In November of 2016 I used Kickstarter to successfully crowdfund my first children’s chapter book, The Adventures of Penelope Hawk. Some of you already know that. Someone on the outskirts of my social sphere recently congratulated me and asked who my publisher was. I explained I was self-publishing the book for now, which kicked off some questions about the process and we ultimately came to a question of why I’m doing it the way I am. For starters, I explained that I face the same obstacles anyone else would. Even though I’ve worked in comic book publishing, I’m unproven in this genre & field, I don’t have an agent or representation or even the contacts to work my way in front of children’s chapter book publishers. Also, to be honest, every once in a while I want to experiment and roll the dice. Most people don’t understand the process of how an idea or a story goes from a person’s head to become a finished book for sale. This is the down and dirty version.
Step 1: you make something up entirely from your imagination.
Step 2: you spend a lot of time alone with that thing trying to make it better.
Step 3: you spend more time alone with that thing trying to make it better. Rinse and repeat many more times.
Step 4: you hire an editor and hand that thing over for a thorough inspection.
Step 5: you wait.
Step 6: you and the editor discuss ways to spend more time alone with the thing making it better. After this, in the making of mainstream comic books, I would send the script to the editor and wait for the end result. But this isn’t that scenario.
Step 7: you start the second half of the job: getting the thing dressed and presentable for the world. Hiring a cover artist, preparing the print files, getting an ISBN and other production efforts.
At the onset of step 7, because I hadn’t gone past it this way before, is where I started my research. I asked three simple questions.
1) What does it cost me to make a thing?
Quantifying the hours alone with the thing is hard. Production costs are easier because they’re actual expenses.
2) How much can I sell the thing for?
First, you determine what is the per unit cost to print and ship. Then what will the market bear? You can’t head into a $12-$14 base and start demanding $50 because no one will buy it. However, this is also where things become crystal clear.
3) What is my profit margin? Yikes! I hope you love what you do.
FUN WITH NUMBERS!
Let’s say the idea I spent countless hours transforming into a book now costs $4.50 per unit to print. Factor in shipping, handling, and taxes the book goes up to $10.50. The retail market bears a price point between $12-$14. The margin of profit per unit is slim, but it gets even thinner because some retailers won’t even look at you if you can’t offer a 50% discount off the cover price. Even though I came up with the idea, brought it all the way up from concept to finished product my gross in the retail space is in the neighborhood of $2 per unit or less before taxes. I’ve worked out certain margins to $1.09 per unit. By self-publishing, I can move my margin into the area of $4.50 per unit before taxes, and that leads to Step 8: Marketing, which I’m not going to talk about right now.
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