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How To Make A Profit With A Print on Demand Novel

It's not as easy as it seems!

Print on demand (POD) has changed the publishing world, with many new authors coming to light. Even if you master the technical side (and that can be complex and demanding for the POD printers), making a profit can be tough on a 350 page novel. Why so?

Well, the set-up costs are, in general minimal, though a really good book cover will cost a few hundred bucks from a true professional. Let’s look at the math a new author faces, using a company such as LSI in the UK, round figures only, and short run POD printing:

Fixed Costs

Book Cover      £300
Cover Set up     £21
Interior Set up   £21
1st proof copy   £21

There will be other fixed costs, such as a professional editor (advisable) and the first-time self-publisher may well need an extra proof run off. Then there are subscriptions to trade databases and advance notifications to take care of - these can add up to £200/year.

Variable Costs (per copy)

Base cost              £0.70
350 pages @ £.011 £3.85
Cost per copy        £4.55

Now, want to get this stocked by the trade, so we have to offer a reasonable margin, say of 40% to the retail trade. So, £4.55 is 60% of the final cost, and £3.04 is the 40% margin for the bookseller, making a total of £7.59. Also, many of the larger booksellers will only take books ‘on consignment’ - that is, sale or return. POD books are usually sold on a firm sale basis, so getting stock into the supply chain can be a challenge unless you commit to paying for a print run of say, 2000 copies. Then the author / publisher will have to take a risk on returns.

Now, how much ‘profit’ does the author/POD publisher want to make on the book (and we’ll ignore the fixed costs for now)? Is 40p reasonable? That would make the shelf price of the book £7.99.

So, how can an author / POD publisher improve their profits?

Of course, if the author/pod-publisher sells the books directly - say from their website, then they will themselves get the 40% trade margin. Volumes though are likely to be small, require development of a website and then some marketing effort, which is not inconsiderable.

Profit can be increased by choosing a large trim size and thereby decreasing pagecount. Format is critical. The thickness of a book is important, so that buyers feel that they get value for money. 12 or 13 point fonts, with lots of white space suggest that a book is being padded, and for the self-publisher it adds cost. How do you feel as a book buyer about a large format novel that is ‘thin’?

Profit can also be increased by careful layout. Cut ten pages from the book and the profit goes from 40p to 50p, an increase of 25%. Now, authors may be reluctant to make such a cut in the text, but by combining the header and footer (or eliminating them altogether), and careful adjustment of the fontface, then it’s easy to cut ten, even twenty pages from the page count, without loss of text. Do, though, make sure that the page is relatively easy to read. 11 point text is what some regard as the minimum fontsize, but you will occasionally see books printed with less than 10 point, which are hard work to read - the story has to be really good for the reader to persevere.

If you are squeezing the margins down as well, then a proof copy is essential (and mandatory for first time publishers with LSI, who will not deal direct with authors). People will quickly tire of reading a book which has no gutter and has to be prised open to read. LSI recommend 1.3 cm margins and that’s close to the minimum that works, as they have a 2mm tolerance in the trim.

With an 8.5” x 5.5” trim size, it is possible to produce a 150,000 word novel, with a few illustrations, in 10 point font which is just comfortable to read, in 360 pages, and return a profit (excluding fixed cost recovery), of about 80 p a copy.

The best way to increase profit though, is to get the sales volume up and invest in an offset printing run, which can reduce the cost per copy to £1 or less. This gives more flexibility to work at a lower cover price and at the same time make £3-4 per copy profit. Maybe you will need a publisher after all - why not let us help you? We're new, we're keen, we're flexible!

© 2011 Phil Marks

wavecrest UK is takes the 'Tech out of POD Publishing. Authors want to write!

Phil Marks, 30th June 2011

Phil is the Editor at wavecrest UK


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