Catalyst Book Press

The places, ideas, and people that change us

Publishing & the Public

Everyday, I run into people’s curiosity about the book business–as well as a lot of misperceptions about it. I guess when you become a publisher, by default you also become an educator. Perhaps it’s that way with any business.

 One of the most common misperceptions about publishing is that there is a lot of money in it. That would be great but most independent publishers do what I’ve heard called “publishing by Visa.” Meaning: They’re in debt. Sometimes, a lot of debt. (This, I am trying mightily to avoid!) Unless you use print-on-demand (digital imaging technology), it costs a lot to get a book together. Even if you do use POD, it can cost a lot. Plus, the risks are many and profits low. Let’s say a press manages to get the cost of printing a book down to $2, and they charge $16 per copy. They have to sell it at 50% off to bookstores, which means they sell it for $8.00 per copy, for a total of $6.00 profit per copy. But that doesn’t include publicity costs, shipping costs, receiving un-sellable returns from bookstores that couldn’t sell it, or the cost of warehousing/storing the book, not to mention royalties or other payments to writers.

Another common idea is that all you have to do is publish a book and it’ll do well or be available in bookstores or that it’ll sell thousands and thousands of copies because so many people across the U.S. will be interested in the book. I really, really wish that were true. I went to the Book Expo America in 2003, the most important conference in the book industry. That year, over 100,000 new books were published. 100,000! Even if all 250 million Americans bought a book each year, there wouldn’t be enough to go around.

My novel, The Confessional, has done all-right and has received excellent reviews. Plus, it’s published by one of the big guys, Knopf. But I get emails from people all the time who say they couldn’t find it in the local bookstore, including the local bookstore in El Paso, where the book is set and where it’s sold really well! So you never can tell why a bookstore will stock a book and why they won’t, but I’ve heard through the rumor mill that B&N gives a book a “two week window” to sell and then they return it. Maybe that’s exaggerated and it wouldn’t surprise me–but it also wouldn’t surprise me if it’s true!

Anyway,  I guess I’m going into publishing because I really, really, really LOVE books. And if they can bring me some income, enough to make it worthwhile, that will be great. But I’ll probably do it anyway. It’s just like being a writer: I write because I love writing. Am I paid what my writing is worth? No, not really. But who is, except J.K. Rawling? (and we can’t all be her…)

March 10, 2008 - Posted by | bookstores, digital imaging technology, independent book publishers, independent publishing culture, indie, literary presses, POD, print on demand, publishing, small press | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I’m a slave to books as well, and am really enjoying reading your blog about starting Catalyst. I have thought of starting small press myself, but frankly, I find the risk and amount of (non-writing) deskwork horrifying so far! I look forward to reading more about how Catalyst develops and your evolving thoughts on the nature of publishing.

    Comment by Annalysa | March 13, 2008


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