Easier than ever: In this exercise, you will do go through the process that smart publishers use to determine the scope of their book projects: that is, your book’s specifications, your expected sales, your initial press run, and your selling price. All this before you sit down to write your book. Except for some production research you’ll have to do, it’s actually a fairly easy process, even easier if you’re taking advantage of new technologies like print-on-demand and digital publishing (ebooks).
Production Input: Deciding What Your Book Will Cost to Print. The next stop for a proposal is the production department, which takes the ideas of the editor and marketing director about format, along with the marketing department’s estimate of first-year sales, to determine the unit cost of the first press run. At least that’s the way it used to be in traditional publishing houses, still is for publishers who haven’t migrated to print-on-demand and ebooks.The occasional author-publisher has production specifications that can’t be met by printing-on-demand or ebooks. If you can use print-on-demand services or ebook technology, please do so. You’ll thank me later. As far as ebooks go, you have no printing costs. That’s a bit too simple, because you will be paying an outfit—like Amazon—to produce and distribute the ebook for you. And they will take their share. Some say more than their share. In the case of print-on-demand books, you can find out your cost in seconds—at least with CreateSpace, my recommended print-on-demand company. All you do is go to https://www.createspace.com/Products/Book/ and select the Buying Copies tab in the middle of the page. Then you go to the “Member Order Calculator” in the middle of the page, select your “interior type” (eg. Black and white), “trim size” (e.g. 5.5”x8.5”), “pages” (e.g. 160), and quantity (e.g. 160) and “quantity” (any will do). Then select “calculate” and you will see your total cost and per book cost. (Note: CreateSpace does not reduce the unit cost for larger quantities unless you have a coupon.) It’s as simple as that.
Business Input: Deciding What to Charge for Your Book. The next step falls on the business department, which takes the production department’s unit estimate and multiplies it by a number that will give them their targeted profit. Figuring out what to include in production costs and what multiple to use can get pretty complicated. As an author-publisher, you can keep it simple. All you need to do is take the unit printing cost that you got from the CreateSpace “Member Order Calculator” and multiply it by four or five. If you take my recommendation, you will set your “retail price” at about five times the cost of printing one book. Things you should know: 1) CreateSpace will let you select a much lower price. Resist the urge. 2) Retail price is the price CreateSpace uses to calculate your share of sales revenue. In other words, if you set your retail price at $20.00 but Amazon decides to sell your book at $18.00 (this is common), it will calculate your share (royalty) based on $20.00. 3) Just because you set the retail price at $20.00 doesn’t mean you have to sell the book to your customers for $20.00.
Publisher’s Input: Deciding to Publish. The last stop (at least initially) for a proposal is the publisher’s desk. He or she looks at the proposal, reviews the sales estimate, checks the unit costs, eyeballs the suggested price, and decides whether the project makes sense—editorially and financially. Often this is not a perfectly neat process. For example, the publisher might like the project for editorial reasons but think that the retail price is too high to be viable. In that case, she might send the project back to the team to make some adjustments. In the case of you, the author-publisher, the entire process happens in your head and it should be relatively easy for you to either decide that your project is a go, that it doesn’t make sense, or that it needs to be revised in some way before you can go forward.
So what has happened so far? You have defined the scope of your project—its focus, its cost, its expected sales, and its retail price—before you sit down to write. That's the smart play.—The Publishing Pro