Planning A New Book

This is the 250th post to the Self Publishing blog, which makes for around 200,000 words written about publishing since I last published a book! Good grief, this blogging business is worse than socializing. If I hadn't stopped watching TV last year I doubt I'd have time to get anything done at all.

However, I find myself planning a new book, or at least a new edition of an existing self published computer title. I can tell that I'm serious about it because I've already written a couple new chapters and because I find myself working discount math while I'm out running.

The current edition of the book is priced at $14.95, printed by Lightning Source, distributed through Ingram with a wholesale discount of 25%, and I accept returns. The book was not designed to appear on bookstore shelves, it's barely over a quarter inch thick in the 8.25" X 11.0" format, but it sells well on the Internet and direct to technical colleges as a classroom text. Despite the short discount, it has also seen some bookstore stocking, due to the walk-in demand created the web published excerpts.

I have three basic choices with the new material I'm working on now. The first is to publish a new book specific to the new topics, taking a much broader approach than the I did with the existing title, which is a one-of-a-kind niche book. I'm inclined to take a wait-and-see attitude on this one, and if the material expands to the point that a whole book makes sense, that's what I'll end up doing.

The second choice is to add the new material to the existing title and publish a new edition in the same format with the short discount approach. I could raise the price to $19.95 to bring it a little closer to the low-end of the pricing range for books of this genre, and probably get Amazon to transfer the existing reviews and list positions to the new edition. This is probably the most logical approach, which is why I find it so unattractive.

The third choice is to create a new book in a smaller cut size, designed for store shelving. Raise the wholesale discount to 55% and the price to compensate. Wait a year and see whether or not it gets modeled in the chains. One of the problems the existing book has always faced is that most customers don't look for it until they need it. It was my bestselling ebook back when Amazon carried Lightning Source supplied ebooks, and apparently sold-through when it was stocked in super-stores. But at the low cover price (which wasn't restickered) and a short discount, it made very little sense of those stores to reorder.

If I go with a $24.95 cover price which would be normal for the projected page count in the genre for bookstores, and a printing cost of $3.95 through Lightning Source (just making the math easy), at a 55% discount I would gross $7.28 per sale (before returns). At the current minimum 20% discount, which would restrict the potential to online sales and special orders only, I would gross $16.05 per sale. So why does the lure of the bookstore stocking remain so strong, despite the long odds of success and the risk of returns?

I've got three reasons to balance the three options I gave earlier. First, if the title ends up modeled in the chains (ie, stocked as part of the home office floor planning for stores), it would have a life outside of the Internet. While I remain perhaps the biggest advocate of Internet centric publishing, as a business matures, it's a good idea to spread the risks. My self publishing business is sufficiently mature that I'm willing to invest and take new risks in order to diversify my business model.

Second, there's the challenge. I already know how to make a living self publishing books and selling them primarily online, and I'd like to see if I could carry that over into the bricks-and-mortar world. There's also the possibility that the book would sell several times as many copies by being stocked on store shelves. I don't have the mathematical model to determine if the potential upside offsets the risks and lost profits, I rather doubt it, but I also doubt I'll get stuck with a garage full of returned books.

Lastly, there's the question of career path. I'm not interested in spending the rest of my life updating and self publishing the narrow range of books I have the expertise to write. If I want to stay active in publishing without selling my time, sooner or later I'm going to have to start acquiring and publishing titles written by other authors. I'd just as soon run the great trade-discount POD experiment with one of my own titles, one for which I already know the sales characteristics and demand, so I'm better prepared to make those decisions down the road.


Nicholas said...

When did Amazon stop carrying LightningSource books for online sale? Or have I misread? Wouldn't that signifcantly reduce the opportunities for the POD model?

Morris Rosenthal said...

Minor misread:-) It's ebooks that they stopped carrying from Lightning Source. I only brought it up as an illustration of the fact that the particular title was my strongest ebook since customers tended to "want it now."

I wrote about the end of that ebook era here.


Morris Rosenthal said...


Just wanted add the note that you'd be correct had Amazon dropped Lightning Source POD books. It would have meant a sea change for the POD model for everybody from the big trades and subsidy publishers to the academic presses and the small presses, all of who use the Lightning/Ingram/Amazon connection.


Nicholas said...

Whew, sounds like that was a good misread then. Thanks for the clarification.