Tuesday, July 2, 2013

New Christian Authors ask, "How Much Do You Earn on Your Books?"

I have heard it stated that one out of every three Christian adults would someday like to get a book into print. If that is anywhere near true, then there is a tremendous market for those publishing services that can help new authors move from concept to final copy. That is why there is a plethora of companies, both small and large, that are scrambling to be of assistance.

As an independent Christian self-publisher, I do not depend on one of these services. I locate someone that can provide what I need at the time so that I can manage the entire process. Most importantly, I stay totally away from vanity publishers that appear to me as a total rip-off.

Vanity publishers include companies such as Xulon, AuthorHouse, Lulu, and PublishAmerica. There are many besides these; each of their contracts and services are somewhat different and some are more reputable than others. As I see it, their major purpose is to take an author's completed manuscript and convert it to a specific form of PDF so that a printed book may be reviewed and approved by the author. Page layout and formatting are a normal part of their service because most authors are untrained on what constitutes a quality manuscript. Some charge a large up-front fee, some require purchasing a large number, and many provide a very small return to the author for each printed book.

To the vanity publisher, their customer is the author and not the one that will purchase the title. To help their customers, they will generally offer services such as editing, marketing assistance, development of a business plan, webpage development, etc., all of which can be added to the total cost because few are knowledgeable of these things.

I think "vanity" is an appropriate name for these publishers. They seem to appeal to vane authors who somehow have allusions of how great their manuscript is or will be. What they are doing is helping contribute to the American economy as they scrape together their money to help keep these vanity presses in business.

As a true independent self-publisher, I run the risk of overlooking something significant. Quality is a big issue and readers have an expectation that the book will be similar to that from a traditional publisher. I hire people to perform the different types of editing; for those areas where I lack the skill, I read material that assists me in the learning process and I buy the software that I need. In short, I become the manager of my manuscript because I care more than anyone else about it.

I use Lightning Source to print my titles. They are the largest print-on-demand provider and I find them to be a quality organization. Some potential authors buy a copy of my Joshua book simply to check its quality; I would hope they read it as well.

Joshua's Spiritual Warfare My first title, Joshua's Spiritual Warfare: Understanding the Chiasms of Joshua, sells for $14.99 on Amazon and many other on-line retailers. Lightning Source's charge for printing this 232-page book is currently $3.92 and their distribution fee is $3.00. That leaves $8.07 for me to recover my expenses. Published in 2008, I am now able to state that I have covered my initial expenses and am beginning to recover my many, many hours of writing and marketing.

By comparison, I recently talked with a Christian author that wrote a novel in 2007 using one of these vanity publishers: he earns $0.60 for each book that is sold for nearly $20. Another Christian author recently signed a contract that required 3,000 books to be printed; most of them sit in a warehouse somewhere waiting for the next sale through Amazon or some other retail source. Another author had a large amount of additional services that proved to be very costly.

Like most published authors, I find the whole marketing effort is my biggest challenge. For every hour that I spent preparing that manuscript (14 months at 20 hours per week), I have probably spent five times that in marketing. With the saturation of both printed and on-line books in the marketplace, it is extremely difficult to get the general public to find and then ultimately purchase any book.

As publishing has become substantially easier, many new titles have been recently released; yet the number of people reading seems to be going down. I am told that the average Christian book sells 200 books in its lifetime and that includes well- established authors.

The question that each potential Christian author should seriously address is their motive: "Is God really in this?" I cannot predict the total cost of using a vanity publisher. I do know that the effort to be an independent self-publisher is very significant, but it is also the least costly for me. Another question might be, "Do I have the skills to be an independent self-publisher?"