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The Book Business: Author Compensation
Welcome back! Or, thank you for joining us if this is the first post you are seeing. This is the fifth post in our multi-part series. The previous post was the The Book Business: Printing, Publishing, and Distribution. And that post was… long. This one should be shorter but is probably most important to a lot of us – how do we get paid for our hard work? Please note that there are references to the previous post so we recommend at least skimming through that one first.
Let’s talk about print book sales first. In our case, we’ve distributed our books and established a few forms of compensation with our print books:
- Book sale publisher compensation
- Affiliate codes with Amazon
- Affiliate codes with Bookshop.org
- Our own storefront through Aerio
(Note: The Aerio storefront was temporary. We discovered soon after establishing it that the service was destined to shut down. As of January, it has been discontinued.)
Publisher compensation is the money we get from Ingram when the book is sold. If you recall from the previous post, for the book I Pooped And It Was Amazing, we earn $2.80 per book. Our earnings vary from book to book but this book has the highest payout for us.
None of the children’s books come close.
So, how can we take back more of that wholesale discount money?
Affiliate codes are pretty straightforward: you hand out a special link and when someone uses it to buy the product you get a little kickback. Amazon and Bookshop are the easiest programs to establish, but it’s not a large sum of money that you’ll get from these sales. With Amazon, it’s 4.5% for physical books. Bookshop offers 10%. With a $25 dollar book, this can add up assuming you drive a lot of sales with your affiliate codes.
Setting up a storefront through Aerio was ideal because we had more control. Specifically, we could cut into that wholesale discount and offer promotional discounts on the books. And a portion of that wholesale discount that would normally go to the bookstores? It would come to us. For a book like I Pooped And It Was Amazing, this came out to an additional $4.50 for each full price sale. The platform itself did take a cut but this was far better than other bookstores where you buy the book at full price and they pocket all the money.
This was a great way to drum up some sales because who doesn’t love a discount? Most importantly, it was easy to use. Identify the books you want to sell, set a price, and then off you go. When we decide how we’re going to replace Aerio we’ll make another post.
Okay then, what about ebooks?
When it comes to ebooks, these are more profitable in theory. I Pooped And It Was Amazing is available in ebook format for $5.99. Draft2Digital projects that we would earn approximately $3.50 for every sale of the book. The price point for the book is lower than the print book and it can be delivered immediately so it stands to reason that there’s a larger market to appeal to with this adult humor book.
With a larger market, there’s more potential for sales and since the compensation is higher than that of a print book sold through any of those bookstores – well, you get the picture.
Should indie authors bother trying to sell books in person?
For us, selling books in person provides the highest margin of profit. Anyone who works in direct sales can attest that cutting out the middleman nets you more money per sale. However, your friends and family can’t be your only customers, so you are eventually going to need a third-party vendor to reach a wider audience. One way to connect with potential customers without the hassle of signing a contract with a bookstore is to rent vendor space.
Let’s assume we pay $100 for a table at a one-day event. We’ve brought copies of a book that cost us $12 to print and ship, and we’re retailing them for $25 each, netting us $13 of revenue per book sold. Once we’ve sold eight copies, we will have paid for our table ($13 x 8 = $104).
But that bonus $4 doesn’t cover the cost of food, gas, lodging, any advertising we’ve put into this event, potential lost revenue if this event conflicts with another payment opportunity, etc. We’d need to sell way more than eight books to make it financially worth it.
So before you fork over cash to reserve your booth at your local fair, do some research to make sure it’s financially worth it. It’s okay to ask the organizers how many people they’re expecting to attend that day, and to talk to past vendors about how well it went for them. Also consider where your booth will be placed (front-and-center vs tucked behind a corner), the weather that day, and any conflicting events (everything from Church to football games can affect turnout.)
When we started this business, we knew we wanted to attend community events (i.e. vendor markets, conventions, and fairs) to sell our books to a local audience. And since people who attend these events tend to be looking for “a little bit of everything,” we realized we would be doing ourselves a disservice to show up peddling only our books.
We needed merchandise across a variety of price points, and that would appeal to different types of people. We needed merchandise that would provide some brand recognition, which would then drive additional sales outside of those events. It’s a whole thing.
If you look at our online merchandise shop, which was setup through Redbubble, you’ll see a large variety of designs. There are stickers, prints, pins, bags, skirts, and anything else available from Redbubble. A lot of these items will be sold directly from our vendor booth. Long term, this ensures that we are supporting and advocating for all of our creators but it also makes the booth more appealing. If you weren’t in the market for a book, how about an art print? If you’re buying a new book for your kid, why not pick up a sticker as well?
We’ve taken the same approach to merchandising as we do with our books. We’re using Redbubble for our online merchandise sales so we’re buying those same products to resell locally. When you buy them online, there’s a percentage markup that gets applied and that’s our profit.
In this case, buying them directly from us provides higher profit margins largely because we have focused on buying in bulk in order to drive down the print cost.
Is it the best?
Well, we continue to research and look for the best options available to us. We want to ensure we’re getting the best quality we can for our budget. At the beginning of our adventure, the Redbubble storefront provided the easiest way to deliver consistent merchandise options with no upfront investment from us. It also enables us to avoid taking orders directly and handling shipping. It was the easiest and fastest way to get established with minimal overhead.
How can I support others?
Buying a book is just the first step. To really help an author, people should:
- Buy directly
Book reviews go a long way towards boosting an author’s work. Reported sales will help drive the book up various lists but reviews sell the book. How many times have you turned away from buying any product because it had bad reviews or no reviews? Amazon won’t even start including items in their algorithms until they’ve been reviewed 50 times.
Once you’ve completed your review, tell your friends. Word of mouth goes a long way. Share news on social media – book signing and readings, new releases, blog posts, etc. Anything you can to keep the books you love fresh in people’s minds.
Wrapping Up This Series
It was a lot of work to get our initial books off the ground. We learned a lot from the process and continue to learn more every day. We have a lot of plans and new content in the works. And this won’t be the last time we share what we learn.
So stay tuned and keep in touch. If you have any questions you would like to see answered or you want to work with us to get your book out into the world, please reach out!