Having almost completed a biography with has taken me over fifteen years in the research and writing I am faced with the question of how to get a reasonable return on the great deal of money and effort that I have devoted to the project. Unless one is an established biographer and can command high fees at the start, this is very difficult to achieve. I’m not being mercenary about this, since the project was never taken on with the idea of making money, but my concern is not to be ripped off.
The fundamental problem in book publishing and distribution nowadays is the Wal-Mart mentality. Amazon is a prime example of this. Not only do they charge what to my mind is a high commission, but they set a low standard shipping rate, which is below what it actually costs, so that the author has to pay the extra, and if the book is not selling as fast as they would like they will just discount it. All of this means that the author receives almost nothing, and his or her work is devalued.
Small indie publishers are now unwilling to accept anything that is ‘not commercial enough’, as are agents. I have approached both, purely to satisfy myself that I needed to self-publish! Larger publishers will only accept submissions if they come via an agent, with a few exceptions. One of these is Yale University, but the manuscript you submit has to be so nearly in publishable form that you might as well do it yourself. I do not believe that any publisher nowadays will make more than minimal efforts to market your book – you still have to do most of it yourself. And when you consider that you might get 5-6% royalty if you are lucky it doesn’t look worthwhile to me. These grapes are indeed sour!
For a fairly niche biography such as mine, I see no value in listing the book on Amazon. There is no point in making such a book available to a mass world market, when 99% of the potential readers will not be interested in buying it. In any case, wherever you list the book, you need to tell your potential readers where to look for it. Being a bookseller who uses Biblio already, this is a much better option from my point of view. They charge either 15% commission, or 7.5% + $10 per month. The seller also sets the book price and the shipping charge. Of course you also have to ship the books, but this is no great hardship at the volumes I expect.
Another option I looked at was self-publishing companies. I liked CreateSpace, despite the fact that it is part of Amazon, but the requirement to get a US Tax Identification Number, which involves sending my passport and other original documents to IRS was not one which I was prepared to comply with. AuthorsOnline is a UK company and it looked a possibility, but it specified an exclusive contract, a UK bank account, and I did not like their standard page layout. I may be picky, but I didn’t find any of these companies provided what I needed. Add to that the fact that their main selling point is that the book would be listed on Amazon and the Book Depository, again I could predict near-zero profits.
It is within the author’s power to promote a book using social media. In the two years or so that I have been blogging I have been able to reach quite a number of potential purchasers. The biography is set in the Georgian/Regency period, and therefore is not only of interest to historians but in particular to novelists, to whom such material is of great use. Having identified my market, I don’t need Amazon. I just have to list the book somewhere online where the buyer can easily use online checkout facilities, and Biblio will suffice for that.
Given the choice, and a reasonable return for my labours, I wouldn’t go through all of the process of typesetting, cover design and getting the book printed, but in the circumstances I don’t see that I HAVE a choice. And this way, as someone who has always believed that if you want it done right you have to do it yourself, I keep control of the whole project, without, as far as I can see, that much extra effort.