9 cents a piece)
  • 2,500 - $ 76.99 (3.1 cents a piece)
  • 5,000 - $126.55 (2.5 cents a piece)
  • 10,000 - $249.55 (2.5 cents a piece)
  • 15,000 - $398.00 (2.6 cents a piece)

The prices above are for 4/1 that means 4 color front and 1 color (black) on the back. There are other options 4/4, 4/0 but I HIGHLY recommend the 4/1 format - which we will discuss in a moment. I also recommend you do 5,000. Now I know what you are about to say... "Robin, "I'll never get rid of 5,000 bookmarks - well I first ordered 2,500 (thinking that would be way to much and ran out in 2 months. So when I reordered I did 5,000. As you can see the price per does not change above 5,000 so start off there so you don't have extra.

To the right is the bookmark for my husband's book The Crown Conspiracy. Notice it is a "full add". If someone has it...they essentially know all they need to in order to buy the book. It's title, a bit about it, where to find it, etc.

Having the "blurb" of the book on the back is essential. My husband's publisher gave us 700 free bookmarks with their logo on the front and covers of 4 of their books (2 of my husband's 2 of other people's on the back). If someone walks away with this they may use it but they don't have enough information to make a "buying decision". The "blurb" is why I suggested 4/1.

The front should be as pretty as you can make it and preferably about your book. Here is the cover of the book -- notice how the bookmark compliments the book. Part or all of your cover is great to use, but it could be anything that is pleasing to the eye such that someone would use it. Try to make it "gender" neutral most men don't want a bookmark with flowers on it.

Other things that should be on the front:

  • Book Title
  • Author's Name
  • ISBN (I forgot that on mine - doh)
  • Hook (few words to grab the reader)
  • Any Awards about the book
  • Website (there is a reason mine is on the back - see below)

The back is also essential and here is why I wanted 4/1 instead of 4/0. It should contain:

  • Your "blurb". (introduction about your book that is on your back cover).
  • Anything you were not able to get on the front (see list above)
  • Any promotional price - like 20% off or free shipping
  • Website to buy direct (if you don't have a way for them to buy direct - you need to - we'll have a future post on this subject)
The reason my URL is on the back of the bookmark - is Michael has a long URL that requires it to be put in a small font. Since the front of the bookmark is all colored it would need to be in "reverse type" (white on dark background) and with such small print the white might "close" up and be unreadable. To "play it safe" we put it in black on the back which is all white.

I've passed out thousands of bookmarks - when offered one an incredibly small percentage of people don't accept them gratefully. I've never had a "negative" reaction. Sometimes I get a polite "No thank you" but the vast amount of time people are excited to get a free book mark and thank me ... with enthusiasm. I'll have other posts on success stories of using them but here are a few ideas:

  • Writer's groups
  • Book clubs
  • Book store signings
  • Book fairs
  • Book conventions
  • Leave some at used book stores
  • Leave some at libraries
  • Leave them in library books
  • Leave them in books in bookstore similar to yours
  • Pass them out at parties
  • Pass them out to commuters reading books
  • Pass them out in front of bookstores
Essentially you should NEVER be without them that way if your book comes up in polite conversation you have something to give them that will give them an easy way to find your book (i.e name, url etc) in the future.

Gain strength in small successes

Trying to get momentum in word of mouth about a new author from a small press is as about as daunting a task as any I can think of. While much easier now than it was was before the days of the Internet, still you never quite know if your efforts are worth it or not. A small success can fan the flames of hope and lighten your heart enough to make all your efforts worth while. When you are feeling down take stock of your successes...a good review by a reader, a web blogger asking you for a review copy (instead of the other way around), or seeing a forum discussion where someone other than yourself is talking about your book. I'd like to share a recent success we had that emphasizes the importance of another topic (which I'll blog on shortly) bookmarks.

I was at a signing yesterday with my husband for his book The Crown Conspiracy at a Borders about 30 minutes drive from our house. We had a signing with them in October that went well enough that they rescheduled a second one. I was in the area between the outside doors and the store's true entrance (where shelves of "discounted books are") and passing out bookmarks to people as they came in letting them know my husband was in the store signing his book. The books were moving slowly but the traffic in the store was brisk so I was happy just making sure that a number of people now knew it existed.As one shopper was leaving they stopped by to chat with me. This is essentially what she said..."What a nice guy the author is...I was here awhile ago, but didn't buy a book. I was clothes shopping with my daughter and I found the bookmark you gave me and after reading a description of the book I thought - man this looks great! We came back and bought the book and when we saw he was coming back to the store again we just had to come down and tell him how much we (my daughter and I both read it) enjoyed the book. " to my ears. You see it really does make a difference. It makes the hours standing in that unheated alcove passing out those bookmarks seem worthwhile. So thank you...whoever you anonymous reader you certainly "made" both mine and my husband's day today.

New Year...time to start blogging.

So it's been months since I actually created this blog and no postings yet! Grrrrr. Well with the new year and resolutions, and all that stuff there. I'm dedicating myself to start getting serious about this so I'm dedicated to doing at least 5 posts a week. Sometimes they will come all at once, sometimes spread over a short period of time.