Getting Published, Yes You Can!
If you are reading these lines, it means I’m not an isolated case and that we have some common interests. Like you, my infatuation and fascination for Thailand end up in an expensive hobby that includes a lot of reading about all things Thai.
For some of you it includes also a good deal of writing. This article aims at people having an interest in reading, writing and getting published about Thai themes.
The books available in French are mainly and unfortunately in two categories: guide books such as Lonely Planet and very academic studies about economics, religion or social issues. Guide books are OK for preparing a trip, although one could wonder how unadventurous we – great grandsons and granddaughters of people who sailed at great risk to their lives to discover places such as Siam – have become that we need to know everything in advance.
The academic studies are fine also and the people who write them are trained and talented, but the connection to the real world is sometimes questionable and their perspective is always very Western: in the end you don’t really learn about the topic but more on the way they consider it, giving a “look in the mirror” feeling.
Regarding novels, the choice is also limited although some translations from very good Thai writers such as Pira Sudham, Saneh Sangsuk and Chart Korbjitti or from John Burdett are available.
Autobiographies are also available, some of them being reprints of travelogues written a few centuries ago, but the avid reader stays hungry for more.
I’m not sure about the situation in English-speaking countries, but I would guess that the PCness and the distrust or disinterest in translated literature limit the choice even more.
And then there is Thailand, where there is a unique pool of expat writers that can share and distil first-hand field experience into detective novels, newspaper columns and autobiographies. Some are contributing to Thai aficionado websites while others are very discreet and focus mainly on writing and getting published.
Thailand has also a unique network of bookstores spread all over the country where English, French and even German books – books written, published and printed in S.E Asia – can be purchased.
From the outside it looks like a rats’ nest as it seems each writer tries to find his own way to be printed and distributed. It is indeed a pity they can’t merge together into an association that would be able to bargain for better printing cost or options and an organized distribution scheme.
From the above information, you may understand that there is a gap that needs to be filled and that on the other side there is a huge need for recognition.
That’s why I recently set up my own publishing company in France with the intention of selling in European French-speaking countries as well as in S.E. Asia where there is a large French speaking expat community.
All my books will have a S.E Asia theme or setting and will be the works of authors I appreciate as a reader.
But before embarking on this publishing adventure, I have done my homework and I would like to share with you some of my findings on the available publishing alternatives.
The publisher chooses the books that fit his editorial line(s) and for which he can expect some financial returns.
The majors are more and more focusing on the books that have the potential to be blockbusters – understanding that they have an appeal to a very large audience – and they are less and less willing to take risks.
Hopefully there are masses of small publishers who are specialized in a field or a theme and the resistance against the major is under organization!
Here is a chart of book revenues in France:
I have been told that similar figures are prevalent in English speaking countries.
Regarding Thailand, it is notorious that a certain chain of bookstores is getting 50% of the book selling price but if you assume they are holding concurrently the functions of logistic, sales representative and retail, then that 50% doesn’t seem that excessive.
Print-on-demand companies are a very convenient way to be published as they provide efficient editing tools and support, but I'm not convinced that you will have big sales or income with this method.
Based on my experience with the same kind of services in France, the unit cost per book is high, because they will print it one by one and probably because they have to fund the activity of the associated website too. Then, your selling price must be significantly higher than market level – why should anyone buy a book of an unknown author at a price higher than Dan Brown’s best seller? This may not the best way to have good sales.
Also, they will do little to promote your books. They claim to do some marketing, but I would guess they can't do more than put your books online for sale. Also, on the biggest ones, your book will be lost among the thousands of other books without any special exposure.
When I studied the financial information of those print-on-demand companies, I found them very profitable and the average quantity per book is in the 10 to 100 pieces range: this is definitely not the league in which we want to be!
Vanity publishing, what an ugly word! “Vanity” is very pejorative and patronizing. The equivalent French term, publication à compte d’auteur, only means that the author is paying for the publishing without presuming too much about the reason.
Vanity publishing can be a good deal if the company offering this service is indeed editing, proofreading and promoting the book. But you have to consider carefully what you are paying for and ask for a detailed quote.
Also, if you pay for the printing, then the books are yours and should be available at any time upon request. You could, for example, ship some copies back to your home country and try to sell them there yourself.
Also, the book selling price should within market range.
Of course, the contract should state clearly your income per book.
Here you have to do some small math. For example, if from your initial 2500 USD investment you can get a return higher than 5000 USD, first you are getting back your initial investment, second you have a profit that allows you to re-invest again 2500 USD and still have some money left. Below 5000 USD income, it will take years to get back your money unless you want to stop after the first run has been sold out.
Here is a graph showing the evolution of your capital for different cost-to-profit ratios and assuming you keep on reinvesting the same amount for a new run.
Here are some figures that will allow you to compare the different alternatives listed above.
For a run of 2000 copies of a 215 page 13x19x1 cm paper back which has a market price of around 700 THB in France and 400 THB in Thailand, I got the following quotations (using THB for the sake of easy comparison):
· 40 THB per book from a Thai printer. To get them back in France using sea freight, the unit cost raises to 135 THB per unit;
· 107 THB per book from a local French printer (so, unless you can fill a container with books, it is better to print in your country);
· 308 THB per book using a French print-on-demand website (you decide by yourself the selling price);
· 42 THB per book from a Thai based vanity publishing company (selling prices from this publisher are within market range).
Here is a quotation using a French vanity publisher: book selling price of 1250 THB and they charge 26000 THB for processing your book. Answers about their distribution network and promotion actions have been very fuzzy.
So, if you can’t afford the 80,000 THB investment, I can’t see any better solution than to wait that the income from the print-on-demand website is large enough.
Getting your book listed
Next are the legal requirements to sell your books in your country and to get them listed by the major booksellers.
I don’t know about the situation in your place, but here in France it is almost impossible to have your book listed by the major booksellers if the book has been self-published. Then, there are only 3 choices left:
1. Have the book published in your country, regular (isn’t it Mission Impossible) or “Vanity”, or
2. Use a Thai publisher, regular or “vanity” and import, or
3. Create your own book house, but in that case the author and publishing company’s manager names or major share holder must be different otherwise the book will be considered self-published.
I will review more closely now option number 3.
You have to ask yourself how all the bookstores know about the different books available on the market and how they can order them.
Your corner of Farangland may be not different from France. Typically, one goes to his local bookstore to order a book, let’s say because he has read a terrific excerpt or a friendly review. The bespectacled lady at the desk will fumble in her computer and then she will tell the customer to come back in a week for his book.
Here in France, all bookstores use EDI and ERP systems, and hopefully only one service company is providing the data about the distributors and publishers that have only a few books in their catalogue.
So, one that wants to sell must start with registering all information about the book (content, stock, availability, price, page count, ISBN, etc) as well about its distributor (address, name of representative, fax, phone, etc) to that service company. It costs only 75 Euros/year to be registered.
As a remark, I would like to add that obtaining the ISBN is not big issue and that it is free of charge in France.
Copyright deposit is mandatory in some countries when the number of copies printed is over a few hundred. It is not a big deal either and the printer can provide some assistance in supplying samples, you just have to fill in the application forms correctly.
Unfortunately that’s not enough for the big chain bookstores, as they have their own internal procedure to list books. Some have a centralized listing system while others have a one point entree system: you must try to have your book listed in one store and then the information will be spread among the other branches.
Promoting your book
So, the book is written, proofread, a graphic designer has sweated to make an eye-catching cover and a few hundred (thousand?) copies of your books are waiting readers in your basement. You set up your own publishing or distribution company and all bookstores can order your book if someone has a request.
What is missing?
An efficient and cost effective promotion plan.
I’m not against paying for advertisements, but why not start with what’s available for (almost) free?
There are countless blogs and websites about Thailand, visited by Thai buffs. Couldn’t they post an excerpt of your book or an article such as this one, and to oil the wheels if needed, you could give to the blogger or administrator a hardcopy of your work as a gift.
The book would also need a website or a blog with some information like excerpts, interviews, pictures…
But here I need to place a big warning sign, a statement as friend pointed so rightly:
THE BOOK MUST BE ON THE SHELVES!
It is a priority.
I know the internet can’t be overlooked, but only 8% of books are sold in France through websites, 10% in UK and Germany and between 15% and 20% in USA.
The process of buying in a bookstore is different from buying through websites where you usually know in advance what you are looking for. Buying in a bookstore is quite often like a love story, you don’t know in advance it will happen. You eye is caught by the cover and title, then you flip over the book and you can somehow relate to the summary and if the price is not crazy, you come back home eager to immerse yourself into your new purchase.
Among promotional ideas, next could be to have printed bookmarks that would be sent for free to the major bookstores in the big towns. If they are conveniently located in the store, buyers of similar books would learn about your book and possibly order it to the front desk.
I can think also of giving lectures in bookstores ending with an autograph session.
To get in touch with the masses of small bookstores that are spread in your country through surface mail or email, you need to begin with getting a full list, state by state. Either you can buy it or you have to make one starting with your area. The most difficult part is to keep the email address database updated.
Now, what about the income?
One of the critical issues is who’s paying the shipping fees?
If you sell by yourself directly to the reader, I would say you can ask that the customer pay for the shipping. Don’t they pay already if they buy online to Amazon and the like?
If you sell through Amazon, through one of their programs such as Advantage, I think they may refund you some of the shipping fee on a flat rate, but I’m not 100% sure here as rules may be different in your local Amazon.
If you sell to bookstores, it is very likely the shipping cost will be yours. And most will take your book with the sale or return method. That means dead stock and that you will have to keep a detailed record.
Here is an example of cost breakdown with the structure I chose for setting up my small publishing company:
It is of course the worst case where you can see the selling price has been adjusted so that the profit equals the printing cost while staying in market range.
There are several options to improve the profit and here is a list of possible adjustments:
· Use 60g/m2 paper to reduce the weight, printing cost and shipping fees;
· Bargain lower commission with the bookstore in case of sale or return scheme, I would say down to 24%-28%;
· Sell as much as possible directly to the reader (discount limited to 5%);
· Increase the number of copies per run…
Introducing Trois autres Thaïlande
Well, you have to love books to take the publishing plunge.
Until now it has been an expensive hobby for me, but starting in a couple of weeks, I hope it will be a business, and for that, you masses of French-speaking readers that want to read something different about Thailand, you have to buy this book:
210 pages, broché, ISBN 978-2-9535538-0-2, 13.85 €, Éditions GOPE
Peut être commandé directement à : troisautresthailande à gmail point com
For the others, and if you want to be nice, please don’t wish me “good luck” as in my culture it will have exactly the opposite effect, but instead just say “merde”!
Thanks for your attention.
Very, very interesting submission indeed. Let me know when the books is available and I will be happy to promote it for you!