Maybe like you, I tend to have themes going through my business. I guess those themes are based on pop-culture, the Geo-political situation, or cultural norms most of the time. Like, remember that horrible phase of authors trying to out-do one another with the swear word book titles? Good God that was ugly! Yes, it got our attention, but was it good attention?
So, I guess it’s the state of the economy that draws us to today's topic - money! How do you know how much is appropriate when investing in your book project? It’s a question I’m being asked more often these days. Aspiring new authors call me up asking how they can cut corners to cut costs and my answer is generally pretty much the same - do the highest quality book you can afford - always! In this business you get what you pay for. You hire a horrible coach, you get useless coaching. You hire a bad editor, you get lousy editing. You hire a junior or inexperienced designer, you get lack of accountability and follow through, likely poor design, you’ll have to do a lot of hand-holding, and generally they are nowhere to be found to help you with marketing or future re-prints.
It’s a time and money question for most authors. Those that feel like they are too busy want to ghostwrite, usually til they know the cost! Then, once they realize the lack of control and even more time required to interview and correct what the ghostwriter has written they realize they need to have more accountability and be hands on. I have a an earlier podcast episode on this (#64). You can go over to my blog and scroll down and click on the word “ghostwriting” and you can listen or read the blog. And, those that want to produce a novel but don’t yet have a following are reluctant to invest financially in something they can’t justify a return on… yet they want high quality. Everyone comes to a book project with a unique story and an equally unique reason for writing a book. And of course, everyone has a different available budget.
I have had a few clients come to me in the last week that had a primary concern with cost. There is nothing I dislike more than hearing that an author has to slow down due to cost. It’s an unfortunate thing when an author is limited by any situation and I don’t like to see them trying to cut corners to achieve the dream of writing a book. Many new authors don’t realize the cost to produce a professional book. When an author starts to cut costs is when an author generally fails to produce a professional book. It’s also the exact thing that keeps people from reading it. There is so much competition and so many new new authors that are trying to birth books into a pretty saturated market. And when a book doesn’t stand out it… well… just kinda fits in.
The presentation of a book is part of the gift an author gives their reader. If you think about how you might wrap a package for someone you love verses someone you’re not trying to impress then you will see this isn’t much different. Many years ago in my corporate world I had a vendor hand me a business card that I still think about today. It was die-cut and clear plastic with a fancy font and color. It was like nothing I had seen before. It was the first and only time anyone had ever given me a business card that felt more like a gift. It’s one of those things where you look at it and you want to ask about it. Where did you get this printed, who was the designer, and of course, how can I get one too? (And, by the way, a great source for these is Etsy.)
A book done right has the same affect. It should tell a story well before it’s even opened. The reader should be drawn to want to pick it up. And, unfortunately, when an author has to cut cost, the first things they tend to cut are creative. They think they can find someone less expensive or they can go to a print on demand system to save on the upfront cost. In actuality, the print on demand system may end up producing a higher cost per book. And the junior designer is going to ultimately cost you at least time… because there is far more that goes into designing and laying out a book than meets the eye. You are going to have to learn all the creative elements that go into a book an instruct a junior designer how to do their job if they’ve never done a book before. And there are all kinds of issues after the fact, like updates when the designer can’t be found or preparing it as an eBook or leveraging materials for marketing and sales.
The fact is, that the cost to produce a book is equal to the end result. If it’s not done right in a saturated market then it simply will not stand out. As well, you are likely going to have to present a less-then end product in all social and business circles. A high-quality book is always going to present you as a professional. It speaks for you. It tells a story before anyone even opens it. It sets you apart from your competition and gives you a chance to be seen and heard.
But, here is the reality check…
Client #1: She came to me a few years ago and wrote a children’s book with her daughter as the illustrator. It’s a cute little book. But, she ordered 300 copies with no particular audience or marketing tool in place. She’s still sitting on many of them a year and a half later. She said that sales just wasn’t her thing and she didn’t care to do events or teach or anything with them. Now she’s gone through editing and came back to me for her novel. She was never a coaching client, just a design client. She was never given clear instructions from her coach about how to move her children book and now that she is sitting on many of them still today she’s hesitant to invest too much into her new novel. She claims she doesn’t want to have a business or do events with the novel either. She just always wanted to write a novel. I had a chat with her the other day about her goals. I gave her a reality check that she has a small business in her books. She knows she wants to produce the highest quality book but she’s real nervous about spending too much money on producing it without knowing her return on this investment. This is where I’m like a broken record all day long with new authors. The fact is that you have to decide your success factors before you produce a book. Is your goal to get a return on your investment? I’m sure most authors wish for this, or at bare minimum want to pay off the cost to produce it.
Reality check moment! You are likely going to have to produce and sell a sizable number of books at a low cost per book to get any return on your initial investment. The profit is generally not in books sales.
So, does this mean writing a book a profitless venture? Honestly, it’s very rare to make a profit in book sales alone. Does this mean I need to keep the cost per book down to turn a profit? Yes, and no. There is a cost to pay for not doing your best. You get one chance to make a statement. A book gives you a great opportunity to shout to the world who you are and communicate a message. The professionalism of your message is weighted by the outward appearance of you material first and foremost. If the book is not appealing it will never get opened. There is a certain level of predictability a reader wants before they invest time in your material. It’s important to know your target market and reader so you are clearly appealing to them upon first glance.
Client #1 now has to decide if she wants to produce her book in high quality, but run no other business around her book, if she’s ok making it an expense. If she doesn’t want to go out and present and sell her children’s book at children’s events she’s not likely to sell it. If she doesn’t have a plan for her new novel it will be much the same story. Writing a book alone will not drive people in to read it. It’s a business with an item for sale that needs representation and an audience to move it.
Client #2: She was choosing between two book covers I designed for her over the weekend. She went with a very predictable cover. Honestly, it was the boring choice and that’s pretty typical. Most authors choose the boring book cover because they are afraid to stand out or be different. Frankly, the choice she made makes the book seem like a pretty typical day in the life of her target audience - moms. Her book is for moms looking to find themselves after having kids. Her cover is a mom trying to do yoga while her kids are jumping on the couch behind her. She says she asked other moms for their opinion before we started working together and this is what they chose. Of course, they haven’t yet read her book, so they don’t know her content. There are a few ways a book cover can be chosen. Ultimately it comes down to the authors choice in a self publishing model. Visually, you can pick up a reader’s interest based on the state they are in or based on the results they hope to achieve by reading the book. In other words, you show them an image of a mom trying to survive in chaos or you show them a mom in complete strength and peace - the ultimate state.
This particular author was torn between another cover and this one. The other was a sassy little girl sticking her tongue out. She said she liked that it represented the kid in all of us. But, she ultimately chose the other because it represented the content inside better. It’s pretty predictable. The choice she makes her tells me a lot about her character and also a lot about the audience she’s going to appeal to. It also tells me she’s not a risk-taker and she’s going with the predictable choice. I asked her earlier on what she was using the book for and she says she might coach but she doesn’t really have any goals other than to write the book. This tells me that she’s not likely to get a good return on her efforts. We talked about this and she understood what I was saying but is also busy raising her kids and really doesn’t want to step out of her comfort zone and coach, speak, or train but maybe she would open herself up to that later down the road. She is a very typical client. She just wants to write a book and hopefully it will get purchased and read.
The fact is that a book will always be an expense unless you have plans for it to do something else. Books just don’t sell themselves. A book generally slips into an abyss after its launch unless an author does something about it. A smart author understands the opportunity they are creating for themself and accepts the expense, knowing they will get a return on their investment if they properly manage activities around the book.
So, I had a third client (Client #3) call me up as a referral from another client. She told me all about her project and what she expected to do and after a good 30-minute explanation I finally had an opportunity to ask her what her word count is. She told me it was 7,000-8,000 words. My first reactions was “wow, that changes everything!” Why you may ask? A typical business book is about 40,000-50,000 words and this would be the equivalent of about two chapters. After a bit of back and forth she told me that she had no intentions to make the book any bigger and she wanted to keep it as it was and publish it for an event she is doing with a friend in June.
So, I asked about the event and the overall theme of both the book and the event. The book is a story about relationships. The event is related. I didn’t get too much deeper into the event. But, of course I was wondering if she’s looking to switch careers and become a counselor for relationships. I also wondered if this was a paid event and if she would be doing more of this type of event in the future. She told me she was trying to submit her material as column articles and she thought this would be a better way to present them. Now, if she could get paid for the columns because she had written the book she’d start making a return on the investment. If she was charging for a weekend retreat and they were also buying her book as material for the event then she might also get a return. But, if she was looking to do free events and get published for exposure then the next questions is - is she prepared for the exposure? Does she have another thing to sell once attention is drawn to her? This is where many authors miss the boat. They claim themselves to be an expert in the thing they are writing about (either intentionally or unintentionally) but have no fall back to anything outside of the book…they have no other offering they are selling. No coaching, no teaching, no training, no item for sale, no online presence…they essentially do all this work and have nothing outside of the book to get a return for their investment.
Client #3 however may likely be able to parle the book into a tool for additional business a bit easier than the other two clients, mostly because her drive to do something with her book is a bit higher. It’s really that simple. Even if the content wasn’t that great, its the drive that will return a reward faster. But, if her content is good and provides value to her readers and seminar attendees then she’s likely to have no trouble paying back the initial investment to create her book. And, if she has a great quality product she might find a way in the door with some of the publications she’s looked for a feature column in. Perhaps she sends them a few free books to showcase the quality and content and if they like what they see and she’s a professional she’s likely to forge a relationship where she might even earn a monthly column of her own. She’s now got credentials to help her stand out from the crowd.
The greatest thing authors misunderstand about producing a book is understanding the book isn’t the business. If you don’t invest in a professional book you won’t get a professional result. You’ll always wonder if you produced high quality would you get better results. The answer is always a big yes! Quality of content and overall look and feel sells you when you can’t always sell yourself. If you get just 5-10 minutes in front of someone you want to forge a relationship with then use the opportunity to be friendly not sales-y. The book will sell you. Work on creating solid relationships and let a high quality book do the rest.
With Client #3, if she has good relationship content, then she has to think about where she’s got to hang out to sell it. It’s likely she may have to hang out with a lot of angry people of failed relationships. Is she properly trained for those dynamics? Only she knows that answer. Choose the topic you write about wisely as this is the place you need to be to sell your services. If its not a natural fit you, you will not be successful hanging out there for long.
The trick to a successful book launch is to always produce the highest quality you can afford, then scale back later with softcover or eBook options to lower the cost per book. But, always have a plan for your return on your investment that doesn’t rely on book sales alone to replenish your bank account. Make sense?
Alright guys! I hope that helped you make a decision on whether or not to push forward on the investment in your book project. Life is short, so I always say go for it, but be smart about how you do it. As it’s been said - ride or die!
On that note, and as always, I’m wishing you peace, love, and light! I’m here for a complimentary consult to determine whether or not a book is right for you. Go enjoy your day!
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