I recently asked what questions people had about writing, publishing, and marketing. One that came up a lot was about paperbacks.
Mainly, writers wanted to know if paperbacks are profitable and worthwhile.
To answer this questions, we need to explore the process of creating a paperback.
So, how do you make a paperback?
Creating a paperback and creating an eBook are two very different things.
There are some pages that are relevant in an eBook that you wouldn’t want in a paperback, for example, any pages that have links in them.
Some authors organise pages in different orders depending on eBook or paperback format.
But, the biggest difference is in the formatting. The margins, headers, footers and, page numbers needed for paperbacks can make the creation process quite long and complicated.
Paperback creation tools
Many people start out using Microsoft Word, it’s a tool that many of us are familiar with and, despite its clunkiness, it is an incredibly powerful tool. It’s also the tool that many authors write and/or edit with, so it’s already paying for itself. While it’s a great tool, it can be time-consuming and buggy.
Other tools like Reedsy’s online editor, Scrivener, and Vellum are also available. In the case of Vellum, a paperback can be created in a handful of clicks. This means that hours of work in Word can be condensed into minutes of work with Vellum.
But that convenience comes at a price, $250 to be exact. Although for that money you can create unlimited eBooks and paperbacks with some state of the art software that substantially reduces your formatting time.
Know your markets
While it’s impossible to predict sales of an upcoming novel, there are reasonable assumptions that you can make regarding your market.
It’s common knowledge that paperbacks in Australia are very expensive, prohibitively so. If you know that the majority of your market are Australian then you might want to think twice about creating paperbacks if there is an associated cost of you doing so.
On the other hand, readers of books that originate from fandom worlds are more likely to want to hold the product in their hand. A book with a fandom audience should always have a paperback option available.
Some genres are more likely to encourage paperback purchase, science fiction, and fantasy being prime examples. The increase in artistically beautiful covers in the fantasy genre is encouraging readers to want to own a hard copy. Romance is considered more of a “disposable" genre, with large volumes of work being produced and prices being driven increasingly lower. Many romance readers expect a cheap, steady stream of new fiction to be available to them and often won’t want to pay extra for a paperback version.
It’s important to take a reading on your books subject matter, genre, and any information you have about your audience.
The importance of POD
If you are wondering if paperbacks are worthwhile then it’s absolutely essential that you use POD (Print-on-Demand). Never pay for a print run of books unless you know they will sell.
POD is the system that Amazon uses, via CreateSpace. It means that authors upload cover art and an interior PDF of their manuscript and the book is only printed when a customer buys a copy.
While this is more expensive than a large print run, it means that books are only created when necessary and there is no initial outlay of costs. The only cost is the creation of the artwork and the interior PDF file.
Don't forget the cover costs!
Something that often gets overlooked in the paperback discussion is the extra costs involved with cover creation. An eBook doesn’t need a spine or a back and therefore the costs of just creating an eBook cover are slightly lower.
Once you venture into the world of paperbacks, you need to create the extra artwork.
Whether this is something you do yourself or something you ask someone else to do, there is probably an associated cost to take into consideration.
Putting it all together
Now it’s time to put it all together. And this is where the maths comes in.
You need to calculate how much it costs you to produce a paperback. And by that I mean the cost of creating the files, not the cost of printing a book.
If you pay a formatter, what is that cost? Do you own software like Vellum? How much did you pay for it? Even if you use Word and do it yourself, how much time are you spending on creating a paperback and how much is your time worth?
Once you have a cost of creation then you need to look at profit margins.
Let’s say that you treated yourself to a copy of Vellum at the cost of $250. Amazon/CreateSpace/Lightning will provide you with your profit margin per book sold, let’s assume that it is $3 per book sold. You would need to sell 84 copies in order to start turning a profit. It’s worth considering if you will use the Vellum software again, let’s say you have another book out in the next six months. With two books out, both making $3 per book, you’d need to sell 42 copies of each book to make a profit.
If you pay a formatter $50 to create the print interior, then you’d need to sell 17 books in order for it to be profitable.
If you use Microsoft Word and you take on the formatting yourself, then technically the first book you sell will make you a profit. Unless you put an hourly rate on your time and know that you could have made more money if you had spent that time marketing or writing. It’s always important to cost up your own time.
And don’t forget to add in any extra costs with regards to the cover. Work out the difference between an eBook cover cost and a paperback cover cost and add that figure into your calculations.
The bigger picture
But it’s not all about pounds and pence or dollars and cents. It’s also about the kind of author you want to be.
If you want to do public readings, book signings, or publicity events, then you’ll need paperbacks.
And, even though some of the stigma of indie publishing is starting to wane, there is still a feeling that a paperback solidifies the “realness" of a book. Family members will often want a paperback copy of your book, digital copies are sometimes considered nothing but a series of 1’s and 0’s and not a real product. No matter how much blood, sweat, and tears went into it.
There’s a lot to consider when deciding whether or not to convert to paperbacks. But I think the most important thing is, don’t take what other people tell you on face value, test it for yourself. Every book is different, every audience demographic is different. Most authors are grateful for any sale at all, don’t lose yourself a sale because you didn’t test your own market.