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Dreadnaught
08-15-2006, 05:09 AM
Greetings all,
Although I'm a complete newbie to the writing arts, I have recently decided to develop, write, self-publish, and market a book. I will be posting my progress, learning experiences, budget details, etc here in hopes that it will be of interest to anyone else considering a similar project.

My goal in writing a book is mostly for fun, but I'm also viewing this as kind of an experiment. My budget for the project will probably end up being between $5k-$6k and I'm curious as to if the book will actually be able to make a profit (I think the odds say a resounding "No!" - but I like a challenge and intend to take this very seriously)

Starting Point
Story Concept - My initial idea is that the main characters will be a group of teenage explorer-types who come across a treasure map and following it eventually get mysteriously transported to an island. Their search for treasure quickly becomes a quest to find their way home, and they will be presented with many puzzles to solve during their journey. Characters on the island will include a village of shipwreck surviors, a lone stranger they befriend who seems to know more about the island than he's letting on, singing dragons, a pirate (of course) and some others I haven't sorted out. Basically one part Goonies, one part Narnia, and one part puzzles. And if there are any sequels then one part X-Files will probably be worked in to the continuing story.

[U]Book Concept - This is most likely going to be aimed at the young teenager audience but I'm not going to intentionally simplify the writing or story (and possibly my writing skills may not even be to that level to begin with). For educational purposes I am thinking of intentionally including obscure (but not too obsure) vocabulary words for which there will be a glossary in the back. This will be a plot-driven story and I plan to have as fast a pace as possible. It will be kept fairly short for a novel as well. However, I think alot of importance should be placed on giving the characters distinct personalities that I hope will play off against each other well. I will attempt to include humorous moments as well.

Another important aspect will be the inclusion of actual puzzles separate from the story that the readers can solve and if they do, can send in the answer for a nifty prize, but they will have to have read the story to solve the puzzles (the prize will be related to something in the story). And I'm also thinking of including a treasure map or other accessories to be included with the book.

[U]14 Steps to making the book ($budget)
1 Read similar current novels
2 Develop Story Idea
3 Write Story Outline
4 Write 1st draft
5 Next draft...and Next draft..and on
6 Final Draft
7 Editing
8 Develop Puzzles
9 Incorporate ($100)
10 Artwork ($500)
11 Self-Publish, offset printing ($2500)
12 Make accessories ($2000)
13 Set up website ($250)
14 Marketing ($500)

ResearchGuy
08-15-2006, 07:00 AM
...12 Steps to making the book ($budget)
1 Develop Story Idea
2 Write Story Outline
3 Write 1st draft
4 Next draft...and Next draft..and on
5 Final Draft
6 Develop Puzzles
7 Artwork ($500)
8 Self-Publish, offset printing ($2500)
9 Make accessories ($2000)
10 Incorporate ($100)
11 Set up website ($250)
12 Marketing ($500)

Suggestion: put marketing FIRST (not the actual process, but the clear and explicit design of strategy and tactics). Some preliminary market research would be valuable, too--steps like examining what books exist along the general lines you propose, learning how they are being marketed and how they are doing, that sort of thing. BTW, why incorporate rather than undertake as a sole proprietorship? (Not arguing one way or the other, just wondering.)

Self-published children's authors of my acquaintance who make money in the business goose the receipts by taking PAID gigs speaking at schools and libraries. (Both often have budgets for author presentations and allow sales of the author's books, either on site or by prior solicitation arranged with the administration.)

Look into opportunities for free marketing -- writing articles for local newspapers, for example.

You might have to spend considerably more on artwork, depending on how many illustrations your book has. One self-published novelist of my acquaintance has paid $1,000 for a painting to be the basis of a book cover. (She is meticulous in her writing and in running her publishing business.)

Have you read many of the currently successful books for that age group? First and foremost, good books for kids are good books. It sounds as though you are thinking in that direction, but it is, I suspect, an excellent idea to be well versed in what is working now. (Carl Hiassen's Hoot, for example, or Louis Sachar's Holes, or the charming books about a character named Sammy Keyes, by Wendelin van Draanen. Those are fun reading, even for adults, as long as the adults do not get hung up about "kids' books.")

You do not seem to have steps for:

Comment by disinterested readers (that is, folks who can give you objective feedback)
Editing
Book design

Have you read a good book on self-publishing? Two are widely cited. One is by Tom and Marilyn Ross, and the other by Dan Poynter.

Do you intend to obtain a block of ISBNs? (You cannot by singles ... have to buy a group.)

I am a supporter of self-publishing, and know some folks who are very good at it. I know few who sell a lot of their books (several thousands and up), and those who do are running a full-time business of self-publishing. You might want to consider starting with a POD printer, so you can experiment with a small number of books and limit your potential losses. There are several non-exploitive POD publishers. You can even have one of those companies handle the printing and some related tasks, while having your own ISBN. Per-copy prices will be higher, but you will not be stuck with a garage full of books.

If you really do intend to incorporate, that step has to come earlier on than you suggest, but you'll need to talk to a lawyer about the implications. (At a minimum, if the corporation is to be the publisher, then it has to be in place before ISBNs are obtained or books are printed. Maybe there are legal or tax reasons for having it in place much earlier, but that is a question for a lawyer.)

Pricing will be a problem. Trade paperbacks for young adults typically are priced in the 6 to 8 dollar range. Bookstores expect a 40% discount, and a wholesaler expects a 55% discount from the cover price. And there is a LOT of competition in the 6 to 8 dollar range. (Browse the YA section of a large bookstore to see.) If you are selling directly, say, at book talks at schools and libraries, you might be able to make the economics work, as you would be charging list and (hopefully) also receiving payment for your presentation.

If you want to seek reviews, you will have to send advance reader copies (pre-publication copies) to appropriate reviewers months before publication AND be very sure that your operation looks fully professional. However, you might be able to generate interest in a feature story (not book review) focusing on you as a local author, in local newspaper(s).

I have meandered ... perhaps some of those comments will be helpful.

Good luck. Every journey has a beginning.

--Ken

Dreadnaught
08-15-2006, 09:26 PM
Those are some fantastic tips Ken, many thanks.

I'm probably going to stick with leaving anything marketing until the end because I want to focus almost solely on writing the story initially. Since I've never written anything of any length before I want to concentrate on getting that part right without thinking ahead.

I have not read any of the current books for that age groups and I agree that's something I definetly need to do, a trip by the bookstore tonight may be in order.

I'll add a step for editing, and I'm going to make it a broad step and include comments and book design in that step.

seanie blue
08-17-2006, 04:58 AM
Ken --

What a fantastic response. Hopefully you have it boilerplated so you can provide it when needed, but it so specifically addresses each of Dreadnaught's points that it seems you must have a world of patience.

I'm at the point where I have to self-publish for my own credibility, and I must say I find myself laughing at the 20-year-old prejudice against "vanity" publishers. I'm inspired by Ani Difranco, who has turned on hundreds of music producers to the advantages of self-publishing. My interest is a little more in self-distribution.

I'm building a 500-person "champions" list to which I will distribute half my press run without expecting a dime in return. These are people in the arts, in publishing, politics; powerful voices in society, basically. Most of whom I know or have contactwith or who know about me. I don't need 2 million readers because I fully intend on interacting with everyone who reads a postcard from me, let alone a novel or a collection of writings, or even my website. I think of a bound and finished book almost as a business card. As such it primes the contact into friendship or loyalty. And for years I've been lucky enough to attract attention from all sorts of people in the arts and entertainment, and I never had a business card.

And like Dreadnaught, I think I'll post here my experiences as I move forward with this plan.

But I have a short question for you which other readers of this thread will appreciate: Have you come across a "commune" of self-publishing authors who work under a common publishing brand name? If myself and Dreadnaught and five other writers wanted to form a publisher for purposes of centralizing credibility and ISBN purchases and getting discounts from printers, but allowing each writer to do his/her own artwork, editing and distribution, for instance. Would there be a model to copy?

I will contact you privately via your website; I'd like to hire you for a few hours of consulting work. I'll be in Sacramento next week (Tues or Wed) and then again just before or in the labor day weekend.

Thanks for providing such valuable -- and free -- counsel!

Sean

-------------------------
http://www.seanieblue.com

ResearchGuy
08-17-2006, 07:19 AM
Ken --

What a fantastic response. Hopefully you have it boilerplated so you can provide it when needed, but it so specifically addresses each of Dreadnaught's points that it seems you must have a world of patience....

But I have a short question for you which other readers of this thread will appreciate: Have you come across a "commune" of self-publishing authors who work under a common publishing brand name? ...

I will contact you privately via your website; I'd like to hire you for a few hours of consulting work. I'll be in Sacramento next week (Tues or Wed) and then again just before or in the labor day weekend.

Thanks for providing such valuable -- and free -- counsel!

Sean

-------------------------
http://www.seanieblue.com

Hi, Sean!

Oh, I don't have unusual patience. I just have a combination of obsessivness and considerable current exposure to self-publishing and self-publishers, and I am in the habit of talking with folks and posting here on the topic. Thanks for the kind words. Much appreciated.

As for your question, the answer is YES, I do know of a publishing co-op. I will IM you with contact information for a local author involved in that undertaking. He is a terrific fellow and a fine writer. I am confident he will be happy to chat with you to the extent time permits.

Feel free to email me (ken@umbachconsulting.com) and we can make arrangements to meet. Or call me at the phone number I will put in IM.

--Ken

Dreadnaught
08-29-2006, 10:26 PM
Making The Book - Update #1
The first thing I've discovered so far is that it's all to easy for a first time writer to underestimate the importance of studying your target audience. My project is a YA fantasy book, and even though I hadn't read a YA fantasy since the Chronicles of Narnia about 15 years ago I figured, surely I can think of a concept that will be interesting to YA readers. But the problem is, when thinking of a concept I just put together ideas from other popular stories, which is probably typical. And who knows, that may turn out to make a cool concept, but I finally figured out that I need to base my concept on the reason popular stories are popular, not on the stories themselves. How a group of readers relate to it. Yes I know this is elementary and probably has been posted here a thousand times, but for a first time writer it's easy for the excitement of starting a novel to make you under-estimate these things.

So, as ResearchGuy suggested I read Holes by Louis Sachar and am half-way through the first Harry Potter book by JK Rowling. I HIGHLY suggest these two books to anyone wanting to write a middle grade/YA novel.

What almost immediately struck me about Holes was the extremely tight editing. There was hardly a word in the first 5 chapters or so that didn't both develop a character and move the story along. This really made me snap to the chess analogy used in the Learn Writing with Uncle Jim thread. This was a great chess opening. About half-way through I realized I was reading for entertainment instead of reading as a study guide. One thing that did seem awkward though was trying to introduce a number of similar characters (six) at once with just little bits of dialog here and there. Hard to keep track of who is who initially.

Harry Potter was much more descriptive and wordy than Holes. I suppose that has to do it being a fantasy story. I'd seen the movie before so it was hard for me to get an idea of how much of the description was necessary or developmental to the story. However what I liked about it was the character development. The main characters were clearly defined, but somewhat complex, while most of the bit players were caricatures of personalities taken to the extreme. Seemed to work very well.

So at this point I'm going back to step one and re-thinking my story idea. Then I will start in on the first outline.

dclary
09-01-2006, 07:21 PM
Dreadnaught, that's a step you should add to your list, this one you've just discovered:

Read your competition. A) it expands your own knowledge B) it tutors you in the market C) it helps prevent you writing what's already been written.

Dreadnaught
10-13-2006, 09:14 PM
Making The Book - Update #2

The new story is finally close to being hammered out and I'm about a third of the way through an outline. I hope to begin on the first draft around the first of November.

I've been thinking more on the economics of self-publishing lately and I can more and more see why being sucessful at self-publishing is a tough nut to crack. I'm thinking of a cover price of $8.99 for medium qualtiy paperback (I'm approaching this as something that I'm not just going to sell out of my trunk or locally) and with the a 55% discount to Amazon and other online retailers and (with some planning and luck) major bookstores, then that will leave me with about $4 per book. After incorporating cover art, marketing, and other costs, I figure I would need a print run of at least 2000 to get the cost down to about $3 per book (just an estimate, I haven't got any official quotes yet). So taking into account shipping costs that leaves me with a bountiful $0.50 profit per book and I'd need to sell about 1600 out of the 2000 to break even.

With a print run of 10,000 I could probably get the per book costs down to $2 or less which would net about $1.50 per book, but that would have to be a second run as I couldn't afford or justify that many for a first run.

After going through alot this in my head, I started thinking about aborting the self-publishing and just submitting to agents when I'm done with the manuscript. But here are the pros and cons as I see them:

Pros of self-publishing
-The book will definitely be made
-*IF* more than about 10,000 are sold then the profits will be considerably greater than royalties from a conventional publisher
-Final say on all content, art, and editing
-The timetable is sped up by a couple of years

Cons of self-pushlishing (assuming the book could/would be pushlished by a reputable mainstream publisher)
-$5,000-$6,000 minimum needed upfront to produce a run that would be profitable with a competitive cover price. Willingness to lose the whole enchilada if book fails is required.
-MUCH more work required to get the book into bookstores
-Losing sales where people buy based on the publishers name/credibility

Right now I'm still leaning toward toward self-publishing though I'm swaying a bit more. But that's all moot until I get the book finished.

Stormhawk
10-14-2006, 12:07 AM
It's only the very lucky POD books that sell in the thousands - ones that have been edited until someone's fingers are bleeding. Even then, it might just not sell. That's the breaks of being a writer.

You want to sell 10k copies? That's very...ambitious.

I wish you the best of luck.

Dreadnaught
10-14-2006, 03:47 AM
Thanks for the comments and good wishes Stormhawk. If I end up going the self-pub route it will be definitely be a print run by an offset printer. That's the only way to get a competitive cover price. The 10,000 figure was just an estimate of what kind of run I'd need to do to get the per book cost under $2. But as I mentioned, I doubt I could afford or justify a first print run of that amount. It's true I'm looking at this project very ambitiously, but it probably wouldn't be be worth doing if I didn't see it that way.

ResearchGuy
10-23-2006, 04:22 AM
...You want to sell 10k copies? That's very...ambitious. ...
FWIW, earlier today I chatted with Alton Pryor, self-publisher of 16 books (so far), as he autographed and sold his books at a craft far at Apple Hill, east of Placerville, in Northern California. Apple Hill (the town of Camino) has become wildly popular this time of year, drawing crazy-big crowds. Anyway, Alton (whom I have known for a few years) told me that his best seller has sold 75,000 copies. Seventy-five THOUSAND. It is a book of "Little Known Stories of California History" (title approximate from memory). That would have involved some number of print runs. That may be the book of which he sold 8,000 copies at a crack to Costco. Alton runs a one-man business as author and publisher.

The price break for offset printing, by the way, kicks in at 3,000 copies, or so I have been told by various small publishers. By that point, marginal costs of additional copies are very small.

Another self-publisher of my acquaintance, novelist Naida West, has (if I recall correctly) sold 30,000 copies of her first novel. She has others in print, and is working on the third in a massive trilogy (River of Red Gold, Eye of the Bear, and whatever the third is to be).

Those folks are atypical, but do show that success can be achieved.

--Ken