Sunday, August 25, 2013

Services for Writers - Caveat Emptor

I recently came across two entities that want to sell their services to writers with payment models I found interesting.

the new online bookstore

The first is Bookstore Without Borders ( They correctly note that to make a sale one needs product, platform and exposure. An author’s e-book is the product; they propose to provide the platform (an online bookstore) and exposure.

The question I always like to address when it comes to services for writers is whether the value proposition is a good deal for the author. (I assume it’s good for the provider; otherwise, why are they doing it?)

Bookstore Without Borders (BWB from now on) offers an array of services; the only one I’ll address now is their platform for selling e-books. An author can list up to five e-books for the startup price of $395. There’s an introductory offer of $295 if you sign up before October 2013. Listing an extra book costs another $55. Annual renewals run $29.95.

BWB states that it only takes 80 books at $4.99 each to earn back your $395 cost. Their math is fine—as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. The open question is how many extra sales their platform will drive. If all of the 80 sales are ones you would not have gotten except for the exposure they provide, then the math is fine—for a $4.99 book. If, for example, your book is priced at $2.99, it takes 133 new books before you’re in the plus column.

If they would guarantee brand new traffic for your book at least this large, it’s a clear winner. Of course they provide no guarantees. Even the testimonials on their website refer to the wonderful design and are silent about sales and profits.

They do have another selling point, however: they pay 100% royalties.

If you can sell someone your book through BWB instead of Amazon, B&N or wherever, you’ll make more money on that book because the royalty rate is higher. However, if you plan to pay for your start-up fee through this difference in royalties, you’ll need a lot more sales to break even. You were already going to earn something on those sales, so the net to you from joining BWB is the difference between the 100% royalty BWB pays and whatever royalty your current bookseller pays. E-book royalties keep changing, but let’s assume you can make 60% of list price on e-books you currently sell. Since 100% is better than 60%, you’d be interested in this deal if you sold enough books.

With your $4.99 e-book, you’ll need to sell 198 books before you break even. What happened to the 80-book target? That assumed joining BWB would bring new buyers who would never buy your book no matter where it was sold, because without BWB they’d never have made the purchase. We’re not talking about those people anymore. Now we’re talking about folks who would have bought your book somewhere, but because they prefer to pay money to authors rather than to Amazon and the like, these kind and generous souls now buy your book at BWB. The math works like this: For those 198 books at 60% royalty you would have earned $592.81. After paying BWB’s $395, when you sell 198 books through them, you’ll end up with $593.02, a gain of $0.21. After that, it’s all extra profit: you earn two bucks more a book.

Will your book sell 198+ books if you sign up with BWB? I have no clue. However, even if you tell people that’s the best place to buy your e-book, many potential readers will prefer to buy through Amazon or Barnes & Noble or their indie bookstore. I say this because I experienced a parallel situation. I suggested to someone who wanted to buy an e-book of Bad Policy that they could buy it through the publisher and save 35%. I figured that was a good deal for everyone except for Amazon, who would lose the sale since it was for a Kindle. That wasn’t how the reader saw it. The extra time it would take her to set up an account with the publisher, mess around with downloading the book to her computer and then transferring it to her Kindle was not worth the time and money. Despite the extra cost, she preferred to buy the book on Amazon with one-click, and have it automatically appear on her Kindle the next time she turned it on.

So, as a buyer of BWB’s services you also have to consider that even if people find your book because of BWB not all of them will actually buy the book there. If that assumption is correct, you’ll need even more sales to reach breakeven.

Of course, you may price your book at something other than $4.99. Using $2.99, the 198 threshold rises to 331. At a price of $1.99, you’ll need 497. With a more expensive book, the rewards come sooner.

If you are earning a royalty rate greater than 60%, you’ll need more books to break even; lower than 60% and you’ll need fewer books. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary.

In addition, there is an annual renewal fee – not a major cost ($29.95), but it will require another 15 books each year under the first scenario ($4.99/ book and standard 60% royalty) before you are ahead of the game.

BWB wins as soon as your payment clears. You only win if you can drive lots of sales through this particular bookstore.

Please note, I'm not saying or implying that this is a bad deal -- it's a different deal. For some authors it could be terrific; for others, it’s a waste of money. To fully understand how the proposition works for you, you’ll need to make these types of comparisons. I computed everything using a simple Excel spreadsheet. If you’d like a copy for yourself, send me an email and I’ll get it to you.


All writers need editors of one sort or another. There are many varieties and it is important to make sure you know what you are getting before making a commitment. Most publishers provide editing as part of their services; others do not. If you are self-published, you need to make sure to get competent assistance.

Some editors specialize in storyline issues, what are frequently referred to as developmental edits; others are copyeditors looking for grammar and spelling errors. Some do it all as was the case for a new provider that I recently ran across. They offered to do a complete edit (developmental, line/copy edit and proofread) for a flat fee of $200 plus $5 per page over 300.

The pricing structure struck me as very odd. The first 300 pages cost $0.67 per page and any pages over that cost $5.00? How does that make sense? For line/copy edit and proofing a page is a page is a page. Reading extra pages in a developmental edit actually is less expensive on a per page basis because that type of edit considers overall story issues, which do not increase linearly. A charge of $0.50 an extra page doesn’t seem out-of-line with the first 300-page pricing. Is this a typo or math error or what? Maybe the editor doesn’t want to work on anything but shortish books and this is a way of discouraging authors of longer works from applying.

Something else bothered me. Unless the story is close to perfect, it does not make sense to do a developmental edit at the same time one proofs. If major sections of the novel must be rewritten or even pitched and replaced, why would one carefully ensure that the deleted material met the Chicago Manual of Style?

I am using this particular Editor website as an example of why thinking carefully about the numbers is necessary before you sign on the bottom line. If this math stuff is all Greek to you, get someone who likes this kind of analysis to help you out.

With any provider, it’s also important to check references. I don’t know much Latin, but caveat emptor never goes out of style.

~ Jim


  1. Thanks for doing the math, Jim. There are so many options for writers now, but it seems that there are many new things to be wary of. You are right. Buyer beware! Trying to follow all the new publishing services like this is exhausting.

  2. Thank you for reminding us to thoroughly understand the pros and cons of all options and to always check references. It can feel overwhelming to do the work, but I’d prefer to spend the time rather than make a poor choice and regret it.

  3. Great analysis, Jim. Thanks for showing us all the factors to consider in this business of writing.

  4. Thanks for this blog and your analysis of this business. It didn't make a whole lot of sense to me why anyone would go with them.