Thursday, December 21, 2006

Self Publishing 201: The Price is Right

Whether you are a fan, or a fellow creator, there is one golden rule to publishing and self-publishing, and that is: Printing ain't cheap.

I cannot afford to buy every book that I would like, and I keep that in mind in creating my own books. It's tempting to publish every little thing that you do, but to be successful, you should only put your best stuff out there. With that in mind, the biggest dillema for a Self-publisher is pricing.

I spent 3 years working on 3 Knights in India, and feel that I should be compensated. On the other hand, I want people to read the book, regardless. If I give the book away at cost, then the printer gets paid for my hard work. If I add some profit to the top for myself, then the book price gets higher, and fewer readers might be willing to give it a chance. The base price for printing is fixed, so any discount comes from the creator's pocket.

PLEASE keep this in mind when buying books, especially from self-published authors or small presses. These books are going to cost more, so if you like a book, or are interested in a book, and are feeling generous, then remember that the little extra that you are spending is going to a great cause. You are supporting the arts, basically, without the tax breaks. :0)

Some printers are greedy, and charge too much... some Creators are greedy, and charge too much, and some Publishers are greedy and charge too much. It's easy to do this for any business, where the slightest profit can mean staying in business... or not. Big companies have little excuse for greediness. Putting aside that comic books are full of advertisements these days, and focussing on Graphic Novels and other books, these companies get deep discounts for printing.

Golden Rule #2: The more you print, the cheaper the base printing cost. This means that when Big Comix has 10,000 issues of a color comic printed, they may be paying say... $1.00 or something for EACH comic. A similar comic will cost a Self-Publisher probably $5 to $6.00 EACH comic, with a print run of only 100 or 200 copies. A few minutes of your time can show you that the Self-publisher, if he or she could actually miraculously sell all of their comics at the outrageous price of $7.00 each, is still not going to make much of a profit. And chances are, only their mothers are going to pay $7.00 for a comic book.

Self-publishers have no excuse for being greedy, though. Sure, a huge profit is nice, but realistically, you are not going to sell a lot of books at high prices. To be perfectly honest, you shouldn't be self-publishing to begin with if you are looking for a profit. Heck, go work at Walmart for a week, and you'll earn a heck of a lot more than you will Self-publishing... in a year. Unless, of course, you have a lot of friends and supporters who really, really love your stuff.

Self-publishers have several options, but when it comes to printing, anything above and beyond photocopied mini-comics is going to be quite expensive. Your options include print-on-demand, vanity presses, and printing presses.

PLEASE do not go to a vanity press with any expectations of selling loads of books. The only good thing about them is that they will usually get you an ISBN number and may get your book into internet stores like Amazon or Barnes & Noble, which will get your name out there. The bad news is, they usually have outrageous fees in the realm of hundreds of dollars that you most likely will not recuperate.

Printing Presses are very expensive, although they do the best quality work. Unless you have unlimited resources, though, it's just not realistic. With higher base costs, your book is definitely going to be priced higher than the competition's. And you will not be able to get your book in bookstores because every bookstore requires a fee to carry your book, which usually is in the 45 to 65% of the cover price range, which sometimes is more than the printing costs, which means you are losing any chance at profit, and may even be losing money.

Print on Demand is your best option if you want qaulity books at reasonable cost. Some of these are ridiculously expensive, and some are not the best quality. I chose for my books because the quality is great. The cost, though, is still pretty high, although they do give discounts to you, the publisher, if you buy lots of copies of your own book. This is great if you are selling the books yourself, or need copies for book signings. If you keep your profits low, you can sell from their shop, assuming, of course, that you have an audience.

THAT is another topic entirely, though.

For now, keep in mind that Self-publishing is expensive. I try to keep my prices reasonable, and have even swallowed my pride for the Holiday Season, and am now offering discounts on all of my books. I said that I wouldn't do that, because hey, I've worked hard on these books!

Still, I want you to read them. I create because of an inborn need to communicate, and tell stories. And no story is complete without a reader.


Kathleen Gage said...

Excellent article with great points on self-publishing.

Anyone new to the world of self-publshing can learn quite a bit from this well written piece.

Kathleen Gage

John said...

Thank you very much, Kathleen, for your kind comments. Especially the "well written" bit, because it is sometimes difficult to tell if I am over or under editing these posts.

There is a lot of material to cover here, and I write to a broad audience. Self-publishing can be a wonderful experience if one knows what they are getting into, and has clear, reasonable goals.

You may be interested in my Cartoonist Profiles article, available as a free download at my Lulu store. I believe I cover more of the joys of Self-publishing there.

Thank you again, JOHN :0)


Kishore said...


Very nice article... Gives you a realistic view of publishing. Pretty disheartening though... if you have something to publish that is and are hoping for a nice profit. :-)

BTW, you haven't blogged in a while, that means you must be pretty busy.

John said...

Hi Kishore,
Actually, I have blogged... only not here. I was fortunate enough to do a guest blog at Brian Hughes' Wyre Archaeology. You can find that post at

I have been busy, but I can't believe thatit's been a month since I posted here! Thanks for the wake-up call :0)

I have several posts in progress, as well as a follow-up to this one about self-publishing. Actually, any publishing venue can be overwhelming, and yes, costly, but it can certainly be worth the effort. It is definitely a learning experience.

Cheers, JOHN:0)