A few weeks ago my 7-year-old daughter (with the help of my wife) made rainbow cupcakes. Of course, the first thing that went through my mind was “What a great book cover that would be!” I know, I need to work less…
In January we put out a call for submissions for our first multi-author poetry anthology (we published our first single-author poetry collection in October of last year). We decided the theme for the collection would be “Colours” (I like the British spelling), and the submissions deadline would be March 15th. So when I saw the cupcake, it was obvious what the cover for the collection should be and I quickly secured the rights to the cupcake from my daughter.
On March 16th, we had 84 poems from 41 authors. Unfortunately, by the time we finished reviewing the submissions, we had accepted less than 30 of the poems for the collection.
A bit about the economics of book publishing. For a book of under 108 pages, we pay a flat fee of $2.30 per book for printing. A book with 30 poems would probably be about 40-50 pages, depending on whether we insert images into the book to break up the poems (which we did rather successfully with our first poetry collection). My research has suggested that trade paperback books generally are priced between $0.065 and $0.085 per page, so we aim for $0.075 per page when pricing out books. This means we would price a 50 page book at $3.75. Assuming a 40% discount to retailers, we would receive $2.25 per book, which is less than the cost of printing. As a general rule, to make a 20% margin on a book your printing costs should be no more than 40% of your list price. Working backwards, this means that a book printed for $2.30 would need to have a list price of $5.75 or be about 77 pages (assuming you price your book at $0.075 per page). In short, we needed twice the number of poems than we had accepted.
The two options we had were to cancel the collection or to accept some of the poems that were “on the fence” to get the page count up. I’ve blogged about my opinion regarding accepting work which is on the fence in the past. In short, I don’t think it’s a very good business decision – when you settle you are no longer turning out the best product possible. This is not fair to your readers, and it is also not fair to the authors in your collections. Authors must feel confident when they submit work to you that your editorial policies are such that their work will always be contained in the best book possible. When you “adjust” your editorial review policies to allow less than the best to be published, you become the next publisher of books like Atlanta Nights.
It is always a difficult decision to cancel a book project, and I must admit I was really looking forward to having that cupcake on the cover – with proper credit to my daughter on the copyright page. But as I mention elsewhere, while writing is an art, publishing is a business. As a publisher, sometimes you need to make difficult business decisions to ensure that your company will be around to publish that next great book idea, complete with a rainbow cupcake cover.
I would like to thank all of the poets who submitted work for this collection both for their efforts and their understanding.