I have to giggle at the title of this post. You see, a while back, I had this ingenious idea of publishing a hat knitting and crochet book for charity. I was sure to make millions with it all for a very good cause, which would be Save the Children. Honestly, I thought my idea was fabulous and I'd come out the expert on how to publish a charity book.
Actually, I still think it's a reasonably good idea. And, as a third sector employee who is constantly whipped to do monitoring and evaluation and come up with reports of learning (euphemism for stuff that went wrong and how to do it better next time), let's have a go at my "learning" over the last six months.
I learned that it is a lot of work pulling together a book. Fortunately there were some weeks where my workload was low and I had the flexibility to work on the book. I would never have managed it in my own time. Now that my workload is crushing, it's almost impossible to move anything on. If I look at current sales, there is no way that the money made from A Hat in Time will justify the amount of time I put into its creation.
Then there's Lulu. Yes, the idea of an ebook was kind of ok, no risk, no initial outlay cost etc. Just that people don't want ebooks. I've sold about 15 so far which is meagre. I mean, it's really not good enough. To be fair, there's nothing lost with this approach so I try not to get upset about it. What I do moan about though is the online tool for publishing a Lulu book. For one, it's complicated. I still haven't figured out tax implications, ISBN etc for the promotion package (with which you can distribute the book on Amazon) and while it's affordable, I'm shying away from it because I just don't get it. Secondly, the online editing tool separates out the cover from the rest, so you have to submit various pdf files, and it's not clear if the cover has 4 or 2 or 1 page(s) so it took me a full day's work just to transfer the print ready pdf file into the Lulu pdf. I cursed a lot. And I think it's still not perfect but I can't be bothered anymore. Above all, the cover only allows use of Lulu templates. This is rather annoying because I have a beautiful cover, nicely branded with Save the Children, and I can't transfer it into this template. Above all, the title now appears on top of a photo so is hardly legible. This is not how I had wanted it, but the best that Lulu templates allow me to do.
Much easier was the process for publishing on Ravelry. I just published my lovely pdf file and done. Disadvantage: I have to deal in US$, which is subject to exchange rate fluctuation. However, Ravelry takes almost no commission and it was such an easy process that I've got nothing but praise for them. Sales figure: 2 so far. Not good.
After all my attempts of promoting the ebook, I had 17 sales. And lots of people asking me for a physical copy. It became clear that in spite of technology, internet and global warming, people still very much prefer a physical book to a pdf file, even if it's for charity, even if the ebook makes a higher profit.
So I then looked into a physical print run. I got about 20 quotes from local printers and the story is simple: If you print 1250 or 2500, cost per copy is less than one pound, if you print under 500, cost per copy is about 7-10 pound. Considering that I can't expect to sell a copy for more than 7.50, and that I can't expect to sell that many, this is not a good situation. I don't have the 3K or more needed for a large print run, plus the risk is too high (I may not sell enough to break even). The lower quantity print run doesn't make a profit. I tried to offer pre-ordering to finance a large print run, but again, not enough copies sold (lost count, but I don't think it was more than 25).
Well, I did finally find one printer who made me a decent offer - one where I can print on demand for a cost per copy which allows about 50 % of profit. Believe it or not, this was the only offer I got at all where I would make a profit for a print run below 500 copies. Hurray. And they're even a carbon neutral company, how good is that! Just that we've had a few glitches with the artwork, proofs, and generally missing each other due to workload, so I still don't hold the book in my hands. However, the main thing is, in about 2 week's time at the latest, there will be a physical book. It'll be lovely. It'll make profit. And I can have more printed if I run out. What more can I ask for? Well, sales. And more sales. The physical book will be available through the website, and also through Amazon, thanks to the support of my friend Natalie who is an Amazon Marketplace seller and found a way of selling A Hat in Time without a book distribution package (Note: If you follow the Amazon link, the price will come down soon as we're still experimenting with the listing).
I embarked on this adventure partially because I was keen to find out about online publishing. I have a few book ideas in my head and wanted to see the business case for them. What I can see now is that a) full colour books published on Lulu cost more to the buyer than they are likely to dish out and are not generally a good idea. b) Some traditional avenues work better than online promotion. For example, k1 Yarns have kindly offered to sell the book in their shops and already they've had a massive interest in it. I'm sure the book would have sold well at the Save the Children volunteer days over the last two weeks - had I had a physical copy. Books are still a traditional medium and ebooks, well, don't work. Or at least it didn't work for me. I also find the whole ISBN and distribution package for Amazon so mindbogglingly complicated (mainly because Lulu is a US company) that I really don't fancy going down this way - a way which may lead to decent sale numbers.
Now, with the Christmas season about to descend upon us, I hope that sales will pick up. What better Christmas stocking filler can there be for a knitter than this wonderful collection of 37 hats to knit and crochet, aka A Hat in Time? Ah go on, why don't you get one?