Monday, December 20, 2010

iUniverse, and a reality check

iUniverse, like Outskirts Publishing, puts a phone number on their webpage. I called, and... and... someone answered! Meet Bob Wagner, a nice guy with a lot of info.

iUniverse claims (and I have no reason to doubt it) that they are the second-largest self-publishing company in the world, sister-company to the biggest, and they have more authors that have graduated from iUniverse to the "big leagues" of traditional publishing than anyone else. After talking to Bob for a while, I learned a lot.

Their deluxe all-inclusive package is pretty pricey. Not new-car pricey, but used-car pricey. This includes a lot of goodies. (N.B. This is not a complete list, may change without notice, don't sue me, don't sue them, your mileage may vary, yadda yadda) Among those goodies are:
  • You retain the copyright (all rights, essentially)
  • They get a non-exclusive right to publish-on-demand for you for the customers they handle. (Which I am currently assuming you can terminate with notice)
  • Your manuscript gets an "evaluation read" by a professional editor & publisher, who provides "useful and substantial" feedback on your work. This is something some Literary Agents charge for, so getting it "in the package" is nice.
  • an ISBN
  • Listing with all online booksellers immediately
  • Publish to all eBook formats immediately
  • iUniverse will handle the transition to in-store publishing if a vendor (like Amazon or Barnes & Noble) requests it. This is a Big Deal, because the order volume goes up dramatically and "correct and timely" delivery is important to the brick-and-mortar crowd.
The financial stuff is also fairly straightforward
  • They cover (financially) unsold buybacks from brick & mortar booksellers, so the author is never on the hook. I really didn't expect that. It's a nice benefit.
  • For your paper-printed books, you get 20-ish percent of the wholesale price (55-65% of the sticker price) for each copy of your book sold through them.
  • For eBook sales, they have their own site as well. If sold through that site, you get 50% of the sticker. If sold through the Apple, Sony, or Amazon eBook outlets, it's somewhat less.
There was a lot (a whole lot) more that Bob told me, but a lot of it kinda washed through my head, because I knew that I didn't know enough (yet) to ask many good questions, or even understand a lot of the stuff he said. I did ask a few questions, though, and I learned a lot.

First: even after spending thousands of dollars on publishing assistance from iUniverse, the majority of authors don't follow through enough to recoup their investment. So be told: splurging on a publishing package is absolutely no guarantee of success.

Second: some back-of-the-napkin math showed I'd need to sell around 4,000 copies to make back my investment and pay me a reasonable wage for the time I'd spent already. That's not counting the time I would spend going forward. So add another 1,000 copies to cover that. Some research gave me an interesting number: less than 2% of self-published authors (not books, authors) ever sell 5,000 books. That's a dauntingly small percentage, and at this point I'm not sure if I want to continue with this book project. We'll see how the holidays play out.

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