Paperbacks; aren’t they nice to have? Recent events have made me think more about paperback (softcover) editions, and I thought I’d ask you for your thoughts.

Next month I’ll review my first year of selling my paperbacks at Craft Fairs.

Insecure Writers Support Group badge

This is my Insecure Writers Support Group post, in which we share our successes and failures as writers, our insecurities, in fact. Anyone can join in, just sign up at the IWSG Sign-up page, write a blog post on the first Wednesday of the month, and go back to that sign up page to link with everyone else–or a goodly sample. Our host is Alex J Cavanaugh, and cohosting this month are:

Tara Tyler, Lisa Buie Collard, Loni Townsend, and Lee Lowery! 

First: the question of the month

When you set out to write a story, do you try to be more original or do you try to give readers what they want?

Um. Neither? More original than what exactly? Not being a ‘commercial writer’, I don’t worry about what readers want. Maybe I would be more successful if I did either of these. But I don’t think my writing would reach its current standard.

Change of subject.

Why make paperback editions?

Well, I make them because I love books. And for the first three years or so of my indie published career, I said to people: yes, I have books, but they are ebooks, so I can’t show them to you very easily.

Then I investigated Createspace, with all its drawbacks, and decided maybe I could make some paperbacks after all. Then I found Blurb, who would have them printed locally, and shipped to me so I could actually review a proof and make changes within two weeks of setting the book up. Average shipping time from Createspace was three months.

So I started to make paperback editions routinely. Usually to fit pretty well with the ebook publication date.

I gave several away. Some as prizes, some just to friends or family, as gifts or because they showed interest.

Have I sold my paperbacks?

Selling them? That would be nice. Ebooks sold more, although at that stage, the thousands of downloads were on free days. Those are long gone! I rarely sell an ebook these days unless it’s discounted, and I’ve given up discounting them. I decided last year that I’d join the ranks of those hoping for sales to people who value them more because they’ve actually bought them.

I have dozens of free ebooks I haven’t got around to reading. I also have dozens of ebooks I’ve purchased I haven’t got around to reading. But I agree with this principle. I’ll almost certainly read the ones I’ve purchased first. Unless they are ARCs from Netgalley, which are a different category entirely.

How many do I sell at Craft Fairs?

It frustrates me that I don’t really cover my overheads at craft fairs. I’m beginning to cover the cost of the day–table hire and parking charges–but not the overheads like marketing materials, travel, insurance etc.

But… I’m selling paperbacks. Since March I’ve been selling between ten and fifteen at each fair. That’s far more books than I’m selling online–even when I invest in advertising (and my last foray into that was disastrous).

It must be worth it.

book nook my paperbacks at Romsey craft fair
If room, the book nook at the fair helps…

What’s my problem?

In December, the base price of the books went up, mainly due to paper costs. Consequently the base cost of the smallest ones nearly doubled. The fatter books suffered less, but about 33% more was typical. At least I can explain ‘cost of paper has risen’ and people understand that I can’t discount them.

My latest problem, though, is distribution costs. Ingram have said they won’t distribute books for less than 36% mark-up. I used to have them on that level before the paper cost went up. Now I have gone through the inventory, putting them all onto prices inclusive of 36% for Ingrams.

Result: I can only just set the RRP for the first couple of Princelings books below £9. Last year they were £5, and that gave me a small profit. The larger books are all £10.50. I can’t do the two fattest ones, Lost City and Willoughby, for less than £11. To me, this makes the cost of the series exhorbitant. Who pays that amount of money for (children’s) paperbacks? The Viridian series are now £15 each.

I know I need to just compare with the rest of the market. But I have a sneaking suspicion that the big publishers will discount heavily, because they can, and so indie books will start looking expensive.

The good thing?

I can undercut the bookstore prices at the craft fairs. I don’t have to put my prices up if I don’t want to. It gives me more ‘wiggle room’. Next time someone checks they can get the later ones on Amazon, I’ll say “yes, but it’ll include distribution costs – about three or four pounds more.”

So, I’ll be continuing to do craft fairs until I get bored with them. Or the market is saturated in my area, anyway!

What do you think?

  • Has the cost of paperbacks gone up in your area?
  • Do you think it puts people off buying books/your books?
  • Are the big publishers undercutting the rest of us?
  • Should we be saving paper and sticking to ebooks anyway?

The Problem of Paperbacks | #IWSG
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17 thoughts on “The Problem of Paperbacks | #IWSG

  • 3 August, 2022 at 12:23 pm

    That’s great that you’ve been able to sell paperbacks at fairs. That sounds like a great way to get the books and your name as an author out there. Some people prefer print books to ebooks so I think it’s good to offer both.

    • 3 August, 2022 at 2:05 pm

      Yes, I went through the winter frustrated at the people who said they only read ebooks, so eventually worked out how to sell them my titles and fulfil them at the fairs. I’m not sure it’s in the spirit of what I can do at Smashwords – well, maybe I should check the Ts&Cs!

  • 3 August, 2022 at 2:34 pm

    I’ve never considered giving up on paperbacks, though I sell very few of them except in person, and almost never the children’s books. But the extra expense of making them is tiny—a little more for the cover, and a proof if I want (I often don’t these days; I’ve gotten pretty good at setting them up, though somehow certain typos are never visible until it’s printed). So for those few customers who want print, there it is. I even have large-type editions of the mysteries—it fits my demographic 🙂

    • 3 August, 2022 at 3:55 pm

      I suppose my change in attitude came when I decided to start selling them to people 🙂

  • 3 August, 2022 at 2:48 pm

    You’re getting out there and trying. Everything has gone up, though. Most readers will understand.

  • 3 August, 2022 at 3:32 pm

    Hi Jemima. I enjoyed reading your post. I thought that by sharing your experience you gave us a good insight into how the sales work, specially with paperbacks, if you aren’t going the commercial way that is. This was useful. Thank you.

  • 3 August, 2022 at 3:54 pm

    And… I’ve just had an email saying the base prices are going up again :sigh:

  • 3 August, 2022 at 3:57 pm

    I’ve only done a few fairs, and they were craft fairs, but I sold enough to cover costs. Never really made a profit. It would help if I didn’t buy coffee and cookies at the food booths. That’s an indulgence though, not a writing expense? Congrats on selling well at the fairs. I don’t understand how one really makes money when you count up the expense for travel and food, etc. I do love talking to people and handing them a book so they can actually leaf through it. Or talking to someone who has actually read my book!!! I enjoyed your blog post so much and your blog site. Keep writing and selling!!

    • 3 August, 2022 at 3:59 pm

      I think you’re on the right lines there, JQ. Given how little profit there is between price to customer and cost to us, there is very little we can do to cover the actual costs we incur, let alone make enough to buy the coffees as well.
      Somehow they still get bought, though. And the big danger of selling at craft fairs is there are so many lovely things you can buy for presents… or yourself!

  • 3 August, 2022 at 5:18 pm

    This post is as inspiring as it is informative! Trying new ways and just going at it until you crack it, is a lesson to live by.

    • 5 August, 2022 at 11:40 am

      Just to let you know, I’m having trouble commenting on your site. It seems to recognise me, then says ‘Nonce verification failed.’ The ‘Like’ takes, though.

  • 3 August, 2022 at 6:09 pm

    That’s cool you’re exploring your options. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything to add to your findings. I made the mistake of printing a lot of my books to have on hand to do events, and then I didn’t do events. Whoops. I haven’t even looked at recent paper prices to compare.

    • 3 August, 2022 at 10:15 pm

      I was lucky, I’d only invested in a few copies of each, and topped up when I’d given them to family and friends. Now I have a good feel for which are my ‘best-sellers’ and I can plan accordingly. But maybe I should have bought more of those before this new base cost increase 🙁

  • 4 August, 2022 at 12:35 am

    You make a great point about the free e-books. I recently cleared out some space in my library and the books I deleted were all unread freebies.

    With rising prices, it’s tough to be competitive. Your craft fair approach is very creative!

  • 8 August, 2022 at 3:07 am

    My ebooks certainly outsell the paperbacks. But I also know people who don’t have ereaders. 🤷🏽‍♂️ I also can’t update books already printed with things like website address changes. But autographed paperbacks are far more precious than ebooks. I’m not sure that my reading list order is related to if I paid for a book or not. It’s usually based on what genre I want to read, or how much time I feel like I’ll have that day or week. (Two major events changed my schedule and free-time availability over the past three years. One being the pandemic, which eliminated my primary source of income.)

    “Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.”
    ―Anne Herbert
    My IWSG blog post discussed my love of originality. I’m looking forward to the bout of books readathon and WEP’s flash fiction later this month.
    Life threw me a curveball with a neighborhood crisis this week, but we got through it.
    Winnie the Pooh is the world’s Ambassador of Friendship. In the US, National Friendship Day is the first Sunday of August. #FriendshipDay2022

    J Lenni Dorner (he/him 👨🏽 or 🧑🏽 they/them) ~ Reference& Speculative Fiction Author, OperationAwesome6 Debut Author Interviewer, and Co-host of the #AtoZchallenge

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