Business is all about numbers, and self-publishing is a business.

At least it is to me. There are those out there, I suppose, who are only interested in seeing their work in print, er, electrons. I’m not one of them. I am interested in being published and having my work read, but I also want to make money at it.

To make money at anything, it helps to have a quality product. When it comes to e-pubbing, that doesn’t just mean having a good story. It’s got to be a good e-product, and that means, it should be appealing in its cover, its print, and its functionality with e-readers.

As bestselling author and e-publishing advocate, Joe Konrath, puts it, cream rises and [crap] sinks. Thus, it’s important to me to not just publish State of Grace, but to do it well.

And that’s where things get tricky. I’ve got the novel written, but it isn’t a simple matter of printing it to .pdf. To function on e-readers, it has to be converted to code that the devices recognize. That means, I have to convert it to two different codes: Amazon’s proprietary AZW and ePub, the language used by everyone else.

This I know from nothing.

So I started doing some research, and Konrath has a link to the guy who does his books for him. I figured it was worth looking into.

I got a quote for $200. I have no idea whether this is a competitive quote for a 100,000-word novel, but it seems reasonable to me. I believe any professional is worth at least $25 an hour, and the quote is a flat rate. So, I’m assuming he’s asking for about eight hours of pay. Again, that seems reasonable to me, especially since I’m writing a fantasy novel, and I’ll therefore have to have a map in the book. That’s something else I don’t know about. Is it any easier or harder or different to convert images to AZW and ePub than text?

But business is all about numbers. So if I pay someone $200 to convert the book for me, that money comes out of my profits.

To make Amazon’s (and the rest of the e-pubbing industry’s) sweet spot of 70% royalties, I’d need to charge between $3.00 and $9.99 for the book. I don’t yet know what the right price is. How much do 100,000-word fantasy novels go for? What if they are published by a first-time author?

Picking a number out of a hat, let’s say I charge $4.99. That uses the retail philosophy of charging right up to a five-dollar increment. (The idea is $3.99 sounds the same as $4.99 to a consumer because they are both below $5, but $5.99 sounds like a lot more because it is more than $5.)

At 70% royalties, I’d make $3.49 per sale. And that means I’d have to sell 57.3 books to recover my initial investment of $200. In the long term, that doesn’t sound like a lot. I certainly hope I can sell more than 587 copies of State of Grace. It’s not really worth publishing if I can’t.

But, how long will it take for a first-time author with only the beginnings of a platform to sell that many copies? How long does it take to recoup my investment?

And, of course, I haven’t paid for cover art yet. If I hire an artist to design a good cover for the book, that will raise the number of copies I have to sell even higher.

But if I try to do the conversion myself, what will that cost me? How many hours will I spend trying to learn how to do it? Will it end up being as good as if I’d hired a professional? If not, will that hurt sales?

And so, early in my research, I’ve already got a dilemma to think about. Do I invest 57.3 copies of the book in making sure it’s done right, or do I try to keep that $200 by doing it myself?

I need to do more research, of course. I need to know what other contractors charge, what the right price-point for the novel is, and how hard it is to convert the book from Word to e-reader languages.

But I’m finding only a week into making the decision to launch this venture that there are a lot of tough decisions to be made to maximize my chances for success.

Got advice or an opinion on e-publishing or the merits of contracting out the conversion process? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below.


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