the self-publish author cartoon

My friend Judi Schindler is the guest blogger this month. We met freshman year in high school when we both tried out for the same part in the play The Hitchhiker. In spite of the fact she got the part, we became good friends. When I learned she was going to self-publish, I asked her to do a guest blog. Here she writes about her experience with self-publishing her delightful little book about the humorous side of marriage and relationships. I loved it and ordered six copies for friends! After you read her post, check out her “Husbands: An Owner’s Manual”as well as her blog, “The Toilet Seat Must Go Down.” You can follow her on TwitterFacebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

 

I never started out to write a book. And I certainly didn’t intend to self-publish one. Nothing could have been further from my mind. (In retrospect, this explains a lot.) Some 70% of all books are self-published today, which implies some writers are doing it correctly. I’m not one of them. If you want to learn how to do it correctly and come out ahead economically, do yourself a favor and stop reading now.

The Back Story

If, however, you’ve chosen to stick with me, you need a little background on how I managed to dig myself into a deep dark hole.

After running a successful Chicago-based public relations/marketing business for more than 40 years, I became an actor. I started by taking a number of classes, which led me to an agent. An agent led me to plays, commercials, independent films and voice-overs, admittedly for little or no money.

One day, it occurred to me I could draw on my skills as a writer, actor and publicist by developing a one-woman show and marketing it to women’s groups, seniors and other entertainment venues. I chose to take a humorous look at marriage, based on 50 years of first-hand experience. Thus, “Husbands: An Owner’s Manual” was born. Employing funny audiovisuals (photos, recordings and sound effects), the show explains how to select a husband and how to maintain him in good working order.

Audiences learn:

  • the benefits of same-sex marriage, even for couples who aren’t gay;
  • how to translate the phrase, “I need to find myself”;
  • the pros & cons of “previously-owned” husbands;
  • why they should avoid professional athletes;
  • what to do about replacement parts and warranties,

I invested one year and around $6,000 in the production; including audiovisuals, and audiovisual equipment, a website, video and additional marketing materials.

As soon as I began marketing, it became clear that the $1,000-and-up speaking fees I anticipated were not in line with the budgets of the organizations that wanted to book me. My speaking fees were running between $200 and $300, lumping me in the same category as accordion players and Elvis look-alikes.

Putting it on Paper

Undaunted, I’ve been performing the show, at a loss, for the past five years.  From the beginning, people have urged me to turn the performance into a book. I was reluctant, because I wasn’t sure the material was as entertaining on paper as it was in performance. I was persuaded to give it a try when I realized many speakers subsidize their honorariums by selling books to the audience. Maybe this was the way to get a return on my investment?

To get started, I hired an editor, who helped me add amusing anecdotes and examples, tightened the writing and reorganized the content so that it read better and funnier. I also hired a first-rate book designer/illustrator, who added a number of humorous cartoons to the ones I’d previously commissioned for the show and created a colorful layout that pops on every page. The book now looked and read laugh-out-loud funny. I saw it as a “gift book,” a novelty you would buy for someone other than yourself.

The next hurdle was trickier.  Most self-published authors do so with minimal up-front investment by using a print-on-demand service, such as CreateSpace,  which can also design the book and provide a full range of pre- and post-publication services.

Schindler's book self-publishedAs it turns out, print-on-demand is only economical for books that are a standard size and have black and white interiors.  At this point, “Husbands: An Owner’s Manual” measured 6 1/2 by 6 1/2 and was 80 pages, with full color bleeds throughout.

When I sent my specs to a print-on-demand company, I learned the printing price would be close to $20 per copy, more than an 80-page book could sell for.

Another friend suggested I get quotes from traditional book printers. This led me to a printer in a small Illinois town, and a price-per-book of under $5. Of course, to get that price, I had to order 1,500 books and take delivery on them.

For the record: 1,500 books = 27 cartons, each weighing 30 pounds — not exactly a stash that fits on a closet shelf. Fortunately, I have a friend with a very large home who offered to store the books in her garage and enlisted her college-age son to fulfill orders for me.

So how do you sell 1,500 funny books about marriage? Book stores were not an option, because my margins were already pretty thin.  With a cover price of $16.50, bookstores would typically pay $8.25, plus they’d want the right to return unsold books. And I’d have to pay shipping and handling both ways

The bottom line: I was going to have to sell all 1500 copies myself, one book at a time. The first several hundred were purchased by friends and family, that left just 1,200 more to sell. To do so, I’d have to employ a full-scale marketing campaign.

 Marketing Program

The book came out last November. In anticipation, I updated my website to promote it and installed an order page with shopping cart.  I set up a vendor page on Amazon. I launched a weekly blog, titled “The Toilet Seat Must Go Down,” to build an audience and enrich my website with “searchable” content.

I’m currently in the process of taking an online course on Instagram that is “guaranteed to teach me how create thousands of followers.”  Instagram, alone, is almost a full-time job, as it requires posting videos, photos and marriage quips once or twice a day. Plus, you must comment and follow other Instagram feeds. Of course, I also tweet, post and boost posts on Twitter,Facebook, and LinkedIn.

True to my original concept of selling to audiences, I’ve already arranged a half dozen book readings and performances where I’ll be able to sell books to the audience.

Finally, I’ve fallen back on my old PR skills to promote the book by getting interviewed for radio shows and podcasts as well as print interviews. A major story in the Chicago Tribune has been picked up around the country and has been my most successful tactic by far.

In other words, I’m back in the business of marketing and public relations.  Only, this time, the client is me. And, oh yeah, I’m also the one picking up the tab.

Return on InvestmentCartoon cost to self-publish

Let’s look at that tab:

My fixed costs, covering production, printing and shipping were $8,984.  Marketing costs for the website and social media consultants were $3,079 for a total of $12,063.

In addition, there are the variable costs of selling on Amazon ($1.80 an order plus 15% of the sales price). Orders from my website go through PayPal, which is 2.9% plus $.30 per transaction. (I don’t include mailing costs because these are charged back to the reader.)

What about potential income? Considering I have given away a number of books for promotional purposes and discounted others to friends and family, the most I can hope to gross is $15,000 in book sales. I can also project another $5,000 in speaking sales, for a total of $20,000.

The Denouement

So, at 76, I’ve found myself with a full-time job, complete with deadlines, lengthy to-do lists, budgets, sales projections, tax collections, and record keeping — not to mention a garage full of books. And, if I’m very, very lucky, I might clear a cool $3-4,000 over the next two years.

As stated at the beginning, this is not the way to go about self-publishing.  If you want to do it the right way, I’d suggest reading “APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur,” by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch.

On the other hand, if, like me, you’re at a time in your life where you still want to be productive, stretch your creativity and stay current in the world, you might follow my example and self-publish the hard way, my way. It beats playing checkers, basket weaving or falling into a life of crime.

 

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