Thursday, September 20, 2012
Is It Worth It to Create a Buzz in Print?
For the past year, I’ve done contract work for a local author’s cooperative here in the great state of Maine. The coop focuses on helping indie authors get their work published and distributed, offering services like book design, editing, printing, e-book formatting, marketing, and promotion. As a result, I’ve been in a unique position to watch indie publishing from an entirely different perspective than the one most common in the publishing world today: one where a great deal of emphasis is still placed on print books, while the majority of my online indie pals are firmly entrenched in the camp where digital is King.
Since I’m an indie author myself, these seemingly conflicting viewpoints have necessarily gotten me thinking: In this day and age, is there truly an advantage to the printed word, or are my cooperative cohorts clinging to a dying industry? To answer that question, I started crunching numbers, looking at stats, and talking to authors in both camps.
The first issue whether you're selling thousands of books every month or merely dozens, is the question of profitability. Since editing will be the same whether you’re going with digital or print, the next big cost to look at is book design. It used to be that designing print books was prohibitively more costly than it was to whip together an e-book for Kindle and Smashwords. Today, however, there are a proliferation of quality book designers who offer their services at surprisingly low rates—starting at as little as $100 and moving upward from there.
CreateSpace, Lulu, and a few of the other big-name POD publishers also provide free templates that are fairly simple to follow for the DIY indie looking to save a few bucks. So, unless you’re looking to create an aesthetically mind-blowing coffee table book, there isn’t a huge financial disparity between print and e-book design nowadays. As for book covers, I personally pay $99 for my cover through probookcovers.com; for an extra $30, my designer will do a high-res PDF of the full cover: front, back, and spine. As with just about everything else in this biz, the DIY option is cheaper and there are, of course, always more expensive options if you’re looking for something above and beyond. Either way, though, there’s not a big difference between coming up with a digital cover and the full print version.
That brings us to printing costs. Print on demand (POD) means that we indies are no longer stuck with a basement full of books because the only way we could get printing costs down enough to create a respectable profit margin was to order a print run of 500+ copies. Today, you can order as few as ten copies of your masterpiece and still be paying as little as $4.50 per book through CreateSpace for a full-length novel (including shipping).
To me, the bigger issue is what you plan on doing with them after the fact. Is it worth it to approach bookstores and libraries far and wide? What, exactly, does that do for the average author in today’s digital-centric world? I personally have taken the time to approach the local bookstores that know me, and they’ve been great about carrying my mysteries, promoting the series, and keeping me apprised when they’re running low on copies.
I’m asked frequently by locals here in my hometown which bookstores outside of the immediate area are carrying the novels, however, and I used to feel a little weird telling them that there were, in fact, none—like it somehow took some of my legitimacy away because I wasn’t shopping my titles around to every indie bookseller in the tri-county region. I stopped feeling badly about that, however, once I looked at the financial realities of placing my novels in bookstores.
Between time, travel expenses, the cost of creating and printing professional-looking sell sheets, and then factoring in a 40% standard bookstore discount, the reality is that I feel I’m better off investing a little bit of money in advertising or a little time in PR and selling more e-books that way, than I am spinning my wheels trying to convince bookstores to carry a couple of copies. I always have those sell sheets and a few extra copies handy when I’m traveling, of course, so that if I happen to be in or around a bookstore I haven’t approached before, it’s a simple matter.
Otherwise, however, I just can’t afford to make them a priority. So what, exactly, are print books good for? Paranormal suspense author Lisa Rayns notes, “Some people still only read print books and I also like to have hard copies. With the time you put into a novel, it’s nice to have something tangible to show for it.”
Beyond vanity, there’s the issue of having print copies for reviews and contests, many of which still don’t accept digital submissions. I’ve found opportunities to sell print copies at readings, signings, lectures, workshops, and seminars. I use them for giveaways, book club packages, donate them for raffles to local charitable events, and occasionally foist them on friends and family members as gifts.
What does this actually do for my profit margin overall? Not much. However, whenever I have an event at which print copies will be available, I invariably manage to get some PR from that event, which means more exposure and in turn more digital sales, not to mention more cool stuff to add to my portfolio and the media page on my website.
All of this leads back to the original question: Is it worth it to create a buzz for your books in print? While the answer will vary to some extent based on your goals as an author, I think at the end of the day it depends on just how much time and energy you’re expending to create that buzz in the first place. Signings, readings, book clubs, seminars, giveaways—these are all great opportunities to enhance name recognition and spread the word about your work, but in my mind it’s essential to strike a balance between these types of events and the online marketing necessary to maintain steady e-book sales.
Beyond that, it’s a matter of personal preference and comfort level: I have several friends who thrive on public appearances and face-to-face interaction with their readers and loathe time at the computer. I think those who can find a happy medium between the two—and still manage to eke out some time to actually write the next novel—will ultimately find the most success.
What do you think? If you’ve already published, did you choose to go with both digital and print copies? Have you tried the bookstore route? I’d love to hear what your experience has been in these changing times.
Jen Blood is a freelance journalist and editor, and author of the Amazon-bestselling Erin Solomon mysteries, ALL THE BLUE-EYED ANGELS and SINS OF THE FATHER. She runs the mystery book blog BloodWrites.com, and teaches seminars on social media and online marketing to indie authors from her home in midcoast Maine. Her third novel, the noir thriller MIDNIGHT LULLABY, will be released in December.