Being Social…

As I stated in my last blog about #Pit2Pub, I’m not a big user of social media. In part it’s because I have a pretty busy life and find social media to be a distraction – anyone I want to know what I’m doing already knows without my posting it. But as the owner of a small business that relies on getting the word out about our products, it surprises most people I’m not more active on Facebook and our blog. The reason is very simple:

I’ve found it doesn’t really help to sell books.

Others have written about why Facebook is not a good place to market books, and I won’t rehash those arguments here. For Divertir Publishing the reason these are not good marketing platforms is much simpler: most people who follow our blog and Facebook page are not consumers of our products – they are not readers. Instead, most people following us are authors hoping to get published. Thus, I’ve always believed that posting on these forums hasn’t really been helping our business, and thus it has not been a priority.

Recent emails from from both a current and prospective author has me rethinking this attitude. The email from our author simply stated that he missed our blog and found the inside information on how publishing works to be useful. The prospective author asked if we were still in business, given that we have not started our online magazine (mostly due to lack of submission) and that I hadn’t blogged recently. Interestingly, since my last blog post, we have published two books and have another coming out this week. However, the prospective author didn’t see the new books that have been published (in part because we don’t list the publication date on our email site). All he saw was that there were no recent blog posts.

What this lesson has taught me is that being social is very import – not because it helps us sell books, but because it reminds people we are still actively publishing manuscript.

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#Pit2Pub…

People who know me well know not to try and contact me via social media for anything important. It’s not that I don’t have accounts on all the sites – it’s that I log into Facebook only when I receive an email reminding me I have an account, and before today I couldn’t tell you the last time I logged into Divertir Publishing’s Twitter account (@divertirpub).

All of that changed today when, for over thirteen hours, I sat at my computer monitoring the live feed for #Pit2Pub while doing other work. In this “pitch party,” organized by Kristin VanRisseghem (@KVanRisseghem) and Ann Noser (@AnnMNoser), authors had 140 characters to pitch their manuscripts to 43 publishers who agreed to monitor the twitter hash tag for the day. Publishers were asked to like a tweet if they were interested in receiving queries for the manuscripts pitched in the tweets.

According to www.hashtags.org, the number of tweets totaled almost 5,500 for the day. Because authors could repost tweets every two hours (and many did), I would estimate there were about 1,000 unique pitches posted during the event. Out of those, I liked 54 – or about 5%. So what made a tweet stand out for me enough to ask for the author to submit a query?

  • This is an example of a tweet I liked: “Rayne must stop the evil half of her family from exploiting her dark magic. If only she could figure out which half that is #Pit2Pub #A #F” (by Michele Keller, @ml_keller).
    This tweet told me everything I needed to know about the manuscript – the intended audience (adult), the genre (fantasy), and the plot (Rayne’s family wishes to exploit her dark magic). It even left me asking the question “What about the family made it hard to tell who was evil?”
  • I often tell authors not be be “too clever” with their queries (like writing a query letter as one of the characters from the book while not telling me about the manuscript), and this format is no exception. At the two-o’clock hour it was estimated that 570 tweet were sent to the hash tag #pit2pub. This means an author had less than a minute to get my attention. If I couldn’t immediately tell what a manuscript was about I passed.
  • Queries that referenced movies didn’t work for me, in part because I lacked the context to understand most of them. I don’t go to movies much (I prefer to read) and must admit I haven’t seen the latest Star Wars.

In short, assuming the tweet was for a genre we publish, tweets that told me what the manuscript was about, left me wanting to know more, and didn’t use references I might not understand were the most likely to get a “like” today – which is exactly the same criteria I use when I read queries.

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A Fond Farewell…

…to Jen Corkill as the Acquisitions Editor at Divertir Publishing. Jen will be moving to the other side of the publishing aisle as an agent for the Booker Albert Literary Agency.

Jen has a keen eye for talent which will serve her well in her new role as a literary agent. For the past year, she has done an incredible job wading through the tequila and Italian ices we call our “slush pile” to find some truly unique manuscripts that I am excited to be publishing in the coming year. In addition, she became one of our authors with the release of her debut novel “Season of Mists.” Finally, Jen has been a vital partner in this publishing adventure I call Divertir Publishing. Her insights into what makes a great book great will be missed, and I am fortunate to be able to call her my friend.

I’ve always considered small publishing companies to be the place where people make their starts. For authors, they are a place to publish your first works while you hone your craft and develop a following. For people more interested in the technical and business aspects of publishing, they are a place to learn the ropes and develop insights into the world of publishing. Several of our authors have gone on to publish with other presses, while some of our previous staff have gone on to other roles in the publishing community. One of our former editors is currently the owner of her own small press. Thus, while this is a sad time, it’s also a time of great excitement as Jen moves into her new role.

Jen will be finishing up the manuscripts she is currently working on, including the science fiction short story collection, so authors need not worry about any transition. Also, Jen will keep access to her Divertir Publishing email account. Feel free to shoot her a note to wish her well.

On behalf of Divertir Publishing, I would like to thank Jen for the time she has spent working with us and wish her the best on her next adventure.

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Lesbian Vampires and the NSA…

For NaNoWriMo in 2014, I wanted to write a spoof on young adult paranormal romance books with hunky-blue-eyed-servants-of-the-underworld and angsty teenage girls that fall in love with them. The result was Misunderstood. My favorite line, written at 3 a.m. while trying to make my word count for the day, was delivered by one of the female vampires after a vampire hunter hits on her: “I prefer my men dead, but thank you for the compliment.”

A recent blog by author A.J. O’Connell about research she’s doing for her latest book made me think of something funny with regards to my manuscript. It occurred to me when I started writing I knew very little about vampires. Do the myths really say they can only go out at night? What special powers might a vampire have? I immediately turned to Google to get my questions answered. While my intention was to keep all the romances heterosexual, it was obvious where the book had to go after I wrote a scene where the older female vampire consoles a newly turned vampire after the new vampire’s family rejects her for revealing what she had become. Thus, I searched for “lesbian vampires.”

I hope the NSA had a lot of fun with that one.

I know authors who feel that, when writing fiction, research is not necessary. The attitude is, because fiction involves made up characters, places, and events, one can take liberties with facts. This often results in manuscripts that fall short as readers start noticing things that are not accurate. Was the murder weapon or getaway car in your book available to your characters at the time the story was supposed to have occurred. Would one really drive northeast to go from Gary, Indiana, to Missouri City? Can a character really be shot in the abdomen ten times and continue fighting? Can you really kill an assailant, or your spouse, with a lettuce knife? Great fiction draws a reader in and makes them feel like part of the story. You’ll never accomplish that if a reader is questioning if your story is believable.

Research also tells us what has already been written and provides backstory a writer might not come up with on their own. The story Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and published in 1871, was about a lesbian vampire. Knowing this allowed me to make some changes to my own manuscript, such as altering the appearance of one of the female vampires to suggest the woman might be Carmilla. While done subtly, fan of the genre should pick up on it. I hope it makes the manuscript a more interesting read.

One more amusing comment about the NSA. I was recently checking the spelling of some words in Sharia and Brandon Mayfield’s Improbable Cause, which we are releasing in the spring. One word I had to look up was Al Qaida. So now my NSA browsing history includes “lesbian vampires” and “Al Qaida.” I wonder what the NSA computers set up to mine our data will do with that combination…

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Hacking my Keurig 2.0…

For Christmas last year we purchased a Keurig 2.0 coffee maker. People who know me will tell you I drink a lot of coffee (usually with cognac in it when I’m reading queries). I took it out of the box, put in my favorite ‘Donut Shop Coffee’ k-cup, and was floored when I saw the “Oops, this package wasn’t designed for this brewer” message. The cup worked fine in my previous Keurig brewer.

Because almost no one reads the instructions on a coffee machine, I called Keurig. They informed me that you now had to purchase your coffee from them because they had included a new ‘technology’ to better brew coffee. Read this to mean they included DCM (Digital Coffee Management) to prevent competitor’s k-cups from working in the machine unless the competitors paid them a large licensing fee for the ‘technology.’ I told the woman from Keurig I would stop drinking coffee before I was forced to buy overpriced k-cups from them and that I was returning the machine. I then hung up and did what I suspect most people who purchased the new machine did.

I Googled “Keurig 2.0 hack”…

The answer is simple. Cut the ring off an “approved” k-cup and tape it to the “unapproved” cup. This is what I’ve done with my reusable EZ-Cup and SoloFill cups – I prefer buying bags of coffee, both because of the price and because the reusable cups are more environmentally friendly. The Roger’s Family Company website has a nice collection of videos for all the hacks available. They also make a device called the “Freedom Clip” that will disable the new optical scanner technology in the Keurig 2.0. I’ve already ordered my Freedom Clip and will let everyone know how it works.

So what does the price of coffee have to do with the publishing business, other than the fact I rely on my cup of coffee to read queries? It has to do with setting the price for your products. In my blog on Profit and Loss statements, I talk about doing market research to determine the optimal list price for your book. Each k-cup from Keurig costs 3 times the amount of buying bagged coffee and the filters for my reusable EZ-Cup and almost twice the cost of k-cups from most of their competitors; this is the main reason I don’t buy coffee from Keurig. If you price your book too high for the market people will not purchase your book. Instead, people will go someplace else for their reading entertainment, or they will find a way to hack the DRM on your eBook. They may even hack their coffee machines just to make a point…

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Publishing Costs…

In my last blog I wrote about creating a profit and loss statement for a book. Let’s assume we are producing a children’s book in a 5 1/2 by 8 1/2 inch format with a black and white interior. The book is 150 pages after layout and has 15 illustrations in the interior. Finally, based on a survey of similar books, we conclude the price the book can be sold for is $8.95.

The above book can be printed for $3.15 using print-on-demand (POD). Dividing the printing cost by 0.60 gives $5.25 as the minimum price you need to charge to cover the printing costs and a 40% discount to retailers. This is less than the price we can charge for the book based on our research. So does this mean the book can be sold at a profit?

It depends.

The next step in the calculation is to estimate total net sales and costs. Because the average books sells about 500 copies I use this in my estimates. A forty percent retail discount off a list price of $8.95 leaves $5.37 per copy for the publisher, which will be your net sales for each book. Multiply this by 5oo books to get the total net sales of $2685.

Now compute your expected cost:

  • Your cost of printing is $3.15 times 500 books, or $1575.
  • If you are publishing someone else’s manuscript you need to pay royalties. We pay a 12.5% royalty on net sales, which in this case is $336.
  • Proof reading will cost $3 per page on average, while copy editing can cost $4 a page and content editing can cost $7.50 a page. For this estimate I’m going to assume $4 a page, or $600.
  • Illustrations can cost anywhere from $50 to $1000 an image, depending on the type of image (full color or black and white line art) and the amount of detail. For the children’s book I’m going to assume $750 for 15 interior black and white images and $200 for the cover.
  • Professional interior layout with a desktop publishing program can cost as much as editing, so let’s use $600 in this example.

This gives total costs for producing the book of $4061, which is $1376 more than the net sales for 500 copies. In this example you would need to sell 1387 copies of the book to cover your costs. Even if you are self-publishing (which means you are not paying royalties to another person) and leave out the interior art, your total costs are still $2975, which is more than the net sales of $2685.

If a book cannot be produced at a profit (where total net sales are greater than costs), a publisher will not move ahead with a project. If you are considering self-publishing and the above analysis shows you cannot produce the book at a profit then you should also consider whether to move ahead with the project.

The following is a simple formula to determine how many copies of a book you would need to sell to cover the costs of a self-publishing package:

Copies to sell = Cost of the package/(0.6 * list price – cost of printing)

If the cost of a self-publishing package is $3000 (including all of the above costs like editing), your book sells for $14.95, and the printing cost is $4.15 (which would be the cost of a 250-page book with a black and white interior), you would need to sell 623 copies to break even on the investment.

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Profit and Loss Statements…

People who visit our website know that we do not publish children’s books, yet every now and then we get one submitted. Recently, we received one my middle grade reviewer (and 11-year-old daughter) really liked. But calculating the production costs made it clear that we were not the right publisher because we could not produce the book at a profit. In publishing, this type of analysis is called creating a profit and loss statement. I want to walk everyone through this analysis, in that whether you are a publisher or about to self-publish your first book this is a useful tool. I will use a children’s book as my example.

Step 1 – What format should be used? Cookbooks are usually hardcover books for a reason; they stay open easier when on a countertop. Similarly, children’s books are usually hardcover books because they will withstand more “gentle reading” than a paperback. Figuring out what format your book should be in is the first step, because your printing costs will be determined by the format. Also consider how large the book should be: 6 by 9 inches is a standard format, but books in your genre may require a special size.

Step 2 – What will the book cost to print? A children’s book with color illustrations will need to be printed in full color, and an 80-page full color book will cost $11.88 per book if produced using POD technology on 70# paper (which is what most self-publishers have access to).

Step 3 – What can you sell the book for? The research I did suggested that on average an 80-page hardcover full-color children’s book will retail for about $14-$15, unless it’s a large (8 1/2 by 11 or larger) format.

Step 4 – Taking the discount into account, can you cover the printing costs? The discount to a retailer is usually 40%, meaning you get 60% of the list price. Thus, to figure out what the list price needs to be to cover your printing costs, divide the printing costs by 60% (0.60). For a book that costs $11.88 to print, the list price would need to be $19.80 to break even on the printing.

If the list price needed to cover the printing costs from step 4 is greater than what you can sell the book for STOP. You cannot produce the book at a profit. I know most people are thinking “Just charge $22.00 for the book.” Over-pricing a book for a given market (charging more than similar books) is a common mistake, and will result in very few sales.

If the above analysis shows you can cover the printing costs, the next step is to determine if you can cover your fixed costs (editing, illustrations, and cover art). I’ll cover computing these costs in my next blog.

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