One-Page, One-Person: The Follow-up

“Question Mark“ by Ben Langlands and Nikki Bell, photographed by Leo Reynolds

Last week I posted ‘A One-Page Business Plan for a One-Person Publishing Company’, and since then there’s been the usual deluge of comments, queries and requests in my inbox. Rather than answering everyone individually, I thought I’d collate all the extra information into a new post — so here we go. Hope this clears everything up!

A couple of people asked for the RRP formula as an actual formula… it’s tricky to express such things elegantly on Medium, but here goes:

{ ( [ your hourly rate inc. salary and other overheads × hours needed for project ] + print costs for expected initial sales + other production expenses ) ÷ no of expected initial sales } + author royalty per copy = essential income per copy sold. Then double that and round up for a safe RRP.

That part’s just for completists — enjoy. The next logical question (which kindly enough, you all refrained from asking) is: how come none of your Valley Press books, past or present, have these crazy-high RRPs that the formula prescribes for me?

One answer is that when I started VP as a business, for the first couple of years I only sold the books directly. If this mirrors your current position, great news; you don’t need to ‘double and round up’. You only need to start worrying about 50% discounts when you start dealing with trade buyers.

Another answer is that I worked up to a full-time salary very gradually, aiming to raise my monthly wage by £100 every few months (from £0 in January 2011). By the time I could confidently sell 200 initial copies, I was still only paying myself £600 a month. The point is, the less you pay yourself, and the lower your overheads, the cheaper the books can be (and the more you’ll sell, in theory). So a slow build-up to the £24k is highly advised, but I maintain the validity of the plan.

Nowadays, Valley Press has annual overheads of £65,000 (yikes) and can handle around 36 publishing projects a year, so that would be £1800 income needed per book. My maths might be something like this:

{ [ ( £1800 overheads + £600 print costs + £300 expenses ) ÷ 450 initial sales ] + 50p author cut } × 2 = £12.99 RRP

… but then we also have an Arts Council Grant in 2018, and a few university-funded projects; all kinds of stuff going on. Reality is complicated!

Onto some of your actual questions about the article (paraphrased slightly):

Q: Where can I find a printer who’ll print 200 books for £1 each?!

A: Almost anywhere, but the book in the example was a very slim volume of 50ish pages. I love dealing with such publications, but I admit they aren’t typical, and thus the example was lousy. I’ll do better next time!

Q: In what universe is it realistic to publish a book every two weeks, considering the inevitable editorial/design back-and-forth?

A: I should have been clearer about this: it’s not two weeks on one book, then onto the next — that would be crazy. It’s eight days per book (not including the editing, you’ll remember, and designing to a template), but those are spread out over six months or so.

Q: I run an established publishing house. Why don’t we get 700+ submissions a year, like the lucky person in your business plan?

A: Maybe the writers need a nudge; have you tried paid promotion, Facebook adverts for example? The person in my plan needed a £6.25 contribution per submitter to give their work a decent read, but if you bumped this up to £7 you could spend 75p on advertising per submission received. Also, my figures are based on accepting pretty much any manuscript in any genre; most publishing lists, especially small ones, are highly specialized and thus exclude a majority of writers (i.e. a crime fiction press isn’t going to get poetry pamphlets). In which case you might have to charge a bit more, like those £25 poetry manuscript competitions you sometimes see.

Q: What about the backlist titles, don’t they help?

A: This question led me to figure out something I’ve never bothered with before; a fascinating half hour of spreadsheet tweaking! It turns out that historically, based on Valley Press data, each backlist title (defined as a title released 18 months ago or more) will bring in an average £9 profit per month. Not a large sum, but if you had 223 titles in print (VP’s on about 113 after nine years), you could theoretically pay yourself the £24k purely on backlist sales alone. Whoah! I’ll keep you updated on that one.

Q: I don’t have 20 hours a week to spare, is there any way I can use the plan?

A: Yes absolutely. Just figure out how much time you do have for publishing and use that; even if you only work a few hours a year and produce one book, you’re still a publisher. This probably means you have another source of income, in which case: fantastic! You can get away with almost zero overheads, and thus your prices can be in line with the biggest companies (who do enough titles that their overhead per book is negligible).

Q: I can’t afford the kind of really good software that lets you design books in two days. Any tips?

A: Confession time… I use an ancient program from 2005 which I picked up at a second-hand software fair (remember those?); it’s more about the quality of the templates than how fancy your software is. However, you can subscribe to industry-standard InDesign CC for £240 a year, easy to fit within the £1920 I set aside for other overheads in my plan (just £10 per publication, if you crank out the 24 titles a year).

Q: If I were starting a new publishing house, this would all be really useful — but it’s too late now, surely?

A: It’s never too late to change things! My business plan has changed just about every month for the past nine years… and if desperate measures are called for, you could always start a new enterprise whilst keeping your old audience (just tell them all you’ve moved, and redirect the web traffic).

Q: Why are you writing these articles? Should you not be keeping all this information away from rival publishers?

A: Well, for a start because I enjoy it; as I said in the original piece, coming up with this stuff is a fun exercise for the mind (like Sudoku or a wordsearch). We all have our hobbies! And then questions from readers poking and pulling at the threads let me know if my findings are valid.

But in the longer-term, my dream is a world where everyone who writes a book can have it edited and produced to the very best standard it can be, and then have the finished publication brought to the attention of every interested reader. That is a big goal; I can’t do it alone, you all need to help.

The written word is a remarkable invention; it’s basically telepathy, a way of transmitting thoughts from your mind into someone else’s. It’s much easier to empathise with and understand someone once you’ve heard their story, isn’t it? And the world could use a lot more empathy…

…and more rewarding employment opportunities, which is why I’m such a capitalist about this otherwise rather gentle dream. So I’d best get back to it; thanks for reading, and feel free to add further comments/responses below.