As you may have heard, I’m releasing a book, See These Bones, in just under three weeks. In a perfect world, that would involve a single step: click publish and you’re done.
This is not a perfect world.
For the past month, work on my other books has taken a back seat to preparing for my book launch. I’ve covered some of those details already, from the cover to the live-action book trailer. Today, I want to talk about the book itself and what it’s taken to get it ready for release. I also want to discuss the pricing, which is a way more complicated subject than you’d expect.
And Now, the Release Info…
See These Bones will be released on November 5th in digital and paperback format.
The digital version is Amazon-only, because Amazon largely controls that market, and I want to be able to participate in Kindle Select. Doing so affords me higher royalties on sales in certain countries and makes me eligible to participate in Kindle Unlimited. KU will hopefully allow my book to reach a wider audience. Readers get the book for free1 through the program, but I get paid out of the KDP Select Global Fund for every page read. We’ll see how it works in practice, but as a debut author, it seems like a reasonable gamble.
The paperback is 6″ x 9″2. I chose that size to keep my page count (448) and the resulting printing costs down, but the book also looks pretty good on a bookshelf. I’ll be releasing in paperback on both Amazon3 and IngramSpark. IngramSpark is more desirable for bookstores/libraries because:
- It offers wholesale discounts of up to 55%
- There are return policies
- It’s not Amazon, a company a lot of bookstores rightly see as their competition
In short, if you want your book to potentially wind up in bookstores and/or libraries, IngramSpark is the way to go.
It’s also kind of a pain. I’ll get to that in a bit.
Wasn’t Digital Supposed to Make Everything Easier?
Formatting the book for digital was a challenge for a number of reasons. The biggest, of course, is that Amazon, being Amazon, does everything their own way. While the rest of the world uses epubs for their digital books, Amazon has its own proprietary file format, which has, over the history of Kindle, been .mobi/.azw, then .azw3/.kf8, and is now .kfx.
Amazon provides tools to convert to their format from epub (and in the last year or so, started allowing epub submissions that they would convert themselves), but not everything in an epub transfers over correctly. Additionally, Amazon reserves the right to make changes to your book on publication and that is a black box process. You can review a digital proof, but some things (like ‘start reading location’) appear to be set later in the process and are not reviewable. Which sucks.
It doesn’t help that epub itself is transitioning from epub2 to epub3, bringing a host of changes… or that different e-readers have different capabilities, and it’s therefore important to both support epub3 functionality and be backwards compatible with epub2. So not only was I trying to create an epub that would work with non-Amazon e-readers of every age and stripe4, I was also hoping all those many accessibility flags and attributes I’d added wouldn’t cause problems with Amazon’s own conversion.
The whole thing is kind of a mess. Thankfully, an epub is really just a zip file of html, css, and a few book-specific file types, and I spent the last 20+ years working as a software engineer. At the end of the day, code is code. It took some time to puzzle my way through the two different standards (three if you include the post-conversion kindle file), but I think/hope everything turned out well.
Two Companies, Two Standards
Print formatting, by contrast, was easy. I set my paper size in Word, configured my (mirrored) margins to accomodate the binding and Amazon’s own restrictions, pasted in my front and back matter, and one pdf conversion later, I was done.
Except then I decided to publish to IngramSpark as well. Which is just different enough from Amazon to make things difficult.
IngramSpark uses different paper with a different weight which means the width of the book’s spine differs too. That meant I had to go back to my cover company5 and ask for a new version of my cover, adjusted for the IngramSpark format and size. That was step 1.
Step 2 was getting an appropriately formatted pdf of my book, because IngramSpark has far more stringent requirements than Amazon. I won’t go into all the differences but a big one is that the pdf has to be readable by even the oldest PDF readers. That means PDF/X-1a:2001 or PDF/X-3:2002. My copy of Word doesn’t do that. Nor do any of the online converters I’ve checked. So I ended up having to grab a trial copy of Adobe Acrobat DC6, and use that to generate the pdf of the correct type.
Earlier this week, I passed the automated verification for my IngramSpark version, and just a few minutes ago, I passed the manual one as well. The print format for both distributors should now be complete. And all it cost me was an extra few weeks and some small measure of my sanity.
Which brings me, in a very roundabout way, to the last piece of the release puzzle… the cost. More specifically, the cost to those of you who decide to purchase my book.
In some ways, figuring out the price was the hardest part of the whole process. I’ve done a ton of research and reading and changed my mind at least a dozen times over the past month, but I think I’ve finally settled on the pricing for both formats.
The digital version of See These Bones is $3.99, as those of you who’ve been to the listing page already know. I waffled between that and $2.99 for a long time. I’m a debut author and want as many people to read my book as possible, something that is best achieved by a lower price. And $2.99 is by far the most popular price point on Amazon
However, in looking at Kindle books at that price, the vast majority were much shorter than mine. Many were either novellas or serials in all but name… i.e. one story chopped down into multiple books for the express purpose of being able to maintain a steady publishing cadence and keep the author’s name fresh in the mind of readers7. I want to maximize sales, but I don’t want to shortchange myself either.
I feel like there’s value in offering a full-length book, with a beginning, middle, and end, so I decided to stick with a $3.99 price8. The coming months will tell me if that was a good idea or not.
The Price, Part 2: Revenge of the Price
Paperback pricing was, somehow, even more confusing. The cost to print my book on Amazon via their print-on-demand service is $6.19. However, the minimum price Amazon will allow me to set is $10.35. That gives me $0.00 in royalties; I can’t go lower because then Amazon would have to charge me every time someone bought my book. As someone who primarily purchased mass trade paperbacks, the idea of charging $10+ for my book was hard to swallow.
Eventually, I found this article, which does an excellent job of breaking down book pricing. What I found was surprising… the average list price for a paperback in my genre with my page count was a lot higher than I’d thought. You see, the list price I set for paperbacks is not the price that Amazon will charge. In fact, I don’t know what price Amazon will charge! More often than not, they take a % cut off of the list price9.
Take for example, this book, pulled from Amazon’s best of 2019 list for Sci Fi & Fantasy:
The list price (set by the author/publisher) is $16.99. The price Amazon is charging is $9.19. Now, I’m not assuming Amazon will give users a 46% discount on my paperback10, but they will hopefully give a discount.
All that said, the list price of the paperback version of See These Bones will be $13.9911. I can’t tell you what Amazon will charge for it, but I hope it will be less. To make myself feel better about the whole thing, I’ve also set up Matchbook pricing for the book. If you buy the paperback, you’ll get the digital version for $0.00. Hopefully, that takes away some of the sting.
The list price on IngramSpark12 is $15.99. I’m allowing returns on orders from IngramSpark, and offering a 55% wholesale discount, so the pricing was always going to be different. Despite the higher list price, my royalties will be substantially lower13. I figure that’s the price to pay for making the book accessible to book stores and libraries.
And Now We Wait…
So that’s where we are, 19 days before my book release. Hopefully, this was useful for those of you looking to launch your own debuts. Hopefully, it was interesting to those of you who were just curious about the process. Even once the editing is complete, the cover is commissioned, and advance reviews are starting to roll in14, there’s a lot more work to get your book to market.
It’s a far cry from ‘click publish and you’re done’.
Next Tuesday, I’ll be back with my third free chapter preview from See These Bones. Next Thursday, I’ll share some (somewhat silly) statistics about the book itself. I promise both will be quicker reads than this was!
Edit: Shortly after posting this blog entry, I found that my IngramSpark listing had been imported into Amazon… because IngramSpark allows you to set up a print-on-demand title as pre-order, whereas Amazon does not. I’m currently reaching out to Amazon to verify that my Amazon-centric version will supercede the IngramSpark listing (and price) on the Amazon page once I do push it live.
- Not counting their subscription fee, of course.
- I’m still deciding between a matte cover (as seen in the slightly battered proof copy above) or glossy.
- The paperback version won’t show up until roughly the release date, because Amazon doesn’t allow pre-orders on print on demand copies.
- So I can potentially release to other stores if I decide to end my amazon exclusivity
- ebooklaunch.com, who have been amazing.
- Which was itself a minor nightmare, as Adobe products are infamous for stalling out mid-install.
- This seems to be a recent trend, most likely driven by Kindle Unlimited and Amazon’s own algorithms. All power and credit to those leveraging the trend for their own success, but I have a problem charging for something that isn’t a complete story in-and-of-itself.
- Although I’ll almost certainly play with that price as future books in the series are released, likely through limited time promotions intended to find new readers.
- That doesn’t affect my royalties at all… just the price the consumer pays.
- That will depend entirely on to the whims of Mr. Bezos and the pet AI he employs to rule the marketplace with a digital fist.
- I make $2.19 in royalties, much less than on the digital book.
- Not that any/many of you will be buying from there.
- $0.42 a sale, due to the wholesaler discount
- More on that in a future post!