Nov 20

The Price of Self-Publishing

Signing the first copies for my supportive friends and family.

In 21 days I’ve sold 21 copies of Addie and Ollie. Despite this “initial flurry”–thanks to my mom and closest friends–I’m faced with the frustrating reality of self-publishing: on-demand printing is just much more expensive compared with a mass run by a traditional publisher.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Lulu.com. Without their expertise and resources, I wouldn’t have published anything! And I’m thrilled that through them the book will soon be available on Amazon and Barnes & Nobles. So if a modern Lord Tennyson might have asked, “Is it better to have self-published and struggled than to never have published at all?” I would answer resoundingly, YES!

But even the amazing Lulus can’t change the financial facts. The cost to print books as they are ordered is high. While I could commission my own print run to reduce the cost per book significantly (which I’ve had estimated), I would have no way to get those copies into the distribution channels I enjoy through Lulu. So even if I could easily afford an upfront investment to print books locally, I would really have no way to effectively distribute hundreds or thousands of copies other than trying to sell them directly, which would be difficult on any scale because it would run counter to “the system”.

So global distribution is the real challenge–and perhaps Lulu’s greatest strength. From schools to bookstores, “the system” works so well because of recognized and efficient channels. While the price may prove too prohibitive to compete with the Scholastic and Random House children’s books of the world, Addie and Ollie will still be available for order at a Barnes & Noble store or online through them or Amazon, in addition to Lulu. But as throughout this journey of self-publishing, every challenge is countered with an equal opportunity (see Finding the SELF in Self-Publishing).

Here's how the "Addie and Ollie" eBook version looks on my iPhone!

Once again, self-publishing fosters autonomy and creative problem-solving. So for those who might face similar challenges, I continue to share. Here are my early post-publishing learnings and ideas:

  • Make It Personal – This is a big one for me. Honestly, as a budget-conscious mom, I would never pay $15.95 for a 28-page children’s paperback book without a compelling reason. Hence I feel guilty when my friends do. I’ve very sensitive about not “profiting” from my friends, yet I know that I would myself be happy to buy a book written by a friend if they signed it, to give as gifts. So while the price is what it is, I can at least add value in personalization. I’ve signed almost every one of those 21 books so far (and intend to get the rest when I next go to S. Florida). And of those, most have been for gifts to others from the purchasers, for whom I’ve been thrilled to write a message to surprise a child this Christmas.
  • Share Sales – I’ll continue to pass along special Lulu promotions as I learn of them. I’m waiting until the next 20% off sale to buy my own next bulk copies, too.
  • Publish as eBook – Among their many services, Lulu makes publishing and distributing an eBook easy. Without costly ink and paper as hard cost, this is a much more economical option for readers, even readers around the world whom I’ve never met. While I have never yet read an eBook to my own kids, I hope to in the near future. (Hint, hint, Santa: a color Nook or iPad would be great). My children’s bookshelves are maxed out for space, and I love the neatness and convenience of always having all your books with you in a sleek, well-organized portal. I horrified an acquaintance at a party last night by suggesting that printed books might become more of “collectors’ items” in the future, sort of like 45’s now in a world of electronic music. Why buy when you can i?
  • Find a Sponsor – If athletes can do it, why not those of us wanting to compete with our literary muscles? If I had a sponsor that could also distribute a print run of say 1,000 books to reduce my cost for smaller events, that would be great. For me, I think I’ll start with the vitamin company that sponsored the contest I won for this book. If they say no, maybe some local Orlando resorts might be willing to fund a modest run, in return for weekly kids’ club reading/signing events. Universe, are you listening? 🙂
  • Pray for an Agent – While I remain grateful to Lulu for this entry into the world of publishing, I’m gaining a deeper appreciation of the key role an agent plays in selling your book/yourself to publishers. They’re evidently an essential element in “the system” which works so well–if you’re in it. So before the turkey leftovers are gone, I will be reaching out to children’s book agents for the first time. No doubt, there will be more rejection involved, but hey, what do I have to lose?