In the first part of this series, we briefly looked at how we get started in the process of preparing a new book for launch. This time we will look at some of the key decisions that have to be made once we decide to engage the author and proceed to design the book. As the header suggests, this stage is all about the numbers - well for us at least - and we don't just mean the price. It is all a bit of a juggling act, but here are some of the main numbers we need to sort out very early on in the whole process.
One of the most important numbers when putting a book together is the trim size - or the size the pages will end up. This number is very important as it affects quite a few things including:
- the production costs of the book
- how a book will look on the shelves
- the page count
- overall layout, especially if picture are involved
- how the book compares with / stands out from its competitors
There is no hard and fast rule about how we arrive at a trim size. We start by discussing with the author how they see their finished book and if they have any preferences. We follow this with research into similar books to check what is already out there. Depending on the genre of the book there may also be generally accepted sizes to consider, although there is nothing wrong with being different. Alongside the trim size, we also have to consider hardback or paperback - not all trim sizes work well in both formats.
The second important number for us is the page count. This is a little more complex as you never know exactly what this will be until all editing and design is complete, but we set a target. The page count is directly affected by the trim size of the book as that affects how many words you can fit on a page and still be acceptable to the reader. There are some basic guidelines when it comes to number of words per page, and of course things like images, copyright page, index etc all have to be taken into account. As with the trim size, the page account also has a direct impact on the production costs of the book, and therefore the amount of royalties the author can earn per copy.
This is probably the most difficult - and arguably the most important - number to resolve as it has a direct effect on the earnings of the author, book seller and publisher. While the aim is to try to maximise the return for all parties, price a book too high and it just won't sell! This is where we have to do a lot of research into books already on the market to make sure we are competitive. Of course sometimes there is nothing similar - as with Stripey Enid, but it does help us with the final decision.
The retail price of the book has to cover many things including:
- on-going production costs - how much it costs to print each book
- retailer / distributor discount - book shops and distributors have to make some money too!
- author royalties - how much the author earns per copy
- publisher returns - how much the publisher makes per copy
Of course we haven't yet mentioned the costs involved in actually getting the book to print which include things like cover design, interior design and layout, typesetting, editing, proof reading, advanced marketing and son on.
Royalties and discounts - a reality check.
Royalties - the amount an author or illustrator received when a copy of a book is sold - has been the subject of much debate recently and rightly so.
Everybody dreams of writing that best-selling book that allows them to retire to that nice house in the country. The sad fact is that most writers will end up virtually paying to write, earning only a few pence per book. This is where publishers get a lot of bad press (excuse the pun). Yes there are undoubtedly some unscrupulous publishers out there, just like any industry, but there are a lot of factors at play here.
One of the largest costs for us as a publisher once we have a book ready to go is not actually the printing costs, but rather the discounts we have to offer to distributors and some large chains in order to get a book onto shelves and into readers hands. As an example one of the larger UK-based wholesale distributors will not even talk to you unless you offer them a 60% discount on the retail price, while some chain stores have been known to insist on as much as 70%! This of course can mean very little money to pay everyone else.
Now don't get me wrong, we understand that everyone in the chain has to earn some money. The distributors will in turn have to offer the book seller a discount on the list price so that they in turn can make some money when they sell the book. It is just basic economics, but does mean the author tends to get the through end of the stick once all other costs have been accounted for. We try to counteract this by setting the author royalties based on the UK cover price of the book, so negotiating discounts etc impacts how much we see of a books selling price rather than penalising the author.
If you would like to read more about the whole discount structure and argument and how it affects the industry, then the ladies over at Kenilworth Books have written some interesting articles which are well worth a look.
next time we will look at what goes into designing a book.
The Beercott team.