It’s not all about direct sales.
ASTORIA, NYC- I spent $700 yesterday on 50 copies of my own book.
My own book.
I realized that I only had like two copies left, and what author doesn’t have their own book? So I took more than half of my Trump money, threw up my arms, and made the order with the University of Chicago. $700 is a lot of money. 50 copies of a book is not that many.
Ghost Cities of China lists for $21.95. With my 40 percent discount + shipping I pay $14 per book. I can sell them for $20 each, giving a $1.95 discount to the buyer while making $6 per sale. While the investment seems sizable, I stand to make $300 from this batch of books.
I ordered this stock of books to sell at my speaking engagements. For years, I’ve been showing up to these empty handed, missing out on what is probably the best opportunity to sell books. I’ve sold over 35 books in one go at these talks before. I’d take an extra $100 to $200 per speaking engagement.
However, I have this nagging thought in the back of my mind that says that if I just self-published then I could sell my books for less, make far more money per sale, and probably sell just as many copies — the onus is generally on the author to make sales no matter what way you publish.
To compound this matter, the publisher of Ghost Cities was recently acquired by a larger publishing company (good news) and the previous publisher is refusing to pay my royalties from last year (bad news). So all of those books that were purchased between September 2018 and March 2020, yeah, I’m apparently not being paid for those.
Last week, I went back and forth with the former publisher — who doesn’t really exist anymore — and they told me that if I wanted payment for the first book that I would need to return my advance for the second book. I’m currently completing that second book with the new publisher and have already signed over the project to them, so this doesn’t make much sense. I also need to question the legality of an individual demanding payment on behalf of a company that he doesn’t represent. Basically, it seems as if the guy was just trying to say something to keep me from demanding the payment that I’m owed — a threat to keep me at bay.
Not really worth the time to fight. I will just sell the books myself and collect $6 per copy, as I should have been doing regularly from day one.
Even after this, I am still hesitant to go the self-publishing route. Why? Because even though you write books to make money the focus isn’t on direct sales or royalties — anything you make this way is a little extra on the top.
The reason for writing a book for an established publishing company is largely to gain authority. To be able to be “the dude who wrote the book on …”
While you could gain such authority from self-publishing it’s definitely not guaranteed. The publisher gives you authority because it’s implied that there is a vetting process and you are essentially taken under the wing of their reputation: i.e. Penguin thought this book worthy enough to put their name on it. This authority, in turn, can lead to other opportunities that pay well, such as speaking engagements that can pay over $10,000 in one go. I know that I can make way more money giving talks than I could ever imagine making from selling books, no matter how I publish them.
I recently wrote a post about how to make money selling books, where I discussed where I left some cash on the table with Ghost Cities and outlined ways that I will improve this when Silk Road comes out. What I didn’t mention was the main reason for this:
I decided to travel and do a new project rather than have a solid based of operations from where I could store books. I’m not fitting 500 books into a backpack. I’m not lugging around a computer than can edit 6k video in a suitcase. I’m not perpetually hauling a case full of hard drives.
It’s a strange feeling when you realize that in order for you to pursue a career as a traveler you need to hold back on the travel. I didn’t come to NYC to settle down; I came to NYC to keep going. I was getting too bogged down the way I was going, cracks in my systems were revealing themselves, and my methodologies began falling apart.
I have a corner of in my Astoria apartment, right next to my work station, where I can pile books up to the ceiling. When I go out on research trips or to give talks I can grab a couple stacks, spread them out in the bottom of my suitcase, and peddle them in person. I have a high-powered computing system that can edit super high res video. I know where I’m based so I can commit to speak at conferences and and universities six-months down the line.
I feel all set and ready to go — the plan is in place, the pieces are aligned, the strategy legitimized … but there’s nowhere to go to. #globallockdown So I will keep preparing, continue strengthening my offerings, keep developing new projects and streams of revenue. This is an odd moment in time where the world is stopping for a moment to allow us all to catch up.
If any of you would like a signed copy of Ghost Cities, just click the Paypal button below I will send one out to you when the incoming stock comes in.