by Salomé Jones
This is Not the End
Tim Dedopulos started Ghostwoods Books in 2010, just around the time I met him. I was not officially a part of the team back then and I watched and learned — with great hope and enthusiasm — those early steps. Back then we thought e-books might laregly replace print books and that the 50% to authors model was a no-brainer. However, that’s not what happened.
It turns out that both readers and writers like to have their books in print, although e-books are cheaper and take up less space. Print books smell good, have a certain feel in the hand. E-books can seem far less like an accomplishment. So we started doing both. We added an extra layer of work for ourselves in doing so. Two layouts, plus a full cover instead of just a front, and physical distribution of print books. Because so much of the books’ cost goes to printing and distribution, the amount of profit on a single paperback is only between $2 and $4, divided with the author.
We’ve tried various ways of compensating for the small profit/big work that each book brings. So far we’ve done the following:
- cutting back on advertising
- increasing cover prices slightly
All these tactics have helped a little, but have not completely solved the difficulties.
What we haven’t done so far is to try to cover our own work costs. Everyone who does the work here does it primarily for love. We LOVE producing excellent books and helping authors get their work out to the public at a level that would be difficult for them to do on their own. Tim and I are both experienced, trained writers and editors. Gábor is an excellent designer.
But this past year we kind of hit the wall because we spent so much on trying to make the books great that we couldn’t afford to take many books. To be honest, I began to question our fair trade model because it was not fair to us. Let me give you an example. On one anthology, we put in about 300 hours of work. This involved collecting, curating, editing stories, plus layout, plus marketing. We paid small advances, $50 per story. So stories cost about $1000. We earned about $3000 over the course of a year (a bit more than a year, actually). Subtract the advances: $3000 – $1000 = $2000 profit/divided in half for the authors = $1000 for us. Now divide by 300 hours to get our hourly rate: $3.33 per hour. That’s right. We made $3 per hour. Which might be okay if we had other regular, salaried work, but we don’t. This is our work.
(Of course, I didn’t subtract the cover cost or the advertising we did. $250 + $750. So that means we made $0 for our time. Since we charge between £25 and £35 per hour for private clients, that’s negative £7500 we got out of the deal. Of course we got joy as well, but joy does not pay the rent or buy food or cover our health care costs.)
Tim writes puzzle books and consults on puzzle design. It’s well paying but sporadic. I edit novel manuscripts. It’s less well paying and it takes a long time to do. Gábor has a full time job, luckily, but he relies on the extra income from covers. We pay that to him. In fact he makes more from most of our books than we do.
So this year coming up, we’re going to have to choose projects by whether they will actually make us money for our time. It’s not our plan to get rich. We just have to start considering our time as an expense or we’re not going to be able to keep running much longer.
Books in the Planning
We have a couple of books planned. We’ve signed Kenzie Jennings and her chick lit/superhero book, and Marion Grace Woolley and her Irish myth novel. Both of these are splendid. We potentially have a sequel to The Boy Who Spoke to Stars, by Ben Miles.
In terms of anthologies, we have something very zeitgeisty in mind. We will Kickstart this book and hope it catches fire. This time we’ll be trying to cover our time costs as well as paying Gábor and the authors. We’re even going to try a fulfillment service so we can focus on working on books and feel secure about the books getting where they need to go. Because we’re at the end of our ability to give our editing time away without soon being homeless. We’d rather stay in our flat and keep publishing books.
We need you
Look, we’re progressive creatives. That means sometimes we care more about helping others than helping ourselves. It’s been a particularly hard year, fraught with illness and the madness of Brexit and that weird orange Fascist dude, and as a result, we haven’t really been able to keep up with expenses. So as much as it pains us, we’re going to try to pay ourselves for the work we do for the press. Otherwise we’re not only going to lose the press, we’re going to lose…
the tango contest
our ticket to heaven.
Help us build the publishing paradigm that will carry a lot of creatives forward into the twenty-first century.
Your chance is coming. We’ll launch our Kickstarter in March. Watch this site for more information.