How Much is that Doggy in the Window? By Nicole Kimberling

Okay, obviously I’m not here to write about dogs. Several readers have asked me to do a basic breakdown of the process and… gulp… the cost of producing a Blind Eye Book from start to finish. I can only assume that these intrepid readers are looking for inventive new ways to go bankrupt. And boy howdy! Making print books is an excellent and noble method by which to dispose of all your money, so here we go.

Well, first I’ll explain a little bit about manufacturing print books. There are basically two ways to do it–either a person can go through a POD or “print on demand” process or an offset print process. Well, there is a third option—digital interior with offset color cover, but I’ll just stick to the basics here.

In POD, books are manufactured when customers order them. The cost per book is higher, and there are some restrictions about size and page count, but POD companies, like Lightning Source have distribution deals that allow the books to be ordered into most print venues. So basically, if you make a POD book you can be sure that it will be available to order into most places books are sold.

In offset printing, a bunch of books are manufactured simultaneously. The cost per book is lower, and as publisher, you have more creative control over what the book looks like. Offset printing is also the current standard in the traditional book industry. The downside is that without a print distributor it becomes very hard to get the books to your customers. There are some consignment programs, such as Amazon Advantage that allow you to sell your product, but your book will basically be invisible to anyone who does not already know about your company or shop at Amazon.

Blind Eye Books makes offset books, so that’s the production process I’m going to go through today.

First we start with choosing a manuscript. At BEB we have various criteria for what content constitutes a title in our line. Once those criteria have been satisfied and the contract has been signed the dreaded (for most authors) editorial process begins. First there is the content edit. During this phase, I read and make comments on the larger aspects of the MS. I don’t get paid for this at BEB, but the going rate for this sort of edit is 20 dollars an hour. Most people can edit between 5 and 10 pages an hour so if I was speedy, I would be paid about 800 dollars for a 400 page MS.

After the author returns her content edits. It’s time for lines. That’s when I go through the MS again, looking at how the sentences are working.  Going rate for this is the same as the content edit, so if I got paid, I’d get another 800 dollars for that.

After that, comes the proofreader. They charge between 2 and 4 dollars per page so, lets average and say that our proofer costs 1200 bucks. (At BEB we do pay for proofreading, since it doesn’t fall within the skill set of either myself, or my lovely wife, Dawn.)

Now, if you were producing your own book and wanted to economize on the editorial process by hiring only one professional, make it the proofreader. The reason for this is simple–proofreading mistakes are the ones everybody notices. Few readers will think, “the author didn’t maximize the resonance created by the pixie dust in her text,” or “the flow of this text could be improved by using dependant clauses to join up some of the shorter sentences.” Butt nearly Everybody will bee abel to tell that there is lots of mistakes errors in this sentance and they will tell ewe about it. Believe me.

While the words part of MS is getting solved by me, Dawn is busy at work on the book production. I give her the original, uncorrected MS, and she forwards it to the cover artist along with a basic synopsis. The cover artist returns an image file, which Dawn uses to design the book cover. Cover artists can cost anything from 200 dollars up. For our last illustration, we paid 500, so that’s the number I’m going to use in my calculation.

Now you could always just draw or photoshop the cover yourself, but if you do, make sure to show it to some other people whose opinions you trust before putting it on your book. For example here is Sam Dawson’s cover for our new book Irregulars.

 

And now here is my own drawing for the cover.

 

 

 

And here’s one that I photoshopped.

 

I think we can all tell who the professional artist and graphic designer is, right?

Now that there is a cover and polished words to put inside it’s time to make the book itself. This means doing the layout for the cover, in addition to typesetting the inside of the MS. Going rate for that would be $1,125 dollars if Dawn didn’t know her stuff.

Once the book all put together, it’s time to take a deep breath, a double shot of whiskey and write to our manufacturer for a quote. The most recent quote I got was for 2000 copies of a 480 page book with a 4 color cover. Total cost: $7, 395 plus around 900 dollars for shipping.

The final cost of production is a more modern fee: digital conversion of the text files for ereaders. This costs about 200 bucks.

The grand total? A whopping $12,920!

And we haven’t even paid the author a dime yet. 🙂

Now, without the book production and manufacturing costs, which is to say if the author decided to go with a POD company, the cost would still be $3,500 for a 400 page book.

So you can see that manufacturing and selling your own print books is not exactly the path to riches. There are some reasons to do it, though and should you decide that you’d like to take the plunge there are certainly cheaper options and strategies.

Got any questions about making paper books? Need a scheme that doesn’t cost nearly thirteen grand? Or even three and a half grand? Tell me your needs and budget and I’ll give you my best ideas!

20 comments

  • That was informative and funny. Though that song will be going through my head for hours now. I may have to play some calliope music just to get rid of it.

    Reply
    • Yes, please, that would be hilarious! (if the Rifter-Comic is anything to go by^^)
      The cover itself is hilarious with the crotch tulips (Antonella’s phrase, not mine) and the tummy demon. 😀

      Reply
  • A thought provoking post Nicole! I am a little alarmed however by your assertion that there are no good content editors. Of course we both know there are but the ebook rom business spits them up and chews them out because a) most are not paid a wage. Most get paid in free ebooks.
    b)those who do get paid are overwhelmed with books and edits of different drafts from countless authors.
    I’ve been surprised to learn that some authors are very difficult to deal with…so imagine not getting paid and dealing with ego on top of it!
    c) Some companies pay editors a percentage of a book’s sales from the publisher’s gross. If the book sells well that’s one thing, but if it doesn’t…again, not much to look forward to.
    I cannot stress strongly enough to ALL authors to get good beta readers and to realize that editors are human. Some are better than others. Be very nice to your editors. They work hard for you! Learn by your mistakes and turn out the best quality work you can…

    Reply
    • Hey AJ,

      Glad to see you!

      I’m not sure that I did assert that there were no good content editors–I just haven’t been able to find any freelancers who are very good who also work very cheap. And I think cheapness might be crucial because initial outlay for a 20 buck an hour editor might be a bank-breaker for an author trying to go it alone, especially when paying a proofreader and cover artist is an absolute must.

      For example:

      Let’s say that you’ve got a 200 pp novella that you want to put out just as an ebook, right? If you pay 200 bucks for cover art and then 400 (rock-bottom pricing, BTW) for a professional proofreader then you’re already out 600 bucks. Now, if you can do the file conversions yourself and get the book up on amazon (for example) at 5.99 per download, you’d have to sell 135 copies before even recovering your initial investment.

      This is because amazon takes a minimum 35% cut for it’s kindle direct publishing program. The cut can, however, go up as high as 70%, though, so a safer break-even number might be 150 copies.

      Seeing as how the average number of ebook copies sold is 100, unless the author already has an audience, she’s already lost money.

      Adding the cost of a content, or content/line editor into that brings the break-even number up at least 100 more copies.

      250 copies sold to break even seems paltry to some, but for an unknown author it might be insurmountable, you know? That’s why I think that unless the price of content editing comes way down, we’re not going to see a lot of it going on in DIY projects.

      AJ wrote: I’ve been surprised to learn that some authors are very difficult to deal with…so imagine not getting paid and dealing with ego on top of it!

      NK: Yes, some authors are very hard to work with, but I should point out here that the author editor-relationship goes both ways. Some editors are also hard to work with. And then sometimes it’s just a matter of 2 people not being a very good match and then getting matched up anyway, which is really too bad for all parties–like a blind date gone horribly awry. 😮

      Reply
  • I’m not sure there’s any piece of the process where an author could safely cut corners. I keep bumping into this myself. I’m not trying to put anything into print at the moment, and in fact all the books that are reverting to me have already been edited and copy-edited, but I want great cover art because I think that’s key, and then I’m paying to have a final double check on the copyediting because some of that was iffy, and then there is the formatting and converting process.

    It’s all got to be paid for — and it’s worth every penny to have it done right. But you do have to have the money upfront — and I guess that’s the issue for a lot of authors starting out. Good work doesn’t come cheap.

    Reply
    • No, sadly, good work does not come cheap. (Oh, would that it did!)

      I still think that the demand for print books does, and will continue to exist.

      Obviously… or I wouldn’t have just made one. 😀

      For example, one economical way for an author such as yourself to have attractive print copies of books to sell to collectors or libraries, or to submit for awards that do not accept digital books (which is most of them) would be to manufacture 300-500 books at a local print shop. The one in Bellingham is called Applied Digital Imaging. They have a service where they print the pages digitally and send the cover out for a 4 color offset process then bind the books in-house.

      The price of that ends up being about 4 bucks per book and takes around 3 weeks to accomplish. I think there are some spine-width limitations, but I’m not sure what they are right off the top of my head. A 700 page book would not be very practical to manufacture this way, but ones that are around 300 can be easily accomplished.

      Then the books can be sold from the author’s own website or on Amazon Advantage quite easily. Expanding distribution is harder, but not impossible. Libraries, and distributors who serve libraries will very often work directly with publishers.

      Of course, it is crucial to this plan to have a garage that you’re not keeping a car in or some other sort of temperature-controlled storage space to keep the spines of the books from warping. (Blind Eye Books stock still partially lives in the spare room of a music studio. :smile:)

      …I guess this would probably be a pain in the butt for a lot of people but this is how we manufactured and sold the first run of Ginn Hale’s Wicked Gentlemen as well as our lesbian anthology, Tangle Girls.

      Reply
  • Wow! I had no idea how much money I was saving by going through a publisher. I feel so thrifty now. 🙂

    Nicole’s point about content editors–and editors in general– is one I strongly agree with. I can’t imagine publishing anything I wrote without someone else first giving the manuscript a very critical reading and then providing me with specific feedback for changes to make.

    Reply
    • Hey Ginn!

      I don’t know about the thrifty… You sell enough books that you could probably make back your money, but you’d have to spend a lot of time doing things you don’t want to do–like running a book company. 🙂

      Reply
  • This is a great breakdown, Nicole. (I nodded along to a lot of this—I also currently work in book production at a small press, so this is familiar.)

    Sometimes, I think books are one of those things that looks so easy it seems effortless, but so much work goes into every book produced, and this is a good explanation of the process. (And I sometimes work on kids books, which have art. That’s a whole other kettle of fish.)

    Reply
    • Hi Kate!

      Thanks so much! One thing though that I didn’t talk about at all was what the publicity/sales people are doing while the editorial and art departments are doing their thing, but I thought trying to inject that into the essay would just be too damn hard to follow.

      Plus, I have no idea what a publicist gets paid. It is a fantasy of mine that I eventually have enough money to hire one, though. 🙂

      Kids books… art on every single page… it’s so scary! :escape:

      Reply
  • That’s scary all right. I notice you keep saying “IF you got paid”. Hope you’re making a few pennies in there somewhere.

    Reply
    • From Blind Eye Books? Not at all at the moment, but monetary remunuration is not why a person starts a small press. 😀

      Reply
  • I also wanted to add that now I understand how you can “afford” such quality content edits :(, by not being paid for them. And there are some readers who will notice the gaping plot holes, the non stop information dump, uneven pacing of the books, so I wish content editors were hired on more wide spread basis :). But you are right of course, typos are the mot visible. Thank you and Irregulars rock (Sorry just had to say it again ;))

    Reply
    • I think it’s really hard for authors who are deciding to go it alone to justify hiring content editors. There are a lot of reasons for this:
      1. Probably they don’t think their books need content editing, because they can’t see any way to improve their own work so how could anybody else?
      2. Getting away from the vile blue pencil of the editrix might be the reason the author has decided to go it alone in the first place. (Though the blue pencil has been mostly replaced by the “track changes” function now.)
      3. I’m not sure that there has been any truly economical content editing around before now. I’m still not sure if cheap, good, content editing exists. I’ve actually considered starting to offer that service, though, at some easy-to-swallow rate like 50 cents a page just to give an option…. I’m not sure if I’d ever get anything written again if I did that, though. 🙂

      And thank you for your compliments on Irregulars. I’m not sure if everybody knows this or not buy my own content editor on that project was Josh Lanyon. It worked out really well. I learned a lot.

      Reply
  • Hi Nicole, thank you so much for doing this detailed breakdown. It loooks like the major chunk of the costs wen to manufacturer for final production of the book, right? $7395 plus $900 for shipping out of total 12920? I think that every time when major publisher would start telling the readers how “print books” cost production is no significantly more than ebooks (because of course as a reader the main point that I took from your article is that obnoxious pricing of ebooks on the same level or almost same level as print books by agency publishers is well, obnoxious :)), I will remember your article and shake my head again. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hi Sirius!

      I think what large publishers saying when they say that the production cost is the same for print and ebooks, they’re talking about everything BUT manufacturing. (Generally the word “production” means making the files to send the manufacturer in this particular business context.) Because up until that point it actually is, or should be the same.

      But charging the same price for print and ebooks truly is obnoxious because the the ebook is infinitely replicable and does not have to be warehoused or shipped anywhere.

      Reply
    • It DOES cost less to make an ebook but in all fairness, the more copies you print, the less a single book costs. In the whole printing process, the costs of the paper are pretty much negligible and printing presses are very fast so it doesn’t make that much of a difference whether you’re printing 2000 or 5000 copies. When you’re talking about bestsellers, the publishers are actually more or less right.

      Like Nicole said, there are the extra costs of warehousing and shipping but you don’t have to worry about piracy or setting up and running a web shop.

      Reply

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