Joe Konrath on Cover Design Costs (and more)

This post is part of Cover Design Week. To see other posts click the CDW tag below.

Over at his blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, Joe Konrath puts an axe to industry-determined royalties and costs, including the cost of designing a book cover. It’s a must-read for any independent author trying to make sense of the current pricing/cost landscape.

Joe’s post is also an important reminder that valuing a book’s viability or merit based on the perpetuation of publishing’s own overhead is invalid on its face, if not fraudulent. In fact, I think the idea that authors should take advice and accept criticism from people whose steady paychecks and health care plans are paid for by exploiting author’s works has run its course. If the only defense of the publishing industry you can muster is also a defense of how you yourself directly profit from the status quo, then you have no defense. What you have is self interest, bias and creeping fear disguised as experience.

For my money, the first person in the publishing industry who figures out how to value any author’s work apart from protecting industry overhead will be the person to watch.

On a related tangent, careful readers will note that Cover Design Week is now in its second week here on Ditchwalk. Because no good deed ever goes unpunished, I fell behind last week when I tried to correct a small problem with my computer using my original WinXP Pro disc — which promptly rendered my main computer completely inoperable. (Amazing, but true. The hardware I’m now running was unrecognizable to the original disc, but that didn’t keep Microsoft’s install routine from rewriting critical sections of my MBR, turning what had been a perfectly functioning machine into a brick.) The irony in this case is that while a wealth of computer experience (and support from others) helped me diagnose the problem, it’s a problem I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t been mucking around with my machine.

— Mark Barrett

Site Seeing: Joe Konrath |

When I first started trying to understand the tumult taking place in the publishing and self-publishing industries, one of the sites I ran across was a blog called A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. Written by author Joe Konrath, the site provides useful commentary on the transitions taking place in publishing, and how writers may profit from these changes. In the past I referenced several of Joe’s posts here and here, but today I want to encourage you to take both a closer look at the Newbie blog and a broader look at the empire.

If your writing platform equals your celebrity (and it does), there’s still the nagging question of how you become celebrated. Various authors have reversed the process entirely, building up a persona first, then capitalizing on it by writing a book, but that’s not what most authors are going to do. For most authors the question is more mundane: how do I let the world know where I am?

Part of the answer today is undoubtedly technological. Whether you choose to have a blog or a web site or both or more, that’s going to be part of your solution. It’s certainly a big part of what Joe is doing — as one click here will demonstrate — and that’s another reason to keep track of both the site and the blog. Someone is actually doing the stuff you may decide that you want to do, and they’re giving you a chance to learn by their example.

If you’d prefer a more hands-on approach to marketing, Joe’s also been down that road:

I was the guy who sent out 7000 letters to libraries, who visited over 2000 bookstores, who blog toured over 100 sites in a single month, who gathered 10,000+ names for his newsletter, who talked about social networking before anyone knew what Facebook was.

I think all of this has had a positive effect on my career. I’ve made some money. I’m still selling books.

I’m not advocating that you do any or all of that — I certainly won’t be — but that’s not the point. The point is that Joe Konrath doesn’t seem to be kidding around as an independent author, and there aren’t a lot of people you can say that about.

— Mark Barrett

Following the Money

What are the economics of being a professional author? I know how much I’ve made as a storyteller in various mediums, but the book business is still pretty much a mystery to me.

To the extent that I’ve been able to fill in any blanks I owe individual authors for having the courage to talk about their own experiences. While each story is different, they’re all adding up to a useful composite, and particularly so given all the forces at work and changes taking place in the industry.

For example, today I ran across a follow-up post by Lynn Viehl on Genreality, talking about The Reality of a Times Bestseller:

So how much money have I made from my Times bestseller? Depending on the type of sale, I gross 6-8% of the cover price of $7.99. After paying taxes, commission to my agent and covering my expenses, my net profit on the book currently stands at $24,517.36, which is actually pretty good since on average I generally net about 30-40% of my advance. Unless something triggers an unexpected spike in my sales, I don’t expect to see any additional profit from this book coming in for at least another year or two.

Is that a sobering reality? Easy money? I have no idea. I don’t know how many hours Lynn put into that title, so I can’t do the workaday math. Still, if you didn’t live a big city or have any consuming vices you could probably squeak by on that money, provided you had the same amount coming in next year…but then that’s not a given, is it? (Speaking of givens, Lynn blows up a number of myths in the post, and in the prequel.)

In a previous post I noted Joe Konrath’s sales figures for both traditional publishing and self-publishing of his novels, and that’s also worth a look.

For pure self-publishing numbers I’ve been relying on posts by Dan Holloway writing as a pair of shoes. You can read his initial accounting here, and his latest here.

If you’re a literary fiction writer, how many books do you have to sell to call yourself a success? 7,000.

If you’re an online fiction writer, are there ways to monetize your content? Sure.

Update: Publishing your own RPG? Here’s what it cost someone to do just that.

I’ll post more as I find it. If you’ve already found it, let me know.

— Mark Barrett

Control Your Copyrights

Regular readers know that I harp from time to time on the idea of authors retaining their copyrights. I’ve been doing this because there’s no clear metric other than raw dollars by which an author can calculate the value of a publishing deal compared with the value of retaining and exploiting copyright ownership themselves. And raw-dollar comparisons are hard to come by.

Which is why this post from Joe Konrath should be the first thing you read today, and tomorrow, and any day a publisher comes calling:

My five Hyperion ebooks (the sixth one came out in July so no royalties yet) each earn an average of $803 per year on Kindle.

My four self-pubbed Kindle novels each earn an average of $3430 per year.

If I had the rights to all six of my Hyperion books, and sold them on Kindle for $1.99, I’d be making $20,580 per year off of them, total, rather than $4818 a year off of them, total.

So, in other words, because Hyperion has my ebook rights, I’m losing $15,762 per year.

It’s only one example. And this author is profiting indirectly from having had his books published by a publisher — including any editing, design work, previous marketing, etc., which helped attract attention to his name and stories. But he’s also being very clear: controlling his copyrights would be putting more money in his bank account.  Read more ]