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My adventure in Self-Publishing

Posted by monsonhaefel on June 2, 2004 at 10:57 AM PDT

A couple of years ago, I tried starting a micro-book publishing company, Titan Books Inc. I get questions about self-publishing all the time, because understandably authors want more control and they want to make more money on their books. The following is a description of my experiences in self-publishing. For me it didn't work out, but there others who have made it work (e.g. Dave Thomas and his Pragmatic Book Series) and to them I tip my hat.

It turns out that publishing was both easier and harder than I had expected. I
found that with some research and work I was able to publish a couple of
excellent books of professional quality. Both of the books I published are
workbooks or companion guides to my EJB book. They were very well
received and very successful in some ways and not so successful in others.
For example, the free download versions of these books did great!
People loved them. The sale of paper editions by me directly and through
Amazon.com were less successful for a variety of reasons. Most importantly,
was the workload of daily operations and marketing.

I discovered after about six months that I was spending way too much time
marketing and managing the production and sale of the workbooks. At first I
sold them directly to customers on-line from my own Web site. I used
Yahoo!Store and was very satisfied with how it worked, but I was spending a
lot of time (at least 20 hours a week) fulfilling orders and managing
day-to-day operations. For me it was a very unprofitable venture. I also
found out that people were shy of buying books from my web site because they
didn't trust my publishing company as a vendor. I don't blame them. I rarely
give out my credit card info to companies I don't know. In an attempt to
reduce my work in fulfillment (not to mention directly customer support) I
started to exclusively sell through Amazon.com's Advantage program.
This required that I sell the books to Amazon.com at wholesale (actually 45%
of cover price) which sapped my profits enormously, but it turned out to be a
lot easier for me personally. Once a week or so I would ship out a bunch of
books all at once per Amazon.com's request. One destination, one client, one
package -- it all became much easier. But again, the revenue was diminished
by 55%! Which hurt my profits and the royalties I paid to the authors.

In the end I gave up on the whole dream of publishing for one reason: For me, it was
too much work for too little profit. I think a person could still make this
whole thing work if they were smarter than I was about fulfillment and
marketing. Not a big stretch since I'm only human and tend to have
limitations. I ended up selling the rights to the workbooks to O'Reilly,
which allowed me to cover some but not all of my expenditures. Like I said,
it came out as a loss in the end but only monetarily. The adventure was
worth it.

What I learned is that publishers earn their money. I don't think they are
raking in a lot of money like I used to. It's very difficult to manage the
production process, marketing, sales to retailers, etc. With only 1 out of
10 books breaking even, its clearly a numbers game and not that great of
one. Grocery stores make about 3% profit (something I learned consulting in
the Consumer Package Goods industry) and I'll bet publishers are somewhere in
that ball park (Just a guess). Personally, I'll stick with the middlemen and
traditional publishers. They fulfill a
purpose and, in my opinion, are necessary to get books from my typing fingers
to the eyes of my readers.