Thursday, August 09, 2007

Publishing — Poverty or Passion? - Wright

Last Wednesday I received copies of my first novel—The Lightning File. Exciting. Admittedly, not as exciting as seeing my first non-fiction book in print, but still quite a rush. My daughter’s family celebrated last night with an ice cream cake in my honour. My granddaughters are inordinately proud. And sales during this first week have been brisk. I’ve even had a reading at a local literary festival.

But inevitably reality sets in. It did yesterday. The novel is self-published and I haven’t yet paid the press invoice. In order to keep accurate records for Revenue Canada I had to finalize my cost-price per copy.

Since this is a literary litmus test, I only printed 1000 copies. First I added up the cost of hiring an editor, having the cover designed, the very minimal costs of a friendly publisher and the cost of the printer. Then I added a very modest 1200 for promotion. Next I took off 50 copies for reviewers, promotion, etc plus 50 copies that will be returned damaged from bookstores. At this rate each book cost $8.95. Since it sells for $19.95 that leaves me a profit of $11.00 per book. Sounds wonderful.

But the reality gets darker. If I offer bookstores a 40% discount I’ll never break even. I can’t afford to even think of offering a distributor 60% off—if one could even be found. If I sell all the books myself I’ll have to sell over 700 copies to break even. However, I’ve been offering them at a pre-publication discount until Sept. 15th so that eats further into my bottom line. (My figures may be flawed since I seem to be operating with less grey cells than usual.)

None of this takes into consideration travel expenses to go to book signings or show up at literary events. It certainly doesn’t bear any relationship to the labour that went into the writing and revision. Will I earn five cents an hour? No, maybe one cent.

Then why publish? Why not get a real job? Is it rooted in some dark masochistic drive? Perhaps it is an ego thing. To see one’s name in print? To become a big cheese in a tiny pond.

Or, maybe my drive to publish is rooted in hope, the hope that a small print run will spark a larger demand, perhaps catch the eye of one of the “real” publishers who turned down my oeuvre. Or maybe CBC will option it for television. I do have hope, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Why write? There’s a feeling of deep satisfaction from crafting ideas into sentences and paragraphs and chapters. The thrill, the joy, when words click, characters take shape and begin to live.

Besides that I write with the desire to bless others. Even a few. To entertain, yes, but more to make someone think about Christian values. Values such as commitment to marriage in the face of frustration and sexual temptation. Forgiveness. How to handle doubts. The need to think through issues of terrorism and freedom. The importance of valuing other cultures even when those cultures seem to produce too many terrorists.

And so I cast my bread upon the waters and pray that someone will be blessed.

Eric E. Wright

Eric's website

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