The other night, I completed the process of uploading the files for the audio book of “An Honest Day’s Work” (http://amzn.to/1w9JpIG) to ACX, the Amazon-owned service that publishes audio books to the (Amazon-owned) Audible.com. When the audio book is published (this week?), I will have finished my three-and-half-month journey through the new paradigm of publishing.
I remember the old paradigm well. In 1987, my boss at Burson-Marsteller, Stan Sauerhaft, called me into his office and posed a question: “How would you like to write a book?”
Stan was already a published author, having penned a series of humorous essays (in the style of Stanley Bing) called “The Merger Game.” But his real passion was to write mysteries. Because “The Merger Game” was several years old, his agent suggested that he write a non-fiction book to get his name back into circulation and then the agent could hike Stan’s mysterious manuscript around to some publishing houses.
Stan didn’t have any interest in writing about the PR business, but figured we could co-write such a book, which would serve his purposes and get my writing career off to a good start.
We outlined the book and assigned ourselves chapters. After we had a few of them done, Stan’s (and now my) agent shopped them around and before long, John Wiley & Sons agreed to publish what later became “Image Wars: Protecting Your Company When There’s No Place to Hide.”
In 1989, “Image Wars” hit the bookstores, a year after we turned in the completed manuscript. Stan and I split a $4,000 advance – that was the only money we ever saw for our labors. I don’t remember exactly what we would have gotten had the book sold well, but I am sure it was no more than ten percent of the $22.95 cover price — probably less.
There was no negotiating. Publishers had the editors and designers, and a lock on the distribution channels. If you wanted to self-publish, you went to a vanity press, paid all costs, purchased lots of copies and hoped the local bookstore would stock “My Life with Cuddles the Poodle.”
Twenty-five years later, when I decided to write “An Honest Day’s Work,” I knew that I wanted to self-publish. It just made sense. The book would get to the market a whole lot faster than if I were to publish it though a mainstream publishing house (assuming one would want to have anything to do with it), and the economics are way better. I hired an editor and a digital book packager, but apart from those expenses, the publishing process itself was $250 through a service called BookBaby. BookBaby distributes eBooks to about a dozen retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iBooks. (You can publish for free on BookBaby, but they then keep a percentage of the royalties — the $250 buys them out.)
Amazon pays authors 70 percent of the cover price ($3.99) for each eBook sold (even if they discount the price) and other retailers offer 50 to 60 percent. For an eBook sold on Amazon, my royalty is $2.79. Compare that to the $2.29 Stan and I might have shared from each copy of “Image Wars,” minus the agent’s cut.
Then there is speed. I uploaded the file to BookBaby and within ten days, it was available on Amazon – not the year it took to get “Image Wars” into WaldenBooks.
My intent was to do the eBook only, but a number of people told me they prefer a hard copy so my book packager re-formatted the manuscript and cover, and we uploaded them to CreateSpace, the on-demand book publisher owned by – you guessed it – Amazon. Two weeks later, the paperback version of “An Honest Day’s Work” went on sale – on Amazon, of course — for $11.99. There is no inventory to finance, and no upfront costs to me. Order a book, and it will be printed and delivered to you in two days. I get a 40 percent royalty — $4.79.
One of my friends who is visually impaired asked me if an audio book was forthcoming. I hadn’t even thought about that, but on looking into it, I learned that audio books are the fastest growing segment of the publishing business. Pretty soon, I discovered ACX – Audiobook Creation Exchange, which pairs an author and a narrator, produces the audio book and distributes it through Audible and ITunes. The author and narrator split 40 percent of the royalties.
I thought it would be weird to have someone else narrate the book, especially after I auditioned a voiceover actor. He sounded like Wilford Brimley – maybe I should not have specified a “mature” voice!
Instead, I booked a studio down on Broadway and in a marathon six-hour session, recorded the book. It took three times that to edit the file, which is typical. They edit out all the breaths and pops and break the files into bite-size tracks. Since I am the narrator, I get to keep the whole 40 percent of the royalties. The one wrinkle with the audio book is that, unlike the eBook and paperback, I have no say in the price of the audio book. I expect it will weigh in at about a mere $15, but it could be less because audio books are now mostly sold as mp3s, not CDs.
The cover art for the eBook won’t work for the audio book. I tried to crop it to comply with the ACX requirements but could not get it right. ACX referred me to http://www.fiverr.com — a marketplace where independent service providers market themselves. In ten minutes, I had contracted with a graphic artist who turned around my cover in 2 hours — 22 hours faster than promised…for $5.50. That’s right, five dollars and fifty cents. ACX has accepted the file.
So, to recap, I finished writing “An Honest Day’s Work” on July 31, 2014. Three and a half months later, I have an eBook and a paperback for sale worldwide, and an audio book about to join the mix. All of this would have been inconceivable just ten years ago.
Even though my costs were relatively low, I will be lucky to break even. But so few authors do make money from their work, money had better not be the reason you write a book in the first place.