When Borders filed for bankruptcy last week, I was pretty shocked. That place has been my favorite browsing bookstore for many years. But as I paused to remember the last purchase I made there, I had to go back to Christmas 2009. And therein lies the problem of course. Stores like Borders can’t compete with Amazon and other online retailers. Maintaining an actual walk-in store is simply too expensive. It’s all a matter of dollars and sense (yes, I mean the logical sense). Borders’ troubles might be linked to the upswing in e-books, but I doubt it. All of my and Julia’s efforts over the past 18 months, most of it chronicled on this blog, prove that people still prefer actual books they can hold in their hands to those that must be viewed on e-readers or computers.
So, where does that leave us, the struggling writers? Those of us who have published books the old fashioned way know it can be done if, and it’s a big if, we are willing to work basically for free. I spent three plus years writing Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon and the American Dream. All told, my co-author and I each collected around a thousand dollars in royalties. Yes, really. For three years’ work. Go figure. Hoop Lore is on a similar track. My publisher for those titles, McFarland, isn’t some little rinky-dink operation run out of the back of a trailer; they are a respected midlist house that publishes some 350 title per year. And they pay the standard 10% royalty.
Let’s crunch some real time numbers. When I decided to do a reprint of the Elvis/Nixon title in printed book form (standard softcover, 6 X 9 inches), it cost me about $600 to have 75 copies delivered to my door. Rather than collect 10% of the sale price in royalties, I am receiving the full retail price of the book, which I have set at $20. My cost for each book is about $7, leaving me with a profit of $13 per book. That means I would only have to sell a hundred books to clear $1300. To compare, my royalties for a hundred sales of Hoop Lore (via McFarland) total $350.
So okay, yes there is a certain sense of prestige if your book is put out by a real publisher. But the time has come when authors need to ask themselves if those bragging rights are worth the cost. Let’s face it, very few of us are going to write a bestseller. Or even a book that sells, say, ten thousand copies. Publishers no longer promote authors, which means when they take on a book they have already decided it can sell in excess of 50,000 copies. If you believe 50,000 people will buy your book with no promotion, then you should certainly keep trying to sell it to a conventional publisher.
Each of us believes our books are special—and they are. It’s convincing other people who don’t know and love us that’s the problem. Julia and I have decided the best way for us is to get out within our own community and plug our work. If you are thinking along similar lines, we highly recommend you check out Diggypod (http://www.diggypod.com). They produce very quality books at an affordable price. And the customer service is great.