Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Someone Save the Author From Himself

Recently on another guy nonchalantly unveiled his master plan for selling his book.  My jaw almost immediately hit the floor for how utterly ridiculous and naive it sounded because usually the guy is pretty levelheaded, albeit smug and condescending.  So here's his genius scheme:

  1. Print 5,000 books
  2. Give those 5,000 books away
  3. Advertise on the Radio (because he's "got a guy" who can give him a good deal)
  4. Profit!

It's like, Wait, you're going to GIVE AWAY 5,000 books?  Hello, the average mid-list book is lucky to even SELL that many.  More to the point, do you have any idea how much printing 5,000 books costs?  I didn't so I found a page on CreateSpace with estimates.  The guy is under the impression you can still sell those little paperbacks, not the bigger trade paperbacks, so I used just about the smallest size they have and estimated 300 pages.

As you can see with shipping that's $25,000!  But hey it's all right, he's not going to use CreateSpace; he's going to use some conventional printer.  To which I thought, "You're going to print 5,000 books at Staples?"  Probably not, but I can't imagine whoever he has in mind is going to be much better in terms of creating a professional product.

Being condescending and smug he keeps saying, "You're just being negative" and implying he knows so much more about the business.  I'm not being negative; I'm being sane.  Unless you're independently wealthy, you don't put yourself in the hole $20,000 before you've even got the books in your possession.  I know Guy Kawasaki or whatever his name is says to do that, but he's nuts.  You can use that old adage "You got to spend money to make money" but that's better applied to factories or restaurants or real businesses.  Books don't make money!  OK, most of them.  The way the Big Four (or Five) operate is pretty much like movie studios:  you have your "tentpole" books and authors who generate most of the revenue and then you have a bunch of small fish who if they generate some profit that's great and if they don't, it's not a huge loss.  Most publishers won't pay for big book tours and all that because they know the book isn't probably going to make money, so why add to the losses?

And being an old guy, he's probably not even considering ebooks.  Which, hello, are FREE to publish!  I've maybe given away 5,000 copies of Chance of a Lifetime online and it didn't cost me 25 cents let alone $25,000.

But hey, this guy will defy the odds, right?  Because he believes.  Ha.  When I first published Where You Belong I bought a whole case of them.  I'm not sure what I thought I was really going to do with them; maybe sell them out of the trunk of my car.  I sold a few on EBay and to people I know, but a lot of them I ended up giving away on Goodreads.  That didn't cost me near $25,000 but it was enough to tell me to be like the Big Fish and keep my costs as low as possible and eke out what little profit I can.  Reaching for the stars is nice, but the stars are trillions of miles away and even if you could reach one you'd burn up.  That's sort of a proverb, I guess.

I keep imagining this guy being like the Dennis Farina character in "Authors Anonymous," selling his badly-printed book in his girlfriend's hardware store.  But maybe his goofy plan will pay off; stranger things have happened.


  1. Not that I know that much about being an author, but it can be done. If he has a friend or relative that has a printer business or is doing a barter for the printing costs. It's just crazy enough to work!

  2. I lean toward it not working. Even if he gives away that many books, then what? Will it be so great that word will spread? Somehow I don't think so.

  3. This has disaster written all over it. But if he won't listen to advice, I suppose he has it coming? I just can't imagine how this will work. I keep thinking "There's a reason traditional publishers don't just GIVE THEIR BOOKS AWAY." Seriously, when was the last time you saw a traditionally published book available for free? At least, one not in the public domain?

    You're right that books don't make money, individually -- not millions.

    I went to see if I could find a stat on how much money a book typically makes, but instead I found this comically bad advice on how to make money when your book is traditionally published:

    If you read them, the advice boils down to "fight with your publisher about commissions and pump up the sales by buying your own books." So maybe that's your guy's idea: He can say "I sold 5,000 copies!"

  4. Yeah, no. The only way free books make you money is if they drive readers to buy your other books. Just handing a free book to someone, how does that make money? Now the radio interview might help, but one interview on the radio never made anyone a bestselling author. And buying copies of your own books has already been a losing proposition.



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