Last week I published a note about Paul Torongo's book, Collecting Medieval Coinage. At least one reader immediately ordered a copy. I asked Paul if he would like to tell us more about his book and his experience writing it. Through the course of the week I learned a lot about the online publishing industry today, and asked Paul to share his experience for our readers, many of whom are authors themselves. Here's his story.
About my book
My name is Paul Torongo. I have been an on-again-off-again, amateur collector of coins my entire life. As a child, I naturally began by collecting the coins of my native United States. However, American coins never really appealed to me; I much preferred British coins, with their heraldic motifs. I thought the Queen Victoria "gothic" crown was the most beautiful coin I had ever seen. Back then, I erroneously believed that the medieval coins I saw in Seaby's Coins of England (1973) were only to be found in museums or the collections of the rich and famous.
Fast forward several decades to 2003 and one would find me living in the Netherlands with my Dutch wife, and collecting the coins of my new homeland. While attending a coin show one day, I was astonished to find a shilling of Queen Elizabeth I, then the closest thing to a medieval coin I had ever seen "in the flesh". This find encouraged me to start attending more Dutch coin shows, and sure enough, those medieval coins started popping up one after the other! (My Elizabeth shilling long ago sold off as "non-medieval".)
At that point I was much akin to a kid in a candy store, avidly snapping up every medieval coin I came across. Those of you familiar with medieval European coins will know that they are unlike any other sorts of coins: they can often be difficult to identify, almost impossible without a reference work by your side. The legends are usually in Latin, and the strange letter forms on the coins can be confusing and misleading. It quickly became clear that I needed a book to help me. (Bear in mind that in 2003 the Internet was of little use to the collector of medieval coins.)
As I began to look around for a helpful book on medieval coins, it soon became evident that there simply was none. The collector is faced with a multitude of books very specific to a particular geographical area or type of coin. Most of these books are deep, scholarly works, written with the idea that the reader already knows a great deal about medieval coins. On top of that, most of these books are expensive and/or hard to find (see, for example, the new volume of Medieval European Coinage, which will set you back some $200). A simple, easy-to-use, yet informative guidebook for medieval coins did not exist, and so I decided to write one myself. So that's what I did -- it only took ten years to get it done.
My experience with CreateSpace
A book about collecting medieval coins is probably not destined to be the world's next bestseller, and so finding a publisher was no easy task. In the end, I decided on the Self-Publishing route. Probably the most well-known website to publish your own book is Lulu.com. I ordered a "test book" that had been printed by Lulu.com, but when it arrived I found the photographs to be of very poor quality. I contacted the author to politely ask if the poor photos had been provided by him, or had been degraded by Lulu.com. Sadly, I never received a reply (I hope he wasn't insulted), so I could not place the fault for the poor photos. For me, this left Lulu.com out, so I moved on to Amazon.com's CreateSpace, which how I eventually published my book Collecting Medieval Coins: A Beginner's Guide in 2013.
The entire CreateSpace experience had its ups and down, shall we say. I can certainly recommend this route to those who wish to publish a book, as long as you don't particularly care about earning any money from it. If you just want to get your book out there, CreateSpace is certainly a viable option.
CreateSpace was able to produce a print-on-demand book that can be ordered directly from CreateSpace, or via one of the Amazon.com sites. The book itself is rather nice, and I am quite happy with it. (They only do paperbacks; b/w or full-color.)
However, since no one has heard of CreateSpace, everyone will naturally be buying your book via Amazon. This means that when CreateSpace promises me $12.15 royalties for each book sold via CreateSpace and only $2.15 per book sold via Amazon, well I'm never REALLY going to get a $12.15 royalty, am I? It's like a carrot dangled before my nose.
CreateSpace informs me that my book will cost $28 to produce, which is about the price of an "author's copy" if I want one. (DO NOT purchase an "author's copy" -- read on...). Based upon this, I chose to price the book at $40. (This is more than I wanted to charge, but printing color photographs is expensive). At the very last moment, literally two "clicks" away from publishing the book, I was FORCED by CreateSpace to ask $50 for my book (thus making it less attractive to potential buyers). This gave me a rather uncomfortable feeling, but I continued on. (Prices set "by me" at this point: $ 50, € 45, £ 35.)
The very first thing Amazon.com did was to offer my book for $47.50, thus ensuring that no one would order the book for $50 from CreateSpace, thus further ensuring that I would never get a $12.50 royalty (uncomfortable feeling grows slightly).
Within only two months, Amazon dropped the price to $15.48 (!). Now, since my $2.15 royalty stays the same either way, this would seem to be beneficial to me: a lower price means more sales, right? Right. Unfortunately, my concurrent self-promotion campaign was cut off at the knees. Look at the lovely entry in The Esylum newsletter for example. Would the reader and myself not have been better served by seeing a nice, low $15 price instead of $47.50? Too late now!
The price of a CreateSpace "authors copy" remains about $28; this means it would be MUCH cheaper for me to order a copy for myself via Amazon.com. This seems very odd to me. I cannot understand how Amazon can sell a print-on-demand book for almost half the cost price and still stay in business. (Unless, of course, CreateSpace simply lied about the cost price.) And in case you're wondering, as of this writing my book sells on Amazon Germany for € 48, while it only costs € 15 on Amazon Italy. (Amazon UK price down from £35 to £23). No, I cannot explain it.
The entire exercise of setting a price at CreateSpace seems to have been a farce. Other than the uncomfortable feeling they gave me, and the annoying confusion caused me by the inexplicable Amazon pricing policy, I suppose everything worked out fine.
As long as I don't think about it too much.
When I wrote up Paul's book last week, I could see the CreateSpace price of $50 and the Amazon price of $47.50. Not knowing about the author's arrangements, I naturally included the Amazon link and price for our readers. When I checked Amazon this morning the price was at $16. So the only real unchanging prices were the author's royalties of $2.15 and $12.50. Amazon's computers set the retail price based on umpteen unseen factors; for all I know it presents a different price to different people in different parts of the country at different hours of the day. The saddest part is that for all of Paul's work, he's only seeing a couple bucks per book sold. I'd be curious to hear other author' experiences with self-publishing and publishing in general.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
NEW BOOK: COLLECTING MEDIEVAL COINS
Wayne Homren, Editor
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