CreateSpace, Amazon.co.uk and a Potentially Good Idea

oldpost

I’m baaack….

As in, properly back. I was actually back last weekend but it took me a week to stop crying about the fact that I wasn’t in Spain anymore and gear up to get back into work, specifically finishing the first draft of Backpacked.

Yes, that would be the book that’s supposed to out in September.

Cutting things close, I know.

Speaking of which, I found myself wondering yesterday just what I’m going to do about Backpacked‘s paperback edition and Amazon.co.uk. As I talked about in this post, it no longer seems likely that it will appear on there, and if it does it will probably remain “Available from these sellers” which is essentially out of stock. Apparently I was lucky with Mousetrapped, which appeared available on Amazon.co.uk only days after publishing it, but despite doing everything the same way (i.e. signing up for CreateSpace’s Pro Plan) Mousetrapped‘s second edition and Self-Printed have both failed to.

(To overcome this with Mousetrapped, I updated the original edition with the second edition’s files. So if you order it, you’re getting the new one, no matter what. Self-Printed is only available from Amazon.com.)

Worrying too much about my paperbacks was a mistake I made with Mousetrapped. Sales-wise, they’re not that important. As of today (June 5th), I’ve sold 5,557 copies of Mousetrapped. Of these, only 542 were paperback editions and of those, only 212 were under the Pro Plan. Considering these include books sold from the likes of The Book Depository and Barnes and Noble as well (although I don’t get told how many were sold from each one), I think I can conclude that my Amazon.co.uk sales can’t be more than 100-150, or about 3% of all copies sold. Hardly enough to be getting my knickers in a twist. In fact when you take into consideration how much time, effort and money it takes to produce them, why bother with paperbacks at all?

Mmm… paperbacks.

First, I love books and so a physical book is a must for me. Second, some people – myself included – will only read physical books, and what I call the “on publication buyers” – the people who’ll buy your book when it comes out, i.e. family, friends, fans, loyal readers – generally are looking for paperbacks. Third, you can’t sign an e-book and signed books are like designer shoes to book lovers, and they also make great presents. So paperbacks it is.

So what to do to make Backpacked available to these people, without having to convince them to order from Amazon.com? How about selling them myself, through my website? Well, I did that with Mousetrapped and I later considered it a mistake. I had to order in stock I wasn’t sure I could sell (which is the complete opposite of the point of POD), I was constantly worried I wouldn’t have enough of it to fulfill a sudden order, and I didn’t really charge enough for them to make a profit worth all the effort. But it was nice to be able to sell signed copies to people, and I did get a lot of orders. I thought about it long and hard: how could I sell Backpacked through a website of my own, but without the stress, headaches or financial risk?

This is what I came up with:

Between July 1st and August 31st, there’ll be a website where you can go and pre-order a paperback copy of Backpacked. Payment will be at time of ordering and via credit card or PayPal. Your copy will be signed and personally inscribed if you want, and – although this is subject to change once I get the physical qualities of the book locked down – about €15 (£13 or $21, very ish) including shipping worldwide. (There will also be something coming with it – free – that hopefully will sweeten the deal slightly, but I’m not revealing what that’ll be just yet.) You’ll be able to cancel and get a refund up until a certain date; after that date, you’ll incur a cancelation fee (because I’ll have already ordered the book). Your copy will be shipped around mid-September and before the paperback is available for general sale. Behind the scenes, I’ll collect the pre-orders and just order the exact amount of paperbacks once I close the pre-ordering window a couple of weeks before publication. When they arrive, I’ll sign, inscribe and ship them, and that’s that.

Everyone’s happy, presumably.

The beauty of this if that even if I get just one or two orders, I’m not out of pocket and I’m not stuck with stock I mightn’t be able to sell. Anyone who wants a paperback and lives in a country that Amazon.com charges astronomical shipping charges to send books to will be able to get a copy at a reasonable price – and a signed copy at that – and if you’ve run out of Christmas present ideas, [cough, cough] here’s the solution.

So.. what do you think?

P.S. A little birdie (read: Google Alerts) informed me that a newcomer sent to my blog for self-publishing advice got the impression that all I was doing was plugging Self-Printed. Lady, that would be because the book came out three weeks ago, and two weeks ago I went on holidays. But should anyone else get that impression, I’ve installed a quick link – see the button above right – that takes you to a full chronological listing of all my self-printing blog posts.

UPDATE: As Marcus pointed out in the comments below, you can “sign” e-books. I use the quotation marks because while you can put a personally inscription and maybe even the computer code equivalent of your signature, you can’t put a pen to paper. You can’t sit at a desk, meet and greet readers and ask them there and then what they’d like you to write, and then with a pen on paper write it on the title page for them. You can’t then go home and occasionally pull out the book and think, “Michael Connelly touched this!” like I do with my personally inscribed limited edition of Nine Dragons. (Not every day… but most!) And so while one day I will almost certainly succumb to reading the things, I will never “sign” an e-book.

13 thoughts on “CreateSpace, Amazon.co.uk and a Potentially Good Idea

  1. Marcus says:

    I’d say better than Google Buzz, but not quite up to sliced bread. I like the idea, it’s good 🙂

    Btw, I think you can sign/personalize ebooks. You just need the tools for creating mobi/EPUB/PDF files. Either locally on your PC or on a server. Simply put, you would just sandwich the personalized page between the others. I’m trying to figure out how to make it available to others. You’d need to sell the copies from your own website of course because they are personalized.

    It wasn’t such a madcap idea I had because at BEA, Neil Gaiman amongst others was using this new system (still in beta) for virtual signings. You can also print out the card for a hardcopy, and place it inside the paperback or hang it on your wall.

    Yes, of course it’s not quite the same, and paper-book lovers will not want it, but I bet there will be some takers.

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Sorry Marcus but on principle I would never even attempt to sign an e-book! It’s paper or nothing.

      I’m targeting the people I know want paperbacks, and sweetening the deal with the inscription and the free bonus (as yet mysteriously unannounced). For $2.99 the e-book readers can make do with an unpersonalised copy!

  2. Sam B - For Fukui's Sake says:

    Hi Catherine – I see that Self-Printed is now available on Amazon.co.uk. Does this mean the problems were resolved in the end?

    I’m just wondering the best path to take for POD – but if going through CS’ EDS does indeed still get you on Amazon.co.uk – and without customers having to pay any silly US shipping costs – then it seems like it’s still a good option..?

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      Well nothing was resolved as such because SP becoming available on Amazon.co.uk is only a very recent development, and had nothing to do with me! It just popped up, and MONTHS after publication. I published Backpacked in September and although that has a listing on .co.uk, it’s not available to buy from them so the problem still exists. There’s just no guarantee. You have to take your chances.

  3. ihatemoneylaundering says:

    Hello Catherine
    I am a devotee of all your advice about self-printing, and have followed you through the mire that is CS, EINs and more. I can now happily report that my POD book is out, and listed on Amazon.com – hurrah! However, as it is a UK-focused book (intended purely for a UK audience), I am mad keen to get it on Amazon.co.uk. But there is one central thing that I do not understand.
    I see that your paperback “Backpacked” is listed as being published by CS, yet available from Amazon.co.uk – shown as two copies available, with, crucially, UK postage rates. I have this morning spoken to Amazon, the Book Depository and Nielsen, and they all said that even if I get a listing on Amazon.co.uk, my book will show as published by CS (that’s fine) and only available from sellers in the US, with US postage (that’s not).
    I am going a bit mad. Is “Backpacked” being ordered by a UK wholesaler and then sold on by them? Or are you doing it – buying in physical stocks to sell on?
    I know you’ve covered this ground before, and I’m being a bit slow on the uptake, but I just can’t understand it!
    Many thanks for any further, indulgent clarification you can offer to the chronically dim.
    Best wishes from Susan

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      I haven’t done anything to get my books on Amazon.co.uk other than publish them with CreateSpace and pay the extra charge for expanded distribution.

      Sometimes third party sellers will offer your book for sale but you have no control over it. The bottom line is there is nothing you can do to get your book on Amazon.co.uk; how it ends up there is beyond your control. (Other than becoming an Amazon seller and putting it there yourself, or going to a distributor—neither of which I recommend if you’re doing POD.) My advice would be to:

      1. Stop calling people. They can’t do anything for you.
      2. Stop focusing on Amazon. The Book Depository also sell CS titles, and they’re based in the UK with free shipping worldwide.
      3. Let it go for now—because there isn’t anything you can do to make it happen. Amazon.co.uk and the other sites decide what to stock and what not to stock, and you can’t influence them.

      Sorry this is a bit blunt but I’ve seen so many self-publishers waste their time and energy obsessing over this issue, and there’s just no point because whether or not the book appears on Amazon.co.uk and how it appears if it does, is completely beyond their control.

      • catherineryanhoward says:

        P.S. I would also add that anyone in the world can buy from Amazon.com, and although you won’t get the free super saver delivery option (of course) it’s not astronomical or anything. I order from Amazon.com all the time and I live in Ireland.

        • ihatemoneylaundering says:

          Hello Catherine

          Thank you for the prompt reply. I probably deserve the bluntness, as I am sure you have said similar things before. I know I seem very impatient, but my book is not fiction: it’s about a specific aspect of UK legislation, and there is a time-critical deadline looming, so I am perhaps more time-sensitive than fiction authors (apart from in the run-up to Christmas). I will try to chill.

          Best wishes from Susan

          • catherineryanhoward says:

            I’d give it 4-6 weeks (a long time to wait, I know) and if there’s no sign of it on the UK site, you might consider also publishing it through Lulu. They don’t make you order a proof so there’d be no huge additional cost. From anecdotal evidence it seems you might have a better chance of ending up on the UK site that way and as long as you don’t use the same ISBN you can publish your book with as many different companies as you like.

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