Friday, 21 September 2018

Paperback Writer

I've published my two novels to date as e-books, available on Amazon exclusively (I like being able to offer them via Kindle Unlimited, erotica I feel does well from that, and KU requires brand exclusivity) but I recently decided to investigate one of the other options Amazon offers to self-published authors; selling paperback copies.

If you are a self-published author, getting your book into print as a physical copy can be a burdensome task, and it is for this reason that the rise in popularity of e-books has seen an accompanying rise in the number of self-published authors. It's easier now to self-publish and have access to a global marketplace for e-books; that's why I did it and that's why a lot of other people do it too. I write for a hobby, not out of a dream of being a full-time writer (I mean, it would be nice, but I'd probably have to diversify from writing about people getting naked); if it was at all difficult to actually get a book on sale, I wouldn't have done it. But Amazon and Smashwords and the like are pretty straightforward once you've gotten the hang of formatting your manuscript how they like them (they are not exactly the same!) and I found the publication side of things to be a breeze compared to writing and editing the damn things...

In the past, if I had wanted to actually get my book out in paper copies, I would have either needed to find a publisher to agree to publish it and pay me royalties out of what was left once their costs and profit had been subtracted, or found a 'vanity' publisher who I could pay to print the book and send me copies which I would then try to sell on. There are all sorts of reasons why booksellers would be reluctant to take on stock from a self-published author; my work being niche erotica would only add to those, so I'd never considered it an option.

But Amazon offers a slightly different model in several countries around the world. You upload your manuscript and book cover to them, and they offer it for sale as a paperback; but they only print as many copies as are ordered. They don't take any money from you upfront, the cost of printing the book is taken from the sale price. They take their bit of profit (seller's fee) off the top of what's left, and the rest is yours.

The difference in approach makes it a lot more appealing. Under a vanity publishing model, I might pay for 500 copies at £3 a copy. I could sell those myself for £7, making £4 per book, but I'd have to sell 375 of those 500 copies before I had made back what I'd spent on printing. And I'd have to do that through finding enough stores and individuals interested in my book to make that number of sales (more if you consider that book stores would take their own slice of that £7), all without any advertising or support from a publisher.

While I might think I have a great book, persuading enough people by myself to take a chance on that would probably only end in a financial loss and a box full of unsold books in my attic.

But with Amazon, if nobody ever buys a paperback copy of my book, I've lost nothing. I've spent £0 in printing costs, and nor have Amazon, because none have been printed. The only way a book gets printed is if someone wants to buy it, and Amazon only prints as many copies as there are customers. So there is no upfront financial cost to me, and no box of unsold books under the bed at the end of it all. And I haven't had to spend my days off lugging a suitcase full of novels around my local bookshops trying to persuade them to stock a novel with the words "Naked Girl" in the title.

(That's not to say you can't do that if you don't want to. Amazon offers authors the option to buy copies of their book at only the cost of printing, they are then free to sell these on if they wish, using the exact same model as the old vanity publishers; the difference is you don't have to do this).

It seems ideal, but it's not as revolutionary or beneficial as it might first appear.

Because these are in effect bespoke printings, the cost of printing is quite substantial. Publishing houses manage to keep overheads low by printing in large quantities; the more copies you print, the less per copy it costs (up to a point). I work in my 'real' job with print and editing so I know this; but it is true for all manufacturing I think; if you're setting up a printing press or any other type of large machine, it's more viable to set up the machine and make 5000 of the same thing than make one thing once, then reset the machine to make a completely different thing, 5000 times.

But Amazon is doing things differently. I don't know enough of their business model to know if they are literally printing one copy at a time, or printing a small number in batches and storing them in their warehouses, but I suspect if it's the latter it isn't a high number (perhaps 10 copies initially, replenishing or rising according to demand). So the cost per copy for printing is much higher.

That's not a problem for Amazon because it deducts that cost from each sale; but as you as the author set the sale price of your book, it becomes your responsibility to price accordingly. Amazon adds your print cost together with their selling fee; you can't charge less than the sum of those for your book. If you want to make any money per sale, you are looking at whatever you charge on top of that; and depending on what your book is, that sum is already quite high; perhaps even more than the cost of a book you would buy in a bookshop. Which means that you risk pricing yourself out of the market for people who might actually want to read your book, the end result being your book doesn't sell as many copies because people think it's too expensive next to books from publishers who are able to keep costs lower. To keep it priced competitively, you probably have to accept that your royalties per book will be quite slender; a more expensive book will net you greater royalties, but have less chance of selling many copies.

Also, one has to ask if there is really a huge demand for paperbacks in the field of niche erotica, especially compared to e-books? Many readers of erotica are likely to prefer e-books because they sit anonymously in Kindle libraries, and can be read anywhere without inviting embarrassing judgement for being someone who likes 'dirty books'. You can hide your erotic e-books from a partner who would perhaps be upset by your enjoyment of Planet of the Nubile Teenage Nude Space Vixens or from your parents, or your children. And they don't cost a lot, so you can delete them once you've read them and not feel like you've wasted a lot of money.

Meanwhile, a paperback has to come to you via post (your family might open the packaging, or at least ask you what you'd ordered) and is then a physical object that sits on a shelf or wherever you choose to keep it, ripe for discovery by people you'd rather not find it; but you wouldn't throw it out or give it away because you paid for it. Also it's not like you can sit and read a saucy paperback on the bus without getting at least some funny looks.

Self-publishing paperbacks through Amazon isn't likely to be a path to riches and fame. So why have I done it?

I think ultimately, it was because I thought I might have a few readers who might enjoy being able to own physically a copy of my books. Those less self-conscious about having a book with the words "naked" or "nude" in the title on their bookshelf. Those who like the book covers and want to enjoy them as more than just something to be glanced at (or skipped entirely) in black and white on their Kindle.

I don't demand my readers buy my books in any format, and I certainly don't expect those who have already paid to read my work on Kindle to buy a physical copy just because one now exists. But I like that I can have the option there for those who want it.

Best Friends With a Naked Girl (Kindle and paperback) and Brave Nude World (Kindle and paperback) are available now.

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