Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Publish or Be Published: Sixth part

In talking about self-publishing in the last few parts of this piece I did not intend to give the impression that Amazon is the only way to go. By no means. Plenty of other online outlets exist, as well as other old-fashioned channels like book signings and boot sales. Lets look at one online alternative to get started:

Privacy for Business listed at Atlas Books, operated by Bookmasters.
compare to:
Privacy for Business listed at Amazon.com.
Privacy for Business listed at Amazon.co.uk.
Privacy for Business on its own site.

The first thing to note is that Atlas sells the book for $18.97 which is a price set by me (in fact, I am about to lower it to try and clear out the last remaining copies of this version). I could have chosen to make Atlas the sole source on the book's web site. but felt like leaving the Amazon option open. The Barnes & Noble option has not been very productive. Amazon sells the book for an attractive $16.47, so the ten bucks or so that I get per copy through them is a good deal. I may try lowering the Atlas price to $15.79 and see if that pulls more sales across to Atlas. What Atlas does not offer is a UK outlet. Amazon does, and it requires no extra work by me. They sell the book for £17.99 which means a decent chunk for me, although I am not aware of any UK sales yet.

So why Bookmasters/Atlas? Well, Bookmasters is the only company I know that is both a regular printer and a bookseller. This can save you a lot of money in shipping. You get a competitive price on the printing of your books, based on a run of 1,000 or more. In other words, this is not the much more expensive print-on-demand pricing you will see at some online operations. Then you escape shipping charges because Bookmasters warehouses the books for you. Buyers can get the book from the Atlas web site and through 7x24 toll-free ordering (some people still like to order by phone instead of the web). Plus, Bookmasters is hooked into one of the big distributors, so bookstores can order direct from them. So can you. They will ship a carton of books to you when you need one, or to a buyer (I sell about 40 books a quarter wholesale to a university book store and they go straight from Bookmasters to the store).

The warehousing is not free. I pay from $50 to $70 per month in charges. And obviously Atlas is not Amazon when it comes to online presence. But this brings us to an interesting question: What is going to drive sales? If you are out on the speaking circuit generating buzz, it may not matter that you are not on Amazon. All you need is a simple way to channel people to the order page. For example, you put a "buy now" link on your web site (hopefully you have already registered your name as a web site) or on the book's web site (hopefully you have already registered the title as a web site). That link can be to Atlas and the price can be whatever you decide.

Of course, neither Amazon nor Atlas are exclusive, so you can go with both, but I am not sure how many people buy books on Amazon just through browsing. In other words, without buzz your Amazon sales are not guaranteed to be anything more than one or two a month. (At some point I will get around to discussing how to perk up your Amazon listing to increase sales).

Lulu.com is an interesting example of print-on-demand. Check it out at lulu.com. You submit your manuscript and cover design, they print copies when people order them from the web site. Their pricing model seems complex at first (check it out here) but if you have read the previous parts of this posting you should be able to grasp what they are getting at. If not, check the example on this page and keep trying, it's a good way to learn the ropes.

You can see that copies sold through retail distribution (e.g. by Barnes & Noble) are going to make you $4.00 per copy. This might not sound like much but it remember you have zero up-front costs, zero shipping costs, zero warehousing costs, and $4.00 is probably twice what you would get with a mainstream publisher. Now look at the Lulu Marketplace price. You could get $10.00 per book sold direct through their web site ($4.00 royalty plus the difference between $13.53 and selling price, e.g. $19.95-$13.53=$6.22). If you are actively marketing your book then telling people to order from lulu.com may work well.

Now, I ended Part V by saying we would talk about how to move a lot of books in a hurry. I don't mean to be crass but one of the best ways is to give them away. Please wait a moment before you ask the perfectly logical question: "Where's the profit in that?" Remember the question I put to you in Part One? Why do you want your book to be published? If you want to "get out the word" or become "renowned author and expert" then giving away some of the first print run can be a smart move.

Think about the cost of your books. If you pick them up from the printer in your car they can be under $2.00 each (that's for the 6x9 240 page glossy covered paperback we have used in previous examples). Now look at the list price on the back (we will deal with pricing and the all important ISBN number and bar code in Part 7).

That list price is more like $22.00 than $2.00. In other words, the perceived value is at least ten times the raw cost. But if you, the author, whose name and photo are on the cover, hand the book to someone, they will feel it is worth even more than the cover price. That's because you, the author, handed it to them, spoke to them about it, maybe even autographed it.

Think about what could happen if you were to take boxes of your books to a trade show where you are promoting the services or products of yourself or your company. You make sure everyone at the show gets handed a copy of your book. With the right book this will seriously boost your credibility AND jump-start sales. And you'll be surprised at how many people will ask you to sign the book. I've had congressmen and CEOs ask me to autograph books I have given them. Never under-estimate the combined value that personal contact + your name and photograph on a book jacket generates (the photograph is particularly important in any professional field where it is helpful for people to know what you look like).

If your book is good—which of course it is, right!—then the chances are it will stick around on the desk or bookshelf of someone to whom you handed a copy for quite a bit longer than other books. Recipients of complimentary copies are likely to recommend the book to others, who will have to buy their own copies. One person who got a free copy of one of my books at a conference ordered 30 copies the next day to hand out to his employees.

I don't mean to belabor the point but think about the traditional tchachkes that companies hand out at trade shows. They cost at least $2.00 each and have a perceived value of what? Rarely as much as $20. Furthermore, their value seldom relates to the features and benefits of the company/service being promoted. I have a nice coffee mug from an encryption company. It reminds me of that company when I use it, but that is not often because I have a lot of other coffee mugs. And a coffee mug adds nothing to my opinion of the company's encryption expertise (except perhaps that they drink a lot of caffeine when they are coding).

In the next part we will look at several practical aspects of the book production process, including the ISBN number, the bar code, and the selection of a printer. We will also discuss getting your book adopted as a textbook.

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